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Sharon Frame Gay
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ym_76_oct19_manunderbed.jpg
Art by Noelle Richardson 2019

The Man Under the Bed

Sharon Frame Gay

                           

                                                       

It's midnight when she glides across the floor and hops into bed. I hear the springs groan, her soft sighs, as she wrestles with the pillow, gets comfortable for the night. Sometimes she reads for a while or talks on the phone. Tonight, though, she must be sleepy, because I hear her light breathing and tiny snorts that tell me she is dreaming.  "Close your eyes" my mother used to say, "and go to Lily White's party." I whisper this to Rachel, so quietly the words barely brush past my lips.

It's not comfortable under here, yet it has become a home away from home. If I lift my head, my nose brushes the slats and springs. I can't roll over, or sleep on my side, as my shoulders might catch under the mattress and wake her. So I lay here, regulating my breath to hers. My hand clutches the knife like I have night after night, and wonder why I have not yet slid out from under here, grabbed her by the hair, and slit her throat, spraying blood across the room and on to her lavender walls.

It started innocently enough, if you call premeditated murder innocent. I noticed Rachel one day in the drugstore down the block, a mile from my apartment.  I was standing by the bus stop, when I saw her swing through the doors, leaving a trail of sweet scent, beckoning me to follow. Because they always beckon, you know? These girls in their tight skirts and open blouses with their bra straps showing and their fake tans, begging to end up in a ditch somewhere.  "See me, want me, but you can't have me" should be tattooed on their round little asses as they sashay by. They never notice me.  I'm the overweight, balding guy who stands alone at bus stops. Your basic, anonymous woman killer. That's me.  How do you like THAT Mom, and your ridiculous Lily White parties? 

Ah, but I digress.  Back to Rachel.  Rachel with the raven hair shot with burgundy in the sunlight. The strong Mediterranean nose. Legs that go on forever. Legs that will spread for me in death like angel wings. She wandered down the feminine products aisle, and I felt a stirring. This one was special.  When I looked at Rachel, I thought of weddings and honeymoons, kids and a house with a picket fence.  I surprised myself with these thoughts, but concentrated on the task at hand. Stalking. She stepped around me as I stood in the middle of the aisle and smiled as she whispered "excuse me." I couldn't help but smile back. What a girl.  What a nice, fucking, all-American girl.  I couldn't wait to follow her home.

Much to my delight, home was right across the street. I was following too closely, but it paid off when the doorman said, "Hey there Rachel, how are you?" I was giddy with the information.  It was a small building, about 50 units. With my sharpened skills, it would be easy to find out which apartment was Rachel's.  It was.

She turned to the doorman. "Charles, I have an issue with the kitchen sink and called a plumber.  He'll be stopping by sometime tomorrow. Please let him in to the apartment."

 "Sure thing, Rach," Charles said, and I felt a surge of anger.

 "Getting chummy with her, are you?" I thought. I wondered if Rachel understood that this guy was dying to get in her pants. Women can be so stupid.

I almost skipped home, plans ruminating in my head. In the closet were several uniforms; UPS, car mechanic, plumber and painter outfits. Even a police uniform that has given back tenfold. Women will follow a cop anywhere. I pulled out a white jumpsuit with the fake name Peter Cochrane on it, above a small crest that said Uptown Plumbing. Now to finesse old Charles into believing that I was a guy coming to give a second opinion.

I spent the entire next day sitting on the bus bench across the street, straining my eyes to see if the damned plumber ever showed. "What a fucking slacker," I thought. "Just show up, asshole. Let's get this thing moving." It wasn't until 3:00 when a guy in a blue uniform climbed out of a van that said "Down the Drain Plumbers".  I snorted. What a stupid name. Mine at least had class.  I watched him as he entered the building, timed him, saw him leave. It was getting late in the day. Tomorrow will be my turn.                                                                                

I'll spare you the details, because I don't want to give away secrets to just anyone. I'll only say I was brilliant and organized enough to talk Charles into letting me in the next day. In Rachel's apartment, I fiddled with the joints under the sink, adjusting this and that, until boredom overtook Charles, and he went back downstairs, saying he would check with me in a while. Standard practice and a classic mistake, this laziness and lack of responsibility. I counted on it. Scurrying to the window that goes to the fire escape, I broke the latch in such a way that it looked locked, but will never lock again, and prayed that Rachel didn't double check every little thing at night.  It was as though Rachel was Natalie Wood in West Side Story and I was Tony, meeting on the fire escape.  I'd tell her how much I cared.  Not really.  I will break and enter, then slit her throat. I hummed  "Tonight" under my breath as I ambled  down the stairs instead of taking the elevator, checking every floor. This will be a cinch.

