FoundlingReview

HomeAboutWritersGoodReadsArchives





 
       The bed was the first of their furniture. It was October 1941, the Depression over and Pearl Harbor not even imaginable. James was businesslike about the money he was spending but pleased to be indulging his bride-to-be, Marie, his gal from Southie, South Boston, home to the Downtrodden Irish. The Lace Curtain Irish – those with real fruit in their fruit bowls – made their homes up the hill in Dorchester, he knew that much even if he had always lived just outside the city, on a street with trees. Southie was where the poor scraped by.

      She had caught James’s eye at an office party, she the new secretary and he the brand new office manager. At 27 she should have had enough of being single, but she was in no hurry until now, until James. Her father died before she turned four, from the flu or a barroom brawl, hard to tell truth from tale among the women storytellers who raised her. On their first date Marie told him her mother sold hot dogs in Fenway Park. He said his father was a piano tuner. They nodded; they knew where they came from, if not where they were going. After a few more dates – “Gone with the Wind” at the movie house on Washington Street, lunch at Café Marliave, not a single trip to Fenway – he met her white-haired mother and incredibly redheaded aunt in the rowhouse on West Seventh Street. They handed him a highball and asked if he would ever “turn” – turn his back on his Baptist upbringing and become a Catholic like them – and they arched their eyebrows when he coughed into his glass and inquired after their health.

      She chose a rich mahogany wood, dark, polished, deeply grained, with finely ribbed headboard and footboard, more elegant in its simplicity than she had imagined a bed could be. A chest and dresser and a huge oval mirror matched and it all looked lovely together, with dovetailed drawers and fine brass pulls, but the bed was especially striking, she said, and didn’t he think so? A “full” it was, or what their children would someday call, drawing down their mouths in polite disdain, a mere “double.” But this bed was more than big enough for the two of them, he agreed, blushing.

      He brought her to meet his family. No highballs here. His mother offered warm, perfect cookies. His father pulled on his suspenders and puffed on his cigar and asked if she sang in the choir. What choir, she asked politely, squinting into his smoke. It did not go over well with either of these Nova Scotians, nor their five younger children, when it was announced that the wedding would take place at the Catholic church in Southie. Will you eat fish every Friday? his mother asked. He thought she was asking, Does she cook? And the answer to that was, no.

  The bedroom set arrived at their Brookline apartment building unannounced. Coming home from their office, the newlyweds stepped off their bus, laughing. Leaning against the furniture truck, two men watched them approaching and did not look pleased. It was starting to rain hard, and the cloth shrouds protecting their furniture on the sidewalk were quickly getting soaked. As were the workers. But she was laughing under his umbrella, and the sound of it reached the men’s reddening ears.

      “Look, James! It’s here! Our bed!”

      They had been rolling around on rough blankets spread over the scarred wood floor in their third-floor apartment. His skin itched like mad in the morning. He could see that his wife – he already loved that word – had big patches of red on her pale backside, but she didn’t mention them, and so neither did he.

      “You waiting for your furniture?” the taller of the men called out. There were two, one as short and wide as the other was long and lean. Rain was running down their caps and dripping off their chins. Slaps of cold wind made their eyes water and their noses drip. James stepped ahead of Marie.

      “Go on inside,” he told her. “I’ll help them.”

      “Nah you won’t,” said the shorter man. “Tell us where to go, is all, and let’s get out of this goddamn weather.”

      James flinched at the man’s language and straightened himself to stand taller. “Watch it,” he said quietly.

      “You watch yerself,” came back in a growl from the taller one. “You’re late and we been waiting here for far too long. So open the goddamn door and let us get in out of the rain, and don’t you be telling us to mind our goddamn manners.”

      James stared at the workers. Marie was above them on the stoop, opening the outer door, her neck bent to the cold rain. “Third floor,” he said over his shoulder as he followed her up the steep, dark stairway.

      “Hold on,” the two men yelled in unison. “Who do you think we are, for chrissake? Superman?”

