A Good Soft Blanket, a short story

full moon

Once a long time ago I was playing with words and wondered if you can have a “down” comforter, could there be such a thing as an “up” comforter.  This came out of that bit of play.  I am posting it in honor of the full moon, love, and Mother Nature who showed a bit of her beautiful anger a bit last night.  Be warned–this is a bit more out there than my normal posts.


A Good Soft Blanket

Driving across the Dakota prairie, Doria smiled at the moon-drenched land waving at her in the night, so wide, so alive.  Not since girlhood had she felt such a restless, living, presence in a stretch of land.  In her peripheral vision the clouds pulsed with a reddish glow, but when she focused on them directly, it was just an ordinary night sky.  Doria chuckled thinking it a sneaky, playful bit of land.

As far as she could see this land had been playground and garden to the spirits and the Lakota people since time began.  Doria always researched her chosen destinations and had read a good deal about the Black Hills of South Dakota and their power before deciding to sell her special blankets here.  Better to go to places already primed and ready for her magic and stay away from near-dead cities.  Not even a princess could feel the spiritual pea beneath that many layers.  Here, in this land, all was open, ready.

In the back of the Suburu wagon, the soft blankets were stacked to the roof, each one wrapped in plastic and waiting.  Doria loved rural America and the sleepy souls waiting for a jump charge of something special.

Doria sold blankets at fairs and flea markets; cool cotton on one side and soft downy fuzz on the other with a layer of magic squeezed between.  She thought of them not as down comforters but “up” comforters. “Not everything that goes up must come down.” She told her customers.  “Go ahead, try one.  The most amazing things happen beneath one of my blankets.”

There was nothing remarkable about Doria.  She dressed like an old hippie in all cotton clothing, chopped her hair short, had never had a perm, never worn make-up.  To a stranger walking by she could easily disappear into whatever landscape framed her body.

The blankets were not the least bit dangerous because only the people who were ready bought them.  It was as simple as that although Doria had no understanding about how that worked.  An old Navajo man supplied the blankets, the same man she’d bought her blanket from so long ago.  After her first night under the blanket she raced back to find the old man only to discover his booth and his blankets gone.  The next three months she hit every fair in a four-state region trying to find him and, when she did find him, he loaded the blankets into her car, grinned, and said, “Have fun”.

She thought back to the day she’d picked out her blanket at the fair in Sante Fe, how her eyes and then her fingers had rested lightly on a soft yellow blanket the color of butter or buttercups and emitting soft light like a halo.  Seemed like lifetimes ago since the old man’s job had become hers.

Now it was she who watched the people walk by.  Doria smiled, seeing their faces spread across the prairie night like angels.  Funny how a hundred or more people will walk by and then, out of the crowd a single body pulls away from the pack and strays to the booth; and before you know it, they touch one.  Maybe they go for the one on top or, for some odd reason, the hand hovers before choosing as if somewhere inside of the fuzzy brain, they know they must choose carefully which blanket to take.  The blankets themselves seem to influence that.  She had no idea how, but when a person finally touches the right one, his or her eyes lift in surprise as if Doria had pushed a button beneath the table that jolted them out of their bad dream.  Doria had seen it so often that she could now predict that look.  And once they bought, things happened.  She learned right away to only do one-day fairs (or only stay one day at longer fairs) because a few would come back trying to figure out what had happened.  Like she did herself with the old man.

Her own awakening had been sexual.  That’s what the blankets did, they brought a person out of slumber to whatever aspect of themselves needed most to be awakened.  That first night, sleeping beneath the soft yellow blanket, Doria had awakened to an aching between her legs that she had never felt before.  The morning shower devastated her.  Stepping up out of a sunken tub she saw herself in the full length mirror; saw breasts swollen with need and a waist tapering down and calling attention to pubic hairs standing curled at attention and adorning a lively little thing she hadn’t known existed–her vagina.  What a time that was.  With tears rolling down her cheeks and her talking aloud and saying, “I am a woman.  By god, I AM a woman.”  How, in almost forty years, that amazing fact had eluded her was beyond her ken.  Even with birthing three babies in a fluid rush from her own body, even with watching their tiny mouths suckle tender nipples, her uterus contracting from their sucking–even then–it had not really occurred to her that she was a woman.

Doria giggled in the quiet car thinking back to that soft yellow blanket (she still slept beneath it every night).  What a maelstrom of the senses; the skin beneath her clothes aching and the wild touch, taste, smell, sound of a body coming sharply, acutely . . . alive.  She probably would have started messing around with anything that walked except the experience itself, for some profound and mysterious reason, had an integrity to it.  It was related to the body and yet it wasn’t.  But when she tried to turn this new need to her old husband, it was like putting sandpaper to steel–it had no give.  He suddenly disgusted her in an honest way, a way she had never been able to admit.  His smell made her nauseous.  His touch became like dead things crawling over her skin and, in less than two weeks, she walked out on him.  That’s when she realized that the blanket was somehow involved because she left taking nothing but some money–and the blanket.  And she started searching for the old man.  She wanted to know. What happened?

When she found the old Indian in Albuquerque, the best he could do was grumble something about “You gotta want what you really want.”  And then he handed her a card with an address on it, 33 Doria Way, and loaded her car with the blankets saying it was her “turn” to pass them out because she had found him.  Besides, he was “getting too old”.  Doria took the blankets…and the name…and whenever her supply grew low she simply dropped a note to that address and stated her next destination and the new blankets would be waiting for her.