It was. Just two nights later, I tip-toed up the fire escape two floors above ground and crouched in the darkness. The apartment was black as pitch. Rachel was either out late, or sound asleep. Inching the window open, I held my breath, listening. I froze when I heard her voice, light mumbling in the next room, her bedroom. I longed to step through the window, but I'm not a slave to disaster. One needs to be careful.  Her voice grew louder, laughing, then she said, "Night, Amy",  and the scuffling sound of a phone hanging up. Ah, so she is alone, I thought, and just like that, I let myself in. I stood alongside the window and counted my heart beats.  Held my breath, strained eyes and ears and nose to gather all senses.  This was the best part.  The part that makes me cream myself sometimes, because it's when I am most vulnerable, getting ready to pounce. Anything could happen and often did. Sometimes it was a clean stroke, an easy kill. Other times it got messy, but they always went down as I flipped their switch and cut them into ribbons, watching their blood flow out and puddle on floors, sidewalks, or streets, and sometimes in the back of my old white van.

The city cast a meager light through the bedroom window. Rachel looked like a princess lying there, hair tossed about her face, sleeping in a Mickey Mouse tee shirt. I drew the knife from the sheath on the belt slung low on my hip.  It gleamed in the slanted light.

 I gasped when something bumped the back of my legs. Looking down, I saw a huge cat, a Siamese, staring up at me, purring.  I shifted my weight, and the cat  twined around my feet, rubbing against my shins. If I killed the cat, Rachel might  wake up screaming and I can't afford loud noises in an apartment building. Rachel stirred.

 "Truffles," she murmured. The cat left my side and leaped on the pillow near her head.  I dropped to my knees and froze. She tossed about, waking up fully now, and swung a leg over the side of the bed, just missing my shoulder. As quietly as I could, I squirmed under the bed, blade ready. Then, it was silent. I held my breath. I could tell she was holding hers.

 Rachel's fingers pressed the buttons on her phone. There was a pause, then she whispered, "Amy, sorry to wake you, but I'm scared.  I think someone's in the apartment."

 I softly exhaled, my heart slowing.  She didn't call 911.

 "No, Amy, I don't want to call the police.  I'm just...you know, a little scared."

 I heard the murmur of a voice on the other end of the phone, and  Rachel answered.

 "No, it creeps me out.  I don't want to look around. Okay, okay, hold on."

Rachel got out of bed and walked across the room. She closed and locked the bedroom door, then hurried back to the phone. 

 "Am, I heard no more noises, and I locked the door. I think I'm safe now. It must have been Truffles. Sorry to bother you. You're right, Amy, I need to protect myself better. I promise I'll look into it."

 After a few more words, she hung up. I almost laughed out loud. She just cut off her only means of escape.  This was going better than planned. 

I laid there for hours, trying to will myself to slide back out from under the mattress and get the party started. Truffles crept under the bed next to my head, bumped it with his, purring and kneading the carpet next to me. I reached out a finger and stroked his sleek neck. He settled in, and we both regulated our breathing to the sound of Rachel's above us, a trio of souls.

I'm still not sure what happened, but by the time I roused myself, her alarm went off and it was morning.  I was still there, with no way out but the fire escape. Crawling out her window in broad daylight was risky. Killing her now would be messy and noisy. So I watched her feet and ankles as she walked lightly across the carpet and into the bathroom. Rachel left the door open as she climbed into the shower. She turned on the water and stepped in, pulling the curtain closed around her. I smelled the soap and shampoo, heard the hiss of water, but still I could not seem to move.

