I think it was my thrifting habit, seeing Joe's Apartment in the theater twice, and a zest for looking at the world from a different angle that brought this piece to the surface. That, or it was the pizza that had been sitting on the counter all night that I had for breakfast. Either way, Meet Ralph, the bachelor bedbug.
The name's Ralph, and I'm a lifelong bachelor. I'm a bit of a playboy, really. A real hit it and quit it kind of guy. It's not like I've got a choice though. I mean, I can't seem to hold on to what anyone would call a real relationship, even if I wanted to. Men, women, kids, they come and go as fast as the sun rises on a Monday morning. You see, I'm a bed bug. Cimex lectularius, to be exact. And I was born and raised, along with my 674 remaining siblings, in the creases of the lobby couch in the sleepy pines motel just off route 45.
Life growing up was full of hardship. Some of my more curious relations were lost to us early on when they scampered off to investigate the contents of a purse set on the cushions, never to be seen again. Still others froze when the maid screamed after she'd seen them on the carpet in the middle of the room. Before they broke out of their trance, she'd flattened them with her orthopedic shoe. The adults who knew what was coming covered the eyes of the youngest among us, but some are still traumatized by something by the name of Buster Brown.
The greatest tragedy came the day when two humans came into the lobby and began sealing up all of the doors and windows. An hour or so later, they came back with three canisters, set them down on the floor, removed some kind of plastic tab, and hurried away. Immediately, the canisters began hissing, and a white cloud emmerged from their tops. As we watched the resulting fog roll across the floor, we realized what was happening. They were gassing us out! We had to do something and do it fast if we wanted to survive.
Pa had heard rumors of a colony that had set out to find feeding ground ages ago that had found the promised land in a place called room 19. With only moments to spare and a vague idea of how to get there, several of us made a mad dash for the uncharted territory beyond the ice machine. Many cousins died that day. They couldn't outrun the fog. One poor relation with a gimpy leg got caught in the loops of the carpet. When we last saw him, he was gasping for breath, his 5 good legs twitching as he died.
We narrowly escaped the same fate ourselves. Had it not been for the gap in the tape around the door, we'd have surely died there, all in a pile as we crushed each other trying to get out. But, the heavenly insect smiled upon us that day and gave us a tear in the barrier we could all squeeze through.
We try never to speak of that day now. Or the time in what we've come to call the tube of exposure. We prefer to rejoice in finding our very own Room 19. After what felt like an eternity, our small band of unfortunates who'd lost everything in the raid stumbled, half starved, into the promised land.
The smell of food was pungent in the air; coppery and warm and life affirming. What we found before us was a mountain of a human, larger than any we’d ever seen. He was foul smelling, and his forests of body hair proved treacherous, but the blood under his skin was sweet as ambrosia. Nearly delirious to have gone from such tragedy to overwhelming bounty, we could barely focus on anything besides food. And we gorged. Ate ourselves fat in one night. After eating our fill, we sleepily crawled out of sight, tucked ourselves away in the crevices and cracks of what we'd later learn was called the "bed" to sleep off our meal.
And so it went for two whole weeks. We’d wake to find a meal waiting for us, served on white cotton sheets. The sickly among us regained their strength, and we rejoiced that we had the option to skip a feeding because we were still too full from the last. Truly, we had found our paradise.
Then, one day, the humans were gone. As we were reeling from the panic of a food shortage, we realized some of our numbers were missing. The entire Speklfut family had built a new home in the bags the humans had discarded in the corner, and both the suitcases and the humans were gone. For all we knew, they’d been shuffled off to the great artery in the sky.
And so, we mourned; both for the Speklfuts and our lost bounty. While we never did find discover the fate of our lost brethren, we didn’t go hungry for long. A little over a week later, two humans came to us in the night. They crept in under cover of darkness and fell into a deep sleep. When we crawled out of our folds in the dust ruffle and hems of the pillows, we found them, two slumbering humans with soft, doughy skin. They must have recently molted because we could choose anywhere on their bodies to eat from, unlike the others where you had to find the pink or brown to bite.
This became our routine. We would wake to find a new serving of human sleeping in the bed for a night or two, and then they'd be gone. We learned never to make our beds in places that the humans brought because they tended to disappear with them. Our colony stuck together, through thick and thin. We never starved, but we've been through some lean times when all there was to eat was a wayward mouse that we ran across in his nest in the back of the closet. Recently though, life has been plush. I don't think it's been a week gone by without a new human meal. It's been so good, we've been able to do thing we never could in the lobby. We've branched out, established different neighborhoods, so to speak. Most of us have learned to love living in the bed. But, some of the more traditional folks among us have refused to change their ways and have made their new homes just like the old ones, in the cushions of the couch. It's more like the old country they say. To each bug their own.
Between you, me, and the roaches under the bathroom sink, I lived it up for a long while. There was fresh blood every night. We could stretch out and explore without fear of being seen or trampled. Occasionally, we had exotic food. I think it's called "mister snuffles", and it's delicious. Not having to be afraid of starving, we could spend our time leisurely. I met Sarah. And Leslie. And Cassandra. And Janice. And, well, you get the idea. I wasn't the lady's bug back at the couch, but here I couldn't get them to leave me alone! And I loved every minute of it. I'd meet them at Crook of the Knee or Behind the Ear and drop my best line on them. We'd go back to the cool side of the pillow and do things to each other that aren't fit to print. We'd still be gasping for breath as the humans tossed the covers of the bed aside, grunt, and go visit the cockroaches under the sink. Then we'd crawl out from under the pillow and go canoodle a little more between the mattress and box springs. If we didn't, we'd get swept up in the sheets when the maid came through. We never saw any of our friends again if they were caught unaware.
I gotta admit, the idea of maybe not making it and getting taken away added to the excitement. It was exhilarating. Once, with this fine young thing who’s name escapes me, I was barely done jamming my proboscis into her abdomen when we heard the unmistakable squeak of the cleaning cart rolling across the carpet. We were brazen, fearing nothing when passion struck us in the center of the bed. Turns out, it nearly killed us. We barely made it to the dust ruffle before the top sheet was yanked from above us.
Over time though, the rush I got from long nights and frantic scurrying to hide lost its luster. I met Phyllis, and she and I have been together for a while now. We're talking about moving in together, kids, and maybe even a flea for a pet, so we've got the whole package. We've even thrown around the idea of packing up everything and hitching a ride in some luggage. Maybe see the world a little before we take the plunge and start raising little ones.
Ok, that's not quite true. We've done more than talking. We've got our affairs caught up, and a couple of overnight bags packed should the opportunity present itself. We're not exactly planning, but we could pick up and go anytime. All we need is that feeling, like, this is the one. Now's our chance. Once we've agreed, we'll meet up, crawl into the suitcase and hide in the pockets inside. You know, the ones where shoes are supposed to go, but nobody uses? All we need is the sign. We don't know what it is, or when it will happen. But, we're ready. Hell yes are we ready.