Edgar Montaugh was seventeen years old when he discovered he could walk through walls. Or, he didn’t exactly walk through the first one. That part came later.
It was a Tuesday, and Edgar was sitting in his parents’ basement with a pretty girl who called herself Jamie DiSciampo and who did not believe she was pretty. Edgar thought she was pretty, but mostly he thought that her knee beneath his hand felt like a football must feel in a fourth-quarter endzone palm.
Edgar and Jamie had been sipping La Croix and pretending to care about the movie The Hurt Locker, which was playing fuzzily on the tiny old TV across the room, for about seventy-three minutes before Jamie excused herself to go to the restroom. She stood up from the couch with a daintiness as peculiar as a tea cozy in a doghouse and tip-toed across the brackish carpet to the bathroom door.
Edgar sat patiently and nonchalantly until he heard Jamie close the door with a timid click — at which point, he leapt to his feet and darted towards the broken microwave that rested between a faded magic eight ball and a gallon jug of laundry detergent on a lopsided bookshelf. His intention was to utilize the microwave’s metallic facade as a reflective surface, to determine whether or not he had, in fact, harbored a piece of sour cream and onion potato chip lodged between his top side teeth for the past several scenes of the film.
Either fortunately or unfortunately, in his haste, Edgar failed to notice both the aerobic aid weights and the bratty miniature Schnauzer named Dixie obstructing his way. He stumbled and twirled, twisted and toppled, banging his elbow into the old drum set and stubbing his toe on a strangely present cinder block, as his head passed breezily, unscathed, through the brick behind the shelf. His torso followed suit.
Edgar found himself lying halfway inside the basement bathroom atop the off-white linoleum floor, where Jamie stood gargling the strange-flavored mouthwash she had found in the medicine cabinet. Jamie screamed. Mouthwash dribbled down her chin and onto her sweater.
“What the hell, Edgar?!” Jamie leapt away from him to take solace by the toilet. “What the–Edgar?” Edgar grunted. Horrified and disoriented, they both moved speechless in the space for a time, surveying what could only be described as a breakage of all physical laws, before Edgar dusted himself off and the two allowed their shock to sublimate itself into twelve minutes of shoddy passionate teenage love-making. In that time, the strangeness of the incident gave way to the dreaded remembrance that Edgar’s parents were, in fact, home, and watching CNN in the living room upstairs. Terrified once more, but for thoroughly different reasons, the two scrambled back into their clothing and onto the couch, where they sat until curfew.
After that, Edgar and Jamie were inseparable for eleven months.
Jamie told Edgar about her mother’s kitchen and about her father’s finances. She told him about the dream she had where a scary gray blob with googly eyes chased her through a J.C. Penny’s department store as she hid unsuccessfully inside the sales racks. She told him about the way that the perimeter of her body felt while she chewed on the end of a ballpoint pen. Edgar made her laugh by poking his limbs through the solid surfaces surrounding her, reaching into rooms from the outside to hug her tightly as she leaned against drywall and concrete. He passed tiny flowers through the closed window of her car while her head was turned to the rear; he made sure each time to catch her safely by pleasant surprise. It was their supernatural secret: the secret of Edgar walking through walls.
For months, the students and teachers watched Edgar and Jamie smile at each other in the halls. “He loves her,” they sighed. “He knows her like nobody else.” And, for months, it was true.
Until one day, Edgar tripped on a curb in the grocery story parking lot. Arms flailing, he twirled through the passenger side of Eliza MacDonald’s red four-door sedan. He fell sideways onto her car’s leather seats, gazing upwards at the overturned cheekbones of another girl. Eliza, perplexed, turned her radio down. (Eliza knew she was pretty.)
“Well. I suppose I should have the anti-theft system checked.” She raised her eyebrows and gripped the steering wheel. “You’re not here to sell me moisturizer, are you?”
Edgar, confused, righted himself into the passenger seat. Edgar kissed her.
Eliza did not care to keep Edgar’s talents a secret. “He passes right through them,” she swooned, to a cluster of underclassmen leaving Algebra. “Like they’re butter. Like they’re water.” She would pull him shyly through curtains and corners, smiling as he buried his face in her pretty cheek and the crowd, amazed, looked on.
