Life is a domino effect. You know, where one domino falls to set the course of action in motion. And if you stop to think about it, really, life consists of a several sets of dominoes. A series of them. For example, there’s the “natural” set of dominoes, where the first one represents the moment you’re born, then the next one falls the day after you’re born and then you turn 16, 21, 40, 65, etc. before you die. Death is the last domino. You get the idea. Then the second group of dominoes is the one that you “plan”, the one you have control over. Like how you plan for your future. This includes things like planning for college, creating a career path, saving for retirement. You make a goal, a domino falls, you go about achieving it. Simple enough. Finally, there’s the third group. Dominoes called “skullfuggery”. This is the set where one domino falls and then another and another and then one day you wake up, look around–confused, disillusioned, spent– and ask yourself, how in the fuck did I end up here? This is the group of dominoes Randall is contemplating this very moment as he descends into the bowels of WoodshedDivine. Specifically, he thinks of one domino. The one domino that bumped into him, placing him here, in this law firm, on this ramp. That domino fell weeks ago, on a Saturday.
Lightning had struck the field at Henry’s game. The referees had hoped to finish the game before the deluge hit, ignoring the black sagging clouds as best they could. This was in spite of the fact that the boys ran with their eyes not on the soccer ball, but over their heads instead, fearing the cloud bladders that threatened to release on them all.
Henry had remarked how it was like Indiana Jones running from the big boulder at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
But out of the blue–or the black, as it was–the lightning had ended all speculation. And everyone’s instincts took over: they ran for their lives. Parents shuttered their chairs, absconded their kids, and skittered to the SUV-choked parking lot. God relieved himself.
The lightning turned out to be prescient. Randall had returned home before Rachel, before she said she’d be home anyway, having had to work on a Saturday, the only time she could finish a project, during Henry’s soccer game. How she hated to miss it, she’d exclaimed, kissing Henry on the forehead before she backed out of the garage. So now Randall made himself useful and started the laundry. He always did the laundry. Henry was preoccupied with video games as he sorted darks from lights. That’s when he spied Rachel’s briefcase leaning against the dryer, next to the door that went out to the garage. He immediately thought how bummed she must be that she left it, how impossible it must be to get any work done at the office. So then why did he decide to open her briefcase? Why does anyone do anything, really? Curiosity? Subconscious? He opened her bag, and there he discovered an oversized yellow paper back book: Divorce for Dummies. Dog-eared pages, sticky note bookmarks, the edges curled up like tongues sticking out. On the cover was an illustration of a smiling stick figure standing in front of a chalk board. Divorce for Dummies. Who was the dummy?
The domino fell. One fucking loud crash of a goddamn domino.
Now Randall stood at the top of the ramp looking down. The hallway stretched steeply, brightly lit with a contagion of crystal chandeliers. The ceiling sloped in tandem
with the marble floor, so when he gazed down the ramp he felt he could touch the chandelier in front of him, or, tragically, cut his head on a dangling crystal ball. Down he walked, steadying himself against the smooth mahogany walls. What twisted architect designed this place? Was this some sort of demented security plan, to make it hard as hell to get in–and just as hard to get out? He’d read in the news about manic clients going postal on their attorneys. Had this occurred at WoodshedDivine? Had a scared client walked this path, his black wingtips echoing crisply, his eyesight dazzled by a crystalized prism, before he suddenly snapped and rushed maniacally towards the door at the bottom that led to who knows where? He stopped, he looked back. The door from where he’d come was up so high, so far away, an exaggerated distance. A hundred yards? A mile? Like a stairway to heaven. He wondered: how fast could I scale the ramp, rush the lobby, stiff-arm the Purple Cigarette, take the elevator and hit the street? And where the fuck did I park my car?
He returned forward, bumped into a door. Dark mahogany. The bottom. His stomach burned. His pits flushed. His penis gherkined.
He brushed away lint, checked his fly. Knocked.
“Come in,” a voice replied. At least that’s what he thought he heard.
The door handle, a gilded lily, felt cold at the turn.
The motion was quick: another door opened, another door closed.
