The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World (6 page)

BOOK: The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World
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“So why is she moving?”

“She just told you: The world as it ought to be has come to an end.”

“Is she one of those televangelists who preaches that the end is near?”

William laughed. “Mrs. Zender is hardly a preacher, and she isn't saying the end of the world is near, she is saying that the world as it ought to be has already ended.”

“When did it end?”

“When the last full-service gas station changed all its pumps to self-service.”

It was Amedeo's turn to laugh. “Does she really believe that?”

“She might could. She drives that pink Thunderbird, you know. Stick shift. Whitewall tires. Spoke wheels. Classic. Everyone in town knows that car and who owns
it, and Mrs. Zender said that pumping her own gas is undignified.”

Amedeo had seen Mrs. Zender behind the wheel of that car. He had watched her backing out of her garage. Top down, she twisted around in the driver's seat, kept one hand on the wheel and an elbow on the horn, and never looked in the rearview mirror and never slowed down until she was at the end of her driveway. Then she stopped—paused, really—long enough to shift gears before zooming down Mandarin Road, scarves fluttering and squirrels scattering. He pictured her pulling into a gas station, assembling her scarves, wedging herself out of the bucket seat, dismounting, and stepping up to a pump. “That would be undignified,” he said. “Definitely undignified.”

But once he said it, Amedeo's own good sense told him that there was something more than having to pump her own gasoline that was making Mrs. Zender move to Waldorf Court, and one look at William told him that he was right. “What else?” he asked.

For an answer William walked to the far side of the room and opened the door of the butler's pantry. He signaled Amedeo to follow. William closed the narrow door that trapped them in the small, stuffy, closetlike space that was out of range of Mrs. Zender's eavesdropping.

Without comment, William crossed the tiny room and pulled open one of a column of shallow drawers at the end of the counter. “Look at this,” he said, holding up an elaborately carved fork whose tines and handle were black with tarnish. William reached back in the drawer for a spoon and a knife that were equally tarnished. “These here are sterling silver. Antique. We'll polish them before we sell them because that's the way Ma does business. They're black because they haven't been polished in years because Mrs. Zender hasn't and won't.”


“Because the world as it ought to be has come to an end.”

“The world with full-service gas stations?”

“And people.”


“People to pump gas and polish the silver. Her world is supposed to have people to do things for her.” William carefully returned the silverware to the drawer. “This place where we are standing in right now is called the butler's pantry. Mrs. Zender had a butler who took charge of the silver and food service and managed the other servants. Mrs. Zender had people, and she had people to manage people.”

“Won't she have people at Waldorf Court?”

“She'll have
Waldorf Court has housekeeping
and linen
Meal service and complimentary transportation.”

“Why isn't that like having people?” Amedeo asked.

William shook his head and thought a while before asking, “You from New York
or New York?”

“The city.”

“In New York City, having a chauffeur is having people. Having a doorman to call you a cab is having services. When you have people, you don't have to share.”

“Just so you'll know. We don't have a chauffeur or a housekeeper. My mother hired a cleaning service. There's four of them. They come to the house twice a week and swarm all over it like lovebugs. Mother also hired a lawn service—there's four of them—and a pool service; they're two.”

“All those services take their orders from the crew boss, not your mother. Your mother knows how to handle them, but”—in a much softer tone—“Mrs. Zender doesn't.”

“She'll have to deal with them at the Waldorf.”

“Not directly. They have an on-site manager to do that for her.”

“Like our building superintendent. That was New York.” Then he added,

William rubbed his hand over the peeling Formica on
the apron of the scarred old slop sink. He turned on one of the spigots and watched the water run into the rusty drain. Then, without turning off the water, he whispered into the bowl of the sink, “Mrs. Zender needs the money.”

In his whole past life Amedeo had never heard anyone admit to needing money. People talked about
money (from smart investments) or
money (on good buys), but no one ever talked about needing money. In his previous life, when people said something was expensive, it was to brag, not to complain. “What money?”

“The money she's gonna get from the stuff we sell.”

“Why does she need that money? She has this whole big house.”

“She needs the money from this estate sale to pay off the balance that she owes on Waldorf Court.”

“But she doesn't want to live there.”

“But her neighbors don't want her to live
” William looked away from Amedeo. “The people who live on Mandarin Road don't want her here.”

“I do.”

“That's funny,” William said.

“Why is that funny?”

“It's funny because it was after your mother got your trees trimmed and the underbrush cleared, and then like all of a sudden Mrs. Zender's house is exposed, and
everybody can see it's a shambles, and the neighbors decide it is dragging down their real estate values, and they form a Neighborhood Watch committee and sign a petition asking Mrs. Zender to clean her place up.”

“So why doesn't she? She could fix this place up, put in air-conditioning, and stay right here. The house has good bones. That's what Mother said about our place.”

“It's a Catch-22. To have enough money to fix up her house proper she will have to sell her house to have the money to fix it up.”

“She could take out a loan from a bank. People in New York do it all the time. It's called a mortgage.”

what it's called,” William said. He bit the inside of his lower lip and added, “Rich kids like you don't get it.”

That line fell like a plumb stone between them.

Amedeo's heart stopped. Maybe because he had never before been singled out as rich, maybe because William had said rich kids
like you,
or maybe because of the way he had said it, the pantry had become a bell jar, hot and silent, with the two of them both inside and outside—watching and being watched. Amedeo didn't know what to say or even if he should say anything. He waited, aching with disappointment.

