“Over the last few months, a fair number of my friends, men and women, had come over to inform me of the demise or imminent demise of their relationships. There had, of course, been a common thread. So I decided to see if I could pull at it. ‘But, she did not say the actual words I want a divorce?” I queried.” Cusper Lynn
The Occidental Ape
by Cusper Lynn
“Hmm.” I considered the orange slice floating in my beer.
I don’t drink beer and, when I do, it does not have fruit floating in it; it was that sort of day.
“Cusper,” he said, drawing his long and limp frame together so that he could raise his head, “I said it’s funny . . . . Don’t you think it’s funny?”
“What’s funny, Simon?” I asked absently, counting the bubbles rising from the orange.
For reasons of perverse inclination or equally perverse association, I found myself considering that my beer could have served as an exhibit in a Mapplethorpe installation.
“. . . that my marriage and practice are failing and your consultancy is failing,” he sputtered, then subsided into a heavy sigh.
“Funny,” I said, setting aside the beer (with its orange that could well be a cross), and reviewing the conversation. “I suppose it is funny, in a way. Like a train wreck. With a car full of clowns.”
Simon laughed. “That’s it exactly,” he gasped, and laughed some more. The laughter, that was like a bark, rose and fell with a pained wheeze that finally subsided, “and we are the clowns.”
“Yes,” I said, going over to the sideboard to retrieve my humidor.
“I didn’t feel like a clown,” Simon sighed. “Not until she told me.”
“Do you want some more brandy?” I asked, scrounging about for a lighter.
“Please,” he called back.
I pocketed one of my utility butane lighters and lifted the decanter. “Let’s take this out to the verandah,” I said, unbolting the front door.
“But, I’m comfortable,” Simon whined from the couch.
“I’m not, and the brandy will be on the verandah,” I announced, stepping out the door.
“Damn it, Cusper,” Simon complained and began struggling to his feet.
I was clipping my cigar when I heard the skittering noise, followed by a persistent whining, at the door.
Opening the door I was greeted by the sight of my small, toothless and badly aging dog, Gertrude. I picked him up and set him on the wicker lounger; yes, I said him. Gertrude settled in with a contented sigh. It then occurred to me that Simon still had not made it to the door. Looking in, I found he was lying across the ottoman and staring at the ceiling.
“Simon,” I called in to him.
“Cusper, do you realize that you have popcorn on your ceiling?” he called back. “At least that’s what I think it is. Or maybe it is moldy cottage cheese?”
“I have never heard of a cottage cheese ceiling before,” I replied, walking over to help up the drunk and distressed physician.
“It should be called that,” he said. “It looks nothing like popcorn. Cottage cheese. That’s exactly what it looks like. White, lumpy and repulsive.”
While I will grant that my home is far from aesthetically appealing, I had never surveyed it from the perspective of its palatability as a snack or a side dish.
“You live in a partially empty cottage cheese container,” Simon insisted as I helped him up.
“Simon, what’s say we take you to the guest room and tuck you in,” I suggested, walking him toward the hall.
“No,” Simon stiffened, straining my neck with the weight of his arm; then twisting away from me. “I want another brandy.”
I shrugged. I had dealt with my share of depressed drunks—more than my share in the last week—and as I enjoyed the advantage of being stone cold sober, I acquiesced to his demand.
Simon grabbed the decanter, spun wildly, and fell back into the wicker chair. I believe he was reliving some dance move from his high school days as he opened his mouth as if to let out a single musical note. Instead there was silence.
I lit my cigar and stared out at a waxing moon partially obscured by Spanish moss hanging from an oak’s large branches, rotting and dying (in The Southern Manner) in my front yard. Parts of Florida are truly, still, of The South. My tree is a picturesque study in decay and death upon which reptiles, squirrels, raccoons and myriad species of birds pass their lives, seemingly oblivious to its decline. And I, within sight of it.
I sent a stream of smoke out into the night sky and listened to my companion struggle with the decanter.
“Pull and twist,” I suggested as I peered into the oak’s upper branches to see the familiar bandit markings of the large raccoon that prowls the tree’s upper stories at night.
