**Longlisted for the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize

An unflinching, sage and mesmerizing portrait of an open relationship, Next Year, For Sure defies expectation and heralds the beginning of a bright writing career.


After nine years together, Kathryn and Chris have the sort of relationship most would envy. They speak in the shorthand they have invented, complete one another's sentences and help each other through every daily and existential dilemma. When Chris tells Kathryn about his attraction to Emily, a vivacious young woman he sees often at the laundromat, Kathryn encourages him to ask her out on a date--certain that her bond with Chris is strong enough to weather whatever may come.
     As Kathryn and Chris stumble into polyamory, Next Year, For Sure tracks the tumultuous, revelatory and often very funny year that follows. When Chris's romance with Emily evolves beyond what anyone anticipated, both Chris and Kathryn are invited into Emily's communal home, where Kathryn will discover new possibilities of her own. In the confusions, passions and upheavals of their new lives, both Kathryn and Chris will be forced to reconsider their past and what they thought they knew about love.
     Offering a luminous portrait of a relationship from two perspectives, Zoey Leigh Peterson has written an empathic, beautiful and tremendously honest novel about a great love pushed to the edge. Deeply poignant and hugely entertaining, Next Year, For Sure shows us what lies at the mysterious heart of relationships, and what true openness and transformation require.

Excerpt



CHAPTER 1

 
Next Year, For Sure
 
 
If you put the religion books on one shelf, it makes god look like a phase you went through. Like a deck you were going to build until you got a few manuals and all the tools and then didn’t. No, it’s better to have those books scattered seemingly at random, snuggled between a history of space travel and a slim volume of found poems. Then it’s clear that spirituality is just one facet in a richly lived life. It says you are open to possibilities.
    Chris doesn’t even know if Emily believes in god. (Or poetry, for that matter, or interplanetary travel.) He knows that she swears impressively but never goddamns anything—not once in their seven conversations. He knows that she lives in a crowded, bustling house called Ahimsa, but the house would have been named long before Emily moved to town and took over this part of his brain. And he knows that when he asked if she’d like to come apartment-sit over the long weekend, she used the word sanctuary, and said it in a way that stilled the air.
 
 
I think I have a crush on Emily, he tells Kathryn in the shower. This is where they confide crushes.
    A heart crush or a boner crush? Kathryn says.
    He doesn’t know how to choose. It’s not particularly sexual, his crush. He hasn’t thought about Emily that way. And Chris would never say boner. But it’s not just his heart, either. It’s his molecules.
    So he tells Kathryn about his molecules. How the first time he met Emily, it felt like his DNA had been re-sequenced. How he felt an instant kinship and a tenderness that was somehow painful. How, whenever he talks to her, he comes away feeling hollowed out and nauseous like after swimming too long in a chlorinated pool. And how—this, sheepishly—he has spent days arranging and rearranging their bookshelves and postcards and takeout menus, to make the apartment not only as welcoming as possible but as informative. As compelling.
    You’re awesome, Kathryn says.
 
 
Kathryn gets into bed still wet, the way she likes, and Chris makes the bed around her. A pillow between her thighs, a kiss on each knee, one arm tucked between the sheet and the blanket. She does this thing, this purring sound in her throat, which he has never been able to approximate.
    Chris slides under the covers and wraps himself around her. She burrows, nestles with contentment, but then seems sad.
    I wish Sharon and Kyle were coming, she says.
    Me too, he says. But it’ll still be good. He holds her and tells her all the ways it will still be good. Four days in the woods—no cars, no phones, no people. Four days alone with her favourite person in her favourite place with her favourite foods. She smiles. He walks her through each meal they’ve planned, the ingredients premeasured and packed into satisfyingly compact little bundles on the backs of their bikes. She nods and mmms until she starts to twitch and is away.
    Chris tries to let himself be pulled down by the warm suck of her undertow, but he is left lying in the dark. In his head, he starts to compose the offhand note he will write as they rush off the next morning. Hi Emily, Please make yourself at home. There is white wine in the fridge, and red—Hi Emily, Everything you see is yours. Hi Emily, I love you. Hi Emily, We’ll be back Monday night. Hope you have a great weekend! Love, Chris.
    Love, Chris & Kathryn.
    Kathryn & Chris.
 
