Edgar’s wife had left him for another man, and now he had the house to himself. In the morning he was occupied getting ready for work, and after he came home he was busy making supper. But the hours until he went to bed were lonely and difficult. He tried reading but found it hard to concentrate, and when he watched TV his mind would trail off: he’d think of Maryanne and wonder what she was doing.
When he was a bachelor Edgar drank much, but he cut it out when he married. A bottle of Beck’s while watching a Saturday night baseball game, a can of Miller while watching football on Sunday- and that was it. He hadn’t stopped drinking heavily because his wife had told him to, but because he thought that was no way for a married man to be.
But now Edgar was separated, and one day while passing Bottle King on his way home he impulsively pulled in. He sauntered among the racks of wine, the aisles of liquor, and then headed toward the beer. He debated and then decided on a six-pack of Bud. But then Edgar saw the twelve-pack was a better deal. And then he noticed the case, an even better buy. Hefting it up with both arms, he carried it to the register.
At home Edgar tore open the cardboard and put the cans in the refrigerator. He then had dinner- a heated-up bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup and a ham-and-cheese sandwich. Afterwards, he opened a can of Bud and sat down in his easy chair. The beer was still warm, but its sharp, familiar taste was pleasing. Edgar put on the history station. He sipped his beer and watched a program about Poland in World War II. Soon he finished his can, and got another.
By the time the program was over Edgar was finishing his fourth Budweiser, and he felt exhilarated and confounded. He went into the bathroom, and as he urinated he thought of the destruction the Nazis caused. It was atrocious, unforgivable.
Then, feeling restless, he opened a new can and sat on his front stoop with it.
It was still light but getting dark. Edgar sipped his beer and looked around. A man down the street, whose name Edgar didn’t know, washed his truck. The man had a terrier, and sometimes when Edgar mowed the lawn and the man passed by walking his dog they’d say hello. Edgar thought of going over and saying good evening but decided not to. He didn’t know the man, not even his name.
Kids shouted up the street. Occasionally a car passed. Once, a young couple walked by, the woman pushing a baby carriage. Edgar vaguely recognized them, though he did not know their names or where they lived. The woman smiled and said, “Hello.”
“Hello there,” Edgar said. His voice sounded loud. “How are you?”
“Okay,” the woman said. The man nodded to Edgar and then looked down at his child.
“Good,” Edgar said, trying not to sound loud. “That’s good.”
As he sipped his beer his buzz got stronger. He hoped someone else would walk by, but no one did. Edgar thought of finishing his beer inside, but then a red Jetta pulled into the driveway across the street. A couple and their daughter lived in that house. Edgar had spoken to the man and woman two years ago after he and Maryanne moved in but hadn’t talked to either of them since. He’d never spoken to the daughter. She and Edgar sometimes waved to each other, though. The red Jetta was hers.
Edgar sipped from his can, waiting. The car still idled in the driveway. Edgar finished his beer. Then the car’s engine turned off, and the door opened. The girl wore shorts and a tight yellow top. She saw Edgar and waved. Edgar waved back. The girl turned toward the house, her backpack over her shoulder. But halfway to the front door she stopped and looked at Edgar. “How are you?” she said.
“Good,” Edgar said. “And you?”
“All right.” She kept looking at him- sympathetically, Edgar thought.
They were both quiet. Edgar sensed she was about to say good bye, and so said the first thing he thought of.
“You should’ve seen this history program I just saw.”
The girl regarded him quizzically. “What’s that?”
“This history special I just saw.”
She watched him, waiting.
“About Poland,” Edgar said. “During World War II. The Nazis destroyed everything. I mean everything.”
The girl nodded slowly.
“I mean it’s fascinating,” Edgar said, “but very sad.”
“Sounds like it,” the girl said. “I’ve always thought history was interesting.”
“Me, too.” Edgar tried to think of something else to say, but then the girl spoke.
“That Budweiser you’re drinking?”
Edgar looked at the empty can in his hand. “Sure is.”
The girl smiled. “I could tell by the color.”
Edgar waited for her to go on, but she didn’t. Then before he even thought about it, he said, “You want one?”
The girl hesitated before answering, as though considering the offer or wary of the invitation. Then she said, “Thanks, but some other time. I’ve got homework to do.”
Edgar nodded. He didn’t want the conversation to end but sensed it was anyway, and so he was not surprised when the girl said, “Nice talking to you.”
After the girl went into her house Edgar went inside his and got another can of Bud. He then went back out on his stoop.