Where do they come from?  Once in awhile she asked herself this but none of it made sense in any logical way so so why wonder?  Doria wondered if anybody really knows what they want?  Thank God these blessed blankets seemed also to help people slice through the bullshit packed into an ordinary life.  She didn’t realize that until she met Charles in Tucson at the Swap meet two years ago.  Doria had never done a swap meet and decided what the hell, it was winter everywhere else and not much happening so why not give it a shot?  It was huge. The little booth was almost invisible in the unruly stacks of “Navajo” blankets and everything else under the sun.  But Charles had found her.

“Hi cowboy.”  How lightly she had treated that particular moment under the hot sun.  He had on boots and a felt cowboy hat and sunglasses.  “Need a new saddle blanket?”

He was pulled in right away.  Doria knew by the way he stood there for the longest time eyeing her, eyeing the blankets, saying nothing, turning as if to go and then walking back, his hand reaching for a blanket and then pulling sharply back as if afraid of commitment.  Oh, he had known.  He had.

“What are they?”  His voice sounded low and husky.  Doria flipped words at him like plastic chips.  Truth was, he made her uncomfortable.

“They are kind of like down comforters, only they aren’t down, if you get my drift–they are up.  Up comforters.”

“What do you mean?”  The man was dead serious.  Doria’s words hitched in her throat and tied a knot.

“I mean, these blankets make strange things happen, an awakening of sorts.”  Not ever had she been so straight.

“What do you mean?”

He would not quit.  His eyes looked straight at her.  His hand had still not touched a single blanket.  Doria shifted from the left foot to the right.

“I don’t know what I mean.  Stuff just happens, That’s all.  Whatever is supposed to happen, it just happens.”  Doria knew the words sounded lame, real lame, but he was so intensely there that she wanted to turn and hide, to run away.  And then he reached out and took a dark aqua blanket and pulled it to himself as if it was a woman and said, “How much?”

“Thirty-five dollars.”

He dug for his wallet and pulled out two twenties and handed them across the table and as he got close she could smell sage–the desert–on him.  He smelled like the earth itself.  Not like a man at all.  Handing him back the five dollars change, her hand shook.

Her mind, dusted with his scent, went numb.  He took the change and stood there.  Silent.  She wanted him to leave but he spoke instead.

“Now, if strange things are going to happen to me as a result of having bought this blanket from you, will you come along as I spend my first night under it?”

Is he joking, she wondered?  He wasn’t.  The man was dead serious.  Doria noticed how his upper lip formed a soft heart shape, how his shoulders rolled forward forming a masculine cove, a harbor.  “Yes”, she said simply.

She didn’t even know the man!

But that’s the way things happen when you’ve been under the blanket for a while.  A different course seems to construct itself outside of what your mind or personality thinks is right or proper.  Yes, she said, just like that.

“Okay.  I will come back at the end of the day and we can have some supper.”

And then he was gone–leaving her in the middle of five thousand people under the warm Tucson sun and every time she thought of him again throughout the day, wondering if he really would show up, she smelled pinion and sage, tasted soil.

He did come back.  Doria did spend the first night with him under the new blanket–the first night away from the soft butter yellow and as if yellow burnished into aqua, her own awakening was completed and his begun.

“I want you.”  his voice thickened with emotion.  He bowed to her.  Bent every way to please her.  He made a mold of his body and poured her into himself.  And then he turned another way, made her the mold, and poured himself into her body.  Never, not once, had Doria been made so complete as that night, with him, beneath the aqua blanket.  The bed was a long straight runway and Charles, a great pilot, did “touch and goes” on her body all night long until her senses, intoxicated by their own juices and smells, fell drunkenly asleep.

By morning, they were mated.  Like kittens or eagles or lions, they growled and rolled and curled and knew that this was for life.

“Marry me.”

“I need to know what you want.”

“I want you.”

“Besides me?”

“Besides you?  The truth.  I want the truth.”

Ah, truth.  A braided word with so many strands Doria couldn’t know what he meant by that.  Charles didn’t either.  He tried to explain but got lost in the tangles of verbiage that contained items like God and understanding and realization and attainment.

And then he crawled once again over her body putting first each of Doria’s fingers into his mouth and then each toe and suckled there for a long time until she grew white and weak and flashed warm and cold at the same time and decided, what the hell, she would seek the truth with him if that was where he was going.  The aqua blanket now smelled of sweat and semen and sweet juices and had hairs embedded into its midst and it belonged, this time, not to one but two, a pair, a yin\yang body stretching outward.

Doria drove quietly across the Dakota prairie with a sweet dampness between her legs just from remembering him, her man.  Not in five years had it lessened, these feelings for him.

Who would buy her blankets in Spearfish?  Oh how she wished she could see what events transpired for her customers.  Did they even know that they were wanting?  Or did they think only about cold fall winds and winter white sheets of snow and that here was a good soft blanket that would shield them from these things?  She stretched a hand out to the passenger side of the car and laid it palm down on Charles’ knee and whispered words like offerings to the moonlit prairie.

(Published originally in Bellowing Ark Literary Magazine)

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