He walked into the shade of the alley, where the walls stretching up from the street were windowless and the thick metal doors down below leaned into plastic crates. Muffled voices of grocers drifted outside. His eyes scanned the stack tied with string. After pulling away the one he wanted, he tucked it under his arm. The corrugated edges rubbed his calloused fingertips.

Passersby carried Louis Vuitton bags, brooms, torsos of mannequins, floor lamps, ladders, and miniature dogs. He carried the flattened cardboard box.

He made a wide turn into the building to get the box inside. It banged into the banisters as he climbed the four flights of stairs to his apartment.

After shutting the door behind him, he dropped the box onto the floor of his austere bedroom. He pulled the knife from his pocket, extended the blade, and drew it along the heavy fold. The box slumped open.

Not long ago, he would have put it on a heating grate during winter. In the summer, he would have put it in the shade of scaffolding. The box didn’t have a soft surface, but it was smooth. It was more forgiving than concrete.

He didn’t want the mattress. It was flimsy. It moved when he moved. He liked the feeling of the solid earth beneath him. It was one of the few reliable things in his life.

He pushed the cardboard to the space on the floor next to his bed. Shaking his head, he pulled the mattress down to the floor. He picked up the cardboard and placed it directly onto the platform. He nodded.