Ed and Al
Obesely bright was the best first impression of the sleepy town of Covina. There the sun shined 288 days a year, and its quaint little streets and businesses made up for the other 77. Its inhabitants enjoyed warm winters, where the sunlight had a buttery consistency that lightly spread atop rooftops and sidewalks by 4:30 pm, and suffered through sweltering summers, where every object-human, animal, building, rubber ball-standing outside bare was sizzled and torched into a sticky red and black mess by high noon like hot dogs and marshmallows at an outdoor barbecue. Most places had a balanced sampling of four seasons. Covina had an all-you-can-eat buffet of sun with an occasional side of clouds and, if it had any room after that large dinner, a small dessert of light “rain.”
It was on a burnt butterscotch August morning that Edith Harte was seen rushing out of her family’s apartment, running late for work. She was talking late last night with her twin brother Alfe-this time about any possibilities of life in outer space-and she was now feeling the repercussions dripping on her face and drenching her clothes as she ran down Glendora Avenue. She could now remember very well what her father told her the week prior: “If you can’t wake up by 5 am, you have to find your own ride to work.” Her black uniform did not try to shield its owner from the heat radiating from the pavement. In fact, it seemed to amplify the power and the energy from the sun as it beamed its judgment down on Edith sprinting frantically along. She felt like a potato wrapped up and baking, inside and out.
“Dad is going to kill me!” Edith complained between wheezy breaths, “It’s all your fault, Alfe! I told you that I had to sleep by midnight, but no! Someone had to continue the argument, even after lights out, by whispering it in my ear.” Even as her energy was exponentially decaying by the minute, Edith always found some reserves to bicker with her brother.
“Oh, come on, Ed,” Alfe said, “I tried to wake you up at 8, but you were dead to the world. And, I thought our conversation was going places.” He was following along besides Edith, accompanying her on her marathon to work.
“Going places? The only place we went to yesterday was the wonderful land of nowhere!” Edith then gruffed monotonously, mimicking the boy’s deep voice, “‘Oh, but Eddie, we still can’t prove what happens after we die. Hey Ed, remember that ghost you claimed you saw when you were little? What do you say to that? Ed-’”
“Don’t blame me for your insomniatic tendencies,” Alfe said as they ran block by block towards Edith’s workplace, “You were the one who couldn’t sleep and wanted to have a ‘friendly discussion’ to wind down for the night. Only when you couldn’t find any more evidence to back up your argument, you decided that it was ‘lights out’ to shut me up. There’s bound to be life besides the ones on Earth, I just know it!”
Now, it was Alfe’s turn to mimic Edith. He took a deep breath and growled lowly, “‘But Al, how do you know? You haven’t even been in outer space. You’ve never even been outside of California!’” He then turned angrily to face Edith. “ Well, you know what? Let me tell you something interesting. Guess who is the other person that has not traveled outside the state? You, you loser!”
“Hey! My voice is not that low!” yelled Edith, “That’s totally not cool, Al!”
Amidst the sibling bickering, Edith could spot the intersection just a few meters away. She gasped with relief as she approached the walk sign. She had a small second to catch her breath at the red light. A smell of burnt marshmallows was in the air, the final remnant of the activities from the night before. She really needed to hurry. She was allowed to miss the musical prelude, but if she rushed in any later, she would embarrass not only herself, but also the business and definitely her father.
“Anyways,” said Edith, taking incessant shallow breaths as her brother stood beside her looking up and down the street, “You really need to stop talking to me when we’re in public or when Dad is home. I’m already building a reputation in this town, and it’s not good.”
“What reputation?” Alfe jeered playfully as he looked behind them, “That you smell like fart? Because I alread-” But, Alfe never got a chance to finish telling Edith what he already knew. His tone quickly became urgent.
“Mayday. Mayday. Houston, we have a problem.”
Edith turned and saw two girls cautiously approaching them from the other corner on Cienega Avenue. They were eyeing Edith with their hands covering their mouths, as if they were approaching a feral stray dog. Edith tasted something bitter in her mouth, and her stomach began to churn her insides like ice cream. The sunlight outlined their bathing suits under their rolled up white cotton shirts and the grocery bags filled with what looked like popsicles, hot dogs, and water balloons. Looks like they are going to have a blast today, Edith thought. When they were a few feet away, Edith realized that they were her classmates. She quickly looked away, feeling an icy chill tingle down her spine.
“Look, it’s Grandma Edith over there. She is talking to her imaginary friends again,” whispered Cynthia Styles to her friend Jessica Jefferson as they too approached the walk sign, just loud enough for Edith to hear through the sweltering heat.
“I bet she’s gone crazy from inhaling all of the chemicals from that funeral home,” Jessica snickered as the girls walked across the street, continuing down on Glendora Avenue, “The inside of her head’s probably embalmed.” As the distance between the two groups grew, so did the laughter from the two girls. Even the sprint and hot air couldn’t hide how red and angry Edith’s face grew. She pressed her lips together firmly, trying to bolt shut the screams from coming out of her mouth. Wiping her eyes, she slowly walked across the street onto Cienega Avenue towards Gentle Harte’s Funeral Home. She was already late for work.