The Edge of Everything
James Shaffer
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Jenny stood at the edge. She liked standing at the edge, the edge of everything; the edge of the curb just before stepping into the street, the edge of a stair before landing on the floor, the edge of pain, the edge of desire, the edge of hope.

For Jenny, the edge was a portal. It was like turning a corner. First, you were one place; then when you turned the corner-stepped off the edge--you could see everything, take another path, make another choice.

That day, she stood on the edge of the last step on the stairway in her house when Jim told her it was over. From her vantage point, their eyes were level. His hard, blue eyes said he was leaving. She didn't feel bad about it. The flame, the thing that warmed them, had gone out long ago. They'd stayed together for appearances, for the sake of propriety, perhaps even for a glimmer of shared hope--gone now. One of them had extinguished it. One of them had stepped off the edge. It wasn't Jenny. She still stood on the last step as she watched Jim walk out the door. She looked down. Her toes jutted over the edge. The floor appeared far below now, in another dimension, part of another world, the one where he left, the one that would not bring Jim back, the one that would not change one thing in her life, stepping over the edge or not.

Earlier that day, she'd safely stepped off the edge of Chestnut and Grove, crossing the intersection, hoping to find a measure of solace in Meyer's Grocery. Its aisles of fresh fruit and vegetables had always calmed her. As she pushed open the door and entered the store, she grabbed a basket.

Meyer's son, Eddie, carried a torch for Jenny. Jenny knew it. When she entered the store, his radar magically located her. Desire sat contentedly on Eddie's stoop, wriggling its toes, stretching, feeling for the edge.

"Jenny, nice to see you."

"Hi Eddie."

While he watched, she chose a sweet potato. She liked its rugged exterior, its hardness, hiding a bright orange face that smiled on the tongue when baked, buttered and salted, or when stripped, peeled and quartered and smothered in butter and brown sugar. She considered it a vegetable of delicacy, a delight for the palate. She next lifted a handful of green beans, untrimmed, heads and tails still attached. She liked them that way, like they'd just been picked, smelling like a summer garden. A dollop of sour cream mixed with a generous dose of coarse pepper, a dash of salt and a sprinkling of herbes de Provence would finish them off in style.

"Looking for something seasonal?" Eddie wasn't giving up.

"Not really."

Jenny headed for the deli counter. Eddie followed. She could see him in her peripheral vision, just on the edge of her space. She looked at the fillets of trout, de-boned and ready.

Eddie left her space, stepping behind the glass-covered counter facing her, taking his place.

"How much are two fillets of trout?"

She saw the prices per pound, but a fillet weighed was a different story.

"You choose."

She looked at each fillet and chose two, what one could call a large and a medium, the large for Jim and the medium for her.

"That'll be exactly $7.00, but with your regular customer discount, and because you are the best-looking customer we have by far, let's make it $5.00." Eddie winked and smiled as he wrapped the fish, punched in the numbers and rang up the stick-on price tag.

Jenny blushed. "Eddie, that's nice of you. You don't have to do that."

Eddie handed her the wrapped package. He leaned over the counter so he was only a few inches away. He had the intensity of a prophet about to dispel a truth, one he knew no one would believe. Instead, he asked a question.

"Jenny, you ever dance on the edge of something, the edge of somewhere familiar yet it feels like no one has ever danced there before?"

Keeping her eyes locked on Eddie, she took the package of trout and stepped back from the counter and away from his question. She was sure she'd never danced there, that place Eddie'd described, not now, not yet, not ever, though she'd longed for that place, that moment. How did he know? Was it his desire that awakened hers? Or hers, his?

"How are you going to cook the trout?"

Jenny stepped back from the edge.  "I usually bake it."

"Use star anise, a warming spice. It elevates the body temperature and aids in digestion."

"So, it is in the stars?"

"Absolutely."  

Jenny carried her items to the register to pay. Eddie followed. A big sign was taped to the back of the register. We're hiring, it said.

"You must be doing well if you're hiring." Eddie rang up her purchases.

"Well, my pop's retiring. Had enough of the hustle and bustle of a little local grocery. Off to Florida at the end of the month. Know anyone looking for work?"

"No, but I'll keep you in mind. Bye."

Eddie watched her go, and as she pushed open the door, she turned and waved. Eddie waved back watching one of his dreams float out the door into the slipstream of another reality, one Eddie was not a part of. He looked around the store, his reality. With its familiar smells and sounds, it felt like home, like somewhere he belonged. It had been in his family for several generations, and he was expected to carry the tradition further into the future. Eddie had no objection.

Except for Jenny, his dreams had come to rest at Meyer's Grocery, and that's where they'd grow. His dream of Jenny was another story, maybe a fantasy, but filled with an edge of wonder, a vision maybe, that sometimes amazed him. Sometimes, when he turned the lights out at night, pushed out the door and locked it behind him, he almost felt, perhaps hoped, she was following him. But moving like a breeze just past the edge of his vision, he could never quite catch her. He dreamed at the edge of his world and imagined stepping off.   

Jenney stepped out onto the sidewalk and smiled to herself. Eddie never gave up. She walked to the end of the sidewalk and stepped off. Cutting through the end of the parking lot, she took a short cut home. She'd never encouraged Eddie's advances. She'd never flirted. She and Jim, though unmarried, were a team. They'd committed. That was that.

Now, that was that. She was still standing on the last step, stubbornly holding her place in the book of her life she'd been living, not willing to turn the page, not wanting to read on, refusing its conclusion. Maybe it was better to shelve this one and start a new one.

Jenny stepped off the edge of the step and landed in a new world. Dancing on the edge of something can be exciting for a while, but you have to step off. She grabbed her coat and headed off for the comfort of Meyer's Grocery.


James Shaffer,

a student of film and theatre arts, worked for years on the fringes of the film and photography industries, exploring both from their experimental to their classical contexts, emphasizing the import and impact of the image—still or moving-since it is after all, the way we think. He tries to create the vehicle for those images in the stories he writes.

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