 
It’s a two-hour ride to the big ferry, then another two hours on the other side, then a smaller ferry, another ride. By the time they get to the campsite, it will be dusk. But right now it’s still dewy and cool and they are taking it easy. Normally, there’d be the four of them riding in a line, and he knows Kathryn’s favourite thing is to ride at the back and watch them all snaking through the city, loaded with gear. Today they are riding side by side because it is too lonely not to.
    Kathryn has been a little sad all morning, so to cheer her up, Chris has been amusing her with the fussy, imperceptible measures he has taken to prepare the apartment for Emily: vacuuming the coils behind the fridge, relabelling their ragtag spice jars, hiding their exercise tapes. Nothing invigorates Kathryn like a good crush—more often hers, but especially his—and she was quick to make it into a game they could both play. After they’d put on fresh sheets for Emily, Kathryn insisted they roll around on the just-made bed.
    If it looks too neat, she said, it feels forbidding. What you want is a deep, deep sense of clean, yes, but then a surface that is—
    (And here she made a gesture that was at once inviting and nonchalant.)
    They rolled and cavorted on the bed until it needed to be made all over again.
 
 
On the smaller ferry, they stand away from their bicycles so they don’t have to field questions from bored drivers. They lean on the railing and gaze out over the water.
    I used to always see whales on the ferry when I was a kid, Kathryn says. She is stretching her calf muscle without taking her eyes off the horizon. I thought that was the whole point, she says, the whales. The first time they didn’t come, I told my mom she should get our money back.
    Chris always likes this story. He likes to look inside her brain and see how it works, like an ant farm or a cutaway model of a submarine—he never gets tired of looking.
    He tells her, again, about the time his family went camping and how he woke up one morning to find two killer whales playing in the water just off the shore, and how he stood there for half an hour, not twenty feet from his family asleep in their tents, and never woke them up.
    Her eyes well with fresh love. Sometimes Chris wonders if Kathryn remembers his stories; it often seems like she’s hearing them for the first time. But then at other times they’ll be talking and Kathryn will pluck a thread from a story Chris himself has long since forgotten, and he feels profoundly plumbed.
    I hope you’d wake me up, she says.
    I would definitely wake you up, he says.
    He doesn’t know why he hadn’t woken his family. Or why he had hoped, almost prayed, that they wouldn’t wake up on their own. Or why, after only a few minutes, Chris had started to wish the whales would leave, even while he couldn’t stop staring and gasping with joy.
    Kathryn presses into him, and they stare out over the teeming ocean. They see no whales.
 
 
Setting up the tent is awkward. Chris gets agitated by small objects when he is tired and sticky. Usually, Kathryn does the tents with Kyle while Sharon and Chris make dinner. They have a whole system.
    Tonight the tent seems needlessly complex. Kathryn, though, is a good teacher. She talks him through each pole and peg as if she were talking him down from a very wide ledge. He likes learning things from her. He has a list in his head: how to develop film in the bathtub, how to can tomatoes, how to spell his name in sign language. By the time the tent is up, it is past dark and they are too tired to cook. They sit in the tent and eat a jar of peanut butter.
    Kathryn falls asleep in her clothes, mid-sentence. Chris rummages through her backpack in the dark and finds her mouthguard. He holds it up to her lips and whispers in her ear. Baby bird, he says. She opens her jaw and feels for the plastic guard with her lips. He watches her pull it into her mouth and hears it snap into place.
    Chris lies back and listens to the tide coming in or going out. He wants to stay in this moment, this ache of contentedness, but his mind is already starting to skip and skitter. He tries to tunnel down into his body, to feel the way his muscles are singing from the ride, the way his cells are feasting on the fat and protein of the peanut butter, the way his bones know that they are resting on the earth. But he thinks: Emily.
    Emily.
    Emily.
    Emily.
 
 
Kathryn calls it the Tuna Voice. On their fifth anniversary, after nearly a lifetime without meat, Kathryn woke up in the night to a voice in her head. The voice said TunaTunaTunaTunaTuna. She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t read. She couldn’t eat. Or she could eat, but it didn’t make any difference. For weeks she tried fatty omega acids and vitamin B, but all she could think was TunaTunaTunaTunaTuna. Finally, she gave up and ate a damn tuna fish sandwich and the voice stopped. She almost cried for two days. About a year later, the voice came back, and she immediately ate a tuna fish sandwich. Now she buys one can of tuna a year and keeps it in the cupboard and doesn’t call herself a vegetarian.
    Maybe you just need to eat Emily, she says over breakfast.
    Chris makes a face.
    Once a year, she says.
    He’d like to change the subject, but he can’t think of anything else.
 