Gold glistened gallantly. It was as if the golden rays of the sun wrapped around his eyeballs, smothering them in a golden fleece. He took a moment to adjust. He blinked, squinted. He stood in a room straight out of Versailles. At once, Randall recalled Marie Antoinette’s living quarters, which had been one of the stops on his and Rachel’s honeymoon in Paris. At the entrance to the queen’s salon Rachel had gasped, leaned into him, and squeezed his hand, the soft warm skin on her arm touching the thin, blond hairs on his. Electric shocks had buzzed around his body, he’d felt oddly sexual towards her then.
“Mr. Goode? Sit down.”
The sharp voice came from the far side of the room, across an expanse of polished hardwood and woven rugs. A big haired woman, with her head down perusing papers, sat behind an elaborate desk emblazoned with a golden eagle relief. Like the ramp from where he’d come the crystal chandelier theme continued here. Even more so. From every section of ceiling, crystal stalactites refracted, reflected, blinded, and bounced golden pinpricks off mirrors and glass tables and curios and figurines and yellow-framed art and certificates and planters and golden silk furnishings set neatly about the room. Randall needed sunglasses.
But that wasn’t all. Flowers competed for attention. Exotic arrangements shot dozens of feet in the air, brilliant colors and eccentric shapes, licking the lowest dangling crystal nodules. Bouquets erupted from every cabinet, banquet, pedestal, and sconce. The air was a thick amalgam of sweet scents. At one glance it resembled a surreal wedding, at another a comic funeral.
“Sit by the fireplace,” the woman instructed.
To one side of the room, a chaise longue and Queen Anne chair were intimately arranged before a lively fire. He didn’t know which one to take, but then his mind cleared: in a room like this she takes the Queen Anne.
Abruptly, the woman stacked the papers hard and neat, and then, adjusting her concentration to meet his, she softened her manner and swiftly glided towards him. Yes, she glided. It was if she was propelled by an invisible hand. She was short and stout and wore a floor-length cloak. The cloak was elaborately decorated with what appeared to be outsized amulets, sickly white in color, leathery in nature, that jostled together in a thick percussion. He screwed his eyes into the dense, heavy fabric and the cloak suddenly came into view. The shoulders were capped with severed hands, like yellowed puffs you might see a decorated navy captain wear in an old British movie. Jeweled rings bedazzled blue fingers, gold-painted polish glistened from nails. A hairy arm, sawed at the elbow, was sewn into the breast, giving it the appearance of clawing out from her heart. On the opposite breast was a series of toes arranged in a bastardized crest. And a curvy line of thick fingers pointed to—oh my God—a head rising over her shoulder. The head was shrunk, pickled with age, puckered at the lips, with hollowed sockets. Wisps of hair floated fluidly like anemone. A buttoned eyeball kept the cloak clasped at the waist. Along the collar, in the shape of angel’s wings, a mosaic of teeth: coffee-stained bicuspids, chipped canines, capped molars, baby incisors, swathed in an ivory sheen.
By comparison, she, herself, was tame. The woman’s hair was big and white, her skin wrinkled and soft, her lips red and full. A grandmother. From hell.
He was shaking.
“Breathe, Mr. Goode,” she said in a friendly, crisp tone.
He hadn’t realized he’d stopped breathing.
“Yes, they’re real,” she said. And then she sat up proudly. “People I’ve skewered on the stand.”
The parts were exquisitely preserved, at least that’s what he assumed preserved limbs looked like, with the skin just paler than its previous pallor. He was overwhelmed with fear, void of a soul. Is this what horror is?
“I’ll take it off if it’ll make you more comfortable.” Her eyes were heavy with charcoal, but twinkling.
She tossed the dense cloak over her shoulder with ease. Randall followed its trajectory, and from the shadow underneath the chaise, the shrunken head stared up at him, mouth wide, a silent scream.
Without the cloak she was a small woman in a wheelchair. She wore a tailored gold jacket, skirt, and heels. She pushed the control stick, guided the chair, and extended her hand.
He shook her hand and forced an inaudible whisper: “Randall Goode.”
“Dan Causewell speaks highly of you, Mr. Goode. Please sit.”
