When Edward attends church every crevice of his mortal body is awakened, a sensation not so distant from that of post-coital comfort. The eroticism he experiences in prayer is built upon a memory that he cannot seem to dispose of; it confronts him every time he enters the church doorways, each time he prays. This is what he remembers: He is seven and in a wheel chair—a result of having played a far too aggressive game of tag on the playground. His mother is home-schooling him for a few months while his broken legs heal and during that time she gifts him a set of pastels. He has always favored physical activity but is becoming accustomed to the static lifestyle of one who cannot walk. In his spare time Edward draws Jesus on top of a hill. Small men with guns and swords litter Jesus's stick-figure feet. They are rejoicing, for in Jesus's abdomen are arrows and gunshot wounds—blood squirts everywhere. Under the hill a purple goat-like figure holds a gun and wears a grin. Like all of his drawings, Edward offers this one to his mother. The piece is titled Jesus Getting Killed.
Without saying one word to her son, Edward's mother drives him across town in her beat-up sedan to the church. The early evening outside is warm and threatens twilight, and Edward's mother wheels him to the altar, where it is cold and pungent of rosemary. She orders him to pray, to think about how Jesus died for our sins, not for the devil's or young boys' entertainment. She leaves him seated there, taking an hour or so to go grocery shopping and he just sits there without saying anything and he doesn't know what to do and because he is only seven he takes it all extremely seriously and imagines hell all around him. When she comes back Edward is in prayer and his tears have dried. His mother—as she was wont to do throughout his childhood—pinches the back of his neck. The pinch is part punishment and part affection (not all that hard but more a signal of her return) and though Edward always hated her motherly pinching more than anything, the shock and concentration that he is in and the delicate sensation on the nape of his neck just below his hairline and the utter surprise of it all culminate in his first ever erection. Needless to say, when Edward makes love, there is something solemn and taciturn about it.
Patricia never learned to cook, never felt that she would be any good at it. At age thirty she believes it too late to begin learning; she would be too embarrassed to attend a cooking class and have to ask the purpose of a whisk. Additionally, she is incapable of keeping a tidy home, and while her paper and wooden scraps and dust and disorder bother her very little, comfort her even, piles of food and aging ingredients and endlessly stacked dishes would disturb her very much. She avoids the whole ordeal completely.
Edward does not cook either, has no interest in it. He enjoys dining out alone, being treated as a regular, and occasionally he orders in when he is engrossed in painting or thought. Sometimes women join him for meals, sometimes he sleeps with them. He continues to hear thumping and churning and banging, seemingly coming from Patricia's apartment, but he is beginning to second-guess the origins of the clanking refrain. He wonders if a person so small could really be making all that noise in the construction of just one wooden chest. He takes his whiskey neat, in his apartment, as opposed to at the café this evening, out of perhaps a small desire to be nearer to Patricia. Soon the banging is white noise, is ease, the air is thicker, sounds transform. Edward is lured into absence after the sixth tumbler is empty. His body is so warm. Snores reverberate off the white walls of his apartment, and despite his proximity to the homes of others, no one is there to hear.
In the late October evening a delivery man reaches the apartment building from the restaurant across town. Patricia receives a call announcing his arrival and she goes down to the lobby to greet him. The delivery man is old. He waves at Patricia with his whole arm, with his beer belly and bulbous elbows. His large hand ceases waving and extends to shake Patricia's hand, as if the two have been planning this meeting for quite some time.
"God, it's chilly out there," the delivery man remarks, rubbing his big hands together and looking up at the understated chandelier, around to the walls, then to the floor, his shoes, back to Patricia's face, surveying the air around him.
"Great night for warm Chinese food," he adds.
Patricia reads in his rosy face the joy he greets life with and likely also alcoholism. He is shaking a bit. The delivery man tells Patricia that a man named Edward failed to answer his phone and the bell to his apartment, which he rang many times from the lobby and Patricia tells him that she will take care of it. Handing her the orders, the delivery man pats Patricia's shoulder, partially for the sake of stabilization, appearing a little wobbly, and partially out of unthreatening affection. Patricia pays for her and Edward's orders, smiles, feels spontaneously warmer than she has in weeks, and clumsily hugs the surprised delivery man, bags of food in her hands, before he turns to leave. He does not seem displeased to be embraced by a frenetic, red-haired woman and Patricia sees his face grow a bit rosier when they part ways.
"You must love Chinese food, dear!" he calls out chuckling, and turns to exit. He throws the heavy glass door open with ease and an autumn-scented gust rushes in. Patricia watches his figure fade into the dark of outside, sees his head lights turn on, and watches his car pull away with a jolt, before turning back and heading toward the stairwell.
Patricia walks up to Edward's apartment and tries the door, unlocked. She walks into the apartment, apartment 21, food in hand. She hears Edward's snoring echo as he sleeps. She walks through the apartment, past an ashtray on the coffee table, walks in and about rooms that are largely vacant, save the couch with white coverings and the window with grey shades and the desk and desk chair without a body to fill it. The emptiness that covers Patricia rids her of any anxiety. The dimness covers her skin and she greets its cold, walks to his desk, opens the drawer with a creek where only a laptop lies unassuming. She takes it out and inspects it, well-aware that people don't behave like this, and she imagines the emails that Edward sends, the word documents that only he has seen and saved, and returns the piece of technology back to its rightful drawer. It is less romantic than a typewriter or a journal but Patricia enjoys this fact. She leaves Chinese food atop his desk and Edward lying in his room. She goes back to her apartment and imagines Edward's sleeping eyes covered by sleeping lids, breath and absence of breath turning over continuously. His sheets, she guesses, are a pale yellow and he lies on them, unwrinkled, on his back, hands crossed over the small rise of his stomach. Patricia eats her meal in her bedroom, night-dreaming, awake, thinking only of him.
A week later the sounds coming from Patricia's apartment are driving Edward mad. He is unable to fathom the act of walking upstairs, politely asking Patricia to stop, asking if her arm gets tired from doing so much hammering, if she does anything else but slam nails into wood. He feels the first inklings of insecurity and the laziness that arises from it, feelings very foreign to Edward. Disappointed, he forces himself to swallow his resentment. Edward was taught the basic steps of problem solution when he was very young:
1. Identify the problem.
2. Brainstorm possible solutions.
3. Visualize how the solutions will change the outcome of the situation.
4. Choose the solution that feels most effective.
5. Evaluate the efficacy of the solution and how to improve it next time.
Edward sticks to the methodology. Over confrontation, he chooses to visit a store across town that sells $30 earplugs because the ones he has in his possession silence most things yet somehow amplify the incessant knocking from above. They help some and so Edward plugs the insides of his ears most of the time, even when he engages in evening prayer—and although typically his prayer would be more suitably described as a kind of meditation, a nothingness that surfaces from somewhere within, he is troubled this evening in particular by unwelcome thoughts: what Patricia's boxes look like and his brother out in San Francisco and the coldness that creeps in and he can't help too but think of how the Chinese food he ordered last week somehow appeared in his room, which he, to avoid confusion, threw out shortly thereafter.
Patricia's mother calls while Patricia is struggling over a collage that has been in the making for months. She keeps cutting and cutting and it is unclear whether there is much to use anymore. Patricia intended for the collage to be a surreal depiction of two large, harnessed birds with a headless man atop them holding the reins, but now the birds have become just beaks and the man is just his arms. In her frustration, Patricia listens to her voicemail.