Menu Switch

Cold Front

By Nina Lukina From Issue No. 7

“Can I sleep over?” Greg asked, as if we were all good friends here. Casually, as if his sleeping at our apartment were the natural thing, what the entire evening had been leading to, and his question a piece of old-fashioned politeness. But there was a note of pleading in his voice and a disquieting sheen on his face that betrayed him. 

When I’d come home from work earlier that evening, Bob told me that he’d ordered weed. He replenished his—our—supply monthly. He ordered it by text, using some code words maybe. The delivery service was astonishingly professional. If they had a Yelp page, I would have, prior to this evening, given them five stars, and I was a judicious Yelper, careful not to give only one- and five-star ratings, as many reviewers did. I would have written that the service was prompt and reliable and sent a representative carrying slickly packaged vials within two hours of the order’s placement. 

Usually they sent Greg, who would swagger into our apartment, chat about sports and video games with Bob, drop off the vials, pocket the cash, and leave. A few times the service sent others. One had long curly hair and a nerdy voice and reminded me of the boys who had attended Fair Mountain Jewish Summer Camp with me. Once a girl came. She mentioned that their company was now selling edibles, though she hadn’t tried them and couldn’t vouch for them—she was a vegan. She had pink hair and carried a skateboard. I imagined her in twenty years, a hippyish but basically responsible mom who reminisced on her weed-selling days with indulgent amusement. Some people try to hold on to freedom longer than others. 

“He’s actually a cool guy,” Bob would sometimes say afterwards, pointing at the door through which Greg had just left. Perhaps Bob even thought of them as friends, which could have been, in retrospect, what led to this situation.

This particular visit portended unpleasantness from the start. 

Outside, temperatures had dropped to single digits. It was the kind of cold we get only a few times a winter. The radiators in the apartment were hissing with exertion, and the air inside was oppressively hot and dry, an atmosphere that could well lead to premature wrinkles. After we ate reheated salmon for dinner, I took a shower and rubbed lotion all over my body and face. I was sitting, in my panties, on the edge of the trunk where we keep our spare bedding, waiting for my skin to absorb the cream. The humidifier—which can lead to sinus infections and should not be overused—was on, perhaps prolonging the drying process. I was on my phone, checking work emails, when I sensed a gust of cold air and cigarette smoke, and I looked to the other end of the apartment and saw Greg standing there. Our eyes met. The noise from the radiators reached a crescendo. 

I darted behind the bedroom door. A moment later, the hissing subsided and I heard Greg exclaim, “Damn, it’s nice and warm in here. It’s brick out there, man.” 

I put on a loose shirt and leggings and went into the living room where Greg had spread out this month’s selection on the dining table. 

“Hi,” I said. I could have stayed in the bedroom until Greg left, but what happened filled me with a sort of defiance. I wouldn’t be ashamed, I thought, and imagined telling this story later to my college friends. 

“Hey, what’s up,” Greg mumbled. He looked at me for perhaps a second longer than was necessary.

He was wearing a grey sweatsuit, a round red logo in the center of his chest, and had one of those closely cropped beards that ran in an abrupt line approximately along his jaw line. He was tall, almost a head taller than Bob. The clothes, the unnaturally shaped beard, and the beginnings of a paunch marred some potential. His voice was surprisingly gentle and high. The other incongruous thing about him were his cheeks, rosy and plump. They were all wrong; they belonged on a small, healthy boy who spends his summers at the seaside.

He showed us, as usual, a selection of both indicas and sativas, the kind that make you sleepy and the kind that make you wired first and then sleepy, as the occasion demands.

“This one right here is real nice for before you go to bed,” Greg said, pointing to one labeled Critical Haze. Bob and I often commented on how the names get more outlandish every month. 

“It’s pretty heavy,” Greg said, and let out a halting laugh for no reason that I could detect. 

Though he’d been here many times before, he kept looking around the room with red-rimmed eyes, blinking slowly, as if watching for assailants in unfamiliar territory.

