“Hey, you got a minute?” he asked, metaphorically holding thumbs for neither a theatrical shouting match nor a cold shoulder.
“Hi. Yeah, what’s up?” she replied in so tranquil a manner that for a second he was at a loss for words. Crossing fingers and holding thumbs, whether physically or mentally, obviously worked.
“Umhm…listen I just got our last joint cellphone bill and I’m pretty sure they still charged your card, so I just want to write you a cheque.” Hiding his astonishment, he swiftly responded to her answering his question with a question, clearly aware that he’d not asked after her welfare and that she had similarly reciprocated with a neutrality of her own, perhaps taking her cue from him. Continuing in the same vein he quickly got down to the semantics of reducing the personal nature of their interaction to strictly come business.
“It’s fine.” Again with the dulcet tones, cool and calm and even accompanied by a flash of dimples.
“No, no, no, you shouldn’t have to…” he interjected, intent on doing right by her. He was trying to speedily conclude this face to face so as to get this initial contact over and done with. So they could move on to the next phase of returning to whatever they were…before. And yeah, he realized that he was being naively optimistic.
“No, seriously Jackson, it’s fine,” she insisted, surprising him yet again. She was thrifty to his spendthrift, but he had to concede the difference was purely one of degree.
“If you’re sure?” Predictably, he didn’t push the issue. His default mechanism of head in the sand ignorance to avoid uncomfortable self-analysis had him itching to stretch his legs in an attempt at escape.
“This one’s on me.” She was a contradiction, generous by nature but selfish in her desire to curb wastage. So yet again he was startled by this unprecedented pleasant monetary exchange.
“Okay.” And he was off – Prison,or rather Marriage, Break! From where he stood both looked the same.
Jackson never imagined that the first conversation he had with his soon to be ex-wife, just after they signed papers dissolving their “holy bond of matrimony”, would be so ordinary. Was it a measure of his own chaotic state of mind or had he simply become so thick-skinned and inured to the never-ending loop of argument that he and April indulged in, that even his internal monologue became pure snark?
Cellphone bills, could you get any more pedestrian than that? What confounded him though was the utter peace and calmness that April wore. It was not only a mantle to cover the rocky underbelly of emotions festering below the surface; her countenance reflected a serenity and composure that he knew signified true happiness. And that confused him no end.
The idiomatic expression (or was it a Chinese proverb in English?) of being careful what you wish for was never more appropriate than at this moment. Well, he assumed that a wise Chinese person had probably said it just after receiving what he or she wished for, or perhaps it was just a homily added to make fortune cookies appear prophetic. Maybe even the short bursts of wisdom to be found on the back of sugar sachets. Profound words and a sweet tooth fitted together like hand in glove. For whatever reason it rang very true in his situation.
Divorce was meant to stop these continuous thoughts of her but even something as mundane as the fortune cookies she loved was a constant reminder of her presence. He was quite taken aback at the 360 degree mind reversion the divorce had brought him back to. Back to the past where he would enjoy the memories of her enjoyment of fortune cookies. Those memories had subsequently been supplanted by their last bout with Chinese food and the canon blasting of fortune cookies that had been part one of their physical battle, culminating in the amazing/confusing sex saga that was the second part. While the reminiscences of their food battles were not completely dulled (something about boiled bunnies and burritos too!), the advent of the divorce had him re-rembering their fun, and sexy, times with food. It was a healing of sort, remembering the good times.
Had she finally seen the light of his wisdom, he wondered? That, in his not so humble but honest opinion, divorce was the only viable option left available to them? Non-confrontational of his feelings as he was, both with himself as well as others (to thine own self he was definitely not true!), a small inner voice he was unable to supress, asked why this brought him no joy.
So much for her fighting for them and never giving up! He shook his head at his own vacillations – one moment at peace with his decision, the next inundated with doubts. He recalled the secret smile on her face, the Madonna-like sereneness of her expression. Especially coming from someone so emotionally volatile, his curiosity was piqued. On overdrive, if you will, or more likely, hyper-drive.
He had to find out the cause. At least that’s how he placated himself. Simple curiosity, just like Alice in Wonderland. No other emotions driving this need to know. He was simply in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding and this was a mystery that required his undivided attention. Stealthily, sneakily, and in an underrated, underhanded manner was what was called for. No need to build up unrealistic expectations. Life was what happened while you were busy making other plans.
But why did she have to look so good, so amazing?! That skin, those eyes, that lips, those thighs. Whoa, where did that come from?! He had to admit though, from his quick observance of her form, her breasts were looking f-i-n-e. What was with him, he wondered? He was never that horny toad of a guy. Why now was he behaving like a peeping perv, and with his own wife? Ex-wife, he corrected himself. Almost ex-wife, he corrected his correction, recalculating the destination terminology in his head like a satellite GPS recalibrating the path of a journey to one end goal.
They never got to have break-up sex, he recalled. The method of their end was not conducive to that state of affairs at all. In fact, April had appeared almost blindsided by the divorce papers. But she’d been in the same counselling sessions as him, and even with the fighting spirit she possessed she had to have known it was a losing battle and time to surrender to the inevitable remaining conclusion? Didn’t she?