It was best to stay until she left for work. The prudent thing to do. This was getting far too complicated for my liking. Her pink painted toenails came back into the room, gliding over the carpet while she dressed, humming a light tune. My eyes followed her feet out past the bedroom door.  I heard the everyday sounds of coffee perking, the opening and closing of the microwave.  Rachel took an endless time, but at last she bustled about, grabbed her purse, coat, and a briefcase. She left, taking care to double lock the door with a dead bolt. In the distance the elevator chimed. Then, only silence except Truffles cleaning himself on the carpet in a shaft of sunlight. 

 I slithered out from under the mattress and wandered around her apartment. In the light of day, I could see Rachel was not particularly tidy. There were newspapers spread on the sofa, a dish or two on the table near the television, at least three pair of shoes shucked on the living room floor. Thank God I didn't trip over those. I chained the door as an extra precaution and continued to poke around the place.

Going back into the bedroom I flopped down on the bed, inhaled her perfume, rubbed my face on her pillow like a cat, stroked the sheets, kneaded the mattress with my fist. Poking through her nightstand, my blood rose when I found a long snaking pack of condoms. "Well, well, Rachel, what have we here," I leered, and ripped one off and stuffed it in my pocket. Her top drawer overflowed with panties and bras, nylons and socks.  Nice stuff, I thought, as I stroked the lace and peered at the bras.  36B. I couldn't wait. Her medicine cabinet had skin care products, makeup and deodorant, a few pills, and cough syrup. 

Feeling comfortable, I sauntered back to the living room and rummaged through the drawers in an old desk that sat in front of a window. There were letters and post cards, stamps, and several photo albums jumbled together. I plopped myself down on the couch and looked through them. There was Rachel as a baby, a young girl, a cheerleader. Then there she was standing tall in a cap and gown with a college diploma. Sometimes there was a young man in the photos, a blond beach-boy type in tight blue jeans. My eyes narrowed.  He looked like a privileged asshole.  I was happy when he dropped out of the albums, right about the time Rachel graduated. 

Hungry, I grabbed a yogurt from her fridge and turned on the television, muting the sound, and gazed at the news. Truffles sat on the couch with me, and I idly stroked him. The entire day was spent poking through Rachel's life, taking care to put everything back the same way I found it, priding myself on how stealthy I was.  I even spread out the containers of yogurt on the refrigerator shelf, so she wouldn't notice the missing one, rinsed off the spoon and put it away.  Just for fun, I took one pair of shoes and placed them neatly in her closet, chuckling.

I needed to get the hell out of here, but how. The damned fire escape flanked a busy street.  Going down the stairs and out the front door was out of the question. Charles would recognize me as the plumber. Feeling stuck, I convinced myself to wait until nightfall, kill Rachel, then leave. I read the newspaper, took a leak and did a few stretches when, by early evening, I entered her bedroom and slid under the bed, Truffles right by my side. I liked this cat.  Might even let it live. After all, it couldn't pick me out of a line up. I snorted in mirth, then laughed out loud. Finally, we settled in and took a little nap.

It wasn't long before I heard the door open, and the light steps I already knew by heart.  Truffles ran out from under the bed when she walked in, snaking about her ankles, begging for dinner and Rachel obliged.  She came into the bedroom, stepping out of her clothes along the way.  My pulse sped up as her panties hit the floor, and she bustled about changing into sweats and that stupid tee shirt again. I pictured Mickey Mouse splattered in blood. I would cut right up the seam of those sweat pants and find the delights behind them. This was going to be a wonderful evening. I lay there like a statue, listening to the sounds of her life surround me until things slowed and she turned in for the night. 

I wrestled with myself for hours under that mattress. I didn't want to kill her just yet. Maybe not kill her at all.  I was drawn to her and her little story, her brown cat, messy apartment, Mickey Mouse tee shirt.  It was confusing, exciting, and sad.  

