The man frames his separation in terms of his wife’s inability to adapt. “She has many good qualities,” he begins to the lawyer—and then, reconsidering: “A few good qualities, anyway.” But she did not change her habits, he explains, when his business went under following the arrest and personal bankruptcy of his long-time friend and partner, and did not temper them during the months he was unemployed or after he finally found a job in corporate confinement, where the hours are interminable and he earns less than half what his real estate business had taken in during the boom.
“She still buys $500 shoes,” he says, smiling quizzically. “Chloé boots. Manolo Blahnik.” He loosens his tie and the top button of a starched white shirt that sheaths his rotund torso before popping a couple pills from an Rx container. “For the pain,” he says, chewing hard. He’s beginning to sweat.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” he asks a minute later, indicating the cigarette he’s already lit. “Ten years without until earlier this week.” He chuckles as the lawyer looks around for a makeshift ashtray.
“She bought a convertible Lexus, did I mention? Mint green. Yeah, yuck. Never said a word. I get home one night at ten, there it is in the driveway.” He leans his chair back on two legs and balances himself by propping his feet up on the desk. He never stops grinning.
“Get this. In February she flew to The Iditarod with five friends. The Iditarod. After that it was Derby. Very big on sporting events this girl. A real fan.” He flicks his ashes on the floor.
“The savings went dry in June. Pfft! Gone. You have any idea what pedicures cost? Take a guess.”
The lawyer notices an unpleasant smell, perhaps it’s the man’s body odor. He locates a coffee cup and sets it beside the man’s feet.
“Spending money, she says, was her way of maintaining her identity when our world spun out of control,” the man says, mockingly. “Well, I am sorry. I am sorry things did not turn out like we planned. Human beings embezzle. Bubbles burst. I am not the celestial force who makes that happen. Life takes! Sometimes all in a row: bang bang bang bang bang bang bang. You adapt! The day I was served with the divorce petition, do you know where she was? Take a wild guess.”
“The World Series?” the lawyer guesses, then adds, nodding at the cup, “It’s for the ashes.”
“Bangalore!” the man yelps, leaning forward. “A two-week yoga retreat in Bangalore!”
The rest of the interview consists of a litany of like charges, examples of his wife’s refusal to moderate her profligacy in the face of reduced means. Credit cards run up for day spas and designer handbags. Four-hundred dollar hairstyles. A gift of original art shipped to a sister on Long Island.
The man lights another cigarette and sets it over the edge of the desk. He begins to play with the aglet on the end of one shoelace and then removes the lace from his shoe while he continues his narrative. A long ash forms as he stretches and twirls the shoelace around his index fingers like a garrote.
“She met a man there, a tennis player,” he resumes. “Heir to a French cosmetics fortune. I have the evidence: phone bills, texts, debits from private accounts. It isn’t hard to figure out your wife’s passwords when you never sleep!”
He fails to notice when the burnt out cigarette falls to the floor. Annoyed, the lawyer steps around the desk, picks up the butt and mashes it perceptibly into the coffee cup.
“It sounds like your wife adapted after all,” he says, with deliberate candor.
The man looks in the lawyer’s eyes for the first time, and for the first time stops smiling. He flicks his lighter’s thumbwheel in what the lawyer will later transform in a dream into the timer switch on a homemade bomb.
“I mean, in a fashion,” the lawyer adds, remembering the man is a potential new client.
The man is not listening. The lawyer returns to his chair in front of a wall of windows, and the man notices a plane emerge from a cloud behind him, angling downward as if into the lawyer’s neck, like a syringe. For a moment, the man thinks the plane is going to crash. When he remembers the small airport nearby, he is unrelieved. He slings the shoelace over his shoulder, slaps both thighs before rising and walks wordlessly to the door, where he turns and rubs his chin as if puzzling over an engineering problem that could either save the world or destroy it.
“Is it Thursday?” he asks. When the lawyer tells him no, it’s Tuesday, the man nods appreciatively and walks out.
So it was that the lawyer lost a prospective client he would read about in the newspaper three days later. A violent act was widely witnessed at an airport baggage claim. An unnamed man with a copper pipe struck a stylish woman with beautiful hair and hands across the face after a brief altercation. The woman was knocked cold, her jaw broken. Another woman screamed. An older woman fainted. A man dropped his bag and darted in the direction of airport security. Amid the chaos, the perpetrator walked away unmolested into a private club within the terminal. About an hour later he was pointed out to police as the guy watching television alone at the unmanned bar, where an abandoned food basket and two half-consumed beers might have seemed, in conjunction with the three unconscious bodies on the floor, like evidence of an act of spontaneous adaptation. His first comment to the policemen who came at him, guns drawn, from both sides was that he was waiting to see himself on the TV news, for the news of who he was now.