Tuesday, May 3, 2011

An excerpt from The Life and Times of Edward Beddor by Natalie Chapple Presley

Nora Patterson sat on the couch with a glass of red wine in her hands, letting the thick rogue of the drink shine off of the light from the lamp. She was waiting on Edward to emerge from the bedroom, and make another of his grandiose pronouncements. She could only guess what it would be this time. That he was leaving her? Or that he was making them move once the lease was up in the spring, something that Edward had threatened their whole six year run at the Castlebloom Apartments. Or perhaps he would just continue to take his wrath out on the neighbors, Nora thought. After all, Edward had been in the bedroom pouting for an hour, shouting up at the neighbor who lived above them for playing the slightest bit of music, and pounding the ceiling with a broom handle. Nora asked Edward to shut the door when he did this, as she no longer wanted to be a party to his lunacy. Besides, he had already been in the living room for an hour, pounding on the wall, shouting, and doing whatever he could to lower another neighbor’s television. Edward had no clue how he’d ruined the night, the weekend, had ruined nearly everything between them in the last few years.

It was true. Nora had finally had it with Edward. She’d had it with his paranoia and his profligate manner. She’d been putting up with it for nearly ten years. Nora took her eyes away from the glass of red wine, her only salvation in a night of arguments and distractions, and looked around the apartment. The five bookshelves were stuffed with novels that Edward had bought but had not read. There were cabinets filled with CDs. On the coffee table was a brand new laptop with one terabyte of memory that Edward was going to use to finally write his novel. Nora had seen him use the machine for writing once, when Edward had written a strongly worded letter to the Castlebloom’s management complaining about the people smoking outside their bedroom window, and complaining about the upstairs neighbor, a kindly old man named, Franz, whom Edward accused of incessantly flushing his toilet. Other than that, he’d used the machine to update his Facebook status and to troll the blogs of successful writers.

They were in debt. Again. Nora looked away from the mass of consumerist junk and focused on the pictures on the wall. There were photographs of her and Edward in London. There they were at the Tower Bridge, smiling, a moment of happiness to blot out all of the pain and boredom that had come between them. She looked at the picture she’d taken of the Eiffel Tower and smiled. Wouldn’t it be great to go back to Paris again? She thought. But she could not go, not with the debt that Edward had leveled on them. Twenty-four thousand dollars. Spent on what? Nora wondered, swirling her wine. On piles of books and music. On a laptop that he had to have, because writing for the sake of writing wasn’t good enough. On writer’s workshops and countless lectures at the 92nd Street Y that Edward attended when she taught night classes. On memberships to the MoMA and MET that he did not tell her about. On bottles of wine and single malt scotch bought to impress his new online friends. To maintain their lifestyle after he’d quit his teaching position to take a job in a warehouse, to live as a writer would live?

“What is that?’ Edward said, after he flung open the bedroom door. He pounded down the hallway and stood in the living room like a madman in his ripped boxer shorts, wine-stained t-shirt, and that broom handle still affixed in his hand. Edward hasn’t shaved in almost two weeks. Nora looked at her husband and did not know whether to laugh or cry. She chose neither. “Do you not hear it?”

Edward went over to the living room window. He pulled up the blinds and opened the window, letting in the cold air, and the noise of sanitation trucks rumbling on the street. He opened the screen and stuck his head outside.

“Edward, it’s cold,” Nora said. “Please close the window.”

“How can you sit there with that noise going on?” he asked, poking his head back inside. Edward closed the screen but did not shut the window. He left the blinds up.

“I didn’t notice it?”

“Didn’t notice? It sounds like Iraq out there.”

Nora had more wine. “How would you know? You’ve never been to Iraq.”

“I’ve seen movies,” Edward said, looking back outside the window. “There has to be at least four trucks out there.”

“They’re probably plowing the street,” Nora said. “I mean we did just have a blizzard.”

Edward looked at her with his mouth open and his eyes wide behind those pretentious, thick glasses. “It’s Sunday night!”

“It’s big city.”

“Well, well,” was all that he could say. Edward paced around the living room. He was drunk and in his drunkenness, stumbled over some piles of books that were on the floor. Edward kicked at them, sending a stack of New York Times critically acclaimed novels fanning across the floor. Nora valued their worth at around two hundred dollars. It was then that she got up off of the couch and padded over to the window. She shut it. “What are you doing?”

“I told you that I was cold,” Nora said.

“But…”

“Give it a rest, Edward.” She sat back down as he stood there looking sharply at her. “We only have a few hours before bed, and the beginning of another long week.”

“So you want to live like this? Surrounded by ignorance and noise, like some kind of dirty immigrant? Like dogs?”

“Edward, this isn’t the turn of the twentieth century here,” Nora said.
“Don’t be funny.” Edward smiled, evilly. “I swear I think you like this. You like hearing some Chinese woman’s television all day. Or some lousy Kraut flushing his toilet when you’re in the shower. It makes you feel humble, perhaps? Poor little rich girl slumming it in big, bad Brooklyn.” Edward went over to the window and opened it again. He looked back at Nora. “You like big, sweaty union heathens infesting your street with noise on a quiet Sunday night?”