“This is a good one for daytime,” Greg said, pointing to another batch called Lady Gaga Diesel, while eyeing our living room. 

 “Good if you get paranoid,” he said. 

“That sounds good for me,” I joked, because the truth is that I do get terribly anxious sometimes, whereupon Greg looked at me with a startled expression, eyes wide like I had snuck up on him. 

We took one of the Lady Gaga and one called Lindenberry Blaze and paid Greg $120. 

Transaction concluded, Greg returned his wares to his backpack. 

“Alright, man, thanks,” Bob said. 

Bob talked a certain way when Greg came by, saying “man” and “dude” and “alright” a lot. 

Greg made no moves toward the door. Instead he took a rolled joint from his pocket. For a moment I thought he was going to show us something else, a piece of merchandise he reserved for his favorite customers. But he made no reference to it. He walked over to our couch and slumped on it. He placed the joint between his lips and began to feel in his pockets for a lighter. 

“You mind if I chill here for a bit?” he asked.

I looked at Bob, who had the wherewithal not to return my glance. 

This was unprecedented. We had never before chilled with Greg. My heartbeat, which had returned to normal as we examined the labels on the weed, returned to the rate it had reached when he glimpsed me nearly naked. I couldn’t help but wonder whether his request was related to this inopportune sighting. As I waited for Bob to answer, I noticed that Greg was still wearing his sneakers on the rug, which we had travelled upstate to buy from a collector. 

Bob has, generally, the better social acumen. He knows what to say, for example, when someone tells you they’ve just broken up with their girlfriend, or that their father has died, or they’ve become engaged. 

He paused. 

“Uh, yeah, dude,” he said. “But we were planning on going to bed soon.”

“Alright, no worries,” Greg said, and lit up.

I was grateful for Bob’s quick thinking. It was in fact still early for us and we had planned several hours of HBO before bedtime. Bob and I had been rewatching episodes of Game of Thrones before the new season. 

The smoke from Greg’s joint filled the room. Its odor was acrid and strange and I put the fan on so it wouldn’t reach the neighbors (our habit was to smoke out the kitchen window, carefully, and taking only one or two pulls from a wooden pipe). 

Greg said he was “easy” with regards to choice of entertainment, and I put the next episode of GoT on. We had to put the volume on the highest setting so that we could hear it over the insistent hiss of the radiator. Greg guffawed and exclaimed at the screen and watched closely, though he’d never seen the show before and didn’t know the characters or storyline. We watched two episodes, engrossed for two hours, and I even forgot Greg was there until the inevitable scene of gratuitous breasts. This particular scene was in a brothel, and the extras were lounging around on chaises, amid silks and incense, their inviting nakedness expertly lit. Watching alone with Bob, I sometimes jokingly covered his eyes during the breasts scenes, as if he were innocent and impressionable and I were not jealous. But now I stayed very still.

During the credits for the second episode, nobody moved to put the next one on. Greg leaned back in the couch, arms crossed, and watched the names of the cast and crew scroll to epic music. 

“Alright, well, we’re going to hit the hay now,” Bob said. 

“Hit the hay” was definitely not the kind of cool phrase that was appropriate to use with someone like Greg, and that was the kind of social flub that Bob was normally apt to avoid.

That was when Greg asked.

“Can I sleep over?” 

I looked at Bob. 

“I don’t know, man. Do you have a long way to get home?” Bob said, and peered through the shutters to glance outside, as if to gauge the length of Greg’s way home.

“Yeah,” was all Greg said.

“Okay,” I said. 

Maybe it was that surge of defiance again, or maybe I couldn’t tolerate the tension.

“Well, yeah, sure,” Bob shrugged. “Let me get you some sheets and stuff.”

We went into the bedroom under the guise of getting sheets and stuff, and closed the door.

“This is weird,” I said.

“Very weird, definitely,” Bob said.

“Do you think he’s homeless?” I asked.

Bob thought about it for a second.

“He is definitely homeless,” he said. 

“I don’t know about this. I mean, it is really cold out tonight, so I’d feel bad just kicking him out on the street. But doesn’t he have anywhere else to go?”