He decided to take matters into his own hands. No, no double entendre intended and no other woman would do. It was time to drop-in at his apartment, ostensibly to collect his remaining everything and while there he could maybe plant the idea of them ending on a high note? A farewell to the institution and a final bang to seal the deal? He immediately changed his mind, he was not that guy and they were not those people! He would drop by though and perhaps if she was receptive, some conversation could shed light onto the mystery of her mindset and how she was able to be so happy and at peace. Perhaps some of that could even rub off on him...
He knew it was wrong but receiving no response to his admittedly quiet hesitancy coupled with soft knocking at the front door, he used his key. Without conscious thought he reached out, almost mechanically, to hang his key on the hook by the door, all the while gazing unseeingly at the candle-lit dining table but otherwise darkened apartment. Two simultaneous events split his focus for a bare second but then caused a red haze to appear over his vision, clouding not only his judgement but also his resultant actions. The first was his key dropping to the floor but before he had time to ponder the missing hook by the door, he heard what sounded like the mewling of a cat in heat. Being that he was a heterosexual, sexually active man who had caused these and similar sounds to resonate from his partner during sex, he immediately knew what it was. This second, much more significant happenstance is what caused him to lose focus, his ability for objective thought and his mind. He acted on pure instinct and fury only later realizing that the first occurrence was actually the harbinger of doom.
“You fucking bastard! Get off her!” he yelled pulling at the huge male body from where he covered the tiny female. Blinded by rage and the poorly lit, murky bedroom he did not even attempt to spare a glance at the co-conspirator in this tableau but went straight on the attack, pummelling the young, brawny, really well-hung black man who was caught mid-coitus interruptus.
“Wh...at? Wait man, what are you doing? STOP! Stop hitting me, you asshole!”
Jackson heard all this as if from a distance, not stopping his movements until an unexpected retaliatory blow, forced him to cease.
“That’s my wife, you bloody bastard!” he responded, still raring to go.
“Wait, what? You’re married?!” the young man turned around to ask his companion.
Not waiting for any response, Jackson used his foe’s divided attention to land another shot, barely hearing the negative retort coming from the periphery of his vision.
“She’s not yet my ex! She’s still my wife!” he screamed in retaliation to her response but addressed to lover-boy. Unsuspecting and unexpected he found himself laid out by the momentum of his unsure footing, aided by a punch from those huge fists.
Dazed, he gazed up from his prone position on the floor and dark though it was, and also with the forceful release of his anger, he gaped unrecognizingly at the young woman hovering above him.
“You’re not April,” he whispered.
Embarrassment didn’t begin to cover even half of what he felt. He apologized profusely to the initially angry newly dating couple, mistakenly assuming that he had walked into the wrong apartment. He was swiftly disabused of his assumptions, which in the light of reason would have had him rethinking the notion. How would his key have worked on someone else’s door? Once calmness prevailed and explanations were tendered, he caught the pitying glances of the young couple, one of whom had been sub-let his and April’s home. He didn’t bother explaining that there was no reason for their sympathetic looks; he was the one that divorced his wife.
The incident did, however, hold up a mirror to his consequential actions.
“For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.” Proverb or scientific fact? Either way, true.
Obviously, he was not as okay as he made himself out to be. If that had been April moving on, he had no rights left to stop her, but what was even more of an eye-opener is that he wanted to have the right to her, to still be her one and only. Perhaps it was a bit dog-in-the-mangerish behaviour, as he had expected for her to release him into the wild, which seemingly she’d done with ease. Apparently reciprocal fairness was not in his arsenal anymore and self-contemplatively he wondered if it ever had been.
Walking out of the Apartment Complex, his thoughts were in a jumbled mess. Where was April? Where was she living now? How was he going to explain his shiner at work, to April and his mother? Did he confront her about the sub-letting? Was it worth the explanations and probably the reversion of them to fighting status? How did he explain his regrets and did he in fact want to go there? Did he want her to know why he went to their apartment tonight in the first place or was this the time to let it go, chalk it down to circumstance saving him from making a fool of himself over her once again?
His musings were interrupted by the musical tone of his phone, indicating a call. Anxiously hoping that it was April, he stared disappointingly down at his lawyers name flashing on the screen. Being a doctor meant that it was ingrained in him to always, without fail, answer calls and pagers and while this was not hospital or emergency related he couldn’t ignore the call. He wished he had when he found out what the lawyer had to say. April had couriered an envelope to him, care of his lawyer. In it were five items: her wedding and engagement rings, the keys to their apartment and a clear concise note detailing the sub-letter and finally a key to a storage locker that housed all his stuff – also detailed in the note. Which brought up the question again, where was April, his soon to be ex-wife?
He had contemplated divorce, cutting himself off from the hurt and from all ties to her, the love of his life. He gave up on them, wishing for the divorce to attain a measure of peace. But you know what the fortune cookie said, “Be careful what you wish for, you may just receive it!” And that’s the way the cookie crumbled...