“Quiet how?” Nora asked. “You haven’t shut up all day.”

“That is certainly not what I meant.”

“I can’t do this anymore,” Nora said, getting up off the couch a second time. She stepped over the scatted books to find her boots.

‘And where are you going?” Edward asked.

“I’m going to find out how long these guys are going to be on the street,” she said. “Anything to stop another argument from happening.”

“Well, I didn’t ask you to do me any favors,” Edward said.

“You never do,” Nora said, putting on her forest green hooded sweatshirt.
‘Well, you can’t go out like that.” Edward pointed at Nora’s ensemble. Aside from her hoodie, she had on her purple pajama bottoms and her boots. “They won’t take you seriously at all.”

“Like I care, Edward.”

The night was cold. The wind blew up from the estuary and Nora shivered into herself, as she passed her living room window. Edward had taken her seat on the couch and was sitting there as if nothing had just happened, sipping a glass of wine. Flakes of old snow hit her in the face as she walked up 75th Street toward the sanitation workers and plows. It had snowed almost two feet that weekend, not that Edward had noticed. He was too busy ranting and raving about the apartment, or talking about the book he was going to write. Or the play he would work on once he bought the collected Tennessee Williams, and learned how to do it correctly. Edward has spent hours commenting on blogs and buying music from iTunes, getting drunk on scotch, and complaining about his warehouse job. Nora watched the snow fall from the couch and wished that she was a little girl going out sled riding, or making snow angels in the park.

“Excuse me!” she shouted over the din of garbage trucks and plows that were busy removing mounds of ice and black snow. “Excuse me!”

A crew chief sitting in a sanitation car picked his head up from a clipboard and examined Nora. He looked right at her purple pajamas and shook his head. Goddamn you, Edward, she thought. “Yeah?”

“What are you guys doing on the street this late?”

The crew chief looked at his watch. “It’s nine o’clock.”

“It’s Sunday night,” Nora said. “You know, Sunday, the day of rest.”

“We’re removing snow.”

“Why so late?”

“It’s a big city, sweetheart,” the crew chief said.

Nora cursed Edward again. “Well, when will you be done?”

The crew chief pointed at his clipboard. “Says here we can be out here until eleven.”

“Eleven? But there are kids on this street. People have to get up for work.”

The crew chief smiled at Nora. “Look, little lady. Why don’t you go on home and make yourself a nice cup of hot chocolate and watch Desperate Housewives. Let us take care of all of the angry neighbors, okay?”

“But,” Nora began.

“Have a good one,” the crew chief said. He rolled up the window on his sanitation car.

Nora backed away and took a look at the action on the street. The plows were big and orange and were using their claws to throw snow into a huge bin that stood stock still in the middle of 75th Street. Cop cars blocked off both ends of the block, and garbage trucks picked up the trash that had been hidden under piles of snow for days. Some neighbors were on the street, walking their dogs, or watching the cleanup effort. Unlike Nora, they were dressed for the weather. A couple walked by, a redhead and her bearded boyfriend. Nora knew them from the Castlebloom. They were enemies of Edward’s for no reason other than he didn’t like the way they looked. Edward hated the couple, called them hipsters, and accused them of gentrifying the neighborhood. As if he really liked Bay Ridge in the first place. As if Edward weren’t a hipster himself with his tight clothing, his books and laptops, and lack of essential ambition. Edward Beddor was the quintessential pot calling the quintessential kettle black.

Nora began to cry as she walked the few paces back to the apartment. When she got to their place she looked inside, and there was Edward, still in her place on the couch, drinking her wine, and laughing at a cartoon on the Fox Network. In an instant she felt nothing but hatred for him. It was a cold and blinding hatred, the sort of hatred typically reserved for the tax man or international terrorists. In a phrase, Nora did not love Edward Beddor anymore. She knew this. She had known this. Her friends knew this. Hell, Edward’s friends knew this; Gregory Paladin had even offered Nora his couch if she needed it. The only person who was still living under the delusion of marital bliss and harmony was Edward Beddor himself. And it wasn’t even bliss or harmony, Nora thought, so much as regiment and ritual. It was the dinners he loved, the coming home and having everything be as it should. Edward had no passion left in him. Whatever passion he had went to buying material things, or arguing with the neighbors. Edward would never write a novel or a play. Nora would never fulfill her own dreams living this way. She knew it. Something had to be done once and for all.

“So did you make a complete fool out of yourself,” Edward said when she was back in the apartment.

Nora stood there staring at her husband on their couch, perhaps for one of the last times like that. “They can be on the street until eleven.”

Edward rose and went over to the window. He pulled up the blinds and lifted the window and screen. “Why that’s preposterous! I was thinking of getting up and working on some notes for my novel tomorrow morning. Early. If I can’t get to bed at a reasonable hour I won’t be able to work.”