“He’s out there with my PS4 right now,” Bob said, frowning. “Don’t they have shelters?”

“The shelters are so bad that many homeless people refuse to go. I just read an article about it. In the New York Times. What’s if he’s just looking for a place for tonight? I mean, he seems embarrassed and like he’s not used to this sort of thing. Should we just ask him what the deal is?”

“You know what, let’s just tell him we’re not cool with it, and we want him to leave. I do feel for him, but we have to look out for our safety first, right?”

Yes, it must be done, we decided. We barely knew him. He sold illegal drugs. I felt confident that Bob would find the most socially acceptable way of rescinding our welcome.

We went back out to the living room and found Greg still sitting on the couch, staring blankly at the screensaver on the TV, which showed various hi-def images of wild animals and plants and natural formations. His hands were folded demurely in his lap. He looked tired. 

“Listen, actually. I don’t think it’s going to work, man. We don’t think it’s such a great idea for you to sleep over. We have to go to work in the morning and everything,” Bob trailed off to let Greg infer the exact reason why he couldn’t stay.

Greg looked up at us from the couch. His face contorted into a kind of grimacing smile. 

“Please,” he said.

The pleading whine in his voice made me hold my breath. 

“Please,” Greg said again, maintaining the veneer of casualness and inevitability with decreasing success. His voice sounded like the whimper of our friend’s dog with separation anxiety. There had been a line around the block, our friends had said, waiting to adopt this dog. 

“I don’t have nowhere to go tonight, and it’s so cold out. I’ll spot you some kush. I won’t bother you. I just need a place to crash for tonight, if it’s cool.”

I began to feel that an outright rejection was getting further out of our reach.

“Can you take off your shoes?” I blurted out. I couldn’t take seeing them on the rug any longer. 

Greg apologized and scurried happily to the door to take them off. He was so obliging and pathetic in his movements that I thought, whatever, let’s let him sleep over. 

Some precautions would have to be taken, however. What did we know about him? He rooted for the Mets, he’d never seen Game of Thrones, and he sold drugs. 

Bob and I conferred in the bedroom again. 

“Let’s bring the laptops in here,” Bob said.

“We should make him take off his clothes,” I said.


“Make him take off his clothes. So we know he can’t leave here with any of our stuff. And he won’t have anywhere to hide a weapon.”

Bob looked at the closed bedroom door and nodded slowly.

“Okay, but how are we going to say it?” He asked.

I thought about it. This sort of thing was more of Bob’s domain really.

“You tell him, bro-to-bro, that he needs to take a hot shower. And we’ll take his clothes. Give him some of yours to sleep in.”

“Alright, that’s what we’ll have to do.”

We went back out there and Bob said it.

“You can sleep here.” 

“Thank you,” Greg said, and sighed with visibly deep relief. “I really appreciate it. I’m fighting with my girl, you know how it is.”

“Yeah,” Bob chuckled gamely, though we rarely fought and Greg was clearly lying.

Bob came to sit on the couch next to him and put a hand on his shoulder and looked at me. It was time for them to establish a masculine rapport. I backed out of the room and watched from just behind the doorway. 

“We’ll get you a sleeping bag, and why don’t you take a nice hot shower? It’s brick out there, man.” 

“No, that’s alright, thanks.”

“Come on, and we’ll give you something nice and comfortable to sleep in.”

“Nah, that’s okay, I just need a place to crash for the night. You know how it is sometimes. I really appreciate this.”

“Take a shower, bro, okay?”

Greg agreed. Overall, convincing him was not difficult. He was tired and possibly disoriented. 

Bob went to the bedroom and I followed. He pulled out a towel, t-shirt, sweatpants, and boxers. 

“Boxers too?” I asked.

“What, is he going to shower with them on?” Bob asked rhetorically. “Watch him,” he said, nodding in the direction of the living room. Instead I went to the kitchen and got a plastic garbage bag.