 
Without Sharon and Kyle, the day feels long.
 
 
Without Sharon and Kyle, they eat lunch too early, and then dinner too early. And then the sun won’t go down.
    Years ago, before Sharon and Kyle, they had come here with other friends. Dori and Brett the first time, but Dori and Brett seemed to believe that the point of camping together was so the men and the women could get away from each other. Dori kept saying things like, Why don’t you boys go explore while we get dinner organized. And later, to Kathryn, conspiratorially, Why don’t we make the menfolk wash the dishes.
    Michael and Pat had come another year, but what made Michael and Pat such sparkling dinner guests made them exhausting campers. They were funny, inquisitive, and perpetually on, quickly filling each silence with witty banter and innuendo until after three days it felt like the most important thing in the world was for four people to be able to sit in the woods and not talk.
    Then there was Susan and Mark, whose irony and just-kidding insults gradually became toxic. And Jamie and Rhen, who were fine, but who never stopped feeling like company.
    Really, Sharon and Kyle were perfect. Sharon and Kyle took turns telling stories. Sharon and Kyle asked questions and listened to your answers. Even when you paused to take a breath, even when you circled back to find the words you hadn’t found before, they didn’t interrupt. Sharon and Kyle got tipsy from the same number of drinks. Sharon and Kyle never said, Too bad—it’s three against one. Sharon and Kyle went to bed at the right time and didn’t sleep all day and make you tiptoe around the campsite. Sharon and Kyle pulled different stories out of Kathryn—stories Chris had never heard before.
    The only problem with Sharon and Kyle is the question too important to ask: Will they come next year?
 
 
 
They go to bed before dark, and wait in each other’s arms for sleep.
    I hope you don’t leave me for Emily, Kathryn says.
    I’m not going to leave you for Emily, he says.
    He doesn’t want to leave her for Emily. He wants to be smart, to be a grown-up, to learn from his mistakes. Besides, it wouldn’t work.
    Chris knows, just from their few conversations, that Emily’s days are bursting with potlucks and benefits and this friend’s opening and that friend’s closing, and he knows how this would go. For a couple of weeks, it would be extraordinary. He would rise to every occasion. He would be fun and vibrant, full of fresh stories and observations. Her friends would love him. Because he can be impressive; that’s what everyone says. But after a while, Chris would reach the bottom of his reserves. He would need a night to recharge. He would need most nights to recharge. Emily would stay home to be with him, or she’d go without him and be sad about his absence, but either way, her friends would take it personally. And when Chris says that he needs to recharge, they’d say, Exactly, all the more reason to come out. They’d say it’ll be just what he needs. Because they can’t understand that the thing that rejuvenates them is the thing that drains Chris. That going out and having fun is harder than work.
    And then Emily, after months of feeling isolated and losing touch with who she is, finally breaks up with him. Or she should. And everyone is miserable. Him, Emily, Kathryn. Kathryn who had been the perfect fit all along.
    While the tent fills with their exhaled breath, Chris plays the scenario out in his head like a film reel, watching the relationships implode in real time, then watching in reverse, trying to inoculate himself against the voice whispering at the edges of his brain.
 
 
When he wakes up, Kathryn is gone. There is a note on the picnic table, waiting under a rock. She has seen people in kayaks and has gone to find out the rental rates. She loves him. And under this, she has drawn a picture of him sleeping, all furrowed and earnest.
    He cooks breakfast like a ceremony, channelling all his errant feelings of tenderness into her food. She is Kathryn the Amazing. His favourite person in the world. He tries to prolong the preparation, to tease the food along, so that when she returns, everything will be moments from ready, like magic. But then suddenly it is done, and Kathryn is still gone.
    He putters around the campsite, tidying their gear, folding the discarded clothes that have accumulated at the foot of their sleeping pads. He oils her chain. He adjusts his brakes. After a while, he eats breakfast alone, and sets Kathryn’s aside for her.
    Chris reads her letter again. He stares into the loops of her g’s, the cavities in her vowels, and senses he has said too much. It is time to stop talking about Emily. But he doesn’t know how to not share everything with Kathryn. He doesn’t know how to keep a secret from her. Or how to just shrug and smile when she asks what he’s thinking, which is what she asks when she comes back. She is wearing a life jacket.
 
