Edwin was slow to walk up to the second floor. In fact, he hated the second floor. It often smelled of boxed meals and desperation. Plus Gerhardt lived on the second floor. He lived in the apartment right next to the rap playing hussy whom Edwin was hell bent on confronting. Gerhardt had problems. He’d lived in the apartment building since the dawn of mankind, alone, of course, and was on heavy medication most of the time. At least that’s what Edwin thought. Why else would the man pound on the ceiling or ring the doorbell, accusing Edwin of flushing his toilet several times in a row, on purpose, in order to get back at his old upstairs neighbor. It made no sense. Edwin had tons of others ways to get back at his old upstairs neighbor. Of course, the old neighbor had moved out before any of his plans had time to reach fruition, but Edwin thought, walking slowly up the steps, that many of the plans could now be used on this new urban harlot whose music was currently causing small fissures in his bedroom walls.
He reached the offending apartment. Edwin reached three offending apartments at once. They were all there, clustered together: Trixie’s studio apartment to the left with the ricocheting noise of rap music pouring out into the hallway, set right above Edwin’s bedroom; Gerhardt’s hole of a studio apartment in the middle, quiet, ready to strike at any moment, and set ominously above Edwin’s living room; Guitarzan’s apartment was on the right, like an dormant enemy lying in wait. Edwin had no real problem with Guitarzan. His apartment was mostly above the Chinese woman’s apartment situated to next door to Edwin’s. Occasionally faint guitar noises came through the ceiling, just above the couch where Edwin usually read his latest issue of McSweeny’s, or some tome by the next writer anointed genius by the New York Times. Edwin didn’t mind the guitar music. It was no match for the Chinese woman’s television. However, since he left that note on Guitarzan’s door, the one mentioning several places in the southern Brooklyn area where one could receive adequate guitar lessons, the playing from above had taken an indefinite hiatus.
Edwin sneaked passed Gerhardt’s door and placed himself in front of the new neighbor’s glossy red one. He listened to the noise of the music, something about getting out there and getting money. He listened to her pacing around her overpriced cage. Edwin looked through the peephole but could not see inside, always forgetting that peepholes only worked one way. He took a deep breath and raised his left hand. There was no turning back now, Edwin thought. He lifted his hand up higher and knocked with thunderous verve.
The pacing stopped but the rap music did not. Edwin waited for what felt like an eternity as his new nemesis shuffled across her domicile to answer the door. He heard the small, metal cover on the peephole move one way and then swing the other way. Edwin ran a hand through his wavy, trendy gray hair and coughed, as his neighbor began unlatching locks. He counted them: one, two, three, four locks. Where did this chick think she lived? He thought. Libya? And how did she get three locks? Edwin had one lock. He had one lock and one deadbolt that Nazi Sheppard had screwed in crookedly. He made a mental note to add a few locks to the litany of apartment repairs that he was set to present to the Sheppards any day now. But then the door opened and before Edwin stood the prettiest woman he’d ever seen: a brown haired goddess with a long nose and bright green eyes, dressed in low riding jeans, her belly poking out between the denim and a tight black t-shirt that read “Brooklyn Girls Do it Better.” She had purple painted toenails, and in her hand was a pot holding some ethnic sludge that Edwin took to be a kind of vulgar pasta dish popular with college students and lonely single trolls like Gerhardt.
“Yes?” the girl said
Edwin tried to look into her apartment but she moved closer between him and the door. “Good evening,” he said.
“I’m your neighbor. From downstairs.”
“Do you have a name?” the girl asked. Then she took a wooden spoon from the pot. It had a small mound of food on it, beef, elbow noodles, and tomato sauce, from what Edwin could gather in the second before she put the offending mixture in her mouth.
She finished chewing. “Molly. I’m Molly Brown.”
“Ah. I don’t believe we have another Molly living in this building.”
“It’s a big building, Edwin. How would you know?” Molly asked.
Molly put a hand on her hip and gave a sly smile. “What can I do for you tonight?”
“Well,” Edwin began. “It’s actually just a small thing. In fact, I’m a bit embarrassed even coming up here. You see I was at work today and there was a terrible nautical accident that happened to one of my co-workers. She nearly drowned.”
“Oh my God! That’s terrible,” Molly said. “What do you do for a living?”
“I process invoices,” Edwin said.
“I thought the accident was nautical.”
“It was. In nature. A ceiling tile fell on my co-worker’s head this afternoon. It was full of briny water and it soaked the poor girl.”
“Is she okay?’ Molly asked, before taking another spoonful of the goop. The rap music blared stronger in the background with the door open. Edwin eyed Gerhardt’s door just waiting for that bastard to come out.
“We don’t know,” Edwin said. “I mean it certainly won’t improve her looks or her luck with men. Perhaps the tragedy will give her a stronger constitution.”
“Yeah. I hate work.”
“What do you do?”
“Bartend. Waitress. Sell pot,” Molly said.
