Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper


Maybe, said the woman, across the rolled-down window of the passenger seat.

I’m having a problem with pillows.

When I was in college, a man I knew moved to China and I inherited his pillows and I discovered that there is such a thing as a perfect pillow, and I swear, my life since then has been one long quest. Nothing to do with the guy. It’s all about the pillow. That first perfect pillow wore out not long after I graduated.

And then I found a pillow combination that worked really, really well. It was a two-part stack, and the edges had to be just so, and my arm had to be slightly bent upward, but it was great. I remember the feeling of opening the hand of the upward arm with a sigh and knowing that a deep night of sleep waited ahead. That was back before kids, when L’s bedroom was our bedroom and there was nothing above us but a thin layer of roof and then sky. No second floor, no midnight stirrings, nothing but me and M alone in the house. Oh, and three dogs, two of whom would fight to the death given the scarcest opportunity.

That worked for a while, the pillows, and then…we got new ones? I changed shape? Something, can’t recall what. For several years, though, it didn’t matter because there were babies and who the hell sleeps when there are babies in the house? (If you comment with stories about how soundly your own babies slept, I will visit your house and make faces through the windows until you cry.) And then two newish pillows arrived under my head and those were fine. Not great, nothing like perfect, but fine. I got the sleep I needed.

But now… something’s off. I can’t get my head comfortable and therefore I can’t sleep, and when I do sleep, I sleep awkwardly and wake up with aches and pains as if I’d just turned 80, not 40. I am due another pillow epiphany, I think.

Also, today is my birthday. I’m 40 years old. It gets better every year and as long as I don’t think about D-E-A-T-H, I’m pleased to grow old and discover grey hairs and realize that there is no one else responsible for my happiness.

And soon, I’m sure, pillows will result.

2 thoughts on “Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

  1. Happy birthday my friend! There are so many things I could wish you, but I’ll just mention the most salient, important, crucial one here: a decent pillow. I hope this is the year it reveals itself to you.

  2. I, too, suffer from the curse of the perfect pillow setup. There MUST be two. There must always be two. One thin enough to be the bottom pillow and one comfy enough to be the top pillow. At any rate, happy birthday, and here’s to 80 more years of feeling 40!

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