The Edge of the Coffin

UNLIKE WITH OTHER MEN, nothing ever seemed to bother Peter O. No one ever heard him complain about anything, not ever, not even a backache, or the ever-rising property taxes in the modest enclave of split-levels where he and his wife lived. He was phenomenal that way. He was also, let's be honest here, a horrible bore.

Now the remarkable thing about Rosey, his wife of five years, was that she herself seldom complained, until the events of this story at any rate. She was what you would have to call long-suffering. But you could see little things bothered her all right, like when the backyard fence needed fixing and Peter just smiled and brushed it aside. “Honey, it's really nothing,” he'd say. The really nothing was a loose picket that could let some animal in, like a raccoon or the new neighbor's big black dog, which is why Rosey fixed it herself one day when Peter was at work. That didn't bother Peter either, not in the least. Nothing ever did. The truth is he probably never noticed it one way or the other, broken or fixed.

 “What do you want for your birthday,” Rosey asked him one day.

“Nothing really,” Peter said. It was one of his favorite expressions.

“I could get you a Nordic machine, you know, one like Joey's.” Joey was the energetic neighbor across the street. Rosey often watched him cutting grass and tending to his property. She would stand sort of transfixed watching through the living room window.

“What would I do with it?” Peter said. It was Sunday and his head was in the financial section. “The NASDAQ finished the week right where it started,” he said, without any sign of whether this was a good thing or a bad thing.

“You could stand to lose a little, hon,” Rosey said. “Round the middle.”

Peter looked over the paper at her. “The Big Board slipped again,” he said. He was smiling. Peter liked to register facts like that, keep track of things, things that mattered little to him one way or the other. He tracked the price of coffee futures, no matter that he never so much as dipped a toe in commodities. But none of these facts, good or bad, propitious or unpropitious, ever seemed to bother him. It was just in keeping with his job at the company, keeping track of cash flow.

“The company gave out sixty notices today,” he told Rosey when he got home from work on Friday.

“Oh, that's terrible,” Rosey said.
“Yeah, well,” was all Peter had to say about it.
“I could get you a nice bicycle,” Rosey said, changing the subject to his birthday.

 “A bicycle?“ Peter said.

“A nice red bike,” she said. “Wouldn't that be fun? Like the one Joey picked out for me.”

“Would I ever use it?” Peter said.

“We could all go riding,” she said. “With Joey and Nan. Wouldn't that be nice?”

“Yeah, well,” Peter said.

Peter got a bike for his thirtieth birthday, a red one like Rosey's, only this one had a light titanium frame and cost twice as much. Their neighbor Joey from across the street picked it out. Joey knew all about bikes. This one had twenty gears.

“Is red OK? “Joey asked.
“It doesn't matter,” Peter said.
Joey was sitting on one of the most expensive bikes in the shop. “This is the real deal,” he said, getting off and handing it over.

“I’ll never need all these gears,” Peter said.

But Joey said, “You'd be surprised. After a while,” he said, “you get a feel for each of them.”

So that was it. And every Saturday morning around ten o'clock, Peter and Rosey, Joey and his wife Nan, went out bike riding, all riding red bikes and wearing white helmets with a big red stripe. Joey was the captain out in front, and Peter was the rear guard, lagging behind.

“Hey, Pete,” Joey said one Saturday dropping back. “That's a pretty nice bike you got there.”

“Yeah, it's pretty nice,” Peter said.
“Getting the hang of those gears?” he said.
“I'm not used to this,” Peter said pumping away.

 “Well, hang in there buddy,” Joey said, shooting ahead

After the outing they had a hearty lunch at Joey and Nan's. They began to discuss the new neighbor who moved next door to Peter and Rosey a few weeks before. The neighbor with the big black dog.

“Looks like a decent guy,” Joey said.

“He never waves back if you try to be friendly,” Peter said matter-of-factly.

“Why should he let his dog run loose like that?” Rosey said. “Isn't there a law?”

“And he parks his pickup in the street,” Peter said, adding another detail.

“He wakes me up every morning when he goes to work,” Rosey said. “Exactly at 4:43. He races the engine and plays the radio loud as anything. It doesn't bother Peter, but I can't get back to sleep.”

“Bummer,” Joey said.

“Don't you hear him?” Rosey said. “Every morning, at 4:43 like a clock.”
Joey smiled and shook his head.

“At 4:43 every morning,” Rosey went on, “like an alarm clock, playing his car radio loud as anything. By the time he leaves I'm wide awake,” she said. “Every morning. And he's got some ugly, horrible, loud rap music station on.”

“Really,” Joey said. “Hey Pete, you should say something to him.”

“Yeah,” Peter said. “Maybe he's trying to wake himself up.” Peter had to laugh at that one.

“That's not right,” Nan said. “Joey,” she said, “why don't we go over and say hello. We should, you know. And we could just mention it.”
“Good idea,” Joey said.
“I can never fall back asleep,” Rosey said.

“Bummer,” Joey said again.

Nan shook her head. “That's really disgusting,”she said.

“And I'm pregnant now,” Rosey said.
 At this both Joey and Nan jumped up from their chairs. “Hey, that's terrific,” they said. “What great news.” And there were hugs all around.

“So I need my sleep,” Rosey said, blushing.

Joey turned to Peter. “You gotta talk to this guy,” he said.

“I told Peter,” Rosey said. “Peter never likes to make waves.”

“I'm going to talk to him,” Peter said. “He's just warming up his engine”. . . .