Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters

By Ben H. Winters

FOR lease: best flooring of fantastically renovated brownstone, 1300 sq. ft., 2BR 2BA, eat-in kitchen, one block to parks and playgrounds. No broker’s fee.Susan and Alex Wendt have stumbled on their dream apartment.Sure, the landlady is a bit eccentric. And the aged handyman drops a few cryptic comments in regards to the basement. however the lease is so low, it’s too solid to go up.Big mistake. Susan quickly discovers that her new house is crawling with bedbugs . . . or is it? She awakens each morning with clean bites, yet neither Alex nor their daughter Emma has a unmarried welt. An exterminator searches the valuables and turns up not anything. The landlady insists her development is fresh. Susan fears she’s going mad—until a extra sinister rationalization provides itself: she may possibly actually be confronting the bedbug challenge from Hell.

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Back home, Susan unpacked the cold stuff and then took a half hour to line her drawers and cupboards with wax paper before unpacking the pantry items. She turned on the radio, found WNYC, and spent the rest of the Leonard Lopate Show slicing open boxes marked KITCHEN, rinsing off dishes they had stupidly packed in newsprint, and finding counter space for the KitchenAid, Cuisinart, and hand mixer. Settling down with her laptop at the kitchen table, Susan filled out a numbing series of address-change forms and then composed a mass e-mail with her new address, appending the de rigueur postscript about how “my cell phone number and e-mail will of course remain the same … ” Susan’s brisk march through her task list was slowed by a headline on her Yahoo!

Surely Alex thought terrible things of her, surely he seethed every time he looked at her. Why, otherwise, had the question of more children never been raised between them? Somehow the time to bring it up always seemed wrong. Somehow it always felt like if she did bring it up, he would launch into a list of reasons why a bigger family was impossible right now, would slam the door on the question, just as he had slammed the door shut on the artists’ loft with a harbor view in Red Hook … … oh, hell, Susan, you don’t need that place anymore, you got this place, remember?

The master bedroom, like the kitchen downstairs, faced Cranberry Street and was similarly bathed in warm and generous light. “All these windows are double paned, by the by,” said Andrea, rapping on the sturdy glass. “Noise reducing. Work like the devil. ” * On the way out, Susan asked to see the bonus room one more time. While Alex spoke to Andrea in his low, all-business voice, she walked in a slow, enchanted circle around the tiny room and then stopped to rest her hands on the windowsill and gaze outside.

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