There was something rotten in our bedroom. I am not talking about my love life, but about the smell of putrefaction which emanated from the wall just behind the headboard of our bed. Something had died in there, and it stank.
The first night, we had just returned from holidays. I walked in, blenched, and wondered what terrible food the house sitters had been cooking. The second night it was stronger, so I blamed my husband's gym shoes and banished them to the hall. The stench grew worse. I sniffed around and located the smell, then we reversed the pillows, remade the bed, and tried to sleep with our toes to the headboard. Fifteen minutes later I was trying not to gag, so we rolled up our futon, carried it into the lounge room, and camped for a week.
Lying there at night, my thoughts turned to Tokyo. Many people in Japan sleep in the same room in which they spend time during the day; the futon is rolled away each morning. Millions, perhaps billions, of people sleep in their living rooms; and so did our forebears, whether in tiny huts or larger Saxon halls.
I have grown up in a wealthy bubble of human history, the modern West, and have always had a designated bedroom; but now I am wondering why. It was so comfortable to sleep low on the floor, where our beautiful woollen rug lay at eye level; it was so cosy to gaze up at the shelves of books lining one wall of the room. Sounds were muted by the books and soft furniture, and I slept and made love very well. Meanwhile, our kids came in early for cuddles in bed, something that hadn't happened for a long time.
Each morning my husband rolled up the mattress and tucked it between couch and cupboard; the floor was freed up for play. Each evening he unrolled it again and, after a moment's ritualistic re-tucking of the sheets, we slipped into bed. It was hardly onerous.
Meanwhile, our once warm bedroom felt empty and cold, and I began to realise it was not the room designation but the presence of the mattress which made it a good place to sleep.
It led me to wonder why we have separate rooms for sleeping and reading and playing. Is it habit? Culture? Class? Is it a statement of wealth? Since I spent a week sleeping in the lounge room, my house has felt ridiculously big.
We're not about to downsize in a hurry, but it raises questions about the norm. Our house is smaller than the average Australian new home; even so it often echoes. Are there ways of living so we have privacy and elbow room, and yet use most of the space most of the time? Must some rooms remain vacant all day and others empty all night, or could we remain comfortable were they to double in purpose?
It was liberating to realise we don't need such a large house, that we are flexible enough to adapt. If we want to downsize or change how we live, if we want to go live in a shack, we can; and we can hold these ideas loosely until their time comes.
As I pondered these things, the ants kept busy behind the skirting board, and I became intrigued by this unseen catalyst. In making us uncomfortable enough to move, in provoking questions about how we live and what we need, even the death of a small hidden thing became a gift.
Now we are back in our bedroom and a perfect skeleton, picked clean, lies invisible to me just inches from my head. What further ideas will grow out of it? What dreams will it bring? What mysteries does it hold? I will find out by lying quietly in the darkness, and listening to the silence.