Randall found it difficult to remember his own name, much less Dan’s, but he sat nonetheless and made a mental note to call Dan and give him an earful.
Beatrice leaned in, resting her arms on her knees.
“Are you prepared, Mr. Goode?”
Randall thought of the man who belonged to the head.
He nodded, then managed, “I didn’t finish the questions.”
“Your file–yes.” Beatrice smiled, but it wasn’t genuine. “People who are not prepared don’t win, Mr. Goode. You will be prepared.”
Randall felt like he was in the principal’s office back at elementary school.
“Divorce.” She began with emphasis. “Divorce is about taking apart one’s life. Analyzing it. Manipulating it. Reassembling it. Depending on the case, it can mean splitting millions of dollars like splitting hairs on lovely heads—or it could simply be exposing an individual’s foibles for one’s own gain. It’s personal.” She paused, thought a moment, then said, “I’m going to set you up for a psychological analysis. I’ll insist Rachel does it, too.”
“Divorce is an affair of the heart, Mr. Goode. I need to know your deep-seated emotional rhythm. Your wife’s too.” She suddenly stopped, let out a disgruntled breath, then produced an exasperating grin. “Sorry. I meant Ex-wife. Ex!” She slapped herself fiercely across the face. Imprints of her rings swelled red on her powdery cheeks. She shook her head violently, then, quite miraculously, her grandmotherly demeanor re- emerged. “I promise, Mr. Goode, I will never do that again. Do you believe me?” She gazed at Randall as if she needed his blessing to survive.
He nodded. The imprints in her cheeks seemed to pulsate with lives all their own.
“Now—where was I? Oh, yes…I need to know every part of you. Opposing counsel will create a lifestyle which you may or may not have led. The truth rarely matters in cases like this. It’s about perceptions. They’ll rip you a new asshole. Your Ex will discriminate, deceive—anything—to see that you’re exposed as a lustful pustule of a faggot.”
He grimaced at her insult, then said, “She had an affair.”
“Don’t be daft, Mr. Goode. You think the court frowns upon extra-marital affairs? Please. What they really hate is gay men with sons.”
Randall took a deep breath.
“The court believes that Mom’s the best person to take care of the kiddo—especially if the kiddo’s daddio is a queer-o.” “That’s harsh.”
“Rachel is hurt. You’ve stolen her trust, her life. She’ll spend tens of thousands of dollars to get that back. She will use your child—Henry.”
Randall looked boldly at her.
“Yes, Henry will become a bartering chip. Little Henry is worth a lot. You’re the goose, and she’s got the golden egg.”
“Whose side are you on?”
“The winning side, Mr. Goode. And it’s not going to be easy.”
Beatrice leaned back in her chair, then spoke slowly, dramatically, as if she were delivering a commencement. “You’re about to embark on a journey. Those who survive get their lives back. But before you survive—if you survive—you will experience a profound evolution. Mr. Goode, you will lose weight, then you will gain weight. Your hair will fall out and then sprout in places you never dreamed possible. You will drink to get to sleep. When that ceases to suffice you’ll add sleeping pills to your nightcap. Heartburn, headaches, halitosis, they’ll all become your friends. You’ll bark at the ones you love, you’ll kiss the ones you hate. Your shoulders will slump, your knees will ache, you’ll gag every time I call—and I’m on your side. You won’t take a solid shit for months. You’ll sin, repent, spend oodles of money. You’ll have sex with strangers in strange places. Your work life will disintegrate. And Henry, precious Henry, he’ll disown you. So will your parents. They’ll say they love you, that they want the best for you, but secretly they’ll wish you’d stayed married because now they have to deal with their own friends, not with just the fact that your marriage failed—which means you failed—but with the fact that you’re gay, which in their minds, means they failed. Everything that was yours and Rachel’s, as a couple, is still hers. Nothing is yours. Married friends will avoid you like the plague. All you’ll be left with is a Divorced Dads group in the basement of a church you don’t attend, the newest member of a group of sorry souls who look like they’ve been jacking off in a stall in a back roads truck stop. I know these things. Your mailman will become curious—even sad—when he starts stuffing in your mailbox thick envelopes from your wife’s attorney. Your mailman will wonder if his Christmas tip is going to be small this year since you, the so-called head of the house, the breadwinner, is no longer around to dole it out. That means, he’ll cut back on his spending this holiday, because other families might be divorcing on your block, just like you. The ladies who remain in those houses might have to move, and the house could sit empty for months, and still, the mailman remains on his route, hoping and praying a new family moves in so he can get more Christmas tips, so he can have a better holiday, so he can keep his Mrs. happy and stop her from divorcing him. See how it works, Mr. Goode? Circle of Life.”
