Who’s Afraid of Edwin Pool?
A short story by Michele Roger
“Hello?,” groaned Molly, reluctantly picking up her cell after the fourth ring. She was awake in the sense that a phone to her ear elicited a groggy greeting; but not much more.
“They caught him! I mean, well,” Jasmine was stumbling over her words with excitement. Molly looked at the clock. Eleven-thirty suggested her excitement probably involved a night spent with Prince Vodka. “He’s dead! Your stalker guy. I just saw it on the eleven o’clock news. They just identified him. He tried robbing a liquor store down on Mac Ave. He went from holding the night manager at gun point to pointing the gun at police when they answered the silent alarm. Molly, they shot him!”
Molly sat up trying to wake herself from an exhaustion-induced sleep. Had she heard that right? After two years of changing her phone number, taking short apartment leases, moving every six months and three personal protection orders, could it really be all over? In her sleepy confused state, she looked for the remote to turn on the news. A moment of clarity came as she looked around at her most recent apartment, stacked from floor to ceiling with fresh packing boxes newly delivered by the movers.
“That’s great news, J,” replied Molly.
“What’s wrong with you? That creep ruined your life. You should be celebrating! As a matter of fact, I’m bringing over a bottle of champagne right now.”
“Hold on, hold on,” Molly struggled. “I really appreciate it J, but the movers arrived today and I’m spent.” In actuality, she needed to think. There was no instant relief, no overwhelming sensation of a weight being lifted. Was he really dead? Somehow, this moment wasn’t turning out how she had dreamed it. Something in her voice was pleading and Jasmine recognized the sound of insomnia and fatigue.
“Fine,” Jasmine growled. “But I’m dragging you out for drinks tomorrow. No excuses. We are going to dig through your boxes until we find your hottest outfit. And then you and me are hitting the town to enjoy your new-found freedom!”
“How about dinner at The Bay, instead?” Molly countered. She hadn’t been out without some form of security or a heart pounding sense of fear in two years. Dinner with her best friend sounded like a much more feasible first step towards enjoying her liberation.
“You know you’re the most boring musician on the planet, right?”
“And for your relentless patience and willingness to show your face in public with me, I will let you engrave that on my tomb stone. It will read, ‘Molly Brennan, the world’s most boring musician.’ How does that sound?”
“Prince Charming never kissed a sleeping princess, you know. How can Mr. Right find you unless you’re out there calling for him from some high tower, or beating him in an archery contest? How are you ever going to have a love life eating at The Bay and wearing your faded jeans?” Jasmine asked, hoping to break Molly in her half asleep state of mind.
“I will read Sleeping Beauty to you at dinner. See you then.” Molly hung up. She walked to the box-filled kitchen and looked for anything labelled ‘cups’. No luck. Her tv, radio and lap top were also still somewhere in the post-move heap. Making her way to the bathroom, she stuck her head under the sink and drank. Then, she crawled back into bed and clicked on her phone’s news app. She read the words for herself, “Local man suspected of several stalkings of Metro-area musicians shot dead in altercation with police tonight at a Mac Ave liquor store. Edwin Pool was pronounced dead at Detroit Medical Center…” The article continued but Molly read and re-read the same five words over and over again. “Edwin Pool was pronounced dead.” Dead! She started to laugh and to cry all at the same time and immediately fell into a worry-free sleep that she had not felt in two years.
Molly woke late the next day. She stumbled into the kitchen and prayed to find the coffee maker easily. As she rifled through boxes, opening them by peeling off the tape, rummaging through haphazardly and moving on to the next. By the time she had reached box six, she decided it would be far more productive to just call for delivery. Was there delivery coffee like there was delivery pizza? There must be, she assured herself in a sleepy fog. Molly plopped back on her bed and reached under the pillows to find her phone. It wasn’t there. She flipped over the empty laundry basket working as a makeshift nightstand but nothing. It wasn’t under the bed.
Beginning her search in less likely places, she went into the bathroom. It wasn’t on the counter or in the medicine cabinet. She scanned the hall. Maybe she had dropped it? No sign of the phone. Moving on to the ridiculous, she looked for it in the refrigerator, next she opened each of the kitchen cupboards. Nothing. With a desperate need for coffee and connection to the outside world, she threw cushions off the couch, opens both doors of the washer and dryer and peek in the garbage can. Nothing. Molly sat on a box and replayed the night in her head. A faint knocking sound broke the ticker tape of unlikely spots yet to check. Molly went to the front door. When she opened it, no one was there. Dear God, she thought, I’m loosing it. She laughed out loud. As she stood in the silent apartment, surrounded by stacks of boxes, Molly retraced her steps from the night before. Jasmine had called, she had looked up the news report on her phone. Edwin Pool was confirmed dead. With that thought, a small trace of fear that she couldn’t explain ran down her spine. He’s gone. For good. She had to reassure herself.
