HomeSouthern VoiceUnpleasantries

Unpleasantries

by Erin Pounders

From the window of her third story condo that overlooked Auden School, where her son was in first grade, Edie used her son’s binoculars to watch Carson Yates sit in her BMW 7 Series in the school parking lot. Carson’s boy, Shelby, was in Teddy’s class. Carson used the five minutes prior to the dismissal bell to dig out her makeup bag from the console and touch her lipstick up and powder her nose. Edie knew this because she had watched her like this everyday for a month now. After the makeup, Carson fiddled with her hair, put the blonde mass into place. Carson usually arrived in tennis whites, a short pleated skirt and fitted top, much like a cheerleading uniform for someone in their thirties.

Carson had dismissed Edie with a cold freeze at the private school’s orientation in August: given her the once over: head to toe and back up to head, a smirk, and immediately turned back to her circle of friends to whisper. Even so that wasn’t the worst of it. Edie was used to that reception from women. It wasn’t what had pissed her off.

Edie spat on her own hardwood floor and muttered the worst curse word she knew for a woman and went back to looking out the window.
Last month, Edie had hosted a party for her son, Teddy. It was his seventh birthday. She labored over every detail: the favors, the Spiderman cake, the pizzas (gluten free crust in case of allergies), the snacks (organic shit because that is what the mothers at Auden used), and activities. It was to be a sleepover. Just four of his closest friends from school were invited, including Carson’s son, Shelby. It was the first time Teddy’s friends had been invited over and he had been unable to sleep the night before due to excitement. It was important. This was his first birthday since his daddy died.
All the mothers said their boys were coming to the party when Edie had asked them. No one showed. Teddy heard that Carson had thrown an impromptu party at her own house on the same night with the same guest list, minus Teddy. Edie imagined the cars of the other parents in front of Carson’s Spanish Revival house right down the street. She could see the boys through the living room window playing. Carson.

It hurt too much to revisit that night of the party. Teddy’s face, the look in his eyes. I don’t understand, we’re all friends at school. She shook her head to erase the memory like someone would an etch-a-sketch and it faded but faintly remained. She turned her thoughts back to Carson. She plotted revenge, something that wouldn’t land Edie in prison, but she hadn’t come up with anything yet that would not carry a sentence. She dreamed about it. She wasn’t religious but she prayed about it, even though she was well aware that prayer wasn’t exactly meant to provide anyone with a revenge plot. It would come to her though. She just needed to give it some time.

Edie put the binoculars down and left the condo to get Teddy from school.

 

Teddy sat at the table working on his homework. This week they are learning about Mardi Gras and Louis Armstrong. They ate king cake and listened to jazz. Last month they studied Martin Luther King, Jr. Teddy had become slightly obsessed with him. The teachers didn’t discuss how or why he died or that it was right here in Memphis, any of the unpleasantries that Edie thought were essential to know. A great man dying for his beliefs in a great cause. One night when Edie was bathing him, Teddy had speculated that MLK had been mauled by a black bear thus causing his death. The next day she took him downtown to the Lorraine Hotel and explained to him all the unpleasantries.

“They called Louis Armstrong ‘Satchmo.’ he lived down in New Or-leeens,” said Teddy from the table where he was coloring a picture of Mardi Gras doubloons and beads.

“That’s right and it’s ‘New Or-lins,’” Edie replied as she pulled a clean pot out of the dishwasher.

“Miss Kate calls it New Or-leens.”

“I used to live there, it’s New Or-lins. Moved there from where I grew up.”

“Did dad live there with you?”

“I was only there just a few months when I met your dad there. I was a waitress at a casino. He was playing music there. I came back up to Memphis with him. We were going to have you.”

James. It only takes one hit song — sell one song and you can live off that money forever he’d say. After a while she’d wished he would just get a steady job bagging groceries at the Big Star and buy powerball tickets — it had better odds. He lived from gig to gig. They lived in a shit hole. James didn’t own a car, rode a bike everywhere, guitar strapped to his back, which was good because he was fucked up most of the time. She took the bus and altered dresses at a bridal shop. He was handsome. He was funny. She loved him but after Teddy was born she’d kick him out when he wasn’t sober. They lived apart a lot of the time, but that last year he had been clean. He’d taught Teddy to ride a bike and catch a baseball.