Bob went to get Greg and ushered him to the bathroom. He took the bag from me and passed the towel and clothes to Greg in the bathroom. Bob stood on the threshold, holding the garbage bag, and I was behind him in the dark hallway. 

“Put your clothes in here,” Bob said. 

“You want me to put my clothes in this garbage bag,” Greg repeated, like he wasn’t getting it.

“Yes, we’re going to hold on to them,” Bob said, and I found myself marveling at his boldness. He was right, of course—even in his pitiable and befuddled state Greg would have to appreciate the situation he’d put us in.

Greg shook his head and put his hands up, as if to say that he was innocent of anything we suspected, that he was being persecuted unfairly. But he took the fresh clothes from Bob and put them on the lid of the toilet and began to undress. The radiator hissed. Greg took off his hoodie and stuffed it into the bag with just a hint of stifled aggression. He pulled off his shirt and his pants and put them in. He stood in his undershorts. His chest was shockingly pale and narrow with a smattering of wiry dark hair. Bob looked into the bag as if to make sure it was all there. He held it out to Greg again. 

“Man, really?” Greg asked.

“Yeah, dude, come on,” Bob said. 

Greg took off his underwear and flung it into the bag. 

Bob turned the shower on for him to the right temperature (our shower knob is particular and can be difficult for a first-time user) as Greg started to cry. 

Bob closed the door and left him to it. 

“God, Lana, give the guy some privacy,” Bob said waving me back down the hallway and into the living room. It was too late, of course, I had seen everything, and what Bob didn’t know was that Greg had seen quite a bit as well.

“He’s crying,” I whispered. “We made him cry.”

“We’re doing him a big favor here. He can’t have everything he wants for free. Life’s like that.”

Yes, tough love. We looked into the garbage bag like two pirates examining our loot. 

We seemed to have come to a satisfying solution. I stuffed the trash bag into our bedroom closet and took down one of our REI sleeping bags. I laid it down on the couch and placed a glass of water onto the coffee table near where his head would go. Bob hovered over me as I performed my hostessing duties.

“And we don’t know what he’s crying about really. I mean clearly the dude is unhinged and probably on some synthetic stuff, right?” Bob said. 

My parents had warned me many times that marijuana, among its other evils, is a “gate drug.” My father would say “It’s a ‘gate drug.’ Do you know what that means or do I have to explain it to you?” Always he would explain it no matter how I replied. He’d seen many a former classmate dabble in hashish in the old country and descend into dereliction. 

Satisfied with Greg’s sleeping arrangements, I noticed something else.

“What about his backpack?” I ask Bob.

“And I though home-delivery was a great perk,” Bob said, clutching his hair. 

The steam from the radiator kicked in again after a lull, overpowering the sounds of the rushing water coming from the bathroom. 

“Oh no,” I said. I could see now that Bob was getting worried and that made me worry.

“Just calm down, okay?” He said in a harsh tone that I’d only heard him use a few times before, all while driving through city streets. I hated when he talked like that. I crossed my arms over my chest. Fine, he could figure this out since he was such good friends with Greg, and Greg was actually such a cool guy. I’d normally have been asleep at that time and I wanted to go to bed. 

The North Face backpack slumped incriminatingly against the door to the apartment. It was one of the larger models, black with an abundance of loops and straps. Bob crouched down in front of it and unzipped the largest compartment. 

“Careful,” I said.

I knew he hated when I said that, because according to him it was an extraordinarily pointless thing to say. He held up a hand behind him to signal that he thought as much in this situation too. 

“What’s in there?” I asked.

He pulled out a notebook.

“What is it?”

He leafed through some pages, stopping on one in particular and examining it, and put the notebook back.

“A journal,” he said.

“What does it say?”

“I’m not going to read his journal.”

“But why not? It will let us know whether he’s nuts or not.”

“Just forget it. There’s some drawings and poems in there and a little cryptic writing about how some people in his life did him wrong or whatever, as far as I saw. Reads like a Facebook status. He has some clothes in here. A sweatshirt and boxers, I think. Deodorant. There’s the case that he keeps the weed in.”