“It’s over. You know that, don’t you,” Simon asked, pouring himself a generous measure of the brandy.
“So you have said.” I found I was now in a staring contest with the raccoon, which was a good 20 feet above me and looking down intently.
“Well, it is,” Simon snapped. “Over. Completely, absolutely, and utterly over.”
The raccoon broke eye contact first, and resumed foraging in a nest. I was elated as I had now added raccoons to the list of creatures I can outstare.
“Simon, did she actually say ‘I want a divorce’?” I asked, nursing the red ember at the end of my CAO Gold Torpedo Maduro.
“Of course, she . . .” Simon suddenly lapsed into silence.
“Well?” I looked at him and saw that he was struggling to remember the encounter.
“Just a moment,” he said, irritably.
“Fine.” I returned my attention to the humid night and the waxing moon.
After several minutes, Simon took a pull at his brandy; then continued, “This isn’t working: it’s over. I am certain that’s what she said.”
“Hmmm,” I responded, considering this.
Over the last few months, a fair number of my friends, men and women, had come over to inform me of the demise or imminent demise of their relationships. There had, of course, been a common thread. So I decided to see if I could pull at it.
“But, she did not say the actual words ‘I want a divorce’?” I queried.
“No, why? Is it some sort of magic thing they have to say?” Simon said, lifelessly.
“Not magical; just something that is normal, expected . . .” I began.
“Normal?!? What the hell is normal anymore?!?” Simon cut me off, rising from his alcohol-induced torpor.
“That is my point, Simon. Nothing is normal anymore. Think back to when the conversation occurred,” I suggested.
“I told you that already,” he said, peevishly. “This afternoon.”
“Yes, but what had happened prior to that?” I asked calmly.
“Nothing, really. We had been to our niece’s graduation party,” he said.
“This is your brother-in-law from Venezuela’s daughter?” I asked.
“Yes. Hector. I told you about him. His asylum application was denied, so they switched him to a different visa type. His daughter Veronica graduated high school; she was valedictorian and was accepted to FSU.” Simon began to subside.
“And was she born in the US?” I asked, seeing another thread.
“No, she was born in Venezuela; she was four when they came over here,” Simon said. “Why?”
“Just a guess,” I said, seeing that there may not have been a request for a divorce, but there might soon be one.
Simon poured himself out another glass of brandy and swirled it about, “Other than that, it’s all been out of the blue. She just hit me with ‘This isn’t working; it’s over.’ I stopped dead, then left her there and came here,” he said.
“. . . after having a few drinks on the way,” I observed.
“I didn’t want anything to happen,” Simon said, and stretched out in the chair.
“You remember Dr. Gilroy?” Simon said softly.
“That was in your neighborhood?” I recalled.
“Two blocks down. I didn’t know him well. But we would see his wife and kids at the grocery store and school.” Simon waxed more somber.
Dr. Gilroy had been one of the early ones, back when the crash first hit. He had lost everything. Then, he had lost it. It was two days before the police found them in the house.
“So, you were afraid you would do something?” I said, surprised by the implication that Simon might be that close to the edge.
“Me? No! It’s Maria I’m worried about. I was afraid of what she would do,” Simon protested.
“So you left her home . . . with the kids?” The entire idea was ludicrous.
“The kids stayed over at Hector’s and, no, I don’t believe she would hurt the kids. I just had a feeling she was . . . raging and that it wouldn’t be safe to be around her,” Simon said.
“Did you drink at all at the party?” I probed.
“I might have had a glass or two of wine,” Simon conceded.
I mulled this over. “Any problems at the party?”
“No,” Simon said languidly. “She had a good party. Liked all her gifts and seemed really happy to have all the family there.”
“Ah, so a big gathering, then a summer off, and then college in the fall?”
“Nope,” Simon shook his head.
“I thought you said she’d been accepted at FSU,” I replied.
“She was, but at international student tuition rates,” he said, then sipped his brandy.
“International: is that different from out-of-state rates?” I mused.
“No idea. Just know Hector doesn’t have the money, Maria doesn’t have the money, and I sure as hell don’t have the money,” Simon said darkly.