The faint knocking started up again. This time, Molly walked slowly, listening to each rap before taking steps to locate its source. Rap, rap, rap. The sound was dulled and yet slightly metallic. Rap, rap, rap. She walked through the kitchen and into the small, box-laden dining room. She waited and listened. Rap, rap, rap. It wasn’t in the living room. She stepped into the hall. Her heart pounded harder and it made a ringing in her ears. Rap, rap, rap. She followed the knocking to the bathroom. Quickly, she threw the switch for the light and held her breath. Everything was normal and empty, just as it had been when she walked through it with the landlord. Her eyes searched every corner, she peeked behind the door. No sound. No mice. Nothing out of the ordinary. She stared at herself in the mirror, searching for visible signs of mental breakdown. The lines around her eyes looked a little deeper. Was her hair a little thinner? She leaned over the sink, closer to the mirror to look in her eyes and the knocking came again. She jumped back, wide eyed. With each rap, the mirror moved ever so slightly, making her reflection minutely blurred for a split second. She went to reach her hand out to touch the mirror when a huge thud made her jump. The sound of Jasmine’s voice immediately followed.
“Molly? Molly are you ok?” Jasmine called out. Without a word, Molly ran through the kitchen and to the front door and wrapped her arms around her puzzled best friend. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all morning. Your phone just rings and rings. Did you forget to set up your voicemail for this new number?” She pushed Molly off, detaching herself from her intense strong hold. “Here,” Jasmine handed Molly a paper cup. “I figured you could use a cup, in the event you didn’t find the coffee maker.” Molly stood silently, watching her friend flit like a hummingbird from one thing to the next. “I also got cleaning supplies, a new playlist on my iPod to inspire happy organization and, of course ‘Vogue’, ‘Cosmo’ and to humor you, ‘The New Yorker’.” When she took a breath, Jasmine stood slowly and stared at Molly. Her demeanor changed instantly as she looked at her friend standing stiff and pale. “Oh God, what is it?”
Molly opened her mouth and instead of hearing a voice of reason and logic, she heard herself begin to cry. Her hands began to shake. “I can’t find my phone and I swear I left it on the nightstand after I talked to you last night. And then,” Molly grabbed Jasmine’s hand and the two ran into the bathroom. “Listen,” Molly whispered.
The two women stood silently in the bathroom. Molly stood intently before the mirror, her eyes wide with anticipation. Jasmine, bewildered whispered, “What are we listening for?”
“There’s a knocking sound coming from my mirror.”
Jasmine dropped Molly’s hand. Her normal, indoor tone of voice returned. “What the hell are you talking about? It’s probably the thin walls and the neighbors having sex.”
The neighbors aren’t behind my bathroom wall, my bedroom is,” Molly replied, looking more terrified than ever.
Jasmine snorted. “Well we all know nothing ever happens in your bedroom. It’s gotta be your pipes. Come on, let’s drink some coffee and look for your best Girls Night Out dress. You clearly need a night out.”
“Seriously?” Molly asked incredulously.
“Mol, I love you but look, you’ve been on edge for a long time. Rightfully so, in my opinion. You’ve had a whack job following your every move and it’s enough to make everyone a little paranoid. Your phone is somewhere in all of those boxed chaos known as moving. Your pipes shake when too many tenants take late Saturday morning showers. In a week you’ll be talking to me on your phone laughing about the whole thing. Now come on.” The two drank their coffee while sitting on boxes and staring at the enormity of the job ahead of them.
Jasmine laughed. “Most people unpack their kitchen first. Not my Mol. She unpacks big Bertha and the sheet music. Who needs necessities as long as there is beautiful music.” She waived her hand in the air for added effect.
Molly scowled. “My harp isn’t Bertha. Don’t call her that. You’ll hurt her feelings. Her name is Bellissima. It means ‘most beautiful’ in Italian. For short, I’ve been calling her Bells.”
“Yeah, because naming one musical instrument after a completely different musical instrument isn’t weird or anything.”
“You’ve never liked Bells.”
“I don’t like anything that is even remotely attached to you know who.”
“I know,” Molly said quietly. “It’s not her fault though. Edwin Poll was just the delivery guy. Who knew he used his job in order to meet and stalk women?” The two were quiet, staring at the large floor harp. The sun streamed in from the window, reflecting off its guilder gold column.
Jasmine broke the silence first, saying what they both were thinking. “I’m glad he’s dead.”
“Me too.” The moment was awkward. Molly pushed a box up to the harp and started to play. A huge smile spread across Jasmine’s face. She tried to figure out the song as Molly’s fingers floated over the strings.
“Let me guess,” Jasmine smirked, “Handel? No, uh Rockmoni-something.” They were the only two classical composers she could remember from the program from Molly’s last concert.