He drank his beer slowly, looking up and down the block and at the house across the street. But no one passed, and the girl did not come back outside. Suddenly Edgar felt conspicuous; he wondered if people were watching him. It was one thing to sit outside for a few minutes, but it was another to stay out here drinking beer after beer.
He finished his beer in the kitchen and thought of the way the girl looked at him when she said, “How are you.” He wondered if it had anything to do with her noticing his wife hadn’t been around. He assumed it did.
Edgar opened a new beer. Then he sat down with it in front of the TV.
The next morning Edgar awoke with a headache and still felt drunk. He thought about calling in sick. The night before, he’d drunk nine cans of Budweiser.
He had a busy day at work, and his hangover was gone by midmorning. On his way home Edgar decided he didn’t feel like soup and a sandwich; he stopped at Burger King and got a chicken sandwich, cheeseburger, fries, and large Coke. He’d had a small lunch and ate everything and afterwards sat at the kitchen table, lethargic and bloated.
He then opened a can of Bud.
Edgar sipped his beer slowly, and after a few minutes, his food digested, a small buzz starting, he felt good. He finished the beer, got another from the refrigerator, and went into the living room.
But on the history station a special on the Titanic was on that he’d already seen, and he couldn’t find anything that interested him on any other channel. He sipped his beer and thought about Maryanne. He wondered what she was doing. He considered calling her but quickly dismissed that thought. That would just lead to frustration and aggravation.
Edgar then remembered the girl across the street. He looked at his watch: seven o’clock. Last evening she’d gotten home at quarter after. Maybe she’d come home the same time tonight. Edgar finished his beer, grabbed a fresh one, and went onto the front stoop.
He sipped his beer, waiting. Two cars passed. A skinny man in shorts and sneakers jogged by. Quarter after came and went. Edgar finished his beer. He wanted another but was afraid if he went back inside the girl might come home and he’d miss her. So he sat there and told himself he’d wait a few more minutes.
At 7:25 the red Jetta pulled into the driveway. Like last evening the girl remained in the car for a few minutes before she emerged. Tonight she wore very short running shorts and a tight blue T-shirt.
Edgar waved. “How are you?” he said.
“Not bad,” the girl said. “You?”
Remembering the sympathetic way she’d looked at him the evening before he said, “Not too great, actually.”
She seemed concerned. “Why?”
Edgar shrugged; he looked at the ground. “A lot of things.” Then, trying to be discreet yet transparent, he said, “It hasn’t been an easy couple of months.”
The girl regarded him sympathetically and nodded. “I’m sorry. I’m sure things will get better, though. These things just take time.”
“Yeah.” He nodded but did his best to appear forlorn. “You’re probably right. It’s just. . .” He looked off and didn’t finish.
“Yeah,” he said. “Hard.”
They were silent while the girl regarded him with empathy. Edgar tentatively held up his can. “Can I offer you one?”
The girl appeared uncertain.
“Never mind,” Edgar said. “You’re probably busy.”
“Oh, no. It’s not that. It’s just. . .” She glanced back at her house.
Edgar watched her; when she turned back to him and still seemed indecisive, he stood up. “It’s OK. Forget it.”
The girl pursed her lips. Then she said, “No. I’ll have one.”
She walked across the street, and Edgar’s heart beat faster.
“Your name’s Edgar, right?” Up close Edgar saw that she had a small stud in her nose.
“Right,” he said.
“I’m Gale.” She extended her hand.
He shook it; it was small and frail and warm.
“Come in.” He opened the door, and as she walked past he caught a waft of her shampoo.
Before shutting the door Edgar glanced around. No one was about, for which he felt relieved, although he told himself he had nothing to feel guilty about, that he wasn’t doing anything wrong. A voice inside him, though, asked just what he was doing, what his intentions were with this girl, and Edgar told himself he was just having a beer with his neighbor.
“It’s weird that we’ve been living by each other so long and we’ve never talked,” Gale said, observing a framed photo on the wall of a waterfall Maryanne had hung. “I’ve talked to your wife a few times, though.”
“Yeah, well,” Edgar said, “she’s not around anymore.”
The girl nodded and regarded him with that same expression of sympathy.
“I’ll get your beer,” Edgar said. “Have a seat.”
He got two cans of Bud from the refrigerator. When he returned to the living room Gale sat on the couch, her legs curled up and her hands around her knees. Edgar could see the frill of her white underwear against the back of her smooth thigh and buttock. He handed her one of the beers.
“Thanks.” She cracked it open and took a sip.