“Simon, I’m just speculating here, but it seems to me that you may have misread what your wife was saying,” I suggested.
“How can you misread ‘This isn’t working: it’s over’?” Simon said, defensively.
“I’m not sure about that part. But it seems to me that there was an in-between bit that you missed. Possibly driving back from your brother-in-law’s house,” I said cautiously.
“Really?” Simon seemed surprised by this.
“As I say, I’m just speculating. But I think that there may have been some key thing that you missed in that conversation.”
“I don’t see how. Maria was talking about Veronica’s situation and I was agreeing with her,” Simon said.
“When you say ‘agreeing with her,’ do you mean you were saying things like, ‘Yes, that’s terrible. I wish there were something we could do,’ or ‘You’re absolutely right, Honey, this is terrible’ ?”
“Sort of,” Simon sipped his brandy.
“Well, for one thing, Maria doesn’t like to be called ‘Honey’.”
“OK,” I agreed, taking that information on-board. “So, no ‘Honey’ but, in general, you vigorously agreed with her?”
“In full and complete sentences that indicated you were participating in the conversation and giving it your full attention?” I asked.
“Well,” Simon hedged.
“Short, succinct responses?”
“Well, I believe I was being succinct.”
“Such as ‘Yes’ or ‘Yes, Dear’?” I groaned, knowing both to be woefully inadequate under the best of circumstances.
“Um . . .”
I shook my head, “You didn’t say ‘Yeah’ or ‘Uh huh’, did you?”
Simon sat silent for a long moment. “That isn’t bad, is it?”
I let out a ring of smoke. “Let’s just say, your decision to leave the house at that moment probably did save your life.”
“Well, good then. So I am going to be divorced and you are going to lose your consultancy,” he said, with forced optimism.
“No. You can patch it up with her tomorrow, explaining to her that you’ve had your head so far buried up your own troubles so long you didn’t realize that it had actually become lodged in your ass,” I offered.
“Will that help?” he asked, sliding back into his stupor.
“If you can manage to say it before she brains you with a baseball bat, maybe.”
I looked over at Gertrude, who was ignoring the conversation and lying on his back dozing.
“Well, if you do lose your consultancy, you can always become an analyst,” Simon suggested.
“I don’t do psychiatry or psychotherapy,” I rejoined. “I just try to keep people from killing themselves in my home or office.”
“. . . or keep them from being killed at home,” he observed.
“In your case, that’s far from established,” I retorted.
“That she wanted to kill me?”
“No: that she won’t kill you tomorrow.”
“Oh, that . . .” he waved the notion away. “I’m sure we can patch things up the way you said.”
I looked at Simon. He was at least an affable drunk.
“Seriously, Cusper, what are you going to do? The way things are going, you won’t have any clients left by January,” he continued.
“I have been working on contingencies,” I said beatifically.
“You aren’t going to the dark side, are you?” he asked with genuine concern.
“Lobbyist or work for the insurance companies? Gods, no!”
“Good.” Simon drained his glass and cast out a lethargic hand for the decanter. “Better poor, starving or dead than working for those bastards.”
“Uh-huh,” I acknowledged his observation.
He couldn’t manage to get hold of the decanter and, within a few seconds, gave up the battle. Settling back into his chair, he looked out at the waxing moon, now almost entirely obscured by the Spanish moss covered branches. Within moments, I could hear the gentle thrum of his snoring as his chin came to lie upon his chest.
With Gertrude and Simon now both dozing quietly on the verandah, I could smoke my cigar in peace. Simon had not realized that I had simply side-stepped his question about the dark side. I had acknowledged only two of the evil overlords I would not serve. I had not, however, mentioned the third. The darkest of the dark side; the most reviled. Because I was fairly certain that was what I would soon be forced to do, and had I admitted it, it would have shocked Simon into violent sobriety.
A bird’s nest tumbled from the tree above. The raccoon leapt onto the roof of my house, and I was certain that this was somehow a sign that my journey to that third, darkest part of the dark side would happen soon.
I would become a consultant for motivational speakers.