 
The kayak is a two-person deal, and big. It was the last they had. Cinched into the rear cockpit, he feels he is part of a two-headed sea monster—half human, half boat, half human.
    They negotiate their way along the shore, too nervous for the open water where the current sometimes takes people away.
    For years, Sharon and Kyle have been trying to hike round to the other side of the island, seemingly impossible to reach by land. This, Chris knows, is where the kayak is headed. They will see the other side of the island, he and Kathryn, and they will tell Sharon and Kyle, and Sharon and Kyle will say they can’t believe they missed it, and next year for sure.
 
 
Chris watches Kathryn’s steady strokes and eases his rhythm to complement hers. He tries to stroke left when she strokes right, right when she strokes left. He thinks one of them is supposed to be steering, but they seem to be finding a course together, pushing wordlessly toward the far point of the shore, and then the next point, and then the point beyond that.
    Do you want to kiss her? Kathryn says.
    Chris didn’t even know he was thinking about Emily.
    From the rear of the kayak, he can’t see Kathryn’s face, only her back, her hair, her elbows. He studies the back of her head, trying to read her. She is leaning into her strokes, getting tired.
    I don’t want to kiss her, he says.
    He doesn’t want to kiss her. He wants what comes after. After the kissing and the undressing and the confiding. After the discovery and the familiarity and the gradual absence of kissing. He wants the intimacy of friends who used to be lovers.
    They paddle around an outcropping in silence. 
    Because if you want to kiss her, she says, tell me and we can have that conversation.
    Okay, he says.
    Across the back of her life jacket is stencilled the word MEDIUM. He thinks: Medium. Seer. Soothsayer.
    They turn back, unsure how far they’ve gone. They take turns paddling, and sometimes let themselves float along.
 
 
CHAPTER 2
 
 
Sleep World
 
 
Forty-seven minutes is a long time to kill in a mattress store when you don’t need a mattress. For the first couple of laps, the salespeople kindly ignore Kathryn. She has explained that she is waiting for someone. It’s early on a Tuesday morning, and the salespeople are still handing each other cups of coffee and debriefing on last night’s television.
    Kathryn wanders the store, trying to look purposeful. She studies each mattress in turn. She contemplates their regal names. She peers into a small cutaway section of mattress with its isolated springs pressed up against Plexiglas. They look battered and desperate, like the animals in the brochures that keep coming in the mail.
    Eventually, one of the young salesmen is sent over to check on her. Kathryn affirms, again, that she is waiting for a friend, that it is the friend who needs a mattress, and that she herself is entirely content with her current mattress, though this is not strictly true. Her own bed is sagging and problematic, but Chris likes it.
    The young salesman returns to the pack with this information. They keep talking amongst themselves about this show and that show, but Kathryn can feel them watching her with suspicion. She tries to imagine what they might suspect. That she is going to sneak out of the store with a queen-size box spring in her bag? That she is going to slit the long, soft belly of a mattress and hide evidence inside? That she is going to move into their showroom with several temperamental cats and set up camp? What is their worst-case scenario?
 
 
Now that Sharon owns a car, she is late to everything. The car was part of a story that began with Sharon not having a baby and ended with her and Kyle moving to a condo with cream carpets.
    On paper, their new place is not even that far away. A forty-minute ride from Chris and Kathryn’s—thirty if you really pedal. Kathryn and Sharon had routinely cycled twice that distance when they were in grad school together, but the miles feel somehow longer in this new direction. Bike paths end unceremoniously, spitting you out onto noisy highways. The cars move faster and seem angrier.
    Back when Sharon and Kyle lived across the alley, the four of them would see each other almost every day. Sometimes to borrow a lemon or envelope or screwdriver, other times because the news was too terrible to watch alone.
    Now though, they don’t show up at each other’s back door with a bottle of wine or a birthday cake. They don’t phone each other and say, We made too much pasta, do you guys want to come eat with us? Instead they say, What does week after next look like? They say, Can we do it at our place? They say, Hey I’m coming into town to look at mattresses, why don’t you come along and we can catch up.
 
