Contingencies, contingencies…

The ride to downtown only took a few minutes but resignation and disapproval hung in the pickup cab’s air like the musty smell of moldy corn.  Bill gawked around as they bounced over the uneven residential streets then rumbled down the bricks of mainstreet.  He barely looked Nancy’s way.  He knew what he would see.  Forty-odd years with her had accustomed him to her personality, her moods and her temperament.  He wasn’t particularly happy about being in the doghouse but he was used to it and he’d grown comfortable there.  Mary’s expression wasn’t nearly as benevolent as Bill’s but neither was it altogether dark.

Over the years she had grown to expect disappointment.  A person fought it for so long, tried to show someone how things ought to be done, the error of their ways, until gradually a sort of grudging and dour acceptance set in.  She’d stopped “tsk-tsking” him years ago, stopped circling back to subjects of displeasure and just let things lie like his dirty socks and underwear in the bathroom.  Unlike those soiled items of clothing however, his insensitivity wasn’t eventually tidied up and laundered.  Most days her anger simmered below the surface, waiting to bubble up at the next offense.  The kids thought they were ridiculous.  Perhaps they were.

Their arguments often carried a disproportionate vitriol that surprised their family and closest friends; the ones they were comfortable airing their dirty laundry around.  Still, they rarely argued for more than a couple minutes.  Their m.o. was typically a statement of unhappiness (almost always hers) followed by a sarcastic or off-the-cuff joke meant to discredit the complaint.  This was followed by a bitter retort and then a dark comment in response, then the issue or problem was left to lie.  Its stench stunk things up for a few hours or even a few days and then it was seemingly forgotten.  But it never really went away.  Instead, it laid in a corner of one or both of their minds, lurking, ready to add fuel to the next fire, adding combustible fury and opening other old wounds, sometimes years and years in the past.  This was what they called marriage.

“Well, lookie there, a spot right in front!”  He could be happy about anything.

Bill wheeled into a parking space in front of Timmon’s Women’s Wear.  The door creaked open as Mary eased out onto the pavement.

“You be about a half hour?”

“Better give me 45 minutes, I need to try things on, I don’t shop like you do.”

“Fair enough.”  He was used to the small slights, almost didn’t even notice them in fact.  He backed out of the spot and headed toward the Ace Hardware as Nancy opened the door to the dress shop.

Timmons used to be a smallish department store on two levels, women’s fashions on the second floor and household goods on the main floor.  Now, it was reduced to just women’s wear on the ground floor.  Nancy walked through the aisles, lightly brushing the pretty dresses with her fingertips.  It would have been nice t linger, to try some on, but she had business on second floor.

The creaking steps to the offices above reminded her of coming here with her mother so many years ago.  She’d amused herself, not without occasional scolding, running up and down these stairs as her mother shopped.  Like other things these days the past glowed with the hue of happier, simpler times.  Her knees ached and she wheezed slightly on the first landing.  A dozen steps nowadays represented a workout.  She paused briefly at the top of the second flight to catch her breath.  There were only two offices on second floor.  Barton’s Real Estate at the end was nearly always dark, Bob Barton either home in bed, meeting a client or warming a stool at Peggy’s Bar.  Today was no exception but she wasn’t here to see Bob.  No, her destination today was Fines and Wharton Attorneys, at the other end of the hall.  A distant bell tinkled as she opened the oddly modern door and Marsha Fines appeared at her office door.

“Hi Nancy, right on time as always.  How are you?”

“Oh, I’m tired Marsha, but I’m old, it comes with the territory.”

“Well, come on in and have a seat.  It’s going to be a nice day out there today, huh?”

“Yes, very nice for November.  We won’t get many more of these.  Our nice fall days will be over soon.”

“I suppose they will.  Can I get you coffee or a soft drink?”

“Sure!  I’ll have a Diet Coke if you have it.”

Marsha swiveled in her chair to a small fridge behind her desk, nearly simultaneously as she shifted a pile of papers to the side.

“Would you like a glass?”

“Oh, no, don’t bother yourself, this is fine.”

Marsha folded over the top page of a yellow legal pad.

