To a man whose entire life revolves around the illusion of self control and discipline, whose very existence is owed to personal restraint and self denial, not of one’s faults and personal eccentricities but of over indulgence and spiritual corpulence, the prospect of losing control of one’s life, even a small part of its direction, course and speed is an open invitation to chaos and not simple parliamentary disorder but a personal hysteria that borders on madness and Martin Shaw was going mad.
Divorce is madness. Uncontrollable. Unstoppable. Madness. Divorce is amputation. The slashing off of an arm or a leg. The ripping out of a heart, a soul. The death of something that was once alive and vibrant. Madness. It is a process governed by others for others. An administrational labyrinth that few outside the legal profession understand or comprehend. Victims. Amputees. Madness.
“Welcome to Hell!” Martin snorted to himself.
The first rays of the morning sun began to peak through the trees of the rear courtyard of the Church of Pity in Venice, Italy. Ciccio, so called because his Italian employers could not pronounce his Senegalese name, had been awake and up for more than an hour. He had to be. He had recently been promoted to the position of Capo di Strada, boss of the street, of the Marocchini. Not that all of the black street vendors were from Morocco, actually most of them were not. Like Ciccio, they were from Senegal, Algeria, Sudan and the many other nations whose populations were predominately black.
The Italians in their ignorance called them ‘Marocchini’, Moroccans, and gave them diminutive names much the same as their dogs and cats and occasionally their children. Ciccio had long since put aside his outrage over their purposeful arrogance and stupidity. A street vendor such as himself would not change the Italian mindset and what difference did it make anyway? In a single season, from April to October, he made more money selling counterfeit Channel and Louis Vuitton purses and bags to the tourists and cheap but vain Venetian housewives than he could earn in two life times as a simple workman or pig farmer in Senegal.
But this season had been different. He had made more money this season than in any other and he was going to go home a rich man, albeit by Senegalese standards. The merchandise route was changed and quite unexpectedly. The purses and bags were still coming from the dark sweatshops in Turkey but they were being re-routed for a few days in between. Where, Ciccio did not know but there was always one purse or bag that was earmarked for a special buyer. Ciccio did not know why and the bag was always empty which puzzled him greatly but he was given an envelope of money in return for the special bag, a considerable amount that was then to be passed to another man who would in turn give him yet another envelope, a lesser sum was enclosed to be sure, for Ciccio.
“Half a season’s wages for an empty bag.” Ciccio mused to himself.
He would have immediately understood if the bags had contained some contraband or drugs. But they never did. It would have made passing sense to him if there had been some special construction to them such as false bottoms or secret pockets and hidden compartments but there never were any of those, either. The special bags looked exactly the same in every way as all the others except for one small identifier that marked them for the special buyer… a single yellow garment tag attached with a piece of string to either the shoulder strap or the zipper tab of the bag.
He had made ten such deliveries during the season and was told that it would continue until Carnivale in February before abating. He never knew when the special deliveries would come but he could guess that at the current rate and since it was only early October, he might make as many as ten or even fifteen more such deliveries. The thought made him positively giddy with excitement. But for all his good fortune he knew that he must be careful. Recklessness simply would not do. Besides the ever-present danger of discovery by the Police and authorities, there were the persistent rumors of Capo’s, and others before him who had become indiscreet and then disappeared. No one knew exactly where they vanished to; it was only said that they were swallowed up in ‘la gamba del mare’, the leg of the sea. Ciccio was not sure what the leg of the sea was but he knew it could not be good, for those who were swallowed up, never returned. No, he would not be careless or indiscreet. He would not disappear! He would be a careful man and he would go home with money! Wouldn’t his wife and children be surprised when he returned, late by three months to be sure, but a rich man!
Martin took a tentative sip of hot coffee from his mug and stared at the smiling faces in the picture on his desk. He and Elizabeth, arm in arm, smiling under a palm tree in Maui. It was their honeymoon. As a vacation it was disastrous. Their luggage had been lost on, of all things, a non-stop flight from San Jose, California. How luggage on a non-stop flight could be lost, Martin never figured out. It was found and brought to their hotel suite three days later. Three days into a seven-day vacation. The weather was dreadful. It rained hour after hour for days. The nightspots were deserted and barren of other vacationers except for a high school class reunion at the Blue Moon. It was not a school that either he or his new bride was familiar. But they didn’t care. It was their honeymoon. They were happy to just look into each other’s eyes for hours, rain or shine. They were thrilled to explore the jungle that was each other’s body and remained uninterested in the flora and fauna that was the rain forest about them. It was madness, but of a sort that he had embraced readily, greedily as he drank in the heady perfume of her body for the days that they had together.
He shook his head ruefully. One man’s madness, another man’s hell. And he was another man these ten years later. Was Elizabeth changed as well? He wanted to think that she was. Looking back at the tender young face in the photograph, he wanted to think, to believe that her present penchant for blood had not existed then. He wanted to believe that, like a medieval beast, her thirst for brutality was a spell or an acquired taste and that of her own doing but he knew better. No… he had helped. He was largely responsible for Elizabeth’s metamorphosis into the haggling vindictive crone she had become.