The settlement from the accident had come quick and been substantial. The driver of the delivery truck had been drunk and hit James in the bike lane. The drunk driver trying to deliver the world on time. They moved out of the tiny apartment that harbored palmetto bugs and had a communal coin laundry and Edie chose to buy the condo in this historic brick building in a prominent neighborhood. She could afford a house with the settlement, but would not have known what to do with the space. She’d never had this sort of money before and put Teddy in Auden without a second thought. He deserved the best.

“Was dad excited about me, when I was born?”

“It was the happiest day of his life he always said,” Edie replied and Teddy beamed with pride from the table.

James had been on a bender somewhere near Little Rock and hadn’t been there when Teddy was born.

 

Edie didn’t go to college. Her mother had told her over and over to learn a trade. Do something with your hands and you’ll never be hungry. Charlotte would say this with a Pall Mall hanging from her lip as she sewed a beauty pageant dress or a robe for a nativity play at the Baptist Church. The Pall Malls killed her, but her business as a seamstress always put food on the table.

Edie had always worked and didn’t know how not to after she received the settlement. She now had a one man storefront on Union doing design and alterations.

Late winter and early spring was her busy time due to Cotton Carnival. It was sorta like Mardi Gras but with cotton rather than Lint: a chance for society people to have balls, dress up like royalty and elect Kings and Queens and Princesses and Courts. It was like Dungeons and Dragons for rich people.

Garnet Pidgeon was in for the final fitting of her gown for the ball. Garnet was a matriarch of a well-known family, probably pushing seventy or so. Her gown was tricky as it had long sleeves and a boat neck to cover Garnet’s wrinkled sun spotted decollete and arms. She stood on the alterations platform, reading RSVP, the local society magazine that was basically just pictures of rich people at galas as Edie hemmed her dress for two inch heels.

“I’m glad you talked me into the matte satin rather than the brocade,” Garnet said admiring herself in the mirror, smoothing her silver pageboy hair with one hand and holding the magazine in the other.

“It’s a better choice. The other would have been overstated with the jewelry,” Edie replied.

“Well, you have good taste. Fashion sense. That’s why you’re busy all the time. I hate carnival. What a bunch of assholes. Every year I say I’m not going again, but then Raegan is going to be princess this year. I’d be a bad grandmother if I didn’t go,” Garnet said flipping the pages of the magazine. Edie chuckled.

“Is your son still set to get married this summer?”

“Trey is gonna do it. I got to meet her last month. It’s in June, after they graduate. They’re gonna live here. I’ll need you to do a dress for me.”

“Did you like her?”

“She’s beautiful and dumb as a post. She’ll do just fine here,” Garnet said looking down at Edie who was pinning the hem of her dress.

“What about you? How’s Teddy liking Auden?”

“It’s fine. He’s getting straight A’s. Making friends.”

“What about you? You makin’ friends?”

“Well, Verlaine comes by and entertains us but that’s about it. Nothing new.”

Garnet considered this and studied Edie’s reflection in the three-way mirror as she pinned the hem. Garnet said nothing.

“All done, you can go get dressed. I can hem this and get it pressed for you and it’ll be ready on Thursday.”

“Oh my, look at this. Franklin and Carson Yates have their picture in here. Doesn’t their boy go to school with Teddy?” Garnet presented the magazine to Edie.

“Yep. He does,” Edie said glancing at the height of Carson’s up-do and trying to assess the designer she was wearing.

“I’m surprised that he posed for a picture with Carson,” Garnet said.

“Why’s that?”

“He hates her. I remember her parents pleaded with her not to marry him, but she loved him — she has the kindness of a pit viper with everyone else, but just loved the bejesus out of him. Love is seldom the reason people marry here. He came from a different background. Played ball in college and got hurt or something. He drinks himself silly now. Her dad got him a job at an investment firm. Edie, people here are just smoke and mirror sorts,” Garnet said from the dressing room with a laugh.

Garnet dressed, and as she left the shop, she cupped her palm on Edie’s cheek and smiled and sighed. Edie realized that Garnet pitied her.