      He stopped on the second floor landing and turned around. They were grunting, lifting, pushing, step by step. He could feel Marie above them all, watching.

      “No, that never crossed my mind,” he muttered, but in the sudden, stalled quiet of the stairwell his words fell loudly on their heads.

      “You son of a bitch,” the lower man said between clenched teeth.

      “Everything okay, James?” Marie called from the third floor.

      “Of course, darling,” he answered. “Just open the door.”

      “Yeah, babe, open the goddamn door,” one of the workers said. James turned again and glared at them.

      By the time the men had pushed and pulled all the furniture pieces up the narrow staircase and through the even narrower doorway of the bedroom, they were sweating, redfaced, rolling their eyes. Hard, deep coughs sounded like they would bring up the men’s insides and drop them onto the floor. Marie could smell their sweat from the kitchen, where she was making herself a cup of tea.

      “Do they know where to put things?” she whispered to James.

      “We’re not supposed to do the goddamn furniture-arranging!” one of them yelled from the bedroom. “Jesus Christ, lady! Ain’t it enough we got it all up here in one piece?”

      “James?” she whispered again.

      He walked slowly toward the bedroom. “Look,” he said in the doorway. The dressers and mirror were uncovered now, standing like grand visitors unsure where to sit in the small room. Parts of the bed lay on the floor. “The man at the store said you would help get everything put together.”

      “He did, did he? Well he should have told US that, pal,” said the tall mover, hands on hips, shaking his long horse face from side to side. “And nobody told US you was going to keep us waiting in the rain, and nobody told US you live three goddamn floors off the goddamn street.”

      James began to back away. But there was his wife, standing in the hall, staring at him, not them.

      “Look,” he tried again, pulling out his wallet.

      “Sure, sure, that’s it, that’s what we want, your goddamn money, is that what you think will do it?” The shorter one wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

      Marie stepped into the room. She was smiling. “How about some tea, then? Where are you from?” she asked the men, as if they were invited guests and they were all about to become friends.

      They had to look at each other before the short one answered, blinking: “No tea, ma’am.” Hesitating. “Thanks.” Then, “West Broadway.”

      “West Seventh,” she said quickly back.

      The men looked at her. “Look, lady, we’ve done our job here,” said the horse face.

      “You have, and thank you very much,” Marie said, nodding, not taking her eyes off them. “Do you ever go to Mass at St. Augustine’s?”

      The men – and now James – stared at her.

      “That’s where we were married, just last month.” She reached for James’s hand, still holding the wallet.

      “You go on and have your tea, then, ma’am,” said the short one after a moment’s pause, as if he were waiting for her to take it back, the simple fact of their common roots. “We won’t be long.”

      After the men had gone, disappearing down the stairs without another sound, Marie and James stood in the bedroom. Her dresser flanked a wall, the heavy oval mirror hanging gracefully above it. His chest of drawers fit snugly next to hers, like the pair they were. Their bed faced the single skinny window, dirty and smeared with rain. Marie sat on the new mattress and pulled James down beside her. The two of them stayed there, as silent as their ancestors, waiting for it all to begin.
      

Priscilla is a writer living in Massachusetts and Prince Edward Island, Canada. Her short stories have
appeared in US print publications (Worcester Review and Berkshire Review) and one was recently selected to
appear in the upcoming Every Day Fiction  anthology. Online, she has been published in Night Train, Literary Mama,
and Every Day Fiction. Priscilla also earned an award for short-short fiction from New England Writers Network.
 



I actually still make such a bed every day: it was a hand-me-down. Doing so got me thinking about its origins, and how the first marital bed can set the stage for generations to come. When I started writing,
the characters seemed to come to life through my fingers and it all came fast and easy. In my family of storytellers, I am honored to be part of that tradition, and to add to my bed's history by embellishing it. Hats off to my Zoetrope readers, as always a big help.

 


  




  


Copyright 2009