“Does he seem homeless? Check the other pocket.”

Bob opened the smaller compartment.

“A wad of cash. Including the cash we gave him I guess. And, whoa. Pills and pills and pills.”

“What are they?”

“I don’t know. Nothing you’d want.”

“So he’s a pillhead.”

“Shit,” Bob said. 

“Can’t he check into a hotel with that cash?”

“I guess he owes it to his boss. I don’t know. There’s a chain of command probably.”

“I feel like he’s taking advantage of us.”

Bob prodded the bottom of the backpack.

“What are we going to do?” I said. 

“I don’t know,” he said. 

I’m prone, I thought, to getting myself into situations like these. You give and you give and you think it’s being reciprocated and then you realize you are being played for a sucker. That’s how it always goes. You think you are all acting on good faith and sharing equally when really you’re being taken advantage of, when really altruism leads to danger. I’d tried to shake the distrust of sharing that my parents had instilled in me, lessons from their years under Communist rule, yet their pessimism seemed wiser all the time. 

While Bob rummaged I picked up Greg’s big puffer coat and stuffed it into the trash bag in the bedroom along with his clothes. 

Bob was reading the journal when I came back into the living room.

“What does it say? Is he dangerous?” I asked.

The radiator switched off. I could hear that the shower was no longer running.

The bathroom door creaked open.

“Wait, Bob, he’s coming out,” I whispered frantically.

Bob stuffed the notebook back into the bag’s pocket. He stood up and grabbed the backpack and dropped it again and ran toward the bedroom. I didn’t have time to question him, because Greg came out into the living room. Bob’s clothes fit him much tighter than his sweatsuit and he looked like a wet dog, pitiful and absurd. 

“Thank you, guys, I appreciate this,” he croaked and went to lie down on the couch.

“There’s some water for you.”

“Thanks,” he mumbled.

“Well, alright, good night.”

He seemed unable to keep his eyes open any longer. They fluttered closed and I turned off the light. I walked back toward the bedroom. 

“He’s asleep,” I whispered.

Bob walked past me back toward the couch and I followed him. He knelt beside Greg. Was he going to talk to him bro-to-bro again? Greg seemed deeply asleep. In the glimmer of light from the bedroom I saw Bob’s arms moving and it seemed to me at first that Bob was massaging him. That might have been going too far, I thought. Bob stood up. 

Something glinted on Greg’s arm. Bob had handcuffed him to the leg of the couch, using the pink fur-lined cuffs we’d bought at a sex shop downtown. He shuffled me back into the bedroom.

“What? Why did you do that? Is that normal?” I asked.

“Just in case.”

“Of what?”

Of what? Dude is a total drug addict. Who knows what. The things I read in his journal… He’s got a nice warm place to sleep, doesn’t he? We’ll let him out in the morning.”

We got into bed. I listened, straining for sounds from the living room. All was quiet. 

“What if he has to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night?” I whispered to Bob in the dark. Bob grunted something unintelligible. He always fell asleep almost as soon as he got under the covers, whereas I had to wait for sleep and make sure it met with the perfect conditions. 

I did my breathing exercises several times over but still I touched only the very outer edges of sleep as I listened for stirring beyond our bedroom door. I snuggled up to Bob but he was emitting small puffs that interfered with my listening for suspicious sounds from the other room and I went back to the other side of the bed. I lay like that for hours, listening and thinking how some people always put themselves in a position to be manipulated and exploited. I was prone to this, my therapist had diagnosed, due to the dynamic of my family. I started my breathing exercise again. The problem was that I was trying too hard, focusing on results instead of process, which my therapist always said was counterproductive. She offered, however, no practical alternatives. That advice was the most maddening of all the things she’d say, and, I suspected, possibly self-serving. Don’t question the results of four years of therapy, she seemed to say, that’s counterproductive. I would have given her three stars if she had a Yelp page. 

I heard something from the living room. The silent furor I was working up about my therapist had distracted me from listening. 

