The Story

Shem Shmentov

Romance

The pages of Edgar Alfred Pennyworth’s favorite books possessed more girth than the bulwarks of my furnished flat. Oh, dear me, I’m not complaining. One can’t expect much more at $11 per week for rent.

Edgar’s laughter waltzed down the hall. His merriment shouldered through the paper-thin walls of my apartment. An infectious laugh must go uncured. I caught myself giggling on many occasions. He owned a melodic rhythm, keeping time and tempo with the storyteller’s pace. I imagined the crisp sound of pages turning between Edgar’s thumb and index finger. Did his fingers dance as well?

I didn’t dare guess the book he read. My mind played on the thought at times. No. I shan’t. My ideas on the work read rather than the one reading spoiled the moment. Edgar Pennyworth held both my head and my heart. I must ask him of the story read. What book or what story mattered not a whit. I cherished the way he gazed into my eyes when he regaled. Such enthusiasm and passion. Yes, patience, my mother told me, is a virtue. I counted the minutes we should rally once again.

At this particular era of time, in this little berg, on this infinitesimal portion of the planet, and in this neighborhood of little consequence, every unmarried girl like myself hoped, prayed, and wished upon a star to find a sweet, respectable and eligible gentleman.

Edgar qualified as eligible indeed. His exceptional features made him all the more desirable. Yes, handsome. The other girls overused the word on poor Edgar. These flibbertigibbets rendered the definition common and should no longer be connected with him. Other young ladies act too flirtatious and frivolous in his presence. Once these girls caught a whiff of his bookish scent, they revealed their true, superficial colors. They viewed Edgar’s love of books and stories as an unhealthy preoccupation. My mother raised me to be of sterner stuff. I’m no quitter. I’m much the grander for my acquaintance with Mr. Pennyworth. I am more well-read these days.

 

* * *

 

“Good morning to you, Miss Teshmacher.”

I attempted to be at least a little coy in returning Edgar’s greeting. “Splendid morning, Mr. Pennyworth.”

He finished locking his door. “Miss Teshmacher. Are you timing your departure coincident with mine?”

“Mr. Pennyworth, you tease me.”

“I did, Miss Teschmacher. I apologize.”

I still wanted to appear shy, prim and quite proper, I did, nevertheless, step closer to answer. Bold behavior for a single girl? Perhaps. Resistance to such actions proved impossible. The corners of my mouth turned upward and my heart quickened her rhythmic assault under my breast. “I should be forward in confessing, Mr. Pennyworth, my delight in your escort each morning.”

“Bully, indeed, Miss Teshmacher. Will you honor me by allowing me to escort you again to the library this morning?”

“Of course, Mr. Pennyworth.”

Each morning the walks grew shorter and shorter for me. I understood the reason. My heart grew fonder. My desire for his company increased with each step. I enjoyed my time in his company. I must admit. My imagination ran away often. I pretended he and I entered a courtship, with Edgar pursuing my attention and affections.

“My boisterous laughs did not disturb you yester night, did they, Miss Teshmacher? I did rather enjoy myself.”

“Thoughtful of you to mention, Mr. Pennyworth. I didn’t mind in the least. What is the name of the book providing you such jollity?”

Adventures in Pago Pago—”

“—by Grant Mohr?”

“Yes, how ever did you guess?”

“You read the book before. You told me about the volume when first you read the story.”

“I am flattered by your memory of such a conversation. The last time I read this novel, well, two years ago. Did you read this book, Miss Teshmacher?”

“No, not yet, I’m afraid.”

“You must take my copy. I must warn you, Miss Teshmacher. You may find the book a bit rambunctious and somewhat scandalous, as he writes of the native women... with liberal flair.”

“Well, if you’re willing to part with your copy, I’ll make a go of reading him. I cannot recall reading Mr. Mohr, but you do speak so well of him— how can I refuse?”