“Taking out a mortgage is something Aida Lily Tull
would never do. A mortgage would put her in the same category as you and her other neighbors. Middle class.”

Amedeo asked heatedly, “So which am I? Rich or middle class?”

William thought a long time before saying, “Both.”

“And what is Mrs. Zender?”

“Was rich a while back. Never had a mortgage. Never was middle class.”

That pushed Amedeo over the line, and he raised his voice. “I don't know if I'm rich or middle class, or if I have a mortgage, but”—William made no attempt to hush him—“I don't think any of those things make me mean or selfish, and they don't make you the Good Humor man either.”

After a tilt of his head to the angel on his shoulder, William asked, “Would you want to borrow money to live in a neighborhood where no one wants you?”

“You just better watch who you call
no one.
I am not no one.” Amedeo was almost shouting. He didn't care that—and perhaps even wanted—what he had to say would leave the butler's pantry and carry through walls all the way to Mrs. Zender, who at this minute might be listening at the kitchen door. “I am Amedeo Kaplan,” he declared, “and I, Amedeo Kaplan,
am and want to be
Mrs. Zender's neighbor.”

Without another word, William walked out of the butler's pantry. He left the door open, and Amedeo called after him, “I'll tell you one more thing, William Wilcox. Whatever I am—rich or middle class or whatever—I am not a snob about it. I have respect for people who mow their own lawns, and who clean their own silverware, and I am not like some other people in this room who are in awe of people who have people.”

Through the open door, Amedeo watched a silent and stiff-necked William pull the ladder over to the next set of cabinets and climb up. He waited until William pulled out a stack of dishes.

Speaking to the dusty recesses of the top shelf, William asked, “Do you still want to work here?”

“How soon do you need to know?”

“As soon as I find out whether I'll be handing these dishes over to you or whether I'll be coming down this ladder with them.”

For an answer, Amedeo walked through the pantry door, reached up, and took the dishes.

the detroit airport. The second of the two flights that would take him back to Sheboygan was delayed. He set the metal lockbox on the torn leatherette seat next to him, but as he waited, more delays were announced, and the waiting area filled up. Peter's conscience would not allow the metal box to take up one of the last available seats, so he picked it up to place it on the floor. As he lifted it over the arm of the chair, the lid opened—he had forgotten to lock the box after going through security. The papers tilted and crept up toward the opening. He stood up to have better leverage in balancing the contents, and as he reshuffled the pages to make them lie flat, he felt a metal divider, loosely fitted on the bottom. Impatient to realign the papers back inside the box, he sat down and put the box on his lap. He lifted the panel and found a pad of yellow lined paper underneath. The pages were foxed,
the edges darkened. Peter recognized his father's handwriting. The first page said:


Written from Memory

by John Vanderwaal

Peter held on to the tablet and wedged the box between his feet. As he started to read, he found himself tightening his hold on the box with his ankles. The story began.

Before the war I was born at home in the city of Amsterdam, Holland. I was the second child born to Hubert and Isabellen van der Waal who were my parents. I came late to them, a surprise. When I was born, my older brother, Pieter, was already a grown man.

Following my birth, I had some good fortunes and some bad.

The bad fortune was that my mother and my father died when I was eight years of age. The good fortune was that I had a brother, Pieter, who loved me, and who took me to live with him. My brother, Pieter, was not married. This was in the year 1937.

I had happy years living with my brother, Pieter.
He owned a gallery for decorative arts on Prinsengracht where is now a hotel and which street farther up is famous for the Anne Frank Huis. In his shop Pieter sold furniture, mostly antiques, and other items to decorate your house, like Delft porcelains and minor paintings. Pieter lived over his shop as did many people in Amsterdam. My brother had two employees name of Gerard and Jacob, and he had also a manager, Klaus. Klaus lived with us in the rooms over the shop and became the boss whenever Pieter was to be out of the shop. I went to school from there, and when I returned after school, I helped also in Pieter's shop which was near to the Rijksmuseum where there are many famous works of art from painters of the seventeenth century like Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Steen, Franz Hals, and Johannes Vermeer. Johannes was also my name when I was a Hollander. Now I am John.

Pieter had a workshop in the backside of his shop away from the canal. In this workshop he repaired pieces of furniture which sometimes required the work of a true craftsman which is what Pieter was as well as Klaus. Sometimes they made frames for customers to hang their art. Also, he and Klaus repaired frames.

It is now the year 1939, a very dangerous year. In this year, the Nazis attacked Poland which was the
neighbor to Germany on the east. In Holland we were the neighbor to Germany on the west, and even though Holland said it was neutral, we knew you couldn't trust Adolf Hitler who was made chancellor of Germany, what he called
before in the year 1933.

In the back of the workshop which was in back of the gallery, Pieter had another workshop which was secret. This I will call the back-back workshop. My job was in the back-back workshop.

Now I will tell of the secret work we did in the back-back workshop. This was to make crates. The secret crates were for the purpose of storing the famous works of Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Steen, Franz Hals, and Johannes Vermeer. These secret crates were made to fit each work of art and to protect it. The crate must be fitted perfectly because rubbing can cause scratches, and the wood of the crate must be very dry but very strong, and where we used excelsior and straw to pad the edges, it must also be very dry because moist straw can cause mold, what you might call mildew. These crates we made were for the works of art to be taken to national air raid shelters near Zandvoort and Heemskirk and hidden from the Germans. For packing we had no plastic or Styrofoam for they were not yet invented.

BOOK: The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World
11.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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