Between October of 2013 and November of 2015 I slept in someone else’s bed for 40 nights, give or take. The bed is in an apartment on Riverside Drive on the Upper West Side of New York City. It’s a large, solid-wood bed, and the sheets are fawn-coloured, better quality than I’m used to. The room is perpetually dark: heavy curtains, a narrow window overlooking a courtyard-alley, and the curtains always closed. The room is oddly shaped, not square or rectangle, because the building is on a corner. A heavy dresser, dark wood, is laden with jars and dusty bottles of women’s cosmetics, and boxes with rings and bangles and bracelets and ear-rings. There’s a carpet, old and Middle Eastern, over the worn wooden floor, muffling things. And my suitcase, splayed open, on the floor. For 40 nights, separated by nights in my own bed in the city where I belong, I slept alone in this bed.
I was there to take care of the apartment owner’s cat, and to write my book. I didn’t write my book in the bed, or look after the cat in the bed, or even read in the bed. I slept in it. Or I lay on it, for many long hours, in the thick darkness, thinking. The cat, a virgin-white Persian, long-haired and plump, moved soundlessly and grandly, coming into the bedroom from time to time at night. I’d leave the door ajar for her. Only once did she jump right up onto the bed, her soft weight, to look at me more closely: she was displeased, on the whole, to have me there.
I slept in that bed through every season: sweltering in July, tossing damp on the sheets; in the fall, when it was best, and my sleep was long and restful; and in deepest winter, the hot-water radiator next to the bed burbling, agéd iron pipes holding, three floors above and below me. In the winter of 2013, I had, stacked next to the radiator (its faded white-paint surface peeling), six cartons of pure shea butter, bought for 3 dollars apiece from a street vendor on 125th Street in Harlem. “Made in Africa,” it said on each carton. I had the cartons next to the radiator because they were frozen solid, and I had an idea they should melt, or defrost, so that I could use them, and take them home with me, to the frozen place where my own bed is.
The shea butter turned out to be not very good quality, after all, perhaps I was deceived and ripped off, and my book is still not written, and all sorts of other things happened in between, but that bed occupies a kingly space in my mind. I picture it now, stately, on the third floor, unmovable yet not quite grounded. It is my favourite bed ever.