Excerpts from a full-length manuscript titled, “Every Bed I’ve Ever Slept In”
THE BED OF GHOSTS
I dreamed we were looking at houses together—big mansions on the coast like the house we were put up in while you were working in Rhode Island, and old conservatories filled with squashy rose-colored armchairs, an interior jungle of plants. We wandered in the sand and along the water’s edge. We ended up on a ship, a huge hulking thing, garishly red and yellow. I couldn’t remember how we got there. The liner was in a bay and rocked with waves as tall as skyscrapers. Imagine that—waves as high as mountains, waves touching the ceiling of the earth. Water and sky meeting, reflecting each other, blue in all directions. I wasn’t afraid of the force that was moving us so violently. They say that the best dancers carry the movement of the waves.
It was as if I was in a film, seeing a wide shot of the waves throwing the boat about, that then suddenly cut to a close up of me, talking casually to a friend. I don’t know where you were on the ocean liner, but I felt a little shift in my feet, indicating a wall of water arriving. We were out on the deck, walking down a small flight of stairs. Casually, the friend lamented our deaths, and I, perplexed, turned inquisitively. It seemed a preposterous idea that I might not be living. When had it happened?
The friend indicated just now the wave had taken us from our bodies. I exclaimed, that no, it couldn’t be true, I had to spend the rest of my life with you, we were going to live together, and how unfair to leave you alone, so young, and even more unfair since you had already lost your mother and now you had lost me. The friend said yes, yes, it was true, we were no longer living. ‘Look, there are your shoes on the stairs.’ Again, a puzzled look washed over my face. I drifted over to put them back on my feet but they wouldn’t stay on. The friend gave me a look that indicated, ‘Isn’t it obvious?’ and said, “Ghost feet don’t touch the ground.”
THE BED OF PREDICTIONS
I never slept in this bed, though at one time I longed to. Instead it was left unconsummated. The summer when I imagined sleeping here, I went to have my tarot cards read over and over and over again. I found every kind of psychic there was, probing for knowledge of the future, for clues that might indicate whether I would be let into this man’s heart. I believe in science, though—not psychics—so I was never satisfied. In the absence of a story between us there rose a string of predictions, omens, prophecies and premonitions.
One woman told me that I should stop wearing red clothes because they bring me bad luck. Another told me that the dark-haired man whose bed I so badly wanted to share was not reason for me to change my plans for the future. Another woman told me that within thirty-three days I would suffer a loss. The BBC had done a show about her, so for thirty-three days after our conversation I couldn’t help but be on alert, my logic butting its head against superstition’s.
This same woman also told me that I would have three important loves. The first would be a carpenter, who would give me a house to live in. The second would be a darker skinned man (“If you’re not a racist” she said), the third a Spaniard with whom I’d move to Europe. I was twenty-two when she said that. It felt late to still be waiting to fall in love. Two seasons passed and I met a man who read me a poem about blackberries. We made love in a startlingly electric way. It was unlike other affairs, more potent, and unanticipated. A few months later, he showed me a photograph of a house he had built. It was then that I remembered the prediction of the three men, and in spite of the first, incorrect omen, I wanted to believe this one.
THE BED OF SNOW
Nobody ever knew what was wrong with him. Some hormonal imbalance that meant he didn’t quite mature sexually. He never had body hair and his voice changed late in his short life. Maybe now they would diagnose him with a learning disability, or call it autism. He was bullied mercilessly, to the point where he wanted to end his life because of the cruelty others wielded. There’s a picture of him in my mother’s office now from when he was 13 or 14, about ten years before he died. In it his chin is lifted with a grin, the frames of thick glasses resting on his nose. His vision was terrible. Letters would rearrange themselves upside down and backwards. I can picture his Pickwickian body, portly and wheezy, but I’m never quite sure how to imagine his mannerisms or movements. Clumsy, perhaps. Gentle, but annoyingly slow. It wasn’t easy for my mother to have a slow little brother, though she wasn’t the only one that lost her patience with him at times. Remorse weighs on her heavily. Each year on his birthday heaving sobs cleave her apart. After Alan died, my grandparents sold their house in Vermont and moved to the coast of Maine. They change the subject when I ask about him. They won’t say his name.
He was a sleepwalker from a young age. He shouted in his sleep, screamed that there were sharks under his bed and sometimes fell off the mattress after a fit of wild thrashing. I imagine my grandfather, a large farm animal veterinarian in rural Vermont, catching his namesake like a calf as the boy tumbled into the living room in the haze of a dream and guiding him back to bed. I imagine my grandfather returning to the living room where my grandmother corrected Spanish tests and shaking his head, wondering aloud what they could do about little Alan.
Little Alan lived at the Maple Leaf Motel after he left home, cleaning rooms in exchange for housing. Whatever terrorized him in the night hours had not relinquished its grip on him, even in adulthood. For Alan, there was a great design flaw in the architectural plan of the Maple Leaf: the bathroom door was right next to the door to the outside. One winter night, he grabbed the wrong handle, walked outside into a snow bank and slept the rest of the night in a bed of snow. He was hypothermic when he was found. His lungs collapsed and he went into a coma. They were about to remove him from life support when he woke up. He had lost weight while in a coma, but his short-term memory was gone and his lungs were like paper bags. The decline was slow. My grandparents slept on the living room floor with him during his final days, watched him deteriorate until his body shut down. One final sleep, quiet this time.