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.

``Nice day!''

``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 sinister curl.

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 distracted. 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 house.

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 acknowledging. 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 the pictures.

``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 visible.

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. Footsteps sounded 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.