 
When Sharon arrives, much is forgiven. The salespeople are not suspicious of Sharon. They are charmed and intrigued by her princess-vs-pea dilemma—a series of fine beds that all felt perfect for the first hour, but then this nagging ache would creep up her leg and into her spine. It’s fun to watch Sharon do her thing. She is getting everyone on board, like they are her students. Kathryn feels lucky to be here playing hooky with Sharon on a Tuesday morning while her work sits at home on the desk.
    Here is what I propose, says Sharon to the gathered sales force. You guys pretend I’m not here and let me lie around in your beds all day like a weirdo. Then at the end of the day, I hand you my credit card and show you the bed you just sold me.
    This amuses the salespeople and they bring out paper booties and special pillows for different kinds of sleepers—side sleepers, stomach sleepers—and a secret notebook with all the pricing information and talking points. Thus equipped, Sharon and Kathryn are set adrift in the sea of mattresses.
    Now, says Sharon once they are alone, let’s get in bed and then I want to hear all about this Emily thing.
 
 
Kathryn had told Sharon about the Emily thing during an inadvertent phone call inspired by Neanderthals. She’d been on the couch watching a BBC program on Neanderthals, the last of a people, and she had suddenly felt so much love for Sharon, and so much longing, that she picked up the phone and dialed her number without thinking.
    Sharon was half watching the same show and paying some bills, and they talked about work for a while and how it must feel for an actor to be cast as a Neanderthal.
    Then Sharon had asked what was up, and asked in such a way that Kathryn felt that something should be up. And so, to have something to say, Kathryn told her that Chris had a crush on some Emily he sees at the laundromat—which is fine, people get crushes—but that he had invited this person to stay in their apartment while they were away for the long weekend, to house-sit, to sleep in their bed, and that that felt weird. This got Sharon’s interest. They talked about it hotly for several minutes—Sharon being emphatic and scandalized in gratifying ways—until Sharon was so sorry, but she had to head down to a condo meeting.
    Now Sharon is going to want the whole story. Everything is a story now with Sharon. But Kathryn isn’t sure what else to say. Chris hasn’t mentioned Emily since that weekend. After bringing her up constantly in the weeks leading up to her stay, now he can’t even be drawn into conversation about her. When Kathryn asks what Emily looks like or what colour her hair is, Chris can’t say. All that Kathryn knows about Emily is what she left behind in their apartment: in the bathroom, a tin of lip balm with a sliding lid that is satisfying to open and close; in the recycling, an unrinsed jar of some paste that makes the whole apartment smell velvety; in the bedroom, nothing, although both their clock radios were unplugged; and on the refrigerator, a three-page letter of thanks, politely addressed to both of them, but clearly written for Chris and filled with such candour and fellowship that it felt too intimate to read. Kathryn had read it twice.
All this she has already told Sharon on the phone while the Neanderthals failed to adapt.
    Kathryn considers now telling Sharon about the misspellings in the letter, not just Kathryn’s name, but in nearly every line. But she cannot think of a way to say this without sounding petty. Finally, she resolves to say this: There is no story. There are just these feelings that come and go. Feelings without a beginning, middle, and end.
    But by the time they are settled into a bed, they are already talking about sex.
 
 
Since buying the condo, Sharon and Kyle have been out of sync, sexually. Morning has always been their time. Morning and night for the first couple years, but mornings in particular. These days, though, Kyle’s brain wakes up making lists and doesn’t remember it has a body until it’s time to leave for work. Now Sharon has found a solution: oats. Apparently, a quarter cup of steel-cut oats right before bed has Kyle waking up like his former self.
    That’s why I was late getting here, Sharon says. She doesn’t actually wink.
    Kathryn rolls onto her side and stares out over the empty mattresses. They’re like ice floes. Can you steer an ice floe? Or do you just go where it takes you?
    How did you figure that out? Kathryn asks. The oat thing.
    Ann-Marie, from our building, she told me about it, says Sharon.
    Kathryn has met this Ann-Marie once, at Sharon and Kyle’s housewarming. Ann-Marie was in the kitchen blending margaritas and warming tortillas in a cast-iron pan she’d brought from her place across the hall. Let me take that, said Ann-Marie, plucking a dirty plate from Kathryn’s hand. This kitchen is exactly like mine, so I already know my way around, said Ann-Marie, though Kathryn could see the sink right there.
    You should try it, says Sharon of the oats. This, Kathryn understands, is a reference to Chris, and Kathryn feels a vague urge to defend him.
    Chris has what Kathryn calls a high cuddle drive. He kisses her awake every morning, he reaches out to stroke her arm while they read the paper, he hugs her for whole minutes, which she loves. And okay, so they don’t have a lot of sex. But when they do—usually on a Sunday, sometimes when the air turns crisp—it can sprawl across the whole afternoon and into the evening, luxurious and playful and sweet.
    This isn’t working for me, says Sharon, rising from the bed. Too mooshy, she says.
 
