23 05 2007
The last thing I shredded, his birth certificate, jammed the machine. Pretty frills stuffed the margins. The shredder’s teeth tangled in the thick cream bond. The only thing that made that certificate appropriate for Edgar was that it had been typed out on a crooked typewriter. The e twisted so that the next letter got stamped over it. That one screwed-up thing made the whole official paper look as if a juvenile scam artist had slapped it together. I must admit I felt crappy after I pulled out the confetti that had been his birth certificate. Edgar had been really proud of his weight printed on that paper. Thirteen pounds, thirteen hours of labor. He was a skinny little guy back when we first started to hang out on account of his problems. As soon as he started to put down my cooking, things got better for him. He must have weighed over three hundred pounds when he died. Considering how many pounds of flour, sugar, butter, and cocoa powder I’d turned into cake and he’d turned into lard, I felt bad about what I’d done to him.
I carted Edgar outside with his own dolly and cut him up into barrel-sized chunks. I used to pull my kid brother’s action figures apart, two arms, two legs, a torso, and a head. To keep out the flies, I wrapped each one up in a Hefty garbage bag, double ply, the kind Edgar would never let me buy. Instead of flies, clouds of wasps flew out from the field. I had to wear Edgar’s old gloves, still reeking of his work sweat, to keep from getting stung by the swarm hunting down fresh meat. I hefted his head up with two hands and dropped it into the burn barrel. I stuffed newspaper around his skull and poured in five gallons of gasoline. The yellow jackets rushed out and then flew in lazy circles in the fumes. I let the whole thing soak for about an hour. When I got back, hundreds of sated, drunk wasps rested on the lip of the barrel. I dropped a match into the can. The vapors ignited before the match even reached the paper. The yellow jackets, the wads of the daily, Edgar’s head, everything went up.
If I could have found a poison that would have made Edgar just vanish, things would have been much easier. Instead, I had to extract him from my life one piece at a time. I removed his breath with a heavy doze of strychnine-laced red velvet cake. He asked, “What’s the occasion?” As soon as he said this, the gigantic drunk thug who had been my husband became that sweet, skinny man I had first met so many years ago.
I wore a yellow sun dress and white sandals on our first date. I should have seen everything coming, then. I’d just cut my hair when I stopped to admire myself in a junk shop window. I stood out on the sidewalk in the full daylight. I caught my reflection in the glass under the pawn shop awning and I noticed in that image that Edgar had this fierce scowl and that a pack of sailors in their dress whites stood on the street corner and were looking our way. They were looking at me. I took Edgar’s hand and kissed him on the cheek and his face went all limp and I said, “Come on.” As soon as we came to the Arcade, I had him play The Lover’s Challenge, to take out some of his anger. He throttled the lever and sent the Love o’ Meter sailing against the bell. Another sailor walked down the pier by himself, saw us at the machine and stopped. There was something familiar about him, a familiar nose or something. He took off his little round cap and rolled it into a ball and started to walk toward us.
“Let’s go,” I said.
“I’m not finished playing.”
I yanked his arm and held it against my side as we hurried up First Avenue past the long green newspaper stand crowded with men in overcoats paging through the foreign newspapers. The sailor followed us to the market and stopped at the rack and bought himself a paper. The Public Market smelled like damp lettuce, mushrooms, raw fish, and gasoline. Slowly walking bodies, grandfathers showing out-of-town grandchildren the city, kindergartners linked one hand to the next, jumbled all together so it was a big pedestrian traffic jam. The sailor eased against a timber pillar, letting the walkers pass him, watching Edgar and me stop at a fruit vendor. Edgar bought me three pounds of black cherries. He handed the man a crumpled bill, and the man handed back a creased, brown paper bag full of black fruit. I grabbed the bag and rushed down a staircase and into a dim, smoky spice shop. Tiny packages of curry, masala, and strange colored beans stuffed the shelves. The store was warm and empty. “No,” Edgar said when I offered him a cherry. “They make me sick.” We passed down a narrow hallway and then behind the craft stalls. We could see the backs of the vendors. A man sat on a milk crate reading a paperback. “You know your way around,” Edgar said.
“Yes, I do.” I had a cherry pit in my mouth. When we came out onto the balcony, we were alone and I spit the stone down into the grassy green belt between the Alaskan Viaduct and the Market.
“Let’s sit down,” Edgar said.
