A Bedtime Story / by Daphne Malfitano

Even for us, 11pm was an uncharacteristically late dinner hour. I met my parents in the city to celebrate summer’s end, and our own small victories. The Odeon was still bustling, and we sat outside, and drank wine, and toasted to the days and weeks before us. 

This was the year I discovered oysters, the year I became engaged, and later unengaged, the year I fell in love with Brooklyn.

Just after midnight, admiring the heavy, black sky, we paid our bill. The air was daytime warm, and we laughed and walked the two blocks to their apartment without hurry. I see no reason that there should have been fireworks, but I remember it as though there were.

Around the corner, on their block, all was quiet and calm as one would expect of middle night, save for the firetruck’s flashing red lights. There was no siren, scream, radio static, only the incessant spinning of the lights. The tall, old Tribeca buildings were vulnerable in the red glare, awakened from shadow slumber. 

The truck seemed out of place, alone and silent, and flanked only by one young female cop. Then we noticed the spotlight, focused at the top edge of the building adjoining my parents’. A fireman, all helmet, peered over the edge of the five story roof. The factions communicated some non-discovery, and suddenly our eyes made sense of the landscape. There was a body just below the curb, lying very still between two parked cars. It was uncovered, unlit, unattended. Seeking a shortcut between the corner and my family’s front door, I could have tripped over it. 

It was a man’s body. There was a puddle around his head, blacker even than the sky. I knew I was seeing something important, very important, but all I could manage to think was “Why isn’t anyone with him. Why is he alone?”

After 1am the detectives arrived like superhero alter egos, broad shouldered, tightly shorn, immensely well dressed. They emerged from black cars, and I realized it was Saturday night, and they had likely been called away from a benefit dinner, or Sergeant’s wedding. I imagined they were relieved by the early dismissal, or at least pretended to be on the drive over.

They ordered the body covered, and as the white sheet was tossed across the man, before it soaked up the blood pool, I envisioned a closet of perfectly bleached white sheets, seen to by some unappreciated, aproned domestic.

The only glimpse I got of the man’s face was in the flash of the photographer’s light, bouncing off the partly raised sheet, setting the black blood afire, chiseling the features into the puddle of darkness, making it real for a half second. 

My fiancée and I fought endlessly, these days. Drunkenly, and about nothing, we warred. In one of the worst fights he threw my 1920s Underwood typewriter across the kitchen. It was heavy enough that lifting it was difficult, and as it fought gravity I calmly accepted that at the end of its arc it would go through the floor, and likely kill my downstairs neighbor. To my surprise, it didn’t. 

By 3am the scene came to a standstill. The officers were all gone, save one cop at the corner, the firetruck was gone, the lights, the witnesses. Only me, and the body of a person whose name I didn’t know, laid between two cars. Alone with my guilt, and my guilt for my guilt, the only one still holding vigil. I felt obligated to stay, as if my gaze kept him closer to the living world, and once I turned and walked to the train, and rode back to Brooklyn, and took off my shoes, he would be lost forever. 

Drunk blondes in too-tight dresses passed me in the street without noticing the body. I wanted to sit with him until the coroner arrived, and took him away, but they were slow, probably attending another fresh death elsewhere in the city, and finally I had to go home. 

For months after, the dark spot remained just past the curb outside my family’s building. Cars eroded it in their awkward parallel parking. Stilettoed, tardy realtors, and daring toddlers, and businessmen on cellphones walked over it while jaywalking, and it got smaller and smaller as if the earth were drinking up the blood until finally it was gone.