Copyright© 2016 by Lazlo Zalezac
The knock on the door of his tiny apartment roused Paul out of a mid-afternoon nap. He rarely took naps in the afternoon, but he had joined up with a group of volunteers to pick up trash at one of the local parks. It had filled the Saturday morning with something to do, and he had met some nice people for a change. It had been a lot more work than he had anticipated, though, and had left him a little tired. Hence, he had taken a short nap.
He rose from his mattress and answered the door. Expecting that it was the apartment superintendent or someone selling things door to door, he was surprised to find his father-in-law standing there. His in-laws and his parents were the only ones who knew where he lived now.
“Hello. Can I come in?”
Bert entered the apartment and looked around. A twin-sized mattress and two patio lounge chairs with a TV tray between them was all the furniture that occupied the small one room apartment. It wasn’t much to show for having lived there for two months but the occupant of the place didn’t care. His bank account was slowly improving, and that was what he did care about.
Stunned by the austerity of the place, Bert asked, “This is where you’re living?”
“What can I say? I’m a man of few needs, and even fewer wants.”
“No computer, television, or radio?”
“That’s right. This is it.”
“What’s going on?”
“I’ve moved away from your daughter.”
“I know that. Why?”
“Do you really have to ask?”
The older man sagged a little. He didn’t need to ask. In fact, the separation was long overdue. He had even suggested that Paul divorce Judy. He’d seen some of the stuff his daughter had done over the past few years.
“No. She’s a silly little bitch who has treated you poorly for years.”
“Well ... you’re not going to get any arguments out of me on that.”
“What I really want to know is what made you act, now?”
“She canceled a dinner date when we were only minutes from the restaurant so that she could pick up some french fries for Annie.”
This sounded so farfetched, Bert wondered if he understood Paul correctly.
“I don’t quite follow you.”
“For the first time since Annie was born, Judy and I were going out for dinner as a couple. Annie called when we were a couple of minutes away from the restaurant ... where I had reservations. We had to drive back home twenty miles to buy some french fries from a place that was two miles from home. The brat couldn’t even get in her car and drive over to get her own french fries.”
Bert stared at Paul finding it hard to believe that any woman could do that to her husband.
“I’m so sorry. I thought we had raised her better than that,” Bert said.
He was embarrassed that his daughter had treated Paul that way. He had given up on Annie years ago, having decided that she was a hopeless cause. He had hoped Judy would wake up and return to her senses, but that hope had faded. Now, he was ready to write both of them off.
“It’s not your fault.”
Even though he’d seen Judy do similar things in the past, it was still difficult to comprehend how any adult could behave that way. This was so over the top that it defied logic. He couldn’t imagine any kind of explanation that would even suggest there was a bit of rationality behind her decision.
“What was Judy thinking?”
“She was thinking that getting french fries for Annie was more important than having a dinner date with her husband.”
Bert decided that was it. Paul was entirely justified in walking out. No self-respecting man could tolerate being treated like that. He hoped that Judy wouldn’t want to move back into his home once Paul finished kicking her to the curb.
“Are you divorcing her?”
“I’ve thought about it, but I’ve decided not to do that,” he said with a smile.
“It’s complicated,” he answered.
A divorce would end up with him giving up half of everything, and having to support his ex-wife, besides. A separation allowed him to control the money. He had access to all of the money, and was keeping more than half of it for himself. So long as he paid the mortgage, the utilities, and gave her an appropriate amount of money for food, he couldn’t be accused of abandonment. Following that plan for the past two months had tripled the balance in his savings account. It was costing him a lot less than what a judge would order him to pay in alimony.
This plan would also put a damper on the flood of money going to support Annie. The girl needed to grow up and it wasn’t going to happen as long as she was being propped up by his wife. She needed to crash and burn bad enough to be motivated to take charge of her life.
His hope was that Judy would wake up, and remember that she had a husband. Maybe, just maybe, she might choose him over Annie. It was a hope.
“So what are you doing?”
“I’m giving Judy a wakeup call. I removed her name from all of the joint credit cards. I’m paying the bills, and putting three hundred a month in an account for her. That should cover groceries, but nothing else. If she wants more than that, she’s going to have to earn it. What I’m not doing is giving her any money to hand over to Annie.”
Bert stared at the floor, thinking about how Annie and Judy would react to that. It wouldn’t be pretty. He wondered how Paul had put up with the endless calls and demands for more money. Judy would use the, “it’s not for me, but for Annie” argument, unaware that was making it even easier for Paul to say no.
Once she realized that Paul was not going to cough up money, she’d look around the house for things to sell. The first to go would be the jewelry. She had enough jewelry that it would probably hold her for a couple of months. Then she’d sell off some of the electronics around the house, such as the television and the stereo in the living room. That would probably bring in enough money for a couple of weeks. Then the furniture would go. It wouldn’t be long before the only room with anything in it would be Annie’s bedroom. Judy wouldn’t dare touch anything of Annie’s. Then what would Judy do?
“I know my daughter. She’ll sell everything in the house.”
“I know. They’ll run out of things to sell, soon. One of these days, they’ll have to start working if they want to eat out two or three times a week. Maybe they’ll start to grow up at that time.”
“It doesn’t concern you that they’ll sell everything?”
“No. Nothing in that house is mine.”
The day he had walked through the house looking to see what he wanted to take with him, had been a very rude awakening. His entire wardrobe had fit into two suitcases. One shelf at the top of his closet had held all of the keepsakes from his youth. That had been it – two suitcases and a single box. He had more stuff in his cubicle at work!
“How are you doing for money?”
