Reunion with Edward
Copyright Richard Schwartz, 1993
As I stood on Edward's doorstep in the early evening, waiting for him
to answer my knock,
I remembered the first day I met him.
He had come up behind me as
I sat on a park bench watching a moron pick garbage out of
a trash bin. ``It must be interesting at that institute,''
he said as he circled around the bench, at a distance,
to face me. (The trash bin sat in front of the
grey Institute which loomed in the background,
across the street from the park.)
``Indeed, it must be interesting at that institute,'' I replied,
eyeing him closely.
``A very nice day.''
``I see you have a chess set. Would you like to play.''
``Thank you. I would like to play.''
He walked to the bench, cautiously, and sat down on one end.
We sat there playing chess,
on opposite ends of the bench, the checkerboard between
us. After the game he stood up abrubtly and said that he needed
to leave. He had anticipated me by seconds, as I needed to leave as well.
We walked away from the bench in opposite directions.
Thus began our two year association. We rarely spoke more than
a sentence between us, but played one game of chess
each Wednesday afternoon, on that same park bench.
Two things about Edward stood out in my memory. First, the impression
made by his impeccable grooming was invariably shattered
by a single flaw, minor but overwhelming. The grooming
was always the same-a stiff long sleeved shirt stuffed into
dark slacks, a thin tie, tightly cropped auburn hair,
an excruciatingly close shave-but the flaw varied from week to
week. Sometimes the pin-striping on his tie clashed
slightly with his slacks.
If the colors matched, then perhaps
the knot in the tie drooped
unnaturally to the left or to the right. Sometimes his shoes
were black when they ought to have been brown. If the color was
correct, then perhaps one of the laces was annoyingly longer than the
other. On those days his dress was impeccable,
perhaps his hair was shorn a bit
unevenly, or his eye twitched slightly, or his lips had a vaguely
The second thing I remembered about Edward was that he played chess
in-shall I say-an unnatural manner. For
interminable stretches of the game he was methodical,
calculating, controlled. But then all at once he
would slip, though perhaps `slip' is the wrong word. Sometimes
flashes of brilliance and sometimes
displays of idiocy, these little aberrations of style
were accompanied by sudden and unnerving outbursts of emotion,
and inevitably brought drastic changes to the game
in progress, occasionally ending it outright.
Imagine tiny insignias, some beautiful and some hideous,
drawn sparsely on a limitless canvas. Imagine
sunbeams, silver and blinding, which pierce through
a hemisphere of clouds.
Imagine a shark-suddenly it slices through the surface of a
featureless ocean spreading from horizon to horizon.
imagine a razor-
But I digress. He and I had played chess each Wednesday for
two years, but then stopped. Either his schedule had changed
or mine had. The last time I had seen
him was eight years ago.
Several weeks ago I had seen an advertistment for a chess partner
in the back of the local paper.
I called the number given in
the advertisement, and was surprised to hear Edward's voice,
which hadn't changed at all in a decade.
Cheerful at first, he quickly grew hesitant and
Following an awkward silence he suggested that we meet on the
same park bench for a game, same time, the
next Wednesday afternoon.
I asked if perhaps we couldn't meet elsewhere. (I find it
disturbing to have that Institute towering in the background.)
He suggested a cafe, the name of which I had never heard before.
I declined. (I don't like crowded places.)
He suggested a restaurant, then another cafe, then another
restaurant, all of which were unfamiliar.
Finally, he suggested that we meet at his house.
I must admit that I found the invitation somewhat forward,
but I sensed his exasperation at my string of
refusals. I agreed to come.
When Edward opened the front door to his house, he looked the
same as he had looked the first time we met a decade ago-which
is to say, he looked the same as he had looked
every Wednesday of our two year association.
His auburn hair now greyed at
the temples, but hugged his skull as tightly as ever.
Wrinkles crowded around his eyes, but otherwise the skin on
his face was smooth, and glowed with cleanliness. He was stiff,
as he had been, and he had the same cautious look in his eyes.
``I see you haven't changed a bit, er, since the institute
days.'' he said, swinging the door open.
He held his arm out perpendicular to his body.
``Yes, as you say, not since the institute days,'' I replied.
``And you haven't changed
yourself, Edward, since the institute days.''
I forced a chuckle as I
shook his outstretched hand.
``Can I take your hat and coat?'' he asked, stepping aside to let
me pass through the front door.
``That's quite all right. I can carry them.''
