By M. J. Austins
The Sleeping Princess was a mattress shop, and although it wasn’t the most prestigious or well-paying job, it had the perk of being quiet and giving long hours. These were two things Clarence used to his fullest advantage in order to finish the copious amounts of college homework he had. After a few months, he began to take the precaution of hiding his textbooks because Alan, a coworker, had a tendency to bug him about why he had so much homework. Clarence was too embarrassed to explain how he’d become enrolled in law school and Med school and was balancing classes with a skill he hadn’t realized he’d had. He was reasonably sure that if he explained his circumstances, he would quickly be labeled as a maniac by everyone else he shared a shift with, and probably people from other shifts as well.
Today was busier than usual. Jenny was leading an older couple through the aisle displaying memory-foam beds. This was busier than usual, because in Clarence’s experience, it was incredibly rare to have more than one customer in the store at a time.
The bell on the door jingled and Clarence looked up from his textbook in surprise. A third customer?
The man was wearing a suit and a tie and looked quite formidable striding down the length of the shop toward Martin, who appeared to be filling in for Tom for some reason that was most likely going to end in a catastrophe. Clarence watched him with interest.
The man dinged the bell on the counter several times, despite Martin clearing faking being asleep on the open cash register.
“If you have any complaints please register them with the manager at the back of the store…” Martin muttered without looking up.
The man rang the bell a few more times, more agitatedly. “I demand to speak with the owner of this shop.” He said in a nasally, commanding tone of voice.
Clarence hid a smile as he highlighted the side-effects of narcotic based prescriptions. Laura was, to put it delicately, not customer-friendly. She preferred to retreat into her office and play on her DS, leaving her employees in chaos.
Martin opened his eyes and sat up, decisively slamming the register. “Laura!” He shouted, making everyone else in the entire store flinch and cover their ears.
The door to her office slammed open and she stalked out. Upon seeing the customer, if he could be considered that, she smiled. “May I help you?”
“Vincent McLain, Health Inspector.” He announced, sticking out his hand.
Laura shook the proffered hand. “Laura Shniik, owner of the Sleeping Princess. What are you here for?”
Vincent looked mildly offended at her forwardness. “I’ve been sent to inspect your establishment to ensure it meets government standards.”
Clarence stared at the man. Laura stared at the man. Martin stared at the man. The elderly couple stared at the man. Jenny finished explaining the upsides to built-in spinal support.
Laura cleared her throat. “Very well. Martin here will show you around. I’m sure all the employees will do their best to make sure we meet the government standards.”
Martin opened his mouth to protest and was silenced with an icy glare. Clarence watched Laura walk back into her office and close the door. A mattress store health inspector? He thought, more dazed than astonished.
Martin came around to the other side of the counter. “Where would you like to start?” He asked in a way that made Clarence suspicious.
Vincent set his case on the counter and opened it. He retrieved a pair of gloves, what looked like a large meat thermometer, and a notepad. “We’ll begin with the temperature. The internal temperature of a mattress must be kept at a constant of fifty degrees Fahrenheit.” He pulled the gloves on with a sinister snap.
“Is that what the thermometer is for?” Martin asked warily.
“Precisely,” The inspector answered grimly. He strode over to the nearest display mattress. “Please remove the unnecessary coverings.”
Martin yanked the covers, sheets, and pillows off the bed and dropped them in a crumpled pile on the floor.
The inspector stepped over the pile and violently plunged his thermometer into the mattress. It punctured through the plastic sanitary protector.
“Just as I thought.” He announced. “The internal temperature of this mattress is only 47 degrees. Someone must turn the heat up eight notches.”
Jenny abandoned her customers to adjust the thermostat.
The inspector continued down the aisle to the next mattress. He turned to Martin. “Tell me, what is the expiration date on this mattress?”
“That specific mattress?” Martin asked, most likely to buy time.
Vincent grimaced coldly. “Answer the question.”
“2082.” Martin replied hastily.
The inspector narrowed his eyes at Martin. “A mattress’s shelf life averages 50 years. Are you telling me this mattress is from the future?”
Martin nodded emphatically. “You wouldn’t believe it but the other day this shady looking fellow in a blue box came around with a whole load of them.”
The man had just opened his mouth, about to disagree with Martin, when Lady wandered into sight.
Lady was Laura’s cat. She was ancient, misshapen, fat, diseased, and had digestion problems. And for some reason only answered to “Marshmallow” and only if it was called in a long, scratchy, old woman voice.
The inspector shut his mouth, then opened it again. “What is a cat doing in here?” He practically shrieked.
Martin shrugged. “That’s Lady, Laura’s cat. She hangs around.”
“She’s shedding! In the air the mattresses are breathing!” The inspector sounded distressed.
“Mattresses don’t breathe.” Martin declared.
The inspector fixed him with a deadly glower. “Which of us, pray tell, has a Masters Degree in Mattress Sciences?” He demanded.
Neither of you. Clarence thought to himself.
The inspector must have possessed a very short attention span, because he kept going, asking questions about preposterous things.
“Are these labeled for individual sale? What about packs of three? But what if someone wants to buy bulk?”
“Where is the ingredient list on this? What? All of these things are inedible! There isn’t even an allergy warning! How do you know these weren’t processed in a factory that also processes peanuts? You’ll get sued!”
“Why aren’t these pillows labeled as a choking hazard? Look at the buttons!”
And when he reached Clarence’s mattress, “WHERE IS THE TAG ON THIS?????????”
Clarence had purchased it when he moved out of his house, and Laura had given him permission to keep it in the corner. He always had closing shift and opening shift so he could sleep here at nights. And he had indeed removed the tag.
The inspector looked close to hyperventilating.
“That’s Clarence’s mattress.” Martin explained.
“Who?” The inspector demanded.
“Clarence is the mattress technician. He bought the mattress to practice on.”
The inspector relaxed marginally. Then his gaze fell on Tom, who was asleep on one of the display mattresses.
“Who is that?” The inspector demanded.
So that’s where Tom went, Clarence thought.
“What is he doing?”
“On the mattress??”
The inspector stared. His eyes rolled back in his head and he crumpled gracefully to the floor.
Clarence turned his attention back to his textbook. His assignment was due in three hours.
Jenny turned the thermostat back down and returned to her customers. They were in such high spirits they purchased two mattresses and 37 pillows.
Martin gave them a 15% discount.