Paul grinned. “I’m doing great. I pay the essential bills like the mortgage, electricity, telephone, cable, and insurance. I don’t pay for Annie’s health insurance or car insurance. That was a quick thousand a month that I saved myself. I am not paying six hundred a month for their lunches and dinners out. I’m not paying another six hundred for Annie to get new outfits. I’m not paying any car repair bills. I’m not giving her an allowance to buy booze on the weekends. With all of the money I’m not spending on Annie, I’m rolling in money even after paying for this place, too.”
Paul was putting half of his savings into a savings account. That was the visible money that an attorney could find with relative ease in the event that things came to a divorce. The other half was tucked away in an envelope in a drawer at his office. That was the money he was going to use to start over if things didn’t work out as he hoped. He was living like a monk to accumulate money in his hidden stash as quickly as possible.
“I didn’t realize Annie was costing you so much,” Bert said.
“I know. Annie has been living like a jet setter for years on my paycheck. That’s come to an end.”
“Just divorce Judy and move on with your life,” Bert said although it pained him to say it.
“No. I’m not divorcing her. I imagine she’ll file for divorce one day on the grounds of abandonment or even without cause. I will counter sue on the grounds of mental cruelty. I’ve got a case for mental cruelty well documented according to my attorney. I’m going to drag the process out for as long as possible. I figure I can keep it up for a couple of years,” Paul said proudly.
“That sounds cruel,” Bert said staring at Paul in shock.
He’d never thought of his son-in-law as being a cruel man. He wondered how Judy had managed to turn such a nice guy into such a hard man.
“Maybe, but maybe not.”
Getting a little angry, Bert said, “You’re trying to hurt her. That’s not you.”
Shaking his head in disagreement, Paul said, “I’m actually trying to save this marriage. If Judy were to give me half the attention that she lavishes on Annie it would be a wonderful marriage.”
“How are you trying to save the marriage?”
“I’m pretty sure that things aren’t all that great between Judy and Annie. Annie is demanding, but it won’t be long before Judy isn’t able to deliver. I figure that they are already nearing that point. I doubt there will be much of anything left in that house of value before too long.
“When it is all gone, Annie is going to turn into a super-bitch. You’ve never seen Annie crank it up like she’s capable of doing. It’s ugly. Believe me, it’s real ugly. In the past, Judy has used my money to placate Annie. That money is gone.
“For Judy, the pressure is going to be horrendous. She’s going to want to help Annie, but she won’t be able to. There just won’t be any money. Annie is going to continue making demands and she’s going to get ever more verbally abusive in making those demands. Judy is going to try to explain the situation to Annie but she can’t because Annie won’t listen. Annie takes a ‘no’ as a personal insult, regardless of the reason.
“The day is going to come when Judy is sitting on the floor in the middle of an empty living room with Annie screaming at her with spittle flying from her lips. It’s even possible that Annie may get physically abusive although I hope not.
“One day, Annie is going to cross a line. I expect that Judy is going to snap. She’s going to look at Annie and see her as the monster that she really is. That’s the day I’ll stand a chance of resurrecting our marriage.”
“She’ll never stop focusing on Annie,” Bert said.
Paul shrugged his shoulders and said, “That’s the risk I’m taking.”
“It’s wishful thinking.”
“What else do I have?”
Bert was Judy’s father and he had disowned her. He wondered why Paul would want to keep Judy after all that she had done to him. As much as Bert loved Sue, he would have divorced her years ago and taken off for parts unknown if she had treated him that way. By this time, he’d probably have a younger wife. It wasn’t too late for Paul.
“Nothing. Are you sure that you want to save this marriage?”
Paul said, “Judy was everything I wanted in a wife before Annie was born. She was loving, attentive, smart, funny, and good looking. She could take a jar of lousy spaghetti sauce, and a package of noodles, and turn it into a romantic evening. She’d have candlelight, soft music, and she’d be dressed like a sultry elegant woman. It was wonderful.
“The next day, she’d be out in yard wearing tight fitting jeans, her hair up in a pony tail, and sneakers on her feet. She’d be there helping me with the yard work. It was a real partnership.”
Bert nodded his head. He had been aware of that phase of the marriage. They might not have had much money, but they hadn’t let that interfere with their marriage like it did for a lot of young couples. Paul took Judy to public concerts at the park, free movie nights at the library, and picnics at the lake. He knew that Paul would stop and get flowers for Judy when he could afford it. Bert had really thought that the marriage was a good one.
Paul said, “That’s what I want back.”
“I fear those days are long gone,” Bert said sadly.
“I’m hoping they can be resurrected,” Paul said.
Bert sat quietly in the chair thinking about the conversation. In a way, Paul’s plan sounded reasonable. He was forcing Judy to make a choice, but he was postponing the time for making it until Judy was faced with the reality of what her choice would mean. His respect for Paul rose a bit more.
Paul’s cell phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket and checked the caller ID. He answered, “Hello, Don. What’s up?”
Bert didn’t want to listen, but his curiosity got the better of him.
“The television? She’s selling the large screen television that was in the living room?”
Paul listened to the reply on the cell phone with a smile.
“Offer her a hundred and fifty for it,” Paul said.
Bert couldn’t believe the price Paul was suggesting. He could ask for ten times that and someone would pay. He wasn’t talking about just any large screen television since it was more like a huge screen television with every feature under the sun.
“I’m serious. She’ll take it, and you’ll get the big screen TV for your man cave!”
Don had bought into the whole ‘man cave’ concept. He liked the idea of having a room where he could fart, belch, drink beer, and not have to watch his language. For the past year, he had been busy turning a room into a shrine for his favorite football team. He even joked that no women were allowed unless they were topless. Don’s wife didn’t find it very funny.
“Why would I be upset? I don’t live there anymore.”
“Well, raise a beer in my honor when you’re watching the game on your new big screen,” Paul said with a laugh.
“Okay. Take it easy,” Paul said just before closing the connection.