The camera pans across a QVC showroom. Images of a scruffy (but not too scruffy), British male aged 40 (give or take) in various yet similar beige outfits fade in and out softly on the television screens behind the presenters. The same man in the photos stands grinning, teeth yellowing like buttered popcorn jelly beans. A pristine pillow is clutched between his pasty fingers, seemingly attempting to resist his imprint.
“My name is Pear Tylls and I’ve spent the past 27 years searching for the perfect pillow. Through my hit television series A Pillow Abroad , I’ve taken millions of viewers across the globe to test out the latest and greatest head cushions. But now, using all this knowledge I’ve collected I’m bringing you the perfect pillow right to your own bed. For just four easy payments of £14.95, you too can proudly say that you own the Perfect PillowTM.”
Louis had first seen the abridged advert between episodes of Forensic Files. A fly kept landing on the television screen, mistaking its light for a way outside. His neck perpetually felt locked in the wrong place. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d sat up straight naturally, without reminding himself to broaden his shoulders and puff out his chest. Was that even how humans were supposed to sit?
In the palm of his hand, the website on his phone showed the same smiling face that was on his screen. Louis hadn’t been able to afford a Perfect PillowTM, but out of habit (he’d been looking for new employment for a while now, the fumes at Lush were starting to give him migraines) he scrolled to the bottom of the page and clicked the small word “Jobs” in baby blue. Now, as a Customer Support Representative for the Perfect PillowTM for the past five months, Louis’s neck still felt stiff and he still couldn’t afford one.
When he swivelled in his office chair that morning – in a pair of soft, celestial-patterned boxers an ex-girlfriend had gotten him one Christmas – an announcement chimed on Slack. Defect found in pillows manufactured in our Manchester location. Most of the orders from that batch have been fulfilled, so expect an increase in complaints today through the weekend.
“You know, I just work so hard,” Beverley exhaled, “and the last thing I want in my house, let alone my pillow is thousands of fucking maggots! Is that too much to ask?”
“I understand your dissatisfaction. We can send you a new Perfect PillowTM along with a brand new, complementary Perfect Body PillowTM for your troubles,” Louis said. Having not wanted to be an actor growing up, he never thought that his career would ever involve him learning off more lines than he did for his role as a sheep in his primary school’s nativity play.
“I had to touch them,” Beverley breathed, “I never want to touch one of your products again. What I want is my money back.”
Beverley had always wished she was one of those girls who could FaceTime while walking. Her arm always got tired though, and she always ended up looking too much at her own little rectangle than the face of the caller on the other side and the world around her. Vanity could literally be the cause of her death.
“I understand ma’am,” the customer service representative responded at one point.
But he didn’t, Beverley thought after the interaction ended. He didn’t understand that knotted, tangled, bulging feeling in the slimy pit of her stomach, the tightening of the skin cells on her arms, when something was out of place, or if she ate too many complimentary bread sticks. Everything online in those neat little boxes looked so idyllic, so necessary, that Beverley couldn’t resist tapping. Her apartment held wobbly towers of digital purchases, threatening to crumble at any moment. For some reason – a reason Beverley couldn’t quite identify, but that she knew was there, looming above her – all of them together didn’t create her dreamy curated abode. The Perfect PillowTM was meant to be the missing puzzle piece. If her neck finally felt more nimble and flexible, she would be able to work from home so much more effectively, be able to enjoy each second of her morning run, put her phone away and actually pay attention to a plot line from start to finish rather than have it be an ambient background for her impulse buying. But instead, it had been full of maggots: an intruder she hadn’t seen since 4th class when Lily Price left her floral lunchbox in her cubby over the Christmas holidays.
Beverley ate her dinner – leftover orange chicken – that night on a HAY Rainbow Plate in Mint Green. Her neck twinged as she tried to settle onto her itchy burlap couch pillows. They had looked so perfect on RHW’s Instagram story. She knew it was in her head – but it felt as if those squirmy, slimy alien grains of rice she had encountered earlier were still there on her fingertips. A 17th-century Italian physician and poet, Francesco Redi, had been the first to understand the life cycle of maggots, Beverley learned from her phone. Redi had deduced that maggots and flies didn’t spontaneously generate out of thin air into old meat. Rather, they emerged from eggs too small for the human eye to see. Surely, Beverley thought, there’s something small enough to see them now though; aren’t factories meant to be sterile? Sterile in Beverley’s mind was an antonym for nature.
“Hey, we’re going to need some backup towards the northeastern quadrant of the factory floor. There’s a minor situation going on,” Clodagh’s earpiece buzzed.
As she started towards the area, a faint strobe-like flicker appeared down one aisle; one of the overhead lights needed to be changed. When Clodagh was a child her dentist had an illuminated panel in the ceiling above the chair. An Office Window’s screen sky with a hot air balloon floated above her head as her teeth bled. She didn’t know if the same was true for adult dentists – she didn’t have private dental insurance. The ceilings of the factory she worked in had a similar panel that took up the majority of the space. It was kind of like being outside all day, except with no weather patterns or fresh air.
Clodagh couldn’t remember the last time she slept more than seven hours. Sheep jumped perpetually over a snoozing teddy bear on an animated poster in their break room above the heads of employees often dozing in the crook of their elbow on the Formica table.
“What’s the issue?” She asked, approaching a group of her colleagues in matching navy uniforms huddled around the entrance of a machine.
“There seems to be a maggot infestation,” Tom, her supervisor, said. “I don’t know how those little buggers would’ve even gotten in. Our ventilation system was just inspected last week. Outside air isn’t allowed in until it’s been properly filtered.”
Raj, another peer, peeked inside further and grimaced. “It looks like they’ve made a pretty substantial home in there.”
“An extermination team is on its way,” Tom announced, finger poking his phone. “We’ll shut everything down for the next couple days and alert the head office.”
Clodagh walked towards the machine’s beige mouth. On the edge of the conveyor belt’s tongue squirmed a hieroglyphic slime: thousands of pulsating organisms. If they all stopped moving just the smallest bit and joined together they could form some semblance of a human body, Clodagh thought, and then they could be a Perfect PillowTM customer rather than a pest .
The mother racoon held a corner of the Perfect PillowTM in her mouth, it felt spongey on her tongue. While humans gain most of their understanding of their surroundings from sight, racoons do from touch. By wetting the Perfect PillowTM with her mouth, the nerve endings on the mother racoon’s paws were enhanced – like she had increased the volume of tactility on her fingertips. It was almost like taking MDMA, if all your serotonin went into the sensation of touch. She knew instinctively that this alien object would provide comfort for her four babies. It felt as if it was made of her own soft skin and fur amplified by hundreds. They would love it.
The mother raccoon tucked it into her mouth and scurried back to that warm, dry space she had found earlier in the week where she had left her sleeping babies for a moment. It was a warm, dry human space. She could tell it had belonged to humans because there were dented shiny cans scattered throughout, along with piles of cotton items like soft anthills. If her babies were human babies, the mother racoon sometimes thought, they might be more comfortable, but because of all the different choices humans made for objects as simple as warmth, she was sure they wouldn’t be happier. Her kits knew her unique pattern of skin and fur, and that was all they needed.
When she dropped her new find on the ground the babies blinked slowly and goopily. Parts had disintegrated slightly in her mouth on the way over. She placed it in the centre of their soft, cotton mound and wrapped herself around her little blobs of fluff. When the mother raccoon placed her chin on the sopping, foamy fabric, she felt her neck muscles loosen, as if hundreds of tiny masseuses had entered her blood stream and carefully, delicately undid her knots from the inside. The pillow had finally become perfect.