 

Verlaine was their neighbor and visited them regularly, appearing around dinner time when he got home from work as an associate at a law firm downtown. He always looked a bit rumpled, button-down shirt slightly wrinkled and khakis without a straight crease, hair curling at his collar and ears, needing a trim. He was in his early thirties but a dedicated gamer. He brought his system over and played with Teddy. Today he was going to the school with her for the doughnuts with Dad, Muffins with Mom Day. Teddy had asked him without telling her and Verlaine had taken the morning off from work.

“I’ve lived here all my life. That school is cliquish. Those parents all grew up together, they don’t need new friends or take to new comers too well. Don’t take it personally,” Verlaine told Edie as they left their building, but she saw concern in his eyes. He knew about the birthday party. Teddy must have told him.

Verlaine was in love with Edie. She knew this and refused to think about it. She refused to think about it because she knew it could work between them. It was practical and easy. She never had been good with practical and easy when it involved men. Verlaine had become her best friend since they had become neighbors and, in that way, she did love him.

“Well, I do take it personally. How else could I take it?”

“People around here, people like that, are like characters in a very fucked up Tennessee Williams Play,” he said.

Edie didn’t say anything. She didn’t know who Tennessee Williams was. Verlaine quickly realized this and elaborated.

“Edie you are single and twenty-eight. You are independent and attractive. You probably rock their belief system a bit. You look really nice today by the way,” Verlaine said taking a step back to look at her before they walked into the school. She wore a white pants suit and had set her hair.

“Thanks and thank you for coming today, it means a lot to Teddy.”

“I’m happy to come. Has anyone ever told you that you look like that woman in The Godfather, you know the Sicilian Bride?”

“The one who can’t speak English and gets blown up in the car? Yeah, I’ve gotten that before,” she replied and she had. It seemed that every man in a certain age range had that character etched into their memory. The childbride with her hair braided into elaborate ropes on her wedding day and slipping out of her nightgown on her wedding night. A lamb to the slaughter. She sighed a deep breath as Verlaine opened the door to the school.
“It’s going to be fine,” he said.

 

The classroom was filled with parents and the children were all running around getting them doughnuts and muffins. Teddy found them immediately and led Verlaine around by the hand, showing him his different artwork on the wall and the desk where he sat.

Edie spotted Carson across the room with a gaggle of perfectly dressed mothers. They all wore ballet flats, the ones with the gold medallions on the toe, just to signify their cost and their designer. Carson made eye contact with Edie and smirked. Edie smiled a brilliant smile back at Carson, but let her eyes dance a bit, let them glitter with a bit of madness. Carson appeared a bit shocked to receive such a look but righted her expression after a beat and turned back to the other mothers clustered around her. Edie knew that the message had been received.

“Mommy, here is your muffin,” Teddy said, handing her a plate.

“Thanks, sweetie,” She replied taking her plate and kissing his cheek and again he was off with Verlaine getting him a doughnut.

Edie studied the room. The fathers all looked like Tim Russert, but without the light of intelligence behind the eyes. They were all a bit fat faced and bloated, wearing suits with Gucci loafers. They all had their mother’s maiden name as their Christian name. When she first had noticed this at the beginning of the year, she was perplexed that these skinny well-kept women would be interested in these soft bodied men, then she realized it was more about their bank accounts. James would have stuck out like a sore thumb in this room. Handsome, rail skinny, didn’t own a suit.

Carson’s husband, Franklin, was across the room. He was bloated like the others. He threw his plate in the trash and looked bored sipping his coffee. He saw her looking and smiled at her, the sort of smile that came with a wink across a crowded bar. She smiled and waved. Carson walked over to Franklin and touching his arm and then pulling his hand out of his pants pocket in order to hold it. He pulled it away with a look of disgust and turned to look at a bulletin board decorated with hand-drawn pictures of manatees. Carson stood there watching him, her brows knitted. She turned her head and saw Edie watching.

The children gathered at the front of the class to sing a song about loving their mom and dad. It had choreography. Teddy kept giving her and Verlaine a thumbs up and falling behind in the motions.

As they were leaving, Verlaine went to find the bathroom. Edie stood alone in the hall. Carson strode down the hall and stopped and leaned in to whisper to Edie.

