Edwin Balder was sitting in his usual stall in the bathroom of the singular office outpost of the Insert Multinational Conglomerate Here Invoicing Company (not its real name), reading the latest edition of McSweeny’s, when he heard his boss, one Mr. Owen Chase, call to him with such a passion that his voice reverberated heavily against the bathroom walls. Edwin hadn’t heard Chase call for him since that day when the tile had fallen on Mary’s head, and all hell had broken loose. That was twelve days ago, Edwin thought, flipping through McSweeny’s and glancing at the latest article by Michael Chabon concerning his long, lost novel. That was the day that I met Molly Brown, Edwin thought, again, flipping the pages and waiting for Owen Chase’s next bellowing call. Had it really been twelve days since such a fateful meeting? Was the meeting even fateful? Molly had been due back in Brooklyn yesterday by Edwin’s best estimation, which was an exact actuality in terms of the passage of time. But she had not arrived home. Molly’s floor and Edwin’s ceiling had made no sound. And no planes had crashed from what Edwin Balder gathered from the ceaseless babbling on the nightly network news. Where was Molly? He thought, before Chase called to him again.
Edwin sighed. He closed the issue of McSweeny’s and rose off of the cold toilet seat, his backside a tad bit numb from the time he’d spent in there. There’d be no rest for the weary, Edwin thought. Where could a man go and make a living where he didn’t actually have to go and make a living? Such a ponderous question for a Tuesday. Was it even Tuesday? Time had ceased to exist the moment Molly Brown got into that long, black car and drove off toward the Rust Belt and out of his life. It had ceased moving. The ebb and flow of life had come to a complete standstill for Edwin Balder. It took all of his energy to make the slightest bit of conversation, to “nuke” his evening meals, as the hooligans at Rooney’s Pub referred to the art of fine dining, or to even come to this job on a daily basis. What if Molly was not coming back? Edwin would not allow for such a silly thought to truly penetrate his mind.
“Who is that?” Mr. Owen Chase said, the minute Edwin appeared at his side, the copy of McSweeny’s discretely rolled up and shoved down the back of his tight and trendy pants. Edwin looked beyond Chase’s sweat stained armpits to the jovial black man sitting on the edge of Mary’s desk and talking very closely to her. “Balder?”
“Mandingo, Sir?” Edwin said.
“The White Man’s Burden?”
Chase looked at Edwin. “Talk sense, son!”
“That’s Mary’s new man.”
“I’m as surprised as you,” Edwin said. “Seems our mousy little harlot has finished with the drunken masses of the club scene, and has moved on to bigger, darker meat.”
“I don’t like him sitting on the desk,” Chase said.
“Of course not, Sir. It’s bad for business.”
Again Chase looked at Edwin. Edwin removed his eyes from Mary’s desk, where his friend, Lawson Thomas, had been moving himself closer and closer to her by the second. “And what’s with all of this ‘Sir’ business, Balder?”
“Something that I’m trying out,” Edwin said.
“I can’t tell whether or not I like it,” Chase said.
“Neither can I. Shall I call security and have the Negro removed?”
“I don’t think you can say Negro these days, Balder. And if he’s a friend of Mary’s, I don’t want to cause too much of a problem. It could be construed as harassment if I went over there and asked that man to leave.”
“Not to mention the racial entanglement of you calling him a Negro,” Edwin said.
“I…” Chase started.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Edwin walked over to Mary and Lawson under the watchful glare of Owen Chase. The ceiling above Mary’s desk was still missing a tile, and there was nothing but a black void and the faint traces of piping and wire. Many a moment during these twelve days of longing and misery did Edwin look up into that void, fancying it an escape route from this hell, a pathway to salvation. Of course, when the rat fell out of the ceiling and stood frozen on Mary’s desk before scurrying off into the hinterlands of the corporate Gulag, as she screamed bloody murder and nearly collapsed on the floor in a panic, Edwin decided that this hole in the ceiling would not be a proper escape route after all.
“Tell your boss to quit looking at me,” Lawson said, after Edwin came over. They gave each other a masculine hug and then Edwin turned to Mr. Owen Chase and winked, before Chase stomped off to his office and slammed the door. “I’ve only been coming here to see you for years now.”
“I think he thinks you’re going to rob the place,” Edwin said.
“There’s nothing to take.”
“Pens,” Mary said. “We have pens.”
“Why are you here?” Edwin asked.
“I’m taking Mary to lunch,” Lawson said.
Edwin swallowed, trying to keep down his breakfast Hot Pocket. Off all the nothingness that had abounded in his life these last twelve days, the one harsh slap in the face of change had been the budding relationship between his best friend, Lawson Thomas, and his co-worker, Mary Baldacci. Who knew that a couple innocent comments to Mary about Lawson’s interest would lead to this? It would be the last time Edwin would ever again make small talk with someone while soliciting an aspirin to nurse his hangover. He was sure of it. But a couple of kind words and a phone call to Lawson had resulted in over a week of constant companionship for these two lovebirds. They were like high school children. Didn’t either of them realize that the key to dating in the twenty-first century was an ironic disposition and a cold calculated hand and dealing with the feelings of others? Hell, Edwin thought. Those two were like dimwits in some romantic comedy, so free with their gaudy feelings that it made him ill. Plus he was in the middle of it, fielding evening phone calls from Lawson, gushing about Mary, or listening to Mary talk Lawson talk all day at work, in between her bouts of staring at the ceiling, waiting for the next rodent to descend from the heavens. Edwin was sick off all of this love, and he has a good mind to tell them both off.
