The Blind Cartographer

October 25, 2010

Today had been the first time in weeks that he hadn’t woken up thinking about her. It’d been nearly three months since the night she had announced that she was leaving him. At first he thought she wasn’t serious, that this would be like all the other times they had come crashing down and two days later things would be fine. It was when he came back the next morning to his entire wardrobe on the front lawn that really tipped him off to how serious she was this time.

He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, and blindly groped the top of his nightstand in search of his glasses, but to no avail. “Must have left them in the bathroom,” he thought to himself. The bed creaked as his weight shifted from the stained mattress to his worn down soles. The worst part of living in a motel wasn’t the service or the trashy living conditions, it was having the only room on the property with an east facing window; every sunrise was another reminder of a day he’d spend alone. His hands rummaged through the jeans hanging haphazardly on the back of a chair and pulled out a dusty looking pair of glasses. He squinted slightly as he put them on, trying to adjust to the morning glare. Shuffling into the cramped bathroom, he glanced sidelong into a nearby mirror as he relieved himself.

“Jesus,” he said aloud to himself. His salt and pepper hair was growing thinner by the day, and his jaw line was now completely hidden behind a hedge of scraggly facial hair. If there was a day he ought to shave, it was today. Six weeks ago, a man in a four-hundred dollar suit had driven his sixty-thousand dollar car to deliver the divorce papers. As far as he was concerned, Anna didn’t even know a lawyer. Now here he was, on his way to defend himself at a divorce trial. Little fuckers worked fast.

As he slung his reliable old blue tie around his neck, he noticed the six-inch stack of papers atop the wobbly TV stand. His students had been waiting two weeks to get those back, but every time he finally mustered the initiative to grade them he wound up reading one or two and then quitting. To be fair, it was his own fault; the class had been reading Salinger back when the proverbial shit hit the fan. Now he felt a little like poor Holden Caulfield, completely at a lack for cultural sensitivity. He never looked at the paper in the hotel office, but today as he waited to pay his daily rent his eyes rested on a strange headline: CAN THINGS GET ANY WORSE? He couldn’t help but laugh.

“Bastards uptown think they can just run the city and go without any consequences,” the owner said, motioning with his eyebrows to the news rack.

“I don’t really pay attention to that stuff anymore,” the man replied with a shrug.

“Looks like you don’t pay attention to a lot of things lately, pal,” the owner added with a chuckle. It was too damn early to listen to a blowhard like that guy. Now he just had to hope that his bus was running on time.

Unfortunately, the 108 was notorious for being late on the route heading into downtown from Broadway. “At least it’s a nice morning,” he thought, with a glance at the sky. There was a cloud clover leftover from the night before, but the sun was desperately trying to break through again.   After fifteen minutes, the white and green caterpillar hissed to a stop in front of him. The familiar smell of recycled air and someone’s morning coffee did little to invigorate his senses. As he cleared a space in the aisle to stand in, the man exhaled hot air into his hands. The bus was overfilled, and the driver soon began to simply skip stops with more than one or two people waiting. He’d need some kind of miracle in order to make it to the trial on time now.

After blitzing up the stairs to the city courthouse and getting through the layers of security and paperwork to get into his assigned courtroom, he wasn’t surprised to see that Anna and her two lawyers were already there and looking very impatient. He made a gesture that resembled a wave to the judge and sat down, alone, at his respective table.

She always had a way of working a room. Even now, their marriage ended for good, she looked like something from a film noir. Those green eyes he used to love so much now just stared at him complacently, begging him to give her more reasons to hate him. Bitch. At least she hadn’t brought their daughter to the trial.

“Mister Rowan, am I to believe you are defending yourself today?” the judge asked.

“Yes ma’am,” was all he could manage to say in response.

“Well all right. The court will now oversee the trial of Rowan v. Griffin. Both counsels may approach the bench for a short word with me.” The judge raised an eyebrow as she added, “Just need to clarify some numbers here.”

One of her lawyers turned and walked briskly up to the judge’s bench, and the two of them looked expectantly at the man. With a sigh he moved to the bench as well, his hands clasped behind his head.

“Don’t you think asking for full custody and $100,000 is a bit much to ask for a teacher’s salary, Mr. Donohue?” the judge whispered. “It sounds like someone was very, very unhappy in this marriage.”

The man smiled weakly. “Oh, only a hundred grand? That’s half of what you first asked for, isn’t it?”

“Let it be known to the court,” the lawyer replied quickly, “that the aforementioned damages were agreed upon in written form by both parties when the first round of paperwork was drawn up. You knew what you were up against, Mr. Rowan. I’m rather surprised you even showed up.”

“Both of you had better stop before I close the trial for misconduct,” the judge retorted with an icy look at both men. “You may return to your posts.”

The trial itself had gone by much faster than he had anticipated. He answered questions when they were asked of him and said little whenever given the chance to make a statement. By now he had simply given up. Now, on the steps outside the courthouse he loosened his tie and sat down. A plaque nearby decorated the wall beneath an empty place for a statuette; etched into the bronze plate were the words “AD MELIORA.” The man removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. The morning seemed days long, and he already felt tired again. A voice from behind shook him from his momentary peace.

“I would say I’m sorry but we both knew it was the right decision to make,” she said, her heels clicking softly on the marble steps.

“If you’ve come for my wallet, it’s already empty, Anna,” he said without looking at her.

“Oh come off it. We were married for eight years and I felt like you had already stopped caring whether or not I was even living in the same house. All you cared about was thinking about your stupid college days and working endlessly at that dump of a school you work at.”

“Listen, I said all I needed to say in the courtroom. You could at least have the decency to walk away now. You already took everything I have,” he replied. His cheeks were beginning to turn red as the anger finally started to simmer into visible form.

“I want you to know that it wasn’t my idea for full custody. The lawyers had said that with the difference of income I would be the clear choice were the custody issue raised as debatable. I know you were a good father, but you were never there for me. Isn’t that what matters in the end?”

“Hell if I know anymore, Anna. I’m just going to go live in the country somewhere. I’ve done what I was supposed to do in this place. Now I’m going to wash my hands of you and everything you meant to me.”

“Peter, please. At least say goodbye to your daughter.”

“I already did. It was in the letter you decided not to give her.”

“How did you…”

“You’ve been doing that kind of shit to me for years. I figured that if she hadn’t written me back that you’d decided to play god again. It’s fine, I knew how things would turn out.”

With that, he rose and walked down to the corner. It was nearly noon, and the sun was reaching its peak in the blue-grey sky. The cloud cover had finally burned off, and now the afternoon weather looked promising. A flock of geese swept across the lake, flying south in formation. Black wings fluttered in the sunlight but the city was too loud to hear their faint cries across the murky green water.



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