“Yep, it’s Tuesday all day long. In case you need reminding. Nice suit,” Carson said with a smile and walked on by.

This perplexed Edie until she got home and realized that in her nervousness while she was dressing, she hadn’t changed her panties to the nude ones to wear under the white pants. She had worn the ones that had the day of the week written across the rear.

 

On Saturday night, Edie entered the ballroom of the Peabody Hotel for the Auden School Annual Fund with her chin up and gaze down. Edie needed to go alone and was relieved when Verlaine did not ask to come with her. He hated dressing up any more than he had to already, but would watch Teddy for her. A band was playing Memphis Soul, old Stax stuff. When she looked up she saw that people were staring. She couldn’t remember the last time she had bought a dress; she always made them herself, but for this she had bought one from the Neiman Marcus along with a pair of heels, the expensive kind with the red soles.

She spotted Carson across the room. They sized each other up like a bull and a matador.

Edie went directly to the cash bar and got a ginger ale as the Tim Russerts who were all gathered there stared at her. Franklin Yates was among those that were staring. No one greeted her and she planted herself at the end of the bar.

Edie waited until after the silent auction to make her move. Everyone was pretty drunk by that time. She had kept a silent tab and Franklin had drunk five scotches. He was standing alone at the bar. Edie moved down the bar until she was right next to him.

“Hi. This is a great time, huh?” Edie asked Franklin. He smiled. He was one of those men that you could tell how they had looked when they had been younger. She could tell that Franklin had been handsome without the paunch and softness around his face that time had brought about. His shoulders were broad and she remembered Garnet saying that he had been a ball player.

“It is now,” he replied, leaning in to deliver the words. Her nose prickled from the smell of alcohol on his breath. She smiled and held his gaze.
“Do you want to get lost for a few minutes with me?”

He didn’t say a word, but placed his palm on her back and guided her through the crowd.

 

They did it in the BMW 7 Series. As it was happening, as she was on his lap, thrusting her hips hard out of both anger and to make it over faster, Edie thought about James, how gentle he had been with her and how much she missed his touch and how good he had been to her, especially that last year when they had finally become a family and his body broken and just laying there when she had to I.D. him, his beautiful face unrecognizable and his hands how they were broken and he couldn’t play music with broken hands and she thought about Carson and the birthday party and her mother and her hometown in the mountains where she had been called a bastard and never knowing who her father was and Verlaine who she liked and who Teddy loved and knew she would marry him and how she already felt guilty for what she was doing right here and now and how the anger had to stop and how the heat of Franklin’s breath tickled her neck, the sourness of its odor invaded her nostrils as he finally began to moan.

When it was over, she got off of Franklin’s lap and slid into the driver’s seat. He zipped up and got out of the car.

“Just give me a second to freshen up and I’ll be right out,” Edie told him. He was standing outside smoothing his shirt and straightening his tie.
Her panties were still on one leg, she pulled them off. Folded them neatly to where the “TUESDAY” showed and slid them into the makeup bag in the console of the car.

Carson was near the entrance to the ball room when they walked back in. They walked ten yards apart not to garner suspicion. Carson was talking to a couple of her friends but her eyes followed Franklin as he made his way back to the bar. Then she saw Edie. Edie made her way to Carson and leaned into her to whisper into her ear.

“It’s Tuesday all day long.”

 

When Edie got home, Teddy was in bed asleep with Verlaine asleep in the trundle. Teddy’s hands still clutched a video game controller. She turned off the television and went into the living room to the window. She picked up the binoculars, put them in their case and into the drawer of the sideboard then sat down, the leather of the couch was cold against her thighs. Soon, it would be spring, everything would be alive again, Memphis would be green. The days would continue to get longer. They would be fine. Everything would be growing and alive. She felt the shame filling up the pit of her stomach, the guilt making her dizzy, and she decided she would sit very still until she recognized herself.

Erin Pounders is an MFA Candidate at The University of Memphis studying fiction and an alumna of The Sewanee Writers’ Conference.  She is currently working on her thesis, a collection of linked short stories, all set in Memphis.  

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1 COMMENT
  • Catherine / July 27, 2014

    Enjoyed your short story! (I say “New Orlins,” too.) There are women like Carson in my southern town, and I recognize a little bit of myself in Edie.

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