I was typing away on my borrowed PC minding my own business when I heard a knock-knock-knocking on my chamber door. I am tempted to say, "Quoth the Raven nevermore." But no, that would be taking unfair advantage of the readership.
I had taken the apartment in the low rent area near the projects because it was all I could afford, and it was close to the private school that I am an all around handyman at. It's a one bedroom walkup in a dilapidated and all but condemned tenement in South Central L.A.
I work daytimes at St John's high school cleaning up and keeping the electrical and plumbing operating. This is a major task considering the aging state of the electrical and plumbing apparatus that I have to work with. Anyway with rent and food and utilities and the occasional new shirt or pair of shoes, I don't have much money left over for anything else.
That's why I am typing at 7:00 at night. The extra money I make typing up papers for lazy minority kids, minority kids whose parents are well off, brings in enough for me to keep my child support payments up to date. At any rate, the person knocking on my door, whoever it is, is messin' with my livelihood. Reluctantly, I decided to answer it.
"Nina," I said, surprised to see my ex-wife of fifteen years standing in the hall.
"Hello Mikey," she said. She walked in without so much as being asked. But, that was Nina. She never had stood on ceremony and rules of any kind were alien to her. "You're kinda hard to find." I just stared at her. I hadn't known she'd been looking. I hadn't seen her in months, except when visiting the kids, and not even then most times. The divorce? That'd been more than eight years ago.
"Yeah, I just moved in here a couple of months ago," I said.
She was dressed to kill. But, whoever she was going to kill, it sure as hell wasn't me. Like I said, she'd divorced me and totally cleaned me and my business out in the doing eight years ago.
"You're looking prosperous," I said. I was still trying to become unshocked by her sudden and unexpected appearance after so long a time at my door. "Where's Malcom?" Malcom Brady was of course was the interloper she had dumped me for.
"He's home," she said. She looked good at age forty-three. The dress alone must have cost her a couple hundred dollars. She still wore her brown hair in cascading curls down past her shoulders, and her five-nine frame and her porcelain complexion would still be traffic stoppers, I was sure of that. Well anyway, it was clear to me she and lover boy were enjoying the fruits of my old business and her earnings as a surgical nurse. "Got time for a bite to eat?"
"I was just gonna put something in the microwave," I said. "I have to work tonight?" Her eyes glanced over toward the computer. I had to wonder why the hell she was inviting me to dinner, but looking her over made me think of other things; she knew it too.
"Uh—yes, I do a little tutoring and clerical for some of the students," I said. The school I work at loaned me the computer, so you can't have it," I said, my meaning clear. She just frowned.
"Yes, I heard you were working at St. John's," she said. "That's how I found you. One of my coworker's kids goes there.
"What about dinner?" she repeated.
I was curious. I had just gotten a $100 bonus, so I decided why not; the bills were paid. Also, I hadn't seen the kids since she'd sent them off to boarding school at the beginning of the term. It would be a chance for me to hear about them, hopefully. "Okay, but I don't have a car," I said.
"Never mind that, I do," she said. I got my windbreaker and followed her out.
She drove us to the Sandcastle, a fancy bistro near the beach. Inside we were seated, and the maître 'd seemed to know her. I saw her signal him about something, God knows what.
It finally occurred to me to ask what it was that had brought her to my door. "So, Nina, to what do I owe this—surprise—tonight," I said.
She smiled at me. "Mikey, I—we—Malcom and I were talking..." she paused.
"Yes?" I said.
"Well, we—I—I've been thinking a lot about the divorce," she said.
"Well, that's history now," I said. "Not much either of us can do about that I don't suppose. You got me good, so if you want more you can forget it; I'm just getting' by."
"No, no, I'm not here to make your life harder," she said, "quite the opposite in fact." This was interesting. Nina had little in the way of conscience; so whatever she was going to say, I was going to have to weigh the cost to me. And, I felt certain that there would be a cost.