Now I heard something utterly miserable, a sound of animalistic, primal suffering. 


I shook Bob.

“He’s throwing up out there.”

Bob blinked several times and frowned. I waited for him to fully wake up and process what I’d said.

“So what?” He said. “Leave him alone.”

“I think he’s doing it on the rug. You handcuffed him, remember.”

“Whatever,” Bob said. He was getting sick of my worrying and for an instant I sort of thought whatever, let the dude vomit.

But then from the living room there came a loud scrape and thud, followed by strained grunting. 

“I think he’s trying to move the couch,” Bob said, sitting up. 

A louder thud, and the sound of objects scattering. He’d turned over the coffee table. He was going to wake the neighbors.

Bob got up and went into the living room and I put a robe on and followed close behind. 

Greg’s silhouette was doubled over midway to the door. He’d pulled the couch a significant way with him, crumpling the rug, but he couldn’t get it around the upturned coffee table. 

He crouched, chained to the couch like a hulking beast.

“You cuffed me to the couch?” he squealed. I saw that he’d had made a mess on Bob’s borrowed clothes. “What the fuck?”

“Wait, just hold on. I’ll let you out.”

Bob ran to retrieve the key for the sex cuffs. I was surprised, honestly, that Greg couldn’t just break through them, as they had always seemed flimsy to me and I worried that we’d overpaid for them. My eyes had adjusted to the darkness more, and by a distant streetlight I could see that Greg was a mess, his face streaked with tears and bile, and I realized he was angling toward his backpack, not the bathroom as I had assumed.

Bob came back and worked on unlocking the cuff while Greg started vomiting again. We had tried to help, be altruistic, but I saw that Greg wasn’t even making an effort to run for the bathroom.

“He’s puking on the rug! It’s going to get discolored,” I hissed at Bob.

It was a thin liquid, like he’d come to the end of the contents of his stomach. He stopped puking and sobbed forcefully, emitting a shocking wail. Bob released him. Weakly, Greg batted him out of the way and scrambled for his bag.

“You know what? You need to go,” Bob said. “Just take your drugs and go.”

Greg said something that might have been, “Just take me to prison.” 

He clutched at his backpack and tried to pull our door open, but it was locked. He fumbled with our locks for what seemed like a long time, turning them this way and that. Bob was about to step forward when finally Greg found the right combination and flung the door open, running out into the hallway. 

Bob shut the door behind him. 

“Excuse me, this is worse than jail?” I whispered, in case Greg was still in hearing range. “You know what, those kind of people are so ungrateful. That’s why they’re fuckups. Not the other way around. Ingratitude.”

“He left his shoes,” Bob said.

His sneakers lay near the door where he’d put them earlier. 

“Throw them out the window for him,” I said.

“That’s nice of you,” Bob commented, and did as I said. He opened the window and frigid air came billowing in. The shoes landed on the sidewalk below, about eight feet from each other. I heard the building’s elevator running, taking the miscreant down. 

Bob closed the window and leaned his forehead against it, looking down at the street below for a while.

“He’s found ’em,” he said. 

“Great,” I said.

“He passed them the first time but then he doubled back and got them, as if he realized they were his. But he doesn’t have a coat.”

I’d put his coat in the trash bag along with the rest of the stuff. 

“Oh my god, we still have his clothes,” I clamped my hand over my mouth. I couldn’t help but laugh. “What are we going to do with them? That Ecko sweatsuit?”

Bob continued looking out the window and didn’t answer. 

We took out the Critical Haze and went to the kitchen, where we took our customary hits leaning on the kitchen windowsill. I kept meaning to buy a vaporizer, it was supposed to be much healthier for the lungs. 

The haze took over and I was ready for sleep. What a hassle it would be to find a new delivery service. 

“We do still have that weird sweatsuit,” Bob said, and laughed, as if he’d just heard me say it. I was so glad to have him there, he always knew what to do and how to react. I wanted him to propose soon, and for us to have a wedding in the mild early autumn. 

About Nina Lukina More From Issue No. 7