Just before dawn, I slid out from under the bed and eased through the window and down the fire escape, stepping as lightly as a ghost. When I hit the alley, I walked briskly out and around the corner, then on to my flat, where I showered, ate breakfast, and thought about Rachel.  I was getting dressed when my hand froze at my waist. I had left the knife under her bed.  My knife, filled with fingerprints and DNA and all the microscopic things that can wedge themselves into the bone handle and read like a damned novel to the cops. Now I had to go back.  A shrink would say I left it there on purpose as an excuse to return. Shit, I don't know. I do know, though, that I got a tremendous hard-on just thinking about slipping back under that bed. 

I headed out that night around 2 am. It was dark again at Rachel's. Just like  before, I eased in through the window and stood still, eyes adjusting to the lack of light.  Truffles strutted over. I reached down and chucked him lightly under the chin. Together we headed for the bedroom. Rachel was snoring, which I found adorable, little noises like a puppy, as she lay tangled in her sheets, one silky leg exposed. Oh, how I wanted to touch her, but instead I quietly slid back under the bed. My new home. Truffles joined me.  I groped in the darkness, found my knife.

Some people might say I'm going crazy.  Maybe I already am. I've killed women and tortured them.  Sipped the last drop of life from them as I licked their breasts and eyelids and watched them let out that last sigh of release. This is different. I'm content to lay here and share the night with Rachel, then curl up on her couch all day, waiting for her to come home, just like Truffles. I'm content to hear her talk to herself and the cat, or on the phone with her friends and family, gleaning every little nuance of her life.

 I painted my nails with her polish so we'd match, groomed my thinning hair with her brush, my strands married into hers. Took a pair of panties and sprayed them with her cologne, to keep me company during the long night. Then I brushed my cheeks with her blush, kissed her lipstick in a wide, angry slash across my mouth, wound her scarf about my neck, wrapped her sweater round my shoulders while Truffles and I watched CNN. God, what is wrong with the world today, I think. So much violence all over the planet!  It's disgusting.

It was a Friday night. I had been hanging out at Rachel's for several nights now. I unchained the door and slid under the bed at my usual time, around six, waiting for her footsteps. But tonight they didn't come.  I waited like a faithful dog.  Jesus, can't she come home and feed Truffles?  He's hungry, for Christ’s sake. This wasn't like Rachel at all, and I worried about her.  I started to sweat and toss about under the bed. 

Much later I heard the elevator ding, footsteps heading towards the door. It opened, and she burst over the threshold, flicked on a light and laughed, the sound of glass tinkling.

 "Come on in," she said softly, and I saw the feet and lower torso of someone behind her.  A guy. What the hell!  He followed her into the living room and immediately grabbed at her ass, and she grabbed back.  A white-hot rage built up behind my eyes. My hand tightened around the knife until I thought it might break in two. They were moaning now, and she walked him towards the bedroom.  

That bitch. How could she betray me like this? How could she get into bed with another man when I am right here for her! They landed on the bed and the springs smacked me hard in the nose. I started to rise up and out from under the mattress in a fury. I would kill them both, watch their blood mingle on the sheets and have a good time doing it. But then I froze because I'd never fought a man before. There were two people instead of one, and the guy might be stronger than me.  I could wait until they were asleep, then kill them, but what if this guy had a knife or a gun? I didn't know what to do.  For now, I had to endure what was going on, whether I liked it or not.

I will spare you the awful details of the groping and thrusting and fluids exchanging right above my head. The murmurs and yelps of pleasure. The growl he made when he came, and the whimpers she made when she did. All the heavy breathing and the words and the bullshit. I was aching and angry and violently aroused at the same time.  As a final insult, he said to Rachel, "Hey, get this cat off the bed," and poor Truffles was dumped on to the floor, shaking his fur indignantly.  He climbed under the bed and I held him with one arm.   I don't know how it even got there, but a single tear tripped down my cheek and wet his soft fur. 

I needed a plan but wasn't sure what it was. I have a very healthy survivor gene. A man didn't get this far, for as long as I have, by doing something foolish. I pride myself on my brilliance, stealth, and caution. The entire long night was an exercise in controlling the blinding rage that seethed through my pores and the need for release. 

They woke up in a froth and did it all over again, then stumbled together to the shower, these two sluts, laughing as they soaped each other up behind the curtain.  I sprang into action. Came out from under the bed quickly, walked over to the window and climbed down the fire escape, paying no heed to the sky pinking with dawn. If somebody saw me, I'd thrust my knife into their belly and watch them writhe.  I actually wanted somebody to see me, to witness the pain and betrayal.  