“Hmmm, I once had to work two jobs.”
Molly smiled again. “Now, what did you say you needed?”
Edwin blushed. “It’s quite silly actually. See, after the tragedy at work I came home to my apartment, traumatized of course, and decided to go right to bed, skipping dinner and all sundry evening activities. I figured I’d rest, maybe read a novel, and try to shake off the heartbreak of seeing poor Mary humiliated at work.”
“Is Mary her name?” Molly asked. She had more of her Italian goop. It was beginning to make Edwin hungry. Or maybe sick. He couldn’t tell as hunger and sickness were the same thing to Edwin Balder.
“Yes,” he said. “It’s some ritualistic Catholic name.” He leaned in and Molly did not move back, which was a promising opening to their relationship. “But if you ask me, Mary doesn’t take the Catholic thing too seriously, especially after a lonely night at one of those singles clubs she frequents. Let’s just say she’s not too choosy of a woman.”
“I have a friend who’s a ho,” Molly said.
“So we understand each other,” Edwin said. “But let me get to the point. Distraught, I laid down in my bed prepared to read, drift off to sleep, and otherwise fast, when, and I don’t mean this as a criticism, your music began to rain down on me.”
“Rain?” Molly said.
“Or pour,” Edwin added, “volley, shower, fall, hail, torrent, or deluge if you will.”
“Christ I’m sorry.” Molly left her doorway and went off into the distance. Edwin tried to peek into her apartment but when the music shut off he got spooked and backed out into the hallway. Then Molly came back to the door without her food. Edwin missed it. “You never realize how loud things are.”
“It’s an old building,” Edwin said, relieved that the music was gone. He could feel his heart rate return to normal, hear birds begin to sing, and the world basically spin back on its axis. “Truthfully I thought you were a black person.”
“Everyone listens to rap these days,” Molly said.
“True.” Edwin thought for a moment. “Of course, I have a black friend who distains rap music.”
“His name is Lawson Thomas. He’s a philosopher, a budding Proust scholar, and a classical music aficionado when not affixing a hipster persona and listening to Jazz.”
“That’s a tall order,” Molly said.
“When I thought you were black, I was going to try and fix the two of you up,” Edwin said. “I thought maybe you’d help get Lawson out of the malaise of Asian and Puerto Rican woman he seems caught in these days.”
“So your friend gets around?” Molly asked.
“Like a vacuum salesman.”
“Anyway, I’m really sorry about the music,” she said. “I put it on to unwind and I just didn’t realize how loud it was.”
“You listen to that to unwind?” Edwin asked.
“Yeah. What do you listen to?”
“Usually the Chinese woman’s television murmuring through my living room walls, but occasionally I enjoy the classical music station.”
“Very classy,” Molly said.
“It’s Lawson’s influence,” Edwin said. “Perhaps I should still introduce the two of you.”
“That would be cool, but I kind of have a boyfriend.”
“We’re having problems right now,” Molly said. “Maybe we’re not even together anymore. That’s why I moved here.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah.” Both Edwin and Molly were quiet for a moment. “Anyway I should get back to making dinner.”
“Yes,” Edwin said. “I believe I’m getting hungry myself.”
“No more fast for Marry?”
“Your co-worker? The one who almost drowned?”
“Oh,” Edwin said. “Her. The hell with her.” He extended a hand and Molly took it. Her hand were soft. “It was nice meeting you.”
“Likewise,” she said. “I’ll try to keep the music down.”
“Thank you,” Edwin said. “Perhaps I can buy you a drink some time, or invite you down to listen to Rhapsody in Blue.”
“I’d like that.”
“Goodnight,” Edwin said.
“Goodnight,” Molly said. And then she closed the door.
Edwin Balder stood in the hallway for a few seconds more. It wasn’t exactly love that he was feeling for Molly Brown, or even a craving. But he felt something warm and peaceful inside of himself for having met her. I like this pounding Neanderthal of a girl, Edwin said to himself, as he moved away from her door. He backed away smiling like a man smitten with the sunset or his bank statement. But then he heard the knob turn on Gerhardt’s door and it all turned to darkness.
“Yes,” Edwin said, once Gerhardt’s boney old face poked out into the hallway.
Gerhardt pointed a finger. “I heard yeahs. I heard yeahs talking and playing that music.”
“And I don’t want youse starting nothing”
“Nothing is starting, Gerhardt,” Edwin said.
“I heard yeahs flushing your toilets!”
“Whatever.” Edwin turned and walked away. He descended to the first floor with a spring in his step, thinking that no ancient, toilet obsessed lunatic was going to ruin such a serendipitous evening as this one. Edwin resolved to flush his toilet at least four times once safely back in his apartment, before returning to his bedroom for a little self-love. For he had found his muse, and her name was Molly Brown.
“I swear I heard yeahs!” Gerhardt shouted one last time, before he slammed his door,
and Edwin opened his.