Randall’s fear and anxiety evolved into indignation. He stood.
“With all due respect, Ms. Woodshed, I don’t give a damn about my mailman. And I don’t give a damn about you. Is this how you convince clients to pay thousands of dollars so you can spit out your shit-show philosophy in this glorified bunker?”
Beatrice snapped her eyes to his. A long pause elapsed. She nodded slowly, then accessorized the movement with a grin.
“Yes, Mr. Goode, you have a fire in you. Good. You just might have what it takes. Please understand: I am here to help you. We will be intimately involved, you and I. No, not sexually…. But we might as well be. We’re going to know each other pretty well. I need to know that you can take this journey. Can you take this journey?”
Yes, can you take this journey, Randall? That’s the million-dollar question. And speaking of a million dollars, do you have the money to pay this woman? Look at the gilded cage she hides in. Is this what you’re paying for? You, who barely have twelve thousand bucks in the bank. And how much is alimony? Child support? Henry’s college fund? What’s in your 401(k)? What’re you gonna do, you pitiful pauper, ask your boss for a raise? How do you ask Marty for a raise when he’s the one fucking your wife? And you’re gay. Jesus Christ, Randall!
Oh, the voices in his head.
He’d walked in wanting a simple divorce, an in-and-out job. Split the assets, arrange child visitation, keep friends and family neatly intact. He wanted to castrate Dan for getting him into this—is this what friends do to one another? Yet Dan had been through two divorces, and he’d come out emotionally and financially on top. And here was this woman, this bombastic woman, with her sympathetic wheelchair and Mrs. Butterworth charm, she was talking straight to him, spitting out the truth. She was successful, and his gut told him she’d be prepared for the proceedings. But would he be ready? Randall bore deeply into her eyes, into those long, dark, indigo tunnels, and there at the core, he caught a glint, a sparkle on a spire of the gates to salvation.
He sat down.
“You’ve made a brave decision, Randall. Thank you.”
Beatrice pushed a keypad on her wheelchair. The chandeliers dimmed, everything golden was reduced to a deep bruise. Then a spotlight shone, a circular sun, on the hardwood center.
A group of people vaporized out of the gray edges.
Beatrice maneuvered the wheelchair and slid beside him. She grabbed his hand and held it in her puffy palm. “Randall, dear, before we move on, we need to cover one more thing.”
Randall recognized the faces before him. Neighbors. Friends. His pastor. His mailman. Under the spotlight they positioned themselves in three tiered rows. They wore serious expressions.
“Divorce is an ugly business, Randall.”
“They shouldn’t be here.”
She squeezed his hand. “It’s important they speak to you personally—to say goodbye.”
“Is this a joke?” he asked.
“While you and I have been talking and getting to know each other, your wife— sorry, your Ex—has been defiling your name around the neighborhood. Divorce spreads like wildfire. Rachel is getting people on her side. No matter what you tell them, dear, they’ll believe her first, a woman scorned. Understand? They’ve written you out of their lives.”
“Damage control, Randall. You’ve moved out of the house; she hasn’t. She has to live next to these people. She may need them for moral support—or as witnesses. The best way for you to deal with them is to let them say goodbye. I may need to discredit them on the stand. And once I discredit them in court, I promise you, they’ll never be your friends again.”
Beatrice withdrew her hand from his and clapped twice. “Maestro!”
Music emanated from hidden speakers. An orchestra played a sprightly tune. It was a familiar melody; Randall struggled to place it. His friends and neighbors swayed in organized fashion, spreading their arms and fingers wide, as if they’d been preparing for this forever.
