Last day of a respondent husband
Jack Hound* trakes a day off work to meet the "primary care giver" in court.
I divorced recently. Taking the opportunity to have a day off work, I carried out a search for a new flat to rent, the present one having been sold. It was my fourth move since the separation, a lack of security in my abode being an annoying aside of losing the matrimonial home to my estranged wife, now called the primary care giver (PCG) in the new officialese.
The estate agent looked very young but tried hard to appear mature, dressed in a clean lined pin-stripe suit. He showed me a box. I thanked him kindly, repeating the old lie, "I'll get back to you soon".
The Family Court is in a standard city street dominated by retail stores and offices. When I was a boy my mother took me shopping in the same street for riding boots, Wool Board ties and moleskins. At lunch we entered the subterranean depths of a Cahills food hall to gorge ourselves on ice cream, caramel sauce and waffles. Upon entering our hotel in the same street we were met by a doorman who tipped his hat, wished us "Good morning" and always remembered names, even those of the children, though we only visited twice a year.
Those were salad days.
Now, setting foot in the Family Court, I was electronically searched for bombs, guns, knives and other weapons of malcontent. "What's in ya pocket." the guard asked as she frisked between my legs and under my armpits with the scanner. "Some coins, sunglasses and a metal pen," she revealed to her offsider who noted them down carefully as I passed them along for scrutiny. "You know, it's always been mightier than the sword" I replied, digging deep to find other pens resting on the lining of my jacket.
I hadn't had the time, money or the energy to sew up the hole in the pocket through which items constantly fell. "Uhh!" grunted the guard, eyeing me with some suspicion. "It's always been mightier than the sword," I repeated.
"What?" she asked, wondering whether I was stupid or being smart.
"The latter, " I replied.
"You must be a lawyer for the applicant or somethin', mate. Ya wouldn't be so smart if ya was the respondent that's gettin' the flick. Whatever you are, the waiting room is there and that's where ya wait ya turn", she said, motioning me to an open plan reception area. Its centrepiece was a trolley containing an urn, polystyrene cups, cheap instant coffee and dog-eared, out-of-date magazines.
The PCG sat crossed legged in a summer skirt. Her legs had always been one of her better features. Even here I noticed them. She took great care not to notice me. Neither of us could comprehend the notion of being friends after brutalising such an enormous emotional commitment to each other.
I recalled a friend who took me to a coffee shop for a talk after the separation. "If I ever left my husband I'm sure we would always remain on good terms. It's so immature to be unpleasant to each other, isn't it? Besides you only hurt yourselves. And what about the children. One must keep up appearances for their sake," she had said, not pausing to allow time for a response.
Unnoticed by her, a line of froth and chocolate had gathered on her upper lip. "Until now I have always found you to be naive. Of course, I am wrong. You really are quite stupid," I said, recklessly. I haven't seen her since.
The others in the waiting room were a motley lot. Neatly dressed office toilers and working men in dirty overalls not intimidated by the sartorial complexities of the location. The clerk emerged from the court to call the names of the next to be heard. A crippled man, arms akimbo, one leg bent double, hobbled hurriedly across the room to his solicitor as she made an appearance from the courtroom. Dressed in a tight fitting navy blue and bright pink shirt complete with shoulder pads for powering down corridors, she towered over him. "Don't rush." she said. "Take your time." He could not speak but mumbled urgently, desperately seeking to make a point. After a few authoritative hand gestures which obviously brooked no dissent, she twirled one of her gold earrings, and assured him everything would be alright as they disappeared into the court room.
Perhaps he used another exit. He was not seen again.
My turn passed quickly. The judge muttered words of "irretrievable breakdown" and told me we could not legally marry again for "one month from this day". As we left the court I bowed and opened the door for the PCG and her new friend. Even then she tried to get the last word in. "Well, let's shake on it," she said confidently as I continued to hold the door ajar.
All eyes in the court turned toward us. She broke first, exited and repeated her offer of good sportspersonship in the waiting area. I declined.
We even fluffed our exit in the lifts. I was determined to get the same lift from the building as the PCG. A quiet, passively resistant presence can cause great discomfort. I told myself I had as much right to use that particular lift as anybody else.
Too hurriedly I entered, the first to arrive. "Going up?" asked the occupant. "No, we're falling down," I replied. "Well you'd better get another one, hadn't you," retorted the occupant as the doors began to close. Silence followed as we waited for the next lift, only to be abated by the sounds of traffic on the street as we emerged from the court building and went our separate ways.
After work some friends took me out to help me forget. In an attempt to make light-hearted the pain of reality, we downed champagne and told each other stories of failed relationships as if they didn't matter, each trying to be more outrageous than the other. Quite late we took coffees at a bar. A joint was being passed around by other revellers who were happy in the glazed, vacant way of those who need drugs to induce the highs and lows of life. A song was changed on the juke box. It was Bob Marley and the Wailers.
"We'll live together, build a roof right over our heads
The same song the PCG and I played as we took our dance in front of the wedding guests eight years and five months before.
It was only then my tears began.
Not for long. The real weeping had been done much before this. I had known for some time that you don't get what you deserve, you just get what's coming and tomorrow is another day.
*The author's name has been changed to protect privacy.
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