The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World (3 page)

BOOK: The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World
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Like most people who consider themselves more creative than organized, Peter had allowed himself a generous dose of self-satisfaction at having sorted his papers and laid them out in (five) neat stacks on his desk.

The phone rang.

Peter would later tell people that he could tell by the ring alone that it was an emergency.

And it was.

It was his mother.

His mother would never call him at the office unless there was an emergency. Her message was softly spoken, but urgent. His father, who had been on kidney dialysis for years, had taken a bad fall. He was in intensive care at the hospital. His condition was critical.

As soon as he hung up, Peter booked a flight to Epiphany, New York.

He checked his watch and knew that he had just enough time to get home, throw some clothes into an overnight bag, and call a cab to get him to the airport. If he packed lightly, he could carry his one bag as well as his briefcase onto the plane with him. He looked at the (five) stacks of papers on his desk and stuffed them into his briefcase, one at a time and in no particular order.

As he left his office Peter thought that efficiency and emergency have nothing in common except that they both begin with the letter

down the driveway, but he was pulled toward the station wagon and the door beyond it.

He stopped at the station wagon and cleared the love-bugs from the window. They crumbled softly and smeared the glass. “Sorry,” he said as he spit on a piece of notebook paper and wiped clean a sizable porthole. He saw a pile of towels, a pile of bedsheets, and twelve (he counted) heavy-looking large aluminum cooking pots that were darkened with pockmarks up to their handles.

Amedeo reluctantly turned away from the car and made his way to Mrs. Zender's front door. He raised his hand to ring the bell, lowered it, raised it, lowered it, raised it, and rang the bell.

The door swung wide, and a tiny woman—not Mrs. Zender—opened the door.

“You're not Mrs. Zender,” he said.

“No, dear, I'm not. Would you like to speak to her?”

Before he could answer, he heard footsteps beating a staccato on the hallway floor. The hall carpet had been rolled. Lying against the back wall, end-on, it looked like an Escher drawing. “Please keep the door closed, Mrs. Wilcox. You'll let the lovebugs in.” Then Mrs. Zender spotted Amedeo. “It's all right, Mrs. Wilcox. It's the boy from next door.” Turning to Amedeo she asked, “Is your phone connected now?”

“Yes, thank you.”


“It is.”

“A pity,” Mrs. Zender replied.

She turned to the woman beside her. “This is Amedeo Kaplan, my neighbor.”

He was pleased that she remembered his name. It had been weeks.

Mrs. Wilcox stepped forward. “Amedeo? I'm Dora Ellen Wilcox, William's mother.”

William emerged from the gloom of a back room. He was now dressed in worn jeans and an old T-shirt.

“So that makes you William Wilcox,” Amedeo said.

William squinted before looking left and right with mock concentration. “I guess so,” he said. “I don't see anyone else that name might could apply to.”

Amedeo said, “My last name is not the same as my mother's. My mother uses her maiden name professionally.”

“So how do you know my mother doesn't do the same? She's a professional too.”

“I heard you just say that you don't see anyone else—”

Mrs. Zender interrupted. “If you two have a quarrel, please carry on with the door shut. It's lovebug season, Mrs. Wilcox. Close the door!”

Mrs. Wilcox took a quiet half step forward, just enough to shoulder herself between Mrs. Zender and the door. “Sorry, dear,” she said as she closed the door, leaving William and Amedeo on one side and Mrs. Zender and herself on the other.

As soon as the door closed, Amedeo said, “I know another mother who does that.”

“Does what?”

“Turns away anger.”

“Your mother?”

“No, not my mother. My mother is more the outspoken type.” Amedeo quickly added, “No, I was thinking of someone else's mother. Her name is Mrs. Vanderwaal. She's the mother of a guy I know. His name is Peter Vanderwaal. He's a grown-up. Actually, he's a friend of my father's.” William said nothing, and Amedeo felt
compelled to continue. “Well, actually, I consider Peter Vanderwaal my friend too.” William still said nothing, which made Amedeo speak with greater urgency. “Peter Vanderwaal is definitely my friend. It's his mother, Mrs. Vanderwaal, I was referring to.”

Then William asked, “How do you know my mother does that?”

Amedeo swallowed. “Does what?”

“Turns away anger. How do you know that?”

“She calls everyone ‘dear.' Just like Mrs. Vanderwaal, Peter's mother.”

“Yeah,” William said. He smiled. This time, it was an open smile, congratulatory, like a horseshoe of roses. “Yeah, Ma does that. It's part of her nature, and it's good for her profession.”

“What is your mother's profession, anyway?”

“She's a liquidator.”

“Mrs. Vanderwaal, the other mother I was talking about, is the mother of my godfather. Peter Vanderwaal. He's a godfather. A real godfather. Actually, he's
godfather. And we're friends.” Nervous that he had inadvertently given offense, Amedeo persevered. “Peter is my godfather
a friend. Or a
and a godfather. Whichever way you look at it, he's both. Mostly friend, though.”

William smiled a half-measure. “I guess you think that
because my ma's a liquidator, you'll find a dead body under that stuff in the station wagon?”

“Will I?”

“My ma's the kind of liquidator who helps people settle their affairs.”

Amedeo said, “And is that supposed to be less scary?”

