Some Beds I’ve Slept In, Part One

by Derek GRAY
 

1.

I moved to Brooklyn with twelve neatly-folded hundred dollar bills and a crumpled pack of Marlboros in my front pockets. In my seat pocket I carried a wallet and inside that a promise scribbled on a napkin, the invitation:

“Come visit. Better, MOVE! Stay with us whenever you get here. XOXO Jess (and Martin).”

Their phone number was scribbled in blue across the back. I barely knew them, but it was a free place to stay. Two months later I was punching the 718 area code into my phone: “Jess, Your offer still good? I’m going to need a place to stay.”

“Here’s where you can sleep,” Jess told me as she pointed toward an indeterminate mess in the corner of the living room. I could discern a pair of refrigerator boxes hugging the concrete floor. Above them, half an inch of yellowed copies of the Village Voice served as bed springs over the cardboard frame. Over the newspapers was a layer of ragged bath towels. There was a navy blue sheet crumpled in the corner.

“Thanks, Jess,” I stammered, “this is great.”

“Wait,” she screamed, “pounding out of the room. Her voice carried from her bedroom: “I’ve got you something.” She ran back into the living room, stumbling over a box of magazines next to the piano. She was beaming as she threw a large block of egg carton foam onto my new cot. “You can use it as a pillow,” she said, delighted.

Jess and Martin were kind but filthy. I’m glad I barely got to know them while they were passing through my home town of Cincinnati on their way to meet Martin’s family in Kansas — I never would have stayed with them and I’d still be stuck in Ohio.

“Where’d you get this jam,” I asked Jess as I peeled at the label. It looked quality — too good for Key Food. I watched Martin spread the apricot treat over his toast.

“Dumpster,” chimed Martin, answering for his wife.

“It’s still good,” said Jess, defensively. She caught me eying Martin’s toast. “Really, it is,” she insisted.

I ate my whole wheat dry.

A week into my stay Martin and Jess took in another lodger-friend. His name was Jacob and he slept stark naked; his bed was the sofa across from my floor. It was August and sweltering, so Jacob slept without a sheet.

I found work as quickly as possible, and spent my evenings drinking, convincing girls to share their beds. They didn’t have to be pretty or smart, so long as they had their own place. When, after two nights with her, one uttered those magic three words — “stay with me” — I ran to Jess and Martin’s and packed.

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