 
They drift through the beds, Sharon pressing her palm firmly down into each mattress and holding it there, eyes closed, as if communing with the bed’s essential nature. Kathryn looks at price tags. Some of the beds are so unaccountably expensive that Kathryn—if it was up to her—wouldn’t even pause in front of them, wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.
    Sharon is lingering near a four-thousand-dollar bed. She has slid her hand under the foam pad and is palpating the springs, dispassionately, like a doctor. She is in fact a middle school teacher.
    Didn’t they just buy a bed, Sharon and Kyle? (Kathryn remembers precisely: it was an engagement present to themselves.) Did they sell that bed? Where does four thousand dollars come from? How do you buy a condo, and then a bed, and then another bed?
    There was a time when Kathryn might have asked Sharon these questions. Actually, there was a time she wouldn’t have had to ask—the answers would have bubbled to the surface while they helped each other put away groceries or stood in line together to cash their student loans. When they were part of the slow unspooling of each other’s lives.
    Sharon has sunk herself into the four-thousand-dollar mattress. Kathryn is converting the price in her head. Four thousand dollars is her food for an entire year. It is the dental work Chris needs. It is x hours of copy-editing plus y hours of indexing, over the ten-year life of the bed, for a total of z hours per year. Kathryn climbs onto the exquisite bed.
 
 
Sharon holds Kathryn’s hand as they lie staring up at the acoustic panels.
    This is the one, Sharon says. Her hand feels softer than it used to, and bigger, in a four-thousand-dollar bed.
    Sharon used to be cheap. When they were students, when money was a thing, Sharon was flamboyantly frugal, a loud champion of all things scrounged or redeemed.
    One time, Sharon and Kyle had shown up at their door late one evening, exultant, because the video store was throwing out old VHS tapes. Sharon had rescued The Great Muppet Caper from a cardboard box on the sidewalk, just as the rain was starting to fall.
    Chris pulled the futon off the frame and onto the living room floor, and the four of them sardined themselves under two overlapping blankets and watched and cheered and made smart and dumb jokes, until Kathryn thought she might hyperventilate from laughing.
    Later, exhausted by their own hilarity, they watched in silence, a blissful stupor washing over their bodies. Kathryn loved these people, loved living on this futon island with them, and it was at this moment—as the movie rounded into the third act—that she began to think about the four of them falling asleep here in front of the TV, and the four of them waking up in the morning and making breakfast together and deciding what to do with their Sunday, the four of them. Kyle was already drifting off, soughing faintly between songs. Soon Chris was asleep, too, furrowing and scrunching his sincere face. Finally, it was just Sharon and Kathryn holding hands and fading in and out as the tireless puppets saved the day. Then the credits were rolling and Sharon was squeezing her hand, then letting it go. She was reaching for Kyle’s shoulder, rubbing him slowly awake.
    You guys can stay, Kathryn had said. You should stay.
    Sharon smiled, and kept rousing Kyle, who made a low, assenting rumble.
    You should stay, Kathryn said again. It felt strangely urgent.
    But now Kyle was standing, his eyes still closed, and Sharon was leading him to the door.
    Thank you for a perfect night, Sharon said.
    Kathryn locked the door behind them and stood there trying to reabsorb her feelings. She could hear Chris stirring in the other room. He was calling out to her—making an endearing joke that had threaded through the evening—and she was inexplicably irritated and hot and a kind of angry that she could not name. She did not answer. She washed the dishes loudly and wrestled the futon back onto the frame and did not go to bed until Chris was surely asleep. By the next day, Sharon and Kyle were engaged.
 
