The bed was already in the apartment when I moved in, just lying there in the empty room, a muted beam of light coming through the dusty beige curtains and highlighting its curved corners. The landlord, a heavy-set elderly woman with a gruffness no doubt learned from her time as a nutritionist in the Navy, had sold it to me.
"The former tenant's family didn't want it," she said.
"But they took everything else?"
"Yeah," she offered, then the reason for our being here: "A hundred bucks."
I paid the money for the bed to stay where it was, though I had the sneaking suspicion that had I not paid for it, somehow it would have remained regardless. But it was mine now, I figured, and it was comfortable and larger than anything I'd owned before, so I was left happy with the purchase. It took me about a month to realize that I was sleeping on a dead woman's bed.
Molly slept with her eyes open and her mouth slightly crooked. In the right light it made her looked like a stunned elementary school student forced to smile on picture day. At first, when she'd begun staying over, it would occasionally startle me. I rolled over and there she was, facing me, looking as if she were about to speak. "What?" I'd ask quietly, but the response never came. I found it weird, certainly, but it gradually became charming and sweet, as all new traits tend to become at the beginning.
"You sleep with your eyes open."
"I know," she said, taking her head off my chest, her eyes away from the television across the room.
"Are you aware of what's going on around you, or do your eyes just...shut off?"
"I don't know." She put her head back on my chest.
The cats would hover around me most of the day. Purchased at a mere six-weeks old, I was replaced as the image of their mother, or maybe they'd been too young to even form an initial picture of her in the first place. The white one, who had a name but who we all called, "The White One," seemed to have a particular bond. Moving from one room to another, she was on me like a shadow. Sitting up in attention when I'd look her way or speak to her in one of those cooing voices, which, in confidence, is not simply reserved for infant children.
From the moment I began washing my face at night, habitual instinct kicked in and she knew it was time. I laid down on the bed and there she was, bounding to get a location on my stomach. Laying there, watching her as I rubbed her ears, she seems to have a grin. Her eyes shut, the purring loud, she extends her arms out and touches my mouth with her paw, maybe as her attempt to pet me, to return the favor.
"Don't do that," I say. It's a sweet gesture of hers, but it's important to remember that she uses those paws in her litter box as well.
When I look at the clock, it is two-thirty in the morning.
"What do you want?" I say, groggy and irritable.
"Scoot over." Wobbling, he ineffectively tries to stabilize himself by holding onto the footboard at the end of the bed.
"You're drunk. Get out of my room."
Although he doesn't appear to comprehend anything, let alone spoken language, I say it again.
"You're drunk. Go lay down on the couch."
He stands there for a second, his eyes closed. "O.....kay," he says quietly as he falls face forward onto the floor.
I sit up to see him laying on the ground motionless. My asking if he's okay doesn't illicit a response, so I lay back down and fall back to sleep.
In the morning, the young man is gone. I tell my roommate, "Your drunk friend came into my room last night and tried to lay down with me." He apologizes and later we both laugh about it.
My mother says I look tired. "Are you sleeping?" she asks. I tell her that I am, though probably not enough. She asks why not and I can't answer with any semblance of assuredness. "Just thinking a lot," I offer. But when she asks the inevitable, "About what?" I can't answer that either.
Often, I'll simply lay there thinking about the day, or the week, or the month. Though more and more, thoughts have been lingering to the future, worried that maybe I'm not doing all I can right now to secure something positive for myself. Then the patterns become cyclical, wondering what I've done since I last thought about what I should be doing. "Did I get everything I needed to get done the last time I was thinking about this?" And as the questions grow, it gradually leads to enough melancholy to eventually lull me to sleep.
"Maybe you need a new bed," she says.
I am leaving town for a number of days on business.
"Don't let anyone sleep on my bed. And don't, under any circumstances, have sex on it, or let anybody else have sex on it," I tell my roommate.
"What?!?" he says defensively, as if to deny his well-established reputation as a fairly promiscuous person. "Jesus! I won't!"
"Okay," I say, still a bit nervous.
The night before I leave, I tell my friend, who is sitting at my computer, about my concerns. He turns and says, "You'll just have to trust him, I guess." I shrug and accept that, yes, this is what I'll just have to do.
Minutes later, he is helping me fill out sticky notes that read "Do Not Sleep Here!" and "No Sex!" which we place under the covers along with a few dozen sharp Christmas tree ornament hangers thrown in for good measure. We are giggling and think of ourselves as tremendously clever.
"Make sure you don't tell him about it while I'm gone," I say.
When I return, the bed is just as I left it. I pull back the covers and everything is in the same place. In the back of my head I realize that I was actually hoping that my roommate would have been dishonest, that someone would have fallen into my trap.
Days later, when I speak to my accomplice, he immediately asks, "Did anything happen?" And when I say no, I understand that he is just as disappointed.
I have turned to the page with the comics, which is always among the first things I read yet never find very much of it funny. It dawns on me, "This is nice," so I say it to Molly.
"This is nice. Lying here with you, reading the paper, just relaxing, you know?"
She hasn't been listening and asks, "What?" which gets a, "Never mind." This antagonizes her, my not repeating unheard comments, and it snaps her out of the early-morning, headline-reading gaze.
She looks at the cat ("black cat"). "I don't like that you let the cat sit on the pillows. We put our heads here," which is the first comment, leading to more and more from both parties, all seeming completely unrelated.
It leads to the end of it all and soon her things are gone. For awhile I spend my late evenings starring at the ceiling regretting ever starting the conversation. When that particular blend of blaming myself runs out of steam, I move on to resenting the memories conjured by just seeing the bed itself.
"Why does a single....watch your step there....a single guy have a bed this size?" he says, helping guide me to narrowly avoid the pool as I walked backwards towards the truck. I reply with a, "I don't know," but it comes out as more of a physically-strained grunt.
We load the bed onto the back of the truck and he has me sign a small batch of papers indicating the assumed value my donation. He shakes my hand and then is off.
I watch the truck for some reason as it hurries down the street, much faster than it should in a residential area filled with children, much faster than it should for a vehicle that proudly displays the name of a non-profit thrift agency on both its sides and its rear. When it's far enough away, I walk back to the apartment.
I'm getting too little sleep as it is, but the couch makes it worse. Its filthy and much too soft.
"You need to get a new bed. It's awkward bringing someone home 'cause you're always lying there."
"I know," I say to his back as he enters his own room. And I do know.
The mailbox is full of junk. Lawn care services. Homeownership opportunities. Sell your home (addressed to me in "Apt. #12"). Tremendous credit card offers. I shuffle through them as I walk, sorting them by those that might actually have some value, such as bills and so forth.
In the apartment, I toss the unusable. I pause when I get to the postcard sized one. It's addressed to Ms. Brighton, who I'd long since deduced was the former, elderly tenant. Never were things addressed to her using her first name, and gradually, the longer I'd lived in the apartment, her letters would come with less and less frequency. Loads of advertisements for life insurance when I'd first moved in, or for affordable nursing homes or motorized wheelchairs. Then, as time went by, just the sporadic bits of junk mail that everyone received, the direct mailers that transcended gender, age, and race.
The caption was direct and simple, placed above a photo of the product. "Ms. Brighton, You Need A New Bed."
About the author:
Steve Delahoyde speaks softly and carries a big stick. People have often wondered where he got it, that big stick, but they can never quite hear his reply.