Edgar glowed with pride. “For me to call Grant Mohr’s occupation ‘writer’ is a disservice to the author and his work, Miss Teshmacher. He draws us into his world. He captivates. Other authors, if I may be so bold, pale in comparison. Mr. Mohr... how shall I describe... yes, he transports his audience right into the page of his craft. Am I being melodramatic, Miss Teshmacher?”

“No, not at all. Passion must not be confused for melodrama, Mr. Pennyworth.”

“Oh, you are a delight, Miss Teshmacher. Passion, indeed. Thank you.”

“His craft, I suppose, gives me reason to read his work more than once. Two years of silence from Mr. Grant Mohr in the publishing world is far too long, in my humble opinion.”

“Retired from writing?”

“Oh, goodness no. Two articles appeared in the Daily Gazette this past three months about the release of a new novel. This novel is a departure from any of his previous work.”

“Departure?”

“Well, Grant— please forgive my impertinence, Miss Teshmacher. I can’t help but to refer to him by his given name. The man writes to me. Not for me, you understand. He spins his tales within my very soul. Now, for departures. He started out as a mystery writer. I read the first book, and he hooked me like a fish. We solved the crimes together. Later, he expanded into action and adventure novels. Afterward, Adventures in Pago Pago became more of a romance novel in an adventure setting.”

“Sounds exciting.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I am rambling on. You must think me the complete dolt.”

“Not at all, Mr. Pennyworth.”

“Miss Teshmacher, you must be enthralled by your work in the library. Ah, to be surrounded by all those wonderful books.”

“Why, to be honest, my position is not as thrilling as you suppose. I put the books away. I organize them on the shelves and catalog the new books. Help customers find things. The opportunity seldom arises to sit down and read.”

“Oh. Too bad. Miss Teshmacher, you are different from any other girl in the neighborhood. You take pleasure in my passion for stories, for books. You entertain my indulgence for the works of Grant Mohr. His stories do enlighten me and encourage me so. I hope I am not being too bold or an absolute bounder, but...”

“Yes, Mr. Pennyworth?”

“Why, here we are.”

“So, we are.” My disappointment in arriving at the library overwhelmed me this day than any other.

“Please, before you go in, Miss Teshmacher, may I call upon you in a more... social... manner? I caught you by surprise. I’m so sor—”

“Edgar, yes. You may call upon me for a more social engagement.” I gave him a kiss on the cheek and scurried into the library as fast as I might afford, without appearing too hurried. The fear of weak, buckling knees and fainting dead away justified my haste.

 

undefinedRealundefined

“Edgar, you’re out of breath.”

His excitement cut his thoughts and sentences short. “The library,” he whispered. “On the way. Wanted to tell you. His book. Arrived at the book merchant’s.”

“Grant Mohr’s novel?”

He caught his breath. “The article made the paper yester morning and somehow I missed the bloody thing. Pardon my language. I am taking an early lunch to purchase a copy.” He kissed the back of my hand and my heart leapt in my chest. “Ta ta for now.”

 

* * *

 

I let my footfalls resound a little louder than usual when I returned home. I also made a racket with my key getting into the flat, hoping Edgar might take interest in my arrival. I suspected he left the bank early to read Mr. Mohr’s latest novel. The most horrifying, bloodcurdling scream stunned me as I entered my flat. The sound came from Edgar’s apartment. I ran to his door and tried the knob. Locked. I began pounding on his door with the palm of my hand and called for him.

Mr. Bullock, the superintendant, ran toward me with the master key ring in hand. Mr. Bullock found the appropriate key on the ring, and he unlocked the door.

No Edgar Pennyworth. Gone. Nowhere to be found. The novel he read sat on the floor in front of the red chair by the window. I dared not touch the book. I glanced down at the novel and I swear I read the name of Pennyworth in two of the paragraphs of the printed page. I fainted.

Later, I suspected Grant Mohr’s newest novel stole my Edgar away. The book’s title: Real, Scary Monsters. Mr. Mohr began writing horror.