Martin pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger as he remembered the bad days. And that was precisely what his wife called them, ‘The Bad Days.’ Actually, it would be more appropriate to call them the bad years. Had it only been a matter of days, she could have lasted them out. They could have weathered them like the rainy days that seemed too never end in Maui. But lasting a storm that tears at the fabric of a marriage, that chews on a love between two people day after day for years takes a toll and tolls must be paid. In the case of Martin Xavier Shaw and Elizabeth Randolph Shaw, Elizabeth was the debtor and the price was her devotion and adoration for her husband.
Now Martin’s recovery seemed like a mockery. He had been clean and sober for three years. No more booze. No more drunks. No more black outs. He came home every night, if even a little late most of them. Work took on a new and immediate urgency when the boozing stopped. He had to have something to throw himself into and his office seemed the natural place. The days got longer with each month of sobriety. Suddenly eight or nine hours were not long enough. Twelve and fourteen hour days became the norm and some days even longer. Where he had drank every penny before, now there was sufficient money to live. Not that they didn’t have possessions. Oh, there were plenty of those. Three houses, rentals and a summer cabin in Tahoe. Antiques in every home. Cars, a boat. The latest technical gadgetry in each abode. Everything that kept them ‘up’ and even slightly ahead of the proverbial “Jones.” Surprisingly, there were very few bills. Martin could not recall how they had come by all these things. Drinking had kept his brain adequately addled so that when he sobered up, he suddenly realized that he had the proverbial “Wonderful Life.” But by that time, it was too late to ask his wife how she had managed the money or even why. She had and that was all there was to know. One day the fog of bourbon or scotch or whatever his latest poison was, lifted and he found he was surrounded by finery and comfort. It should have been the perfect ending to a Grimm’s Fairy tale. The frog that was magically turned into a Prince and then went on to live with the Princess in the castle. There was just one small glitch. Somewhere in between happily and ever after, his Princess had learned to hate him. She regretted the day that she had graced his lips with a single kiss and like Rapunzel, wanted out of the ivory tower. His recovery from alcoholism was ‘great’, ‘fine’, and ‘marvelous’ but she was too tired to go on. She had dragged him out of too many bars. She had rescued him from too many jails. She had gone to court with and for him too many times and had told more lies and made more excuses for him than she could count. Clean and sober, he still looked like the disheveled, stinking, puking, ignorant ass she had, had to manhandle one time too many. Madness. Divorce. Amputation. Death.
Martin drew in a long breath and sighed heavily.
Of course it hadn’t always been so dire and terrible. When Elizabeth had met him, Martin had been young and alive. More than that, he had been attentive and sweet. He had treated her with ardent tenderness and affection. He had pursued her with fervor and had won her love with his devotion.
They both attended a small two-year business school just outside of Wichita, Kansas. She was attending principally because she didn’t want to be a farmer and University seemed a likely place to find a husband. It was just far enough away from home, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that she no longer felt or was under the heavy handed influence of her mother and father, both of which wanted her to marry a local boy and stay on at the farm. Steven Lundquist had been the object of her parents amorous meddling. He was perfect for them. His family lived close and had a large farm. He had grown up knowing he was the son of a farmer and would be a farmer himself. Since the Lundquists had four boys, all older than young Steven, it was common knowledge that he would inherit only a small part of the family farm. Elizabeth’s parents, however had no son and only one daughter. It seemed a perfect solution for her to marry Steven and then they would manage and eventually inherit her parent’s farm. Steven was more than willing. He loved Elizabeth. For Elizabeth, there were only two small problems… She did not love nor even like Steven and she detested the idea of staying on the farm for the rest of her life. She wanted so much more for herself than crops, cows and chickens. Convincing her parents that she should attend a small two-year school in Kansas had been difficult.
She had to justify her reasons with several lies about studying business, if only for a couple years, to give her an academic base from which to operate and manage the farm’s money. But lie she did and convincingly enough that the following September she packed and left with the grudging blessings of her mother and father. That she had no intention of studying or managing a farm seemed to escape the immediate notice of her folks. That she had no intention of marrying Steven Lundquist or staying on at the farm seemed equally far from their grasp of reality but she was free and she knew it. She had two years to find a suitable husband and convince him to marry her and take her away from South Dakota, Steven Lundquist, her parents, their dreary farm and their dreary dreams. And all the while that this was being done, she had to make her prospective husband think that it was his idea, that he was pursuing her. Five days after arriving on campus, at a freshman ‘get acquainted’ dance she met Martin Shaw and a two-year plan was quickly brought on line and instituted. Martin Shaw, California boy, was woefully unprepared for the proverbial farmer’s daughter and never knew what hit him.
“When the Lion Smiles” © 2011 by Mitchell L. Peterson
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