“Don’t you have a job?” Edwin asked suddenly.
“If you listened to anything that I said, you’d know that the kids have spring break this week,” Lawson said, taking ahold of Mary’s hand.
“And what does that have to do with you?”
“I’m a lit teacher.”
“Oh that business again,” Edwin said. “Well, maybe if you spent more time talking to me about something other than my co-worker, I’d retain a bit more information.”
Mary looked up at Lawson with her wide almond eyes. “You talk about me?”
Lawson blushed. “Well…”
“Incessantly,” Edwin said. “The man is like an idiot savant. In fact, I watched Rainman again last night and saw a distinct similarity between Raymond and Mr. Thomas here.”
“That’s so sweet,” Mary said.
“It’s disturbing,” Edwin said.
“Don’t be such a sour bear.”
Edwin turned to Lawson. “Did you hear that? You date someone who says phrases such as ‘sour bear’.”
“So?” Lawson said. “You’re being a sour bear.”
“Et tu, Brute?”
“You don’t even read Shakespeare,” Lawson said.
“Maybe you should ask out that girl from your apartment building,” Mary said.
“Oh, now Ms. Sour Bear is giving advice on love,” Edwin said. “In case you didn’t know, and judging by that lovelorn, drooling gaze, you hadn’t, the girl from my apartment building has gone missing.”
“Missing?” Lawson said.
“Yes. She was due back yesterday and has yet to return.”
“I didn’t know that,” Mary said.
“Well, you should have,” Edwin said. “I was only on the phone with the police for thirty minutes this morning, trying to get them to do a missing person’s report on her.”
“Isn’t that a bit extreme?” Lawson said.
Edwin turned angrily to his old friend. “I have a heart and I care. Sue me.”
“Maybe she just stayed an extra day,” Mary offered.
“It’s always so simple with you, isn’t it? Ms. Sour Bear,” Edwin said.
“All the same we need to get you out of that apartment.”
“Why don’t you come with us tonight?” Mary said.
Edwin stepped back from Mary’s desk, giving her a traumatized look. Then he looked at Lawson. “How dare she even suggest that! Have you no heart, Ms. Sour Bear!”
“I…I just thought it would be fun,” Mary said, looking nervously from Edwin to Lawson.
“Has your girlfriend no sense of history?” Edwin asked Lawson. “No sense of virtue? Of good versus evil?”
Lawson, who had his head buried in his hands, lifted and looked at Edwin. “It’s just a birthday party for Pollard. This isn’t some moral platform.”
“Not for you, it’s not,” Edwin said. “But for me, he and I might as well be Roman combatants.”
“You were invited,” Lawson said. “Despite your attitude.”
“I refuse,” Edwin said, storming back toward his desk. He sat down and immediately grabbed his vintage Hulk doll for security purposes. “Even if I had something to wear I wouldn’t go.”
“It’s his birthday,” Mary said. “Isn’t George your friend?”
“For your information, Ms. Sour Bear, Pollard and I are no longer friends.”
“Stop calling her Ms. Sour Bear,” Lawson said. “And you two are friends.”
“Well, I refuse to enter into his den of sin,” Edwin said.
“Nothing happened between George and Natalie.” Lawson stroked Mary’s hair and then hopped off the edge of her desk. This caused Mr. Owen Chase to rise from his chair and look out his glass window. Lawson waved to him and then walked over to Edwin’s desk. “Besides, it’s not even the same apartment.”
“It’s the idea that counts,” Edwin said. “The memory.”
“You’re memory is clouded,” Lawson said.
Edwin put his Hulk doll down. “All the same, I refuse. I’d rather sit in my apartment all night, listening to a police radio in case something comes over the wire about Molly.”
Lawson shrugged. “Suit yourself, man.” He turned to Mary. “You ready, Babe?”
“Babe,” Edwin mocked Lawson. “There’s irony for you.”
Lawson slammed his fist on Edwin’s desk, causing Mary to jump as she went for her coat. “Shut up, Edwin.”
Lawson walked over to Mary and put an arm around her. “I hope you change your mind,” Mary said to Edwin.
“I’m a stubborn man,” Edwin said. “Enjoy your lunch with the militant, Ms. Sour Bear.”
With that Lawson and Mary left the office, and Edwin sat at his desk. He felt something poking him in the backside. It was the copy of McSweeny’s. Edwin reached behind him and pulled it out. He stared at the cover. He read the names of all those important writers, and imagined that he was one of them. Edwin saw himself in Northern Brooklyn again. He saw the crowds flocking into his reading. He saw himself and Molly at some pretentious restaurant, laughing over expensive food that no one really wanted to eat, drinking wine that was probably dyed horse piss, and generally having a good time. If only Edwin remembered exactly what Molly looked like. For now he’d just picture Barbra Streisand.
“Balder!” Chase shouted, coming out of his office. “Is the coast clear?”
“I don’t know,” Edwin said. “That man was dangerous. You saw him man handled me, right? Then he stood there speaking in the basest form of Ebonics that I’ve ever heard, before slamming his meaty fist on my desk!”
“Where’s Mary?” Chase asked.
“He took her.”
“Oh my God! Should we be informing someone?”
Edwin nodded down toward his phone. “I’ve got the FBI on hold right now, Sir.”