Nora shrugged. “What do you want me to tell you?”

“Well, did you tell them that?”

“I didn’t know that you wanted to get up early,” she said

“I only have a bloody laptop sitting right there,” Edward said, pointing toward the machine. “I only bought it to write in the mornings.”

“That was four months ago.”

Edward shook his head. It was a final disappointment, Nora thought. “Did you say anything of value to those heathens?”

“There wasn’t much to say,” Nora said.

“Then what good are you?” Edward asked.

“No good, I guess.” Nora shrugged a second time and then walked down the hallway toward their bedroom. She dressed quickly and packed a bag. Actually she’d had a bag half-packed for about a month. It held a pair of her jeans, some underwear, and travel packages of essential toiletries. When she came back into the living room, Edward still had his head out the window as if staring at the sanitation workers would make them go away. “Edward.”

“Not now, I’m preparing to shout some obscenities at these men, and I need to be prepared to shut the window quite quickly.”

“Edward, I’m leaving,” Nora said.

Edward Beddor took his head out of the window and looked at Nora’s bag. “Again?”

“For good.”

Edward sighed and closed the window in total. He pulled down the blinds and walked over to the couch, pouring a final glass of wine from the bottle. “And what did I do this time?”

“It’s not just you,” Nora said, trying to be diplomatic. “It’s me too. I’m….I’m just unhappy.”

“Well, welcome to twenty-first century America, dear,” Edward said, smiling.

“That’s not funny.”

“I didn’t mean it in jest. I simply meant that you can’t run away when the going gets tough.”

“The goings been tough for a long time, Edward,” Nora said.

“And whose fault is that?”

“Yours, actually.”

“Mine?” Edward said.

Nora went to set her bag down but thought better of it. She wanted to be able to leave within a moment’s notice. “Yes, Edward.”

“I don’t see how.”

“You don’t? You don’t see the lunacy in smacking a broom against your ceiling? or buying all of this crap that you’re not even using?”

“There’s nothing wrong with buying books in music,” Edward said.

“Within reason,” Nora said. “We’re twenty-four thousand dollars in debt.”

“I don’t want to hear that.” Edward drank down half of his wine. “My purchases were all essential.”

“To what?”

“To my sanity! To waking up every day into a miserable world. To suffering jobs and people, and conversation.”

“Me?”

“You played a very small part in it, I want you to know,” Edward said.

“Fine.” Nora went for the door. “There’s no talking to you.”

“If you go, I swear I’ll have those locks changed within a week.”

“You do what you want to do.”

“And I’ll begin dating younger women. You’ll see,” Edward said. “I’ll have a younger version of you in no time.”

“I’m sure you’ll wear her out just as easily,” Nora said.

“And just wait until I write that novel,” Edward said. “One of these days you’ll be walking down some miserable street with some inadequate new lover, and you’ll pass a bookstore and my face will be staring back at you.”

“I wish nothing but the best for you,” Nora said. She opened the door and Edward got up from the couch.

“What about all of this stuff?”

“You keep it,” Nora said. She looked over at the picture of the Eiffel Tower and pointed. “When I get set up, you can mail that to me.”

“I’ll throw it away the minute you leave,” Edward said.

Nora smiled. “That’s okay. I plan on going back.”

“But where will you go tonight?” he said.

“To a friend’s apartment,” Nora said. “And then I’m going home for a bit.”

“Back to mommy and daddy, I presume?”

“You know everything, Edward.”

“More than you, I’m sure.”

“I know,” Nora said. “And you never get tired of telling me that.”

Nora left the apartment and shut the door. She heard a wine glass break and began walking faster so as to not have a confrontation with Edward in the hallway. Back outside, the cold hit her harder than before. Nora began walking up 75th Street. She passed the sanitation crew chief in his little sanitation car, but he did not look up. Nora felt sad and happy at the same time. She always thought emotions such as those were clich├ęd. But that was exactly how she felt.

“Nora!” a voice called up to her. She turned around and saw Edward standing out in the cold in nothing but his t-shirt and boxer shorts, and boots. From her vantage point he looked so small and pathetic. Weak. Time and old emotions tugged at her heart. Oh God please don’t let him say the right thing, right now, Nora thought.

But, “You’ll be sorry,” was all that Edward Beddor had to offer his wife, before he bent over and began making snowballs with the dirty snow and ice. Then he began throwing them at the plows and garbage trucks on the street. The sanitation crew chief got out of his car and began shouting at Edward to stop. Edward shouted back as snowballs plunked the huge removal vehicles. Nora just turned around and began walking up toward the next block.

1 comment:

Robbie Grey said...

Still intrigued. Although, I noticed that Natalie's voice is very similar to the narration of the overall piece, and I've noticed some of the characters-Benny and Ivan-in your poems, as well as the subject matter seeming to bleed into one another. I was wondering if this is intentional, sort of like Kerouac, where his characters and stories were just thinly disguised Voodoo masks of the other Beats and his own life.

Keep at it!