We sat on a knoll overlooking the stream of loud traffic on the viaduct, Puget Sound glittering with waves, and the distant blue heaps of the Olympic Mountains. I ate my cherries, all three pounds of them, spitting the pits down into the blackberries. I wanted, then, Edgar to kiss me, there in privacy. It was just us and all around us the city moved; trucks and buses moved on the highway; ferries and sailboats moved on the water; and the thin, distant trails of jets drifted in the stratosphere. We both sat on Edgar’s jacket. I would have leaned right over then and kissed him except he had a long twist of a grass stalk in his mouth. He whirled one finger around and pulled the length of it taut with his teeth. He plucked a single chord over and over again. Finally, he noticed my head bent toward him, pulled the stalk free, and he kissed me. I felt a little sick. I had never felt like that kissing a boy before. I felt a heavy, burning weight in my stomach. It wanted to come out, one way or the other. “I need to go to the bathroom. I don’t feel well.”
“You shouldn’t have wolfed those cherries down,” Edgar said. “It’s a waste of money to gobble them up if they are just going to come right out again.”
On the way back into the market, the sailor found us coming up the steps. “There you are,” he said. “It is you, isn’t it?”
“You have her mistaken for somebody else,” Edgar said. “She needs to use the can.”
I realized on the stairs then, seeing the sailor from under him, he was a kid I used to know from church a long time ago. The sailor wouldn’t move from the stairs and before I could say anything, on account of me just trying to hold that burning knot of black cherries in one place in my stomach, Edgar said, “Just because she’s a lady doesn’t mean she’s a whore.” He punched the sailor in the face. I just about lost all of those cherries, and I rushed past those two boys and was sick in the bathroom. When I had rinsed my mouth out, the taste of my stomach was still sharp and hard on my tongue, I didn’t want to come out and see that boy from church all beat up, or worse, I didn’t want to come out and see Edgar all beat up. After counting to five hundred, I did come out. Edgar was the only one there. He smiled and looked just as wiry and fresh as when he picked me up that morning. He took my hand and we walked back to his car. I felt something damp on my hand and looked down and saw that his knuckles were bleeding all over me. I should have seen the clues right then. Those things, him saying can like that, him hitting the sailor just like that, they seemed like things that just happened. They didn’t, at that time, tell me the things I needed to worry about.
He turned my red velvet cake around on the glass cake plate. Edgar reached out to taste the red velvet cake icing on the tip of his pointer finger. I said, “I think I am finally going to move. I think I have the strength.” Even as I said this, I started to get regrets, you know like you do when things are already happening the way you planned, but you think maybe they were better the way they were?
“Honey, you ain’t going nowhere. Get me some milk so I can enjoy your cake.” I poured him a glass. He guzzled it down and gobbled his first piece of cake right up.
My mother was in love with Edgar. She believed all the lies he had built around himself. Well, they weren’t lies exactly, because he did do these big nice things just like he did those big not-so-nice things. Which side of a guy like Edgar is the real one? Did he do the good things to conceal who he really was? One year, when the factory laid people off, Edgar bought the uniforms for the kids’ team. Did he do the nasty things to conceal who he really was? Last year when I got sick, he carried me down to the basement and I didn’t see him for a month. I lay down there in the dark and cold, sweating and hollering until I thought I’d die down there. To Edgar’s credit, he did leave me a flat of plastic Evian bottles and a trash-sized bag of popcorn from Costco. When I finally regained the strength to crawl out of that bed and claw my way up the stairs back into the warm kitchen, I heard him call out from the living room, “Who in the hell is that? Oh, it’s you.” My mother didn’t know anything about Edgar. She didn’t know where his money came from and didn’t care because he had money and he went to church. When I told my mother about Edgar’s threat to kill me if I left him, my mother just said, “Don’t be a fool. They stopped making men like Edgar a long time ago and I don’t think they are planning on starting up again. You have yourself a genuine historical artifact.”
Everyone sure loved Edgar. When I told the hairdresser that he had left me, they all started to call, I think more to find out where he had gone to than to express any real consideration about my feelings. My story went: I spent the weekend at my mother’s house and when I came home, the front door was unlocked and Edgar wasn’t there. They all said, “Are you all right, honey? Can I bring you anything until he turns up.” They speculated about what had happened to him right down to me murdering him and getting rid of his body, but the only thing that could tell them anything was that old burn barrel out in the middle of the field. And it wasn’t saying anything, because before I went over to my mother’s house, I took a trip to the county dump and got ride of some things. When I came back into Edgar’s house, sat down in the kitchen and looked at the empty shelves behind the cupboards the wind had blown open in the changing weather, I knew no one was coming home anymore.
Matt Briggs is the author of four books including the novel Shoot the Buffalo from Clear Cut Press out of Astoria, OR, and The Remains of River Names out of Lake City, WA. You may find Matt online at http://www.seedcake.com/mt/