William laughed. He got the joke, and Amedeo felt a sense of pride and relief. “Actually,” Amedeo said, “my godfather, Peter Vanderwaal, is probably settling some affairs right now. His father just died, and he is with his mother, helping her. Did someone at Mrs. Zender's die?”

“No. Mrs. Zender's going to Waldorf Court.”

“I guess Waldorf Court would be a place to settle affairs. Is that something like family court?”

“Waldorf Court is a retirement community.” William hesitated and then added, “She's moving there. I guess you noticed, she's right cranky about it.”

Amedeo nodded. “Cranky. Definitely cranky.”

“Ma will calm her down.”

“Yeah, like Mrs. Vanderwaal. I guess everything will be all right.” Amedeo started to leave, but he didn't really want to. He pointed to the station wagon. “So I guess all that stuff is going to Waldorf Court.”

“That's the stuff Mrs. Zender's donating to Emerson House.”

“Emerson House? Is that the local Goodwill?”

William hesitated again. “No, it's . . . No. Emerson House is . . .”William took a deep breath before continuing. “Emerson House is a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. They have a thrift shop there, and that's where Ma carries the donated stuff. Even before she starts a house sale, Ma knows what will sell and how much the other stuff won't sell for. That way a client, like Mrs. Zender, can take it as a charity tax deduction.”

“Like Goodwill.”

“Yeah, like Goodwill. But Ma . . . likes Emerson House better.”

“Because her client gets a better tax deduction?”

“No. No. The deduction is the same.” William hesitated before repeating, “Ma just likes Emerson House better.”

Amedeo knew there was more to the answer, and he knew it would be pushy of him to ask, but he did anyway. “Why?”

“It's the women. Ma cares a lot about those women. They get beat up at home, and they run away with nothing except the clothes they have on their backs. Sometimes they have kids with them. Emerson House hides them and then helps them start a new life. They get to shop at the thrift shop for free.”

“How did you find out about Emerson House?”

William again didn't answer immediately. Amedeo waited. There was a history in this silence, but William was not yet ready to let it go. Finally, William answered a different question. “Ma found out about it a while ago.”

William was holding back, but Amedeo didn't want the conversation to end. “So, like, what doesn't sell?” he asked.

Tilting his chin in the direction of the station wagon, William answered, “Old pockmarked aluminum cookware.”

“What else?”

“Tablecloths that need to be ironed. Ironing boards. Ma thinks ironing boards will become artifacts of a pre-permanent-press civilization.”

“What else?”

“Pressure cookers.”

“What's a pressure cooker?”

“It's a heavy metal pot with a swivel top that locks. It uses steam under pressure and at a high temperature to cook food fast. They went out of style when microwaves came in.”

And that is when Amedeo asked, “Can I help?”

“Nah,” William said. “That won't be necessary. Ma'll have Mrs. Zender cheerful in no time. She can't stand anybody being mad, or hurt, or the least little bit upset.
Ma does turn away anger. Just like you said that Mrs. Vanderwaal does.”

“Actually, what I meant was, can I help with the sorting and stuff?”

William asked, “Why would you want to do that?”

“I don't know,” Amedeo said. “I just would.”

William fanned a few lovebugs from the front of his face and then flicked off the ones that had landed on the back of his hand. He looked Amedeo straight in the eye and asked, “Does this kind of work interest you?”

Amedeo knew that this was not the time to tell William that he was longing to get back inside Mrs. Zender's house. Not yet. Not yet. So taking a cue from William's measured, guarded responses to all direct questions, he brushed lovebugs—real and imaginary—from his shoulders before answering, “Something about it must.”

The boys stood on either side of a pool of expectation. Both wanted to wade in. Both hesitated. William said, “We don't have insurance.” Amedeo waited. “Like if you get cut on glass or fall over something, we don't have insurance to cover you.”

Amedeo said, “My mother has tons of insurance. My mother
in insurance. We have insurance for everything. We have health insurance, life insurance, insurance for every body—human body, auto body.” William
laughed out loud, and Amedeo felt a strange sense of victory. Something about William Wilcox made Amedeo eager to please him.

William shrugged as if tipping his ear to an angel on his shoulder. At last, with a flicker of a smile, he said, “I guess you might could. Help, that is.”

Amedeo didn't want to, but he knew he had to ask, “Do you have to check with your mother?”

“Nah,” William answered, and started to lift his shoulder to his earlobe again, but stopped and squared his shoulders instead. “Ma and me, we're partners.”

“When can I start?”

“Soon's you change your clothes.”

long enough for Peter to say his good-byes and to reassure his father that he need not worry about Mother; that he, Peter, was there, ready to help.

There were a lot of details to be taken care of. Besides arrangements for the funeral, there were piles of bureaucratic paperwork, but actually, there had been very little for Peter himself to do. His mother, Lelani (who had been born in Hawaii when her father was in the navy and whose first name never failed to lower people's expectations of her), had worked for the city of Epiphany for years. She was extremely efficient, and all the arrangements that needed to be made, had been. Two days after the funeral, Peter was able to book a return flight.

His mother knew that her son was anxious to get back. She knew that he had important work to do. He
was director of the Sheboygan Art Center and had a major exhibit coming up.

BOOK: The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World
10.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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