"Yeah, well, I am kinda enjoying my poverty now," I said, getting a gentle swipe in. She ignored it.
"How are you doing, Mikey, really?" She could clearly see my straights, but evidently wanted me to confirm them orally, or maybe beg her for a handout. Well, she wasn't going to get her way if that's what it was. I might be broke, but I've got my pride.
"Okay," I guess. Like I said, I'm getting by."
"Got a girlfriend?" she asked, looking sidelong at me in that way she had of tantalizing me, and for that matter any male, that I knew so well.
"Nina, I'm forty-six and broke. Look how I'm dressed. Do I look like I have much to offer or to attract a woman? But, to answer your question, no I don't have a girlfriend. Satisfied?"
She looked embarrassed, "Mikey, I didn't mean—really—I'm sorry," she said. "It's none of my business." She sounded like she really meant it, but with Nina one could never be sure.
"I'm okay, Nina. Just leave it at that. Being married to you was enough for any man. Certainly it was for me. Just leave it," I said.
"Yes, of course. I'm sorry, really.
"Mikey, would you like to come back to work—run—the hardware store?" she said.
"Huh?" I said.
"It's a big store and it needs a lot of running. And well, you know the business better than anyone. And frankly, Malcom isn't much good at it, I mean the business. We'd pay you well," she said, finally.
So there it was. She was evidently having trouble running the store, or more succinctly, her lazy-ass hubby wasn't up to the job. The irony was that she was offering to pay me for running my own business, or what used to be my business, the one she'd screwed me out of. Adding insult to injury, she'd be my boss—and Malcom. I had to repress a laugh.
"I don't think so, Nina. I can't feature myself working for you, and certainly not for good 'ole Malcom," I said, without apparent rancor. "Not, after everything—all of the water under the bridge."
"Mikey, I can see you need the money. And, well we—I—could use you," she said. I didn't say that in point of fact she'd used me pretty good already.
My pride was hurt. Boy was she good at hurting my pride. She'd seen my apartment, my clothes, knew I had no car. Well, it was all because she'd cleaned me out, and at age forty-six there weren't a lot of places looking to hire me at top dollar, or even medium dollar. So I got by just barely avoiding welfare. Looking at her, I figured she would probably double what I was making now, which would have been about one fifth of what I used to pay myself. The insult to my pride alone would prevent me from taking the job.
"No, I don't think so," I said. "I'm doing okay. I just came into some cash too, so things are looking up." I wasn't lyin'; my bonus was extra cash.
"Well, I'm disappointed, Mikey. I really would like having you around," she said. "Would you at least think about it? I've always felt bad about how the divorce went, but you know lawyers; I—we—just did what he told us to do. I'd like to make it up to you some if you'd let me." She sounded sincere, but I still had my doubts. She'd looked mighty happy when the gavel had finally come down on my head. And, it had taken her eight damn years to start feeling bad about what she and asshole had done to me.
"Yeah, well, don't be a stranger," I said, managing to not sound too sarcastic. She nodded.
We talked about the kids, the food came, we ate, and then the bill arrived; it was $88. I handed the man my $100 bill. "Keep the change," I said, a little too grandly.
"Mikey, I was going to pay," said Nina, genuinely surprised that I'd beat her to it.
"Oh no. I ain't goin' that route," I said. "I'm the guy, I pay. I got my pride." She was a little disconcerted, but had the good grace to thank me and not make a public issue of it. I coulda used the C-note, but easy come easy go, I thought. Like I said, I have my pride.
We drove in silence back to my apartment. Pulling up, I got out, leaned back in through the window, and thanked her for the nice dinner and the job offer.
"It, the job offer's, still open, Mikey. Just call and it's yours," she said. I just waved and headed back in. I watched through the glass door as her T-bird disappeared up the street.
I thought about all that water under the bridge that we'd spoken of. I'd lost everything, largely because of her and her boyfriend. She'd made me hire him as an accountant. This of course was before I knew she was screwing him.
.... There is more of this story ...