Edwin Balder staggered down 75th Street with the wind from the estuary blowing in his sore, swelling face. When he reached the Salmon awning of the CrestSeal, there were people outside smoking; an elderly woman and a middle-aged man. Edwin hated them. He hated listening to their inane conversations as they blew smoke into his living room or bedroom window. He referred to the couple as May/December because of their awkward age difference. But what in the hell were they doing out at this hour? How late was it? Edwin wondered. He removed a hand from his face and checked his watch. It was only nine o’clock at night. Good Lord that mugger sure worked the early shift, Edwin thought. He must be high up in the union. How does one get a gig like that? Edwin laughed. He had no choice but to laugh. What else could one do when the private contents of their life had been put on display publically, and they’d been mugged twice in just over a month?
“Good evening,” May said. Edwin looked at the man’s red checkered hat, and his dirty, brown Member’s Only jacket, and wondered how many years he’d get for manslaughter. Of course it would be involuntary manslaughter. After all, Edwin would be doing a service to all and sundry at the CrestSeal and most probably society as a whole.
“May I ask you a question?” Edwin said.
“Sure,” May said, taking a drag on his cigarette.
“Can you tell time?”
May looked at December. He looked confused. “Sure.”
“What time is it?”
He looked at his watch. “Around nine-fifteen.”
“Precisely,” Edwin said. “A tad bit too late for good evenings, isn’t it?”
“He was being nice, young man,” December said.
“Oh really? Do you know what nice would be? At least my definition of the word this fine evening?”
“Judging by that ancient blank look on your face, you don’t. So I’ll tell you.” Edwin walked closer to the couple but not too close. He was certain that December would smell of rusted canisters of Ensure, and May already reeked of desperation and loneliness, and Edwin had enough of that scent on him already. “Nice, to me at least, would be you two tobacco conglomerate sycophants finishing up you cancerous pow-wow and removing yourselves from outside my bedroom window. I’ve had a long and arduous day, which I’m sure neither of you could possibly understand, what, with the unemployment checks and Social Security money rolling in at a steady rate.”
“Hey,” May said.
“Correct me if I am wrong.”
They both fell silent.
“I’ll bid you a good night then,” Edwin said, before opening the first set of glass doors and walking into the foyer which smelled of dog shit and more cigarette smoke.
“What happened to his face?” Edwin heard May ask December.
“Probably alcohol related,” December said. “Did you smell his breath?”
Edwin shuttered and walked slowly down the hall to his apartment, as his face and leg were both hurting him quite considerably. He just had the key in the door when the superintendent’s wife came around the corner with a push broom and a bucket of gray, soapy water hooked into her elbow.
“Good evening, Meester Balder,” she said.
“Great,” Edwin said to himself. “More of the time challenged. Good night, Mrs. Sheppard.” He made to go inside of his apartment.
“Edween, did you see the letter from the management?”
“The one that so eloquently addressed the pideon problem that we’ve been having?” Mrs. Sheppard gave him a confused look. “I’ve not perused my own copy yet, but the new light-footed upstairs neighbor, Molly Brown, was kind enough to bring me down her copy to look over.”
“They are looking for the marijuana,” Mrs. Sheppard said. Then she was quiet, staring at Edwin.
“Well, surely they don’t think that I have any of it.”
“Meester Sheppard saw you on the steps last night. And he heard music coming from the girl’s apartment,” Mrs. Sheppard said. She set her bucket down and moved the push broom back and forth as a matter of course. “And Meester Gerhardt came by this morning.”
“As if you should believe that sociopath,” Edwin said. “The man has a scatological obsession.”
“He said that he saw you in front of the girl’s apartment early in the morning.”
Edwin sighed and took the key out of the door. He smiled at Mrs. Sheppard, even though it hurt his face to do so. Poor, lowly immigrant Mrs. Sheppard, Edwin thought. So simple in her tasks, and in her station in life. She really had no business playing detective. “Mrs. Sheppard, let me assure you that I was not upstairs smoking marijuana with Ms. Brown and her houseboy last night. To be quite frank, they were making noise, and I went up there to register a complaint. I knocked on the door and there was no answer, so I went about my business, determining that it was more a matter for the police to handle. That was when Mr. Gerhardt came out and saw me. He began making a ruckus, shouting about toilets and the like, and in an effort to get away from him I descended down the steps, tripping on the last few.”
“You fell?” Mrs. Sheppard asked.
“I fell quite hard,” Edwin said. He rubbed his left thigh. “In fact, I’ve just returned from consulting with my lawyer about this matter.”
“Oh, Meester Balder!”
“Oh, is right, Mrs. Sheppard. I pay too high a rent to be worrying about my safety on those steps.”
‘I didn’t know,” Mrs. Sheppard said.
“Well, of course not,” Edwin said. “You Roma can’t be expected to read into everything, not with all of the housework and begging to do.” Edwin turned and placed his key back into the lock on his door. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.” He held up his Strand bag. “I have intellectual pursuits to attend to.”
Edwin stepped inside his apartment, slamming the door just as Mrs. Sheppard had begun assaulting his sensibilities with another sentence structured in broken, immigrant English. He put his Strand bag on the table and looked around the place. It was sad and empty, just as he liked it. There was his couch, his radio, a lamp, three near empty bookshelves, and one picture hanging on the wall. Nails still hung in the spots were old pictures had hung, the ones that Natalie had taken with her when she left. The bookshelves were empty from Edwin selling off most of what he and Natalie had owned. She never took a book when she left, and he no longer wanted them around as reminders of their old life together. The apartment was better with less clutter anyway.
Edwin walked down the hall and into the bedroom. It too was empty and sad, as befit the last two years of his life. There was a bed. There were navy blue curtains to keep out the streetlights. There was an unused desk, the top of which was covered in liquor store and Food City receipts. Nails hung crookedly in the sea green painted walls.
Edwin sighed and sat on the bed. These were the times when he felt as if he were seeing his apartment and his current life for the first time. It was as if Edwin expected to walk in and find Natalie reading a book, a glass of red wine at her side. Or he imagined she’d be in the kitchen with one of her R&B singers in the iPod dock, singing away to some song from the 1990s, making an elaborate meal for them to linger over. His stomach growled at the thought. Edwin didn’t even want to think about the goings on in the bedroom because the idea depressed him too much, because now Charles Ramsdell, that old hack, was enjoying a lost Sunday with his Natalie, post-coitous, caught in the afterglow, listening to the classical station as they sipped wine and let the day go to waste, before rising to make something deliciously devoid of preservatives.
He needed a drink. Edwin rose off of the bed and stormed into the kitchen. He grabbed the Pimm’s bottle and poured the rest of it into a semi-clean pint glass. It crested the top. Edwin sipped until his could fit an ice cube in the pint. Then he grabbed the Strand bag from off of the table, and went back into the bedroom. There was noise from upstairs. Voices. Faint music. Edwin was thankful that Molly was taking him into consideration today. Perhaps she pitied him. But then the sex started. Molly’s bedsprings began squeaking. Bounce, bounce, hunka-bounce. Bounce, bounce, hunka-bounce. Molly screamed. Matthew Joy moaned. In two minutes it ended, and everything was silent once again.
Edwin put his drink on his nightstand. He sat on the bed and took of his shoes and coat, tossing them against the wall underneath his window. He lay on the bed, stretched out and sighed. He leaned over and picked up the pint, having a tall pull on the Pimm’s. Edwin took The Life and Times of Edward Beddor in the Real World by Natalie Chappel Presley out of his Strand bag. He looked at the red and white cover for a moment. And then he began to read.