An epiphany, that's how initially I thought to describe it. Though now I fear I am over-egging it. An epiphany suggests a lightning bolt: something sudden, surprising, orgasmic almost. No, this was more of a dawning. Besides, we were in the bed department of Farmers, Albany Mega Centre, that depthless moor bordering the road north, and it was no place for sexual innuendo, not on a heaving Sunday, Sleepyhead at half price. We had first purchased a bed when I, whalelike with our first child and about to turn 30, had protested that I could sleep not a moment longer on the rickety double we'd inherited from his grandparents. He'd let me choose. Big, I'd said. Big and hard. (Sorry, there I go again.) But 12 years later that bed, which had once seemed impossibly snowy and imbued with promise, had grown stained and sorry.
And so it was that, finding ourselves last weekend with a brief child-free window, we made our way across the harbour bridge, buffeted by a sou'wester. And, in a small, cheerless restaurant on the edge of the car park, we shared a prawn laksa and a Coke Zero before heading into the store, where we took off our shoes and lay down together. Around us, other couples did the same. Such an oddly intimate thing to do among strangers; the sales assistant smiling at us beneficently from the foot of the bed. Is good, yes, he asked. Maybe, we said. My husband put his hand up to my face. You've got curry on your chin, he said. We tried them all and I grew ever more confused. My husband, though, kept returning to one in particular. It's too soft, I said. That's why I like it, he said. But, I said, we've always liked a firm bed. Joked that maybe in another life we were Japanese. Scoffed at wimpier sleepers. Yes, he said, but my back is stiff in the morning. And sometimes my hip hurts and my shoulder too.
So I gave in. And as I queued at the counter to purchase that medium plush bed with its layers of latex and foam and gel, as I searched for my Farmers Club card, I saw, perhaps properly for the first time, my husband, almost a decade older than me, as ageing. Yet, and this is the bit that took me by surprise, I felt neither panicked nor depressed as I would have expected, but instead deeply contented.
Afterwards, planning dinner on the way home, we argued about whether we needed to make four pizzas or five, and, for a fleeting moment, I think we probably hated each other. It passed soon enough. These days we can't be bothered being cross for long. Not like when we were younger and our bodies raged with a heat, and we thought that this was what love should be: fulgent and inflamed. A friend asked me recently if I'd ever thought about leaving. Oh, of course, I said, often, but I'd no more leave him than I would my daughter or my brother. He's my family. A few weeks ago I stood naked on a towel on our kitchen floor while my husband applied anti-scabies lotion all the way from my jawline to the soles of my feet. And then I did the same for him. There was a time I would have died of shame at the very idea. But that is how we spent our Saturday night after our daughter came home infected with the parasitic mite. It was a nuisance, the lotion cold and clammy on our skin, and yet I felt awash with love.
I used to shrink from those elderly couples you sometimes see, sitting in a cafe, quietly sharing a date scone and a pot of tea. How terrible, I'd think. Why are they even together when they've got nothing to talk about? And I would pray I never ended up like that. But I see more clearly now that love resides in those long, sober stretches between the ups and the downs. And at the Farmers sale last Sunday I found myself wondering how many new beds the future still holds for us, and hoping it's many.