I don't even remember how I got home. All I know is I entered my apartment and destroyed everything in sight. I threw the lamp across the room, slashed my sofa to ribbons, crushed things in my hands. Pulled food out of the refrigerator and smeared it in my hair, on my face, through my fingers. In anguish I broke a wine bottle, ran it across my leg and watched as the blood rose and spilled down my thigh as though it were crying. When the pain set in, I fell on the bed and gave in to huge wails, thrashing from side to side like a toddler having a tantrum. Hours later, still shaking, I finally got hold of myself. This was ridiculous. Rachel has to go. It has to end. I either have to stay away from her forever, or finish her. 

I'm going back.  Tonight.

I was wearing a police uniform. Nobody bothered me as I climbed the fire escape that evening and entered through her window quickly, sliding into the room. Truffles trotted out to greet me. I reached down and stroked his arched back. I was looking into his bowl to see if he had been fed when I heard the elevator ding.  Sprinting to the bedroom, I hustled under the bed just as the door opened and Rachel stepped through.

As soon as she closed the door, she started to cry.  Throwing her shoes against the wall, she crumpled on the sofa and sobbed. Then picked up the phone and dialed.

 "Amy, it's me" Rachel hiccupped. "I couldn't face him at work today. Just couldn't. I had no idea he was married.  He's new here and never once mentioned a wife and two kids.  When I heard about it at the meeting, I almost threw up.  I thought he was the one."  She cried again.  "Here I am, thirty-eight years old and never married.  My life is ruined. Nobody will ever love me.  Ever.  Amy, do you hear me?"  her voice rose an octave, then came back down, filled with grief.

 I tuned out the rest of the conversation, but it was spiked with sobs, anger and confusion.

"Now you know what it's like to be betrayed, Rachel," I thought to myself.  I was upset.  What kind of guy does that to a nice girl like Rachel?  What a jerk.  I would never cheat on my wife or trick a woman like that. I'm a gentleman.  I felt oddly protective of Rachel, like a father might feel. And then, in a split second, I longed to stab her foolish heart and end this nonsense once and for all. I felt dangerous and protective all at the same time, as though my mind were split and I was looking into one of those cracked fun house mirrors.  I was losing my grip.

Rachel hung up, got some kibble for Truffles, and swore as she dropped several pieces on the floor. One of them rolled towards me.  I knew if she got down on her knees to pick up the cat food, she'd see me. I held my breath, gripped the knife harder.  Truffles scampered across the floor and ate it.  I sent him a silent salute.

Rachel entered the bedroom. I watched from under the bed as she prepared for the night. She snapped her briefcase open, set something on the nightstand. Tossed the briefcase and her purse on a wicker chair in the corner. The dresser drawer opened with a sigh as she pulled out her night clothes. Rachel's suit fell to the floor and she kicked it out of the way. A red lacy bra floated to the ground, landed inches from my face.  She slid under the covers, turned off the light, tossed about, getting comfortable.

 Rachel started to cry again, soft sounds that reverberated under the bed, her wracking sobs vibrating the mattress springs above my nose.

It got very quiet, then she must have sat up in bed. She switched on a lamp, reached into the nightstand drawer.  I heard a tearing sound, then a soft click. 

In a quavering voice, filled with defeat, Rachel said, "You can come out now".

 

The End.



[Acknowledgment: “The Man Under The Bed” originally appeared in The Literary Hatchet, Issue #20, April 2018.]


 




Sharon Frame Gay grew up a child of the highway, playing by the side of the road. Her work has been internationally published in anthologies and literary magazines, including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Typehouse, Fiction on the Web, Lowestoft Chronicle, Thrice Fiction, Crannog, Saddlebag Dispatches, and others. Her work has won prizes at Women on Writing, Rope and Wire Magazine, The Writing District, and Owl Hollow Press.  She has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. More information can be found on Amazon @ https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B01HN5AGXK  Facebook:  Sharon Frame Gay-Writer. Twitter: sharonframegay

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