Sung to the tune, “So Long, Farewell,” from The Sound of Music:
[CAST OF NEIGHBORS AND FRIENDS:]
There’s a bad sort of clanging from the pots and the pans
And the crystal in the cabinet, too.
And up in the nursery it’s absurd in the `burbs,
Where two adults scream, “Fuck You!”
[JACKIE THE MAILMAN AND FATHER O’MALLEY:]
Fuck You! Fuck You!….
Regretfully, we pick sides.
Naturally, we pick Bride’s.
And say goodbye . . .
[JACKIE THE MAILMAN AND FATHER O’MALLEY:]
. . . to you!
So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, moron!
[MILLIE AND BILLY TAYLOR, NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBORS:]
We’ll smile, we’ll wave,
but get the fuck off our lawn!
[MILLIE AND BILLY JAUNTILY MOVE TO THE BACK OF THE GROUP.]
So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, faggot!
[BITSY, RACHEL’S BEST FRIEND:]
Please go blow your brains out.
[BITSY SKIPS TO THE BACK OF THE GROUP.]
So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, ciao!
[JACKIE THE MAILMAN:]
You’ll go, fo’ sho’,
I want my Christmas tip now!
[JACKIE HOLDS OUT HIS HAND. RANDALL STARES, SHOCKED.
JACKIE FLIPS HIM OFF AND MOVES TO THE BACK OF THE GROUP.]
[OLD MAN CONYERS AND HIS WIFE, MIDGE:]
So long, farewell, we’ve been spreading rumors.
His penis has a tumor!
[THEY SHUFFLE TO THE BACK OF THE GROUP.]
[THE MUSIC SLOWS TO AN INTIMATE PACE.]
[NEIL, PRESIDENT OF THE HOMEOWNER’S ASSOCIATION:]
I’m glad you’ll go, you bitched and moaned and whined.
You flit, you float, but secretly I pined.
[THEY DANCE, ARM-IN-ARM, TO THE REAR.
THE ORCHESTRA GOES SILENT, EXCEPT FOR A LONE VIOLIN.]
[PEARL, THE CONYERS’ CAT, STANDING ON HIND LEGS:]
I can shit on your lawn.
[PEARL LAYS IN THE CENTER OF THE FLOOR. THE CAST SURROUNDS HER.]
So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, moron.
[THEY WAVE AND ALLOW THE SHADOWS TO SWALLOW THEM.]
[RANDALL WAVES SADLY:]
The room goes black. All is still.
The chandeliered glow raises gradually to its full luster. The players—friends, neighbors—have vanished.
Randall stares ahead but sees nothing. Everything is in peripheral, a diffusion of melting lights and colors. His eyes push forward, surrounded by tears. He clenches his jaw, grinds his teeth. Up to now, he’d simply felt a deep regret for the divorce, for a part of him, guiltily, was giddy from coming out of the closet, from discovering a new-found world—a fluttery sensation that resulted from an immense weight being lifted from his shoulders. He’d hardly spent time on the dissolution of his life with Rachel.
But now a spigot loosens its grip. A salty drip, released on a bubble of air, flows slowly over the iris, blurring his world, escaping down the left side of his cheek. Then, with the tear released, something inside him, a muscle deep, turns the spigot off, and he hears a harsh fatherly voice from his tender past. Gotta keep things in check, boy. Don’t want an expensive water bill, boy. Only pussies have water bills. Grow up. No pussies here.
Beatrice pats her lap. “Sit,” she says softly.
He’s lost in the golden threads of her suit. He worries his weight will hurt her. She smiles as if she can read his mind.
“I can’t feel anything,” she says. Her eyes reveal downy quilts and Thanksgiving dinner. She is a magnet drawing him in, a positive charge pulling on a negative one. He succumbs. She throws an arm over his shoulder and motions for him to grab the control.
Randall touches the trigger and the chair floats on a cloud. Beatrice places her hand over his and guides the controls. The tear stain cools his warm cheek as they glide towards a sliding door. A hidden elevator. She maneuvers the chair in and pushes the button. The door whispers shut, and with her arm wrapped around his, the cubicle rises, generating a comforting sensation that he prays will deliver him to the street above and the light of day.