``Come now. Its my pleasure. I insist .
Let me help you with those.''
He took my hat and coat, and disappeared momentarily into
the hallway. When he returned, he offered to show me around
The front door opened into a large living room, bright and immaculate,
but eerily sparse. An uncovered lightbulb, glaring down from
the center of the ceiling, making the blue couch beneath it
look angular and stark.
The couch was oddly misaligned with the rest of the room,
and clashed with the carpet, whose color was closer to
purple than to blue.
It seemed like a prop, set up for my benefit,
rather than a genuine article of furniture.
``I built this myself,'' he said, pointing to a
walnut bookshelf flush against the far wall.
At a distance, the bookshelf seemed adequate
to its task. On closer inspection, it seemed
poorly conceived and constructed. Most of the shelves were empty,
making its huge size unnecessary. The boards met obliquely.
The entire structure
seemed a bit off center,
with detail crowding to the left and space opening up
to the right.
``Its an abstract piece,'' he added.
``Its very nice,'' I lied,
squinting to see the titles of books partially
concealed on the uppermost shelves.
``Look to your right,'' he said.
I looked over and jumped.
A giant spider web filled the wall to the right of the
bookshelf. A huge, hand-like spider sat at the center of the
web, staring out in the direction of a smaller insect.
``Its a statue,'' he added.
Taking a closer look, I could see that it had been made from
metal wires, painstakingly coiled and braided, then painted
silver. The huge spider had been carved from wood, then painted
black. Small slashes of red flared away from the spider's back,
trailing down towards its legs.
I regained my composure.
``Interesting.'' I said, forcing a casual
tone. ``Where did you get it?''
``I made it myself. As you can see, I like to work with my hands.
I find wire a very interesting medium.''
``Why did you make it?''
``The web fascinates me. See, when the insect first lands
on the web, it does not realize the mistake. Perhaps it is
attracted by the pattern of strands in the web.
But then, wham! ''
He clapped his hands together violently.
I started. In the instant of the clap I thought I saw
light gleam from a drop of saliva hanging from one
of the spider's teeth.
He continued, in a more subdued tone,
``Wham. It only realizes it has been trapped later,
once it has been completely ensnared, perhaps only
after it sees the spider walking towards it and realizes
it cannot fly away. In the sculpture
I wanted to capture that instant
of recognition. I wanted to explore the
notion that-'' he stopped himself suddenly.
``Ah. But you don't want to hear me lecture about my work.
Let me show you the
rest of the house. Its rather modest, really.
Just a few rooms and a basement.''
I followed him into a long hallway lined with paintings.
The first paintings were studies of fruit,
simple and amateurish, signed and dated by Edward.
The dates on the pictures indicated that he had painted them
twenty years ago. The sequence of paintings was interrupted
on the left by a thin door which he passed without
The paintings appearing after the door grew steadily
in complexity and sophistication.
``I painted these during the time I knew you,'' he
explained, making a sweeping gesture with his arm.
Each picture from this time period was disturbing for a different reason.
In one picture, the people were smiling-beaming actually-but
their greyish skin gave them a cadaverous look.
In another, the baby held in the
mother's arms had a disfigured head, enormous and unnaturally round.
In a third, an old man standing at one end of
a family portrait
had a wandering eye which stared errantly
at the old man standing next to him.
``Perhaps you'd like to take a look at some
of my paintings while I get us a drink.''
``Thanks just the same,'' I protested, ``I don't want to be
trouble. I'm not that thirsty.''
``No trouble at all. Just last week I
bought an excellent bottle of wine. I'm just dying to try it.''
I opened my mouth to protest again, but he cut me off with
a wave of his hand.
``But I insist . It really should be an excellent bottle.''
He walked down the rest of the hall and disappeared around the
corner. I could hear him opening a cupboard in the kitchen.
I took a few steps backward, and turned around to face the thin
door on the left. The door had been left slightly ajar.
Street lights shone through an unseen window
and cast dark shadows on a plaster
wall visible through the crack.
I could see from the shadows that the door led to a bedroom,
small and orderly.
I could see that a bed with a brass headboard stood
at the far end of the room,
a pillow resting on a quilt folded over the front.
Beside the bed, a lampshade balanced
on a cubical nightstand.
The angle of the streetlights distorted the shadows
of objects sitting in the near end of the room.
Still, I could deduce the
existence of a large chair placed opposite
the bed. Something besides the distortion seemed
amiss about the shadow cast by the chair-something hard to
discern. I squinted.