Molly giggled, “You Are My Sunshine.” Jasmine burst on laughing. Molly’s giggles turned to a screech as the thick, lower octave string suddenly broke and caught her in the face. The wire breaking under such tension recoiled and cut Molly across the face, just under her eye. She cupped her face and went to the bathroom. Jasmine followed.
“And you wonder why I don’t like her?” Jasmin spat.
“Strings break. Call it a job hazard.”
“They cut you in the face?”
“Well no, that’s never happened, I admit.”
A sick sounding melody, much like that from a broken, worn down music box came lilting from the living room. The two peered around the corner to hear the sick sounding music and watched as each string vibrated and unravelled, breaking one by one. With each pop of the string, the two jumped. Molly began to hyperventilate but Jasmine held her ground.
“I’m calling Jack at the studio and telling him to pick up the harp and repair it there. You and I are going to find the antiseptic, clean you up and unpack this mess. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
In four hours, the two friends had managed to unpack nearly the entire apartment. They had a system down to a science thanks to Molly moving so many times. With nearly everything sorted and put away, they headed into Molly’s room to decide on the outfit for the night. Molly flopped on the bed! in a passive aggressive protest. Jasmine ignored her and slid hanger after hanger from the left to the right. With each swipe of the hanger she passed judgement, “boring, outdated, your mom bought it, boring, boring. God Molly, do you own any evening wear that isn’t black? Go crazy, try green or blue for a change.”
“Orchestra requirement. Besides, what’s wrong with black?”
Before she could answer, Jasmine swiped a dress on its hanger only half way and smiled at the possibility. “Firstly, how about this one? Secondly, how have I never seen this before and stolen it from you? This dress is fabulous.”
Silver and sequined, the dress sparkled making tiny rainbows on Molly’s ceiling. “That’s not mine. I would never, in a million years wear that,” Molly argued. Jasmine started to protest but Molly insisted. “Seriously, that isn’t mine. I wonder if the movers gave me an extra box by mistake.”
“All the rest of your clothes are here. I don’t see anything else that I don’t recognize.” She swiped the clothes again, this time in the opposite direction and much faster. “Weird. All yours but this dress. Sure you don’t want to wear it tonight?”
“More than sure,” Molly insisted.
Jasmine hung the dress back up on a hanger and proceeded her inspection of black dresses. The silver dress fell off its hanger and Jasmine picked it up and put it back on the hanger reflexively. Then, she started again looking through the close. The dress fell off its hanger again. This time, falling outside the closet. Molly sat up and watched as Jasmine replaced it on its hanger again. As Jasmine began to pull out a sleek black semi-formal, the window flew open opposite the closet, letting the wind blow through. Wind swept abruptly through the bedroom and the silver dress was caught up in the air currents and landed in a wad up on Molly’s bed.
The two women stared. Jasmine smoothed out the dress on the bed and saw there was still a tag. She turned over the tag and there, spelled out on the Manila cardboard of the tag was the note written in bold red letters, “To Molly, Love E.”
Furiously, Molly crumpled up the dress and threw it in the trash can in the kitchen. Jasmine was speechless. “When was he ever in your closet? You never told me he sent you clothes. Why would you save that dress if it was from him?”
Molly leaned up against the kitchen counter, her head pounding as she tried to find a logical explanation. “I didn’t save it, J. Today is the first time I’ve ever seen that dress.” She began to cry. “I’m never going to be rid of him.” Jasmine sat next to Molly, rubbing her back. She was beginning to feel strange in the apartment. She didn’t want to leave Molly alone.
“Its been a long day of hard work. How about we order a pizza and have a slumber party? I will look for your phone one more time. Half the fun of a friend who moves all the time is discovering the best pizza place that delivers.”
As Jasmine looked for the phone, Molly stared at the dress in the trash can. She listened for the knocking on the mirror. Had she dreamed it all? She rubbed the cut on her cheek. What logical explanation was there?
“Found it!” Jasmine hollered from the kitchen. “Woo hoo! You left it on the stove. God knows you can’t cook so who knows why it would be there,” she teased. She handed Molly the cell phone. “It says you have one recent photo. Open it, let’s see what pictures you take while sleep walking!”
Molly stared intently at the photo she had opened. Jasmine could have been saying any number of things, but Molly heard none of it. She stared for several very long minutes trying to find a logical explanation. Finally, she slid her thumb over the phone screen. Molly opened her mouth and her voice cracked when she spoke. “The time stamp on this picture is from twelve thirty last night.”
“Hey, you look pretty good, all sleeping and gorgeous. It’s actually a great picture of you. Maybe you could use it on your next album cover or something,” Jasmine smiled. The irony was lost on her.
Molly made the situation clear. ” J, this picture was taken at twelve thirty last night. While. I. Was. Sleeping.”
“So, J, I live alone. I sleep alone, as you so gently reminded me today. Who the hell took this picture?”