Edgar thought of sitting next to her but was afraid this might give off the wrong impression, although he wasn’t certain what impression he was trying to give; so he sat across from her in the easy chair.
“So you’re in college?” he said, and opened his beer.
Gale nodded. “I go to Bergen Community.”
“That’s good.” Then, unable to think of anything else to say, he said, “You know what you’re going to major in?”
“Physical therapy, I think.” She drank from her beer.
“Well,” he said. “That’s a good line of work to get into.”
“Yeah.” She took another sip. “My boyfriend’s father is a physical therapist, and he does pretty well.”
Edgar nodded and drank from his beer. Her telling him she had a boyfriend filled him with defeat but also put him at ease; he felt more relaxed, as if his role was now clearer. “It’s very good to go into a specialty, jobs being what they are nowadays,” he said. “Whether it’s a physical therapist, a dentist, teacher, even a plumber. It’s much easier to get a job if you specialize in something.”
“Yeah,” the girl said. “I agree.”
“Maryanne, my wife, or my soon-to-be ex-wife, is a teacher.”
Gale nodded. “I know.” Then she looked at him and said, “I’m sorry.”
Edgar considered her. Then he said, “Yeah, well,” and looked across the room. “It’s just. . .” He began telling her about his marriage: they’re five years together, his wife’s having an affair with a guidance counselor, Maryanne’s decision to leave although Edgar had wanted her to stay. The girl listened patiently, looking right at him. When Edgar finished his beer he got one more for each of them. He continued talking until finally he noticed Gale was looking at the ground more than at him. Although he felt he could’ve talked all night, he stopped himself.
“Sorry for going off like that. You must be bored out of your mind.”
“Oh, no.” The girl smiled politely. “Not at all. I’m just a little tired is all. It’s probably the beer. I’m not really used to drinking beer.”
Edgar nodded and considered the can in his hand.
The girl stood up. “I’ve got to get going. Thanks for having me over, though. I enjoyed talking to you.”
“Sure,” Edgar said. “Thank you. Come by anytime.”
He walked her to the door. After she opened it, she turned to him. “And don’t worry. I’m sure things will get better. These things just take time.”
“I hope you’re right.” Edgar was genuinely touched by the girl’s sweet and earnest expression.
He watched her walk across the street. Then he went into the kitchen for a new can of beer and went into the living room. The girl had been so nice, he thought, listening to him.
On the TV a baseball game was on. Edgar stared at the screen but did not watch the play. He thought about Gale but not lustfully or lecherously; instead, helped by his buzz, he felt benevolent and happy and thought how lucky her boyfriend was, how fortunate her parents were. He imagined playing a role in her life: a close friend, a second father, an uncle figure, perhaps. He pictured himself attending barbecues at her house, helping her with her schoolwork, attending her college graduation. As Edgar drank his beer, he was so lost in these fantasies he was on the brink of shedding felicitous tears.
Then the doorbell rang.
Edgar stood up. He thought it was Gale, that she forgot something, although he didn’t see anything of hers anywhere. He opened the door expecting to see her kind, smiling face, but instead saw Gale’s father.
“Hi,” Edgar said.
The man was not smiling. “What’s the deal with you giving my daughter beer?”
Edgar blinked; the man’s hateful stare was more crushing than his words. “Sorry?”
“The girl’s nineteen. Is that something you do, bring young girls to your house and get them drunk?”
Edgar shook his head. “Oh, no. It’s nothing like that. I was only, she only had-”
“Listen, pal.” The man pointed his finger, grazing Edgar’s shirt. “I know your wife left you, but that’s not my problem. My daughter, though, is my problem, and I don’t like the idea of her drinking with men old enough to be her father. You got it?”
Edgar held his hands up. “I’m sorry, but you have it all-”
The man pushed his finger into Edgar’s chest. “Stay away from her.” He glowered at Edgar a moment and then turned around and left.
Edgar closed the door. He stood there stunned and shaken; then he walked slowly across the living room and sat down. He picked up his can of Bud, but it was empty. He held it in his hands and then crushed it.
A player rounded the bases after hitting a homerun. The camera cut to a young boy, smiling and standing next to his father, holding the homerun ball. Edgar looked at the people in the crowd. He wondered how many were there alone.
He went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. On the top shelf stood the cans of Bud. Less than half the case was left. Edgar looked at the cans, feeling like he had some big decision to make, but for the moment he just wanted to stand there and feel the cool air against his face.
S. F. Wright teaches at Hudson County Community College and Union County College. He has an M.F.A. from Rutgers-Newark, and his work has previously appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine and Thieves Jargon.