“What brings you here today, Nancy?”

“Oh, Marsha, I’m just done.” She said as she cracked open the can and took a satisfying sip.

Marsha looked at her inquisitively.

“I’m here to put things in place to file for divorce.”

Somehow the saying of it released the remaining tension in her shoulders and her back.  The strain in her eyes relaxed and she breathed deeply for what felt like years.  Even the sound of the words, delivered without malice, gave her a feeling of peace.

“I see.  So, you want to put me on retainer for those proceedings, then?”

“Yes, I guess so.  What’s that really mean though?”

“Well, pretty simply it just means that Bill wouldn’t be able to have me as his attorney.”

“Oh, yes, that’s fine, although I don’t think the man has ever considered obtaining legal representation.  He thinks everything can be worked out over a cup of coffee and scribbled on a napkin.”

Marsha’s mouth had the hint of a smile as she continued, “So what is your ultimate mission here today?  What is your intent?”

“Oh, Marsha, I don’t really know. I just know that I don’t think I can continue on with Bill.  As hard as it will be on the kids and the grandkids-“  her voice fluttered unexpectedly and she lifted a hand to her mouth.

Marsha grabbed a box of Kleenex and offered her one as she rose to close the door of her small office.  No sense in having Paul Wharton wander in unexpectedly and catch them unaware.

“I understand.  These things are never easy or simple for that matter.  As your attorney I need to ask you some questions.  Is that okay?”

“Sure, fire away.”  She dabbed lightly at her eyes, her composure regained and the 300 pound weight off her soul.

“So, if you filed for divorce, I assume your intent would be an equitable split of your assets as husband and wife.”

“Oh, I’m not too concerned about any of that.  I have funds from the sale of my grandparents’ farm and investments Steve Daniels has managed for me for years.”

“I understand and that’s great but what do you know about your jointly held assets and the valuation of the farm land, machinery and your home?”

“Oh, I don’t know land values, I imagine somewhere around $2,000 an acre I suppose and as far as the machinery it’s gotten really light use since Bill started renting the farm out.  And it was old when he parked it.”

“You might be surprised, Nancy.  Some of this older machinery can bring a decent price on the right sale.  How about the house?  How old is it and has it been updated recently, anything like that?”

Nancy raised an eyebrow, amused at the attorney’s question.  She chuckled softly.

“Updated?  Do you know my spouse?  He could live in a pine box.  No, the house was built in the late 60’s and with the exception of some new carpet and a coat of paint inside and out once in a while, nothing’s changed.”

She smiled a little more broadly and shook her head, “Marsha, I’m still cooking on the same stove, using the same refrigerator and pulling beef out of the same deep freeze I’ve had for going on 50 years!”

“Understood then, definitely no updating.  To take a small step backwards, the reason I ask is that part of being prepared to file is to set values on all your assets.  These are part of the papers served to the other party if you decide to move forward.  It then becomes that party’s responsibility to agree to or contest the values.”

Nancy threw a dismissive wave at the younger woman, “Truly couldn’t hardly care less.  If I do this I’ll do it and be done, move to town in a condo or duplex and never look back.”  She paused as her thoughts moved to the idea of “moving forward.”

“Understood, well there are other details to iron out, a search of assets would need to be done to unearth any trusts or other investment vehicles you may be unaware of, which I would/will handle.  I have a worksheet I have clients fill out just to enumerate things and perhaps jog their memory.”

She brought a multiple page document out of her right hand drawer and pushed it across the desk with a pen.

“It’s fairly basic stuff.  As I said, trusts, IRA’s….”

Nancy’s attention lilted away from the details and the steady stream of explanation coming from the attorney.  Her thoughts were on a smallish, quaint space, with a little flower garden out back, peace and quiet and a clean bathroom.

This is the second part of a story started last week called “Arrangements.  Click here to return to my blog’s home page if you would like to catch up or read other stuff.  If you like this or what you read at the blog I hope you’ll subscribe.  It’s free and means you will receive an email on Sundays with links to the week’s posts.  Subscribe here by clicking this or at the blog.