At once it hit me that
the chair had clamps mounted on the arms and straps
dangling over its top.
I turned around to find Edward standing next to me,
holding two glasses of wine. Circling around me, he pulled
the door shut.
``I'd show you the bedroom,'' he apologized,
``but I'm afraid its a bit of a mess. Until recently
a boarder lived there. I haven't had a chance to clean it up.''
Standing between me and the door,
he handed me a glass of wine.
I let it slip through my fingers and fall to the floor.
He stepped away from the door, completing the semicircle
around me he had already begun.
For the first time I
noticed his massive frame, his sinewy neck.
He seemed to fill the hallway.
I heard the wine glass smash on the tiled floor. I felt
liquid soak into my socks.
I forced my voice to work. I said that I was terribly sorry, that
the glass had been wet, that I had been distracted.
I offered to clean up.
``That's quite all right. I can clean it up later.
There's no harm done, really.'' He said this with a
forced smile. ``Come. Perhaps we should have that game of chess now.''
He walked behind me-briskly it seemed.
I felt hurried, crowded; I tried to think.
Perhaps the clamps on the chair were
just books left carelessly on the arms. The
straps could have been belts, drooped
over the top of the chair.
I tried to imagine configuring books
in a way which would simulate the shadow
of a clamp; I tried to imagine how one might lay belts
across a chair to produce the illusion of straps.
It was difficult to sort out. The shadow had been distorted;
the wall, dimly illuminated.
I heard him say that the pictures at the end
of the hall represented his recent work.
Distracted as I was, I did not look, but I saw images
out of the corner of my eye.
I thought I saw a bear caught in a trap, the
steel jaws cutting through its mangled leg.
I thought I saw a collage of objects, glistening
and sharp, scattered across a black background.
I turned to look, finally, but we had passed the last of
``A perfectly ordinary kitchen,'' Edward said
as I crossed the threshhold into the kitchen.
I looked at the chess set, which had been
set up on the kitchen table.
``A perfectly ordinary kitchen,'' I echoed.
My throat was parched. It hurt to speak.
``The guest may move first,'' he said expansively.
He motioned for me to take the far seat, facing
the white pieces.
We sat down and without ceremony commenced to play.
The unbroken silence of the game,
the familiar openings,
the slow and deliberate manner of the moves-all of this
would give me time to think.
Between moves I surveyed the kitchen.
Pots and pans cluttered a stove which stood against the far
wall. Next to the
stove, a door opened into a dark pantry.
Small bottles of spices filled the near end of the visible shelf.
A salt shaker. A small bag of sugar. Bottles of vinegar.
Deeper into the pantry, a row of boxes.
Behind the last box, a rolling pin, partially obscured.
Behind the rolling pin, a thin cylindrical object, barely
Increasingly, the game demanded attention. I struggled to
postpone its end, to buy myself time.
Lines of influence and threat carved up the chess board,
precluding and forcing moves-what was that cylinder in the
pantry? Lines carved up the chessboard, spinning-a web!
His powerful hand moved piece after piece
with severe deliberation-spiders
crawling from square to square, black objects, sharp and
glistening, scattered across a grid.
``I have you!'' he shouted, pounding his fist on the table.
A spike of light shot from behind the rolling pin.
A needle stuck out from that cylinder!
I leapt from my seat and glanced wildly about the kitchen.
I lunged for the door I chanced to see behind me and
threw it open, expecting to find the open sky.
Instead I saw a staircase,
illuminated at the top but descending to blackness.
There was an instant of decision, then I flew down the stairs.
``What are you doing ?'' I heard him shout,
``Be careful in my basement.
You'll ruin my work!''
I noticed his tone, thick and alien.
I probed the basement wall
for a light switch, but found nothing. I groped my way through
the black and congested room,
sweat streaming into my eyes, clothes sticking to my limbs.
Edges and angles flew into me.
on the staircase, then in the room.
It was necessary to think, but impossible.
My hand slammed into a surface, gritty and cluttered.
My fingers closed around the handle of a shovel,
heavy and solid.
I remember a flailing of arms and then, later, how shadows cut into his
contorted face. I remember paintings and broken easles
scattered beneath the hard basement light.
I eventually saw the books balanced on that chair in the
bedroom, the ordinary leather belts draped over the top-but
there was nothing to do except clean off
the shovel and exit the way I had come in.