 
This, ladies, is as good as it gets. So says the salesman. The reigning king of beds, he says. He begins to enumerate the many features of this noble mattress. Kathryn can see the contents of his nostrils.
    They have only been in this bed for twenty minutes, so Kathryn waits for Sharon to drive the salesman away, remind him of their deal. But Sharon does not drive him away. She encourages him. She calls him Gary, which is his name. She asks Gary how long the warranty is, she asks about coil count. They talk admiringly to each other about the bed while Kathryn stares into a halogen light. She is thinking again about that letter, magneted to her fridge.
    And what do you think? the salesman asks Kathryn. Kathryn doesn’t understand the question.
    She’s just keeping me company, Sharon says, letting go of Kathryn’s hand. Sharon explains to the salesman that her boyfriend—fiancé actually—can sleep on anything and so bed-shopping with him is impossible because he dozes off on every bed they try.
    The salesman makes a half-neutered observation about men and women and Sharon laughs. Sharon and the salesman begin to rehearse the differences between men and women.
    But Chris would be here. If Kathryn had a pain in her leg, if Kathryn was unable to sleep at night, Chris would be here beside her, even if he was bored. But he wouldn’t be bored. He would be engaged. He would turn it into a game. He would make up a backstory for each mattress. He would tell her about their childhoods as beanbags, imbuing each bed with hopes and ambitions and tragic flaws that he and Kathryn might recognize and grow to love. And Kathryn would mostly listen, but would occasionally blurt out some bit of business that he would seamlessly integrate into the story.
    And when the time came to decide, Chris would listen to Kathryn’s messy, rambling anxieties about where the bed was made, what the factory conditions were for the workers, and did she really need a new bed at all, and didn’t most of the world sleep on mats not nearly as comfortable as the bed they already had. And when she got overwhelmed by the morality of it and all the choices and the expense and the materialism and she started to panic, he would put his arm around her and guide her out of the store and across the street to the noodle place and he would get a bowl of food in front of her. He would sit beside her in the vinyl booth and surround her with his quiet goodness, soak up all her terror and despair and absorb it like a charcoal filter, until she felt worthy of love and a non-debilitating bed and could march herself back across the street and buy a decent mattress. And when some salesman told them that men are like this and women are like that, Kathryn would know that she and Chris were on the same side and that Gary was on the other. Because Kathryn and Chris are a team.
 
 
Sharon is sitting up now, digging through her bag. She is buying the four-thousand-dollar bed. Kathryn wonders at the quiet snap of this decision. How one minute Sharon did not know, and then the next minute she did. It is only eleven thirty in the morning.
    Kathryn has not said any of the things she meant to say. She meant to say that, yes, the thought of Emily eats at her. That she feels colonized by that letter, planted like a flag in her kitchen. That sometimes when Kathryn comes home and the letter has been moved slightly, she wishes that Emily would disappear and have never existed, but that sometimes she wishes it was Chris who would disappear, or she herself, or that nobody had ever existed and the planet was still choked with algae and God was pleased. Other times, she hears some dumb song on the radio that makes her feel connected to everything—mattress salesmen and earwigs and crying babies—and she wants Chris to do whatever he needs to do to be happy. If he needs to kiss Emily, then kiss her. Or worse even. She just wants him to be happy. She wants him to be happy so he can make her happy.
    Sometime this week would be ideal, says Sharon.
    Sharon has her day-planner out, making arrangements for the mattress to be delivered. Kathryn lets her eyes skim through Sharon’s week, the appointments and the half-familiar names. It’s mostly wedding stuff. Then she sees her own name:
 
 
                                            Sleep World
                                            (w/Kathryn!)
 
 
    Next to her name is drawn a small heart. The whole day is blocked off. Kathryn wonders if they will now have lunch and sit on some heated patio drinking bellinis and talking about big and small things, or if the unexpected efficiency of this purchase will inspire Sharon to see how many other tasks she can squeeze into her so-called sick day.
    Kathryn doesn’t mind either way. She is ready to go home. She has something to say to Chris. It is starting to take up space in her mouth. She wants him to be happy. What is her worst-case scenario?
Publisher: Doubleday Canada