The school newspaper wrote a gleaming editorial about Edgar’s strange abilities, complete with a high-resolution photograph of his body bisecting a brick divider as he reclined in the park grounds adjacent. Jamie, who was the senior editor of the paper at the time, felt she had no choice but to publish the piece. Edgar was, after all, the most important topic of report that semester. And she had never told anyone it was her behind the wall that he first fell through, however many months ago. For all they knew, her heartbreak was of the regular type and could be easily moved past, so long as her head was held high. So she published the story.
Meanwhile, Edgar played their old games with Eliza for a time, slipping tokens and trinkets into rooms where she sat. At first, it was the same — better, even. Eliza would giggle and blush, taking hold of Edgar’s reaching arms and bringing him in all the way. He would make fun of her freckles or her choice of book, at which point she would push him back out, and then pull him back in. The pushing and pulling left Edgar dizzy and smiling, and not just because all the passing through walls likely took a slight toll on his atomic organization.
But, little by little, Eliza grew less interested in Edgar’s arms. He found fancier flowers and cleverer corners, working harder to bring the same blush to her face as before. She seemed bored as they kissed. She would accept his small gifts and return to her book with neither a word nor a smile. She began to swat at his offered embraces. “I’m working,” she frowned, as she typed up a report on a man in Annapolis who had discovered that he could fly.
One day, Edgar saw her walking with a boy he did not recognize. Her cheeks were pink and smiling. When, in mid-sentence, she glanced around casually, and her eyes found Edgar’s, the smile left, and she turned her white face towards the ground. They didn’t talk anymore after that.
For a while, Edgar walked through every wall he could find, flexing his peculiar muscles without much discrimination. He smashed through barriers curiously, carelessly, even sometimes violently–more to test his own resilience than that of the wall. He stumbled upon women dreaming and men crying, children hiding and couples fighting. Some of them were frightened, but most of them were simply curious. Edgar made friends and he made enemies walking through walls. He found people where he expected to find none. More often, though, he found only empty rooms where he had hoped to find them full.
Soon, Edgar stopped walking through walls altogether. The novelty had gone. People had heard about his abilities, and stories of other boys and girls with similar talents had begun to sprout up in different parts of the state. Exploring his talent had become sort of a strange compulsion, of which he was growing quite tired. (Not to mention that the practice had resulted in some genuine intestinal discomfort.)
Eventually, Edgar quite forgot that he had ever been able to walk through walls. He entered rooms normally, through the door, or maybe through the window if he had forgotten a key. Even when it would have saved him time or money, it no longer occurred to him to slide through solid surfaces the old way. And his life was really simpler for it. There were no editorials, no curious eyes, no startled adults and no sad ex-girlfriends. Edgar was happy living his life within the confines of normal architectural standards.
All grown up, Edgar lived alone, except for the miniature Schnauzer that he rescued and named Yankee. He had a doggy door built into the back porch, and that was the closest that the Montaugh household came to fluid entry. It wasn’t that he was a hermit, exactly. He was just a man of habit. He woke up every morning, made a cup of coffee, and went to his job at a local bike repair shop, where he interacted with people all day, between walls. He came home, ate his dinner, fed his dog, and went to sleep.
It was a Tuesday when he bumped into a woman in the grocery store parking lot. It was Jamie. She was the senior editor of the local paper, and she was packing fresh produce into her car. When they collided, both slipped halfway through the closed door into the backseat of the parked car behind. Jamie giggled, almost involuntarily, while Edgar looked shocked as remembrances dawned.
“I didn’t think…I’d forgotten!” He shook himself, as though to revive from a nap. “I’d forgotten how I used to do that,” he said. Jamie smiled again and looked into his eyes.
“It’s kind of fun, isn’t it?” she said. “I picked it up a few years after we graduated.” Edgar squinted and bent down to gather the apples and oranges that had rolled to the ground upon impact, returning them pensively to Jamie’s grocery bag. “I mean, it’s not great to do all the time. But when you feel like it…I just haven’t been able to think of a good reason not to, every now and then. It’s such an interesting sensation.”
“Do you want to maybe grab a drink?” Jamie asked. “And catch up?”
He exhaled again, his brow furrowed cautiously. “I’ve got some beers back at my place,” he said. “And a puppy.”
Jamie grinned. “It isn’t another little shit of a Schnauzer, is it?”
He grinned back.
When they arrived on Edgar’s porch, he left his keys decidedly in his pocket. The two old friends tumbled laughing through the back door and onto the kitchen floor, as Yankee followed behind.