It's finally quiet. I have forty-five minutes to think before Edgar wakes
up and Myrna gets home with her dogs.
Myrna is the woman living in my right ear. She sings arias all day, except
for the hour between three and four when she takes her six schnauzers for a
walk. I call the woman Myrna though she's strangely similar to my
mother--same Catholic-cloned values, bouffant hairstyle,
flash-to-the-fifties couture, and fondness for stiletto heels that
click-click through my head and remind me she's always there.
I call the man in my left ear Edgar. He's an unemployed professor,
harmonica aficionado, and old-can collector who spends his days trolling for
tin treasure, except during the hour that Myrna is gone. He returns home
promptly at three, about the time his lunchtime sugar high slips short of
dinner. So he usually nods off by 3:15. Just like dear old Dad.
While Edgar sleeps, I pour a cup of tea, stare out my window at the rain,
and unfurl my list of things to consider. I've been offered a new job in
Eyes closed, I ponder point number one. Then Myrna comes home early. Her
dogs don't like getting wet. Unfortunately Edgar is allergic to dogs, wet
schnauzers in particular.
He wakes up coughing. He beats my eardrum with several bars of staccato,
phlegm-rolled, I'll-quit-tomorrow smoker's hack. Midway through bar eight,
Myrna bangs frying pans together to mask the sound.
She calls Edgar an inconsiderate ass. "Can't you see she's thinking?"
I pour my tea down the drain, draw the shades, flip on the stereo while
Edgar and Myrna argue about what's best for me. My brain shudders like a
flimsy tenement wall; gray matter provides little sound insulation.
Myrna flicks a nerve. She says, "The chicken that never sticks out its neck
lives to lay another egg."
Edgar snorts, sputters vodka. "When opportunity comes, you better knock."
Edgar cites the reasons I should move to China; his narrative, a three-fold
argument, links geo-political internationalism, blips in the economic cycle,
and Myrna's naïve, substandard expectations for my life. Myrna says nothing
good has ever come from China. Except chopsticks.
To illustrate her point, Myrna spears a chopstick through my eardrum. I
stifle a scream--no one likes a whiny landlord. Fresh air blows into my
brain and suddenly, I don't care what either Myrna or Edgar thinks.
Myrna's hummingbird-green eye presses against the hole. She peers through
the void. On the other side, above his tighty-whities, Edgar tries to
balance a six-pack atop ballooning abs.
I tell them they're both ridiculous.
"Aye," Myrna shouts to Edgar. "Now look what you've done."
I hear harmonica music. Myrna tries to plug the chopstick hole with towels,
but the schnauzers pull them down. One dog leaps through the hole. Edgar's
tin cans crash. Harmonica music stops. Then missiles fly at Myrna. Stodgy
sausages, one after the other. The schnauzers leap for them, snap them up.
I smell borscht.
I turn up my stereo. Notes of Shania Twain twirl through the air. Edgar
and Myrna wail, pound the walls--offbeat I might add--before the sound
spins them to the floor. For a moment it's quiet, then Edgar, pillows
pressed over his ears, threatens Myrna with a custody battle.
He tells me, "I'll go with you. We'll live anywhere you want."
Myrna, fanning herself on the floor, offers, "You wouldn't do that, would you
sweetheart? Not my little girl?"
While they cajole and fan, my blood cells scuttle into their apartments.
They report that Myrna has doubled her number of schnauzers and plastered
her walls with highly detailed surveillance notes about my activities. They
tell me Edgar has sublet to a growing family of Russians, who speak in sign
language and tiptoe around in slippered feet. I wonder how many of the
paunchy, harmonica-playing children hum with Edgar's DNA.
My eviction orders blare.
Within an hour, Edgar and the Russians, Myrna and the dogs, all slink away.
Within a day, I accept the promotion, clip on “For Lease” earrings, and hum to
the happy silence in my ears.
Within a month, I move to Beijing. Each night, while I sip my tea, I enjoy
the murmur of new, carefully screened tenants. In my left ear, a pair of
yogic acrobats who tumble to the drone of dreamy affirmation tapes. In my
right ear, a soft-spoken, ex-pat cowboy partial to independent women and