In the mornings, Edwin walks down the Sixteenth Street Mall to Larimer Street and lingers in the natural skin-care shop on the corner. Around ten, ten-thirty the shop is filled up: people drink protein shakes at the juice bar while women push strollers, dropping bottles of calendula baby oil and boxes of echinacea tea bags into their shopping baskets. There are women who Edwin suspects are anorexic, the ones who stand in the vitamin aisle in leggings, scrutinizing labels.
Sometimes he catches himself staring at their hipbones or wrists and he grows ashamed. He would like to say something apologetic at these moments, or better yet supportive, but he is horribly shy and so never says anything.
Every weekday begins like this for Edwin, who is thirty-two years old and allergic to ragweed, cat dander and pistachios.
Before he has given up his book for the day, before church, or lunch with his mother-who has suffered short-to mid-term memory loss for nearly thirty years, the victim of a pesticide spraying in the early seventies when, driving through the Texas Panhandle, she was caught under a crop duster-Edwin stops by the skin-care shop. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are different because he sees Dr. Stan, his therapist provided by his father's life-insurance policy.
He and his mom have lived off this policy, along with some stock dividends, since Edwin's father was killed in the crash of United Airlines Flight 232. The plane went down in a cornfield in Sioux City, Iowa, back in July of 1989, killing 110 but, far more remarkably, sparing the lives of 186. Thursdays are just like Tuesdays mostly, except the third Tuesday of each month, when he goes to the YMCA at three for the O.F.F.A.F. meeting (Organization of Families and Friends of Airplane Fatalities, or Awful as he calls it).
Edwin begins his day at the skin-care shop because he is in love with the women who work there: they wear blue aprons, their skin exudes a glow of health, and their hair is buoyant and wavy, unlike his mother's brittle bun and his own thinned-out, prematurely gray strands. They're a fun group, the saleswomen. They laugh at each other, toss Power Bars back and forth and answer the phones with feigned gravity. Always, it seems, they're making plans for their next outing, or joking about something funny that happened on a picnic or hiking the weekend before.
Several months ago, on one of his more morose strolls through downtown Denver, Edwin glanced through the window of the shop facing Sixteenth Street and happened to see two of the employees standing by the cash register. He looked at them for some time, too shy to come in but too overwhelmed by their appearances to just walk away. The next day he saw two other shopkeepers, clearly different from the first two but also quite beautiful. Each day for the next three weeks he paused on his walk through Denver just a little closer to the door of the skin-care shop until finally, in an epiphanic moment on an overcast day in early October-his fellow pedestrians puttering by without any clue, looking over their shoulders for the mall shuttle-Edwin unlinked his hands, clasped to one another in the oversized pouch of his red poncho, and opened the front door.
He established a routine during his first foray into the skincare shop that day. Edwin always begins by wandering around the aisles in a very programmatic way, a way intended to suggest lackadaisical indifference but which-since Edwin is incapable of being either lackadaisical or indifferent-conveys instead some inscrutable form of premeditation, so that the people who see him on a regular basis usually shy away and make a concerted effort not to bump into him, which is difficult, as the aisles are very narrow-the store cramped and overflowing with products aimed at contributing to the good life-and Edwin's waist is quite large. Eventually, he makes it over to the shelf facing the front counter and, since it is Tuesday, places a bar of bee soap in the pouch of his poncho.
Wednesdays he takes oatmeal soap, Thursdays butter, Fridays white clay, Mondays glycerine. He then readjusts his poncho, sometimes tucking or retucking his plaid Abercrombie and Fitch shirt into his corduroys. He stands very still in front of the counter for a few minutes, too timid to look directly at the saleswomen so instead glancing furtively at the shelves of magazines that line the counter: Runner's World, Health & Fitness, Self. Then, very slowly, he makes his way to the door, pauses and walks outside.
In the scene he cannot help but re-imagine each day, one of the saleswomen darts after him into the street, calling out, “Hey! Hey!” and he stops, and the young woman points at his abdomen and says to him, “Hey! You didn't pay for that soap!” and Edwin looks at her, his eyes welling up with tears, and he smiles slightly, and the girl apologizes for her gruffness, laughs and then invites him to an upcoming party where the staff plans to share mud baths and homemade beer.