Playthings

I raised my cognac snifter and gave my two friends a solemn look.

“To free men everywhere.”

Brent beamed and his eyes sparkled. “Welcome to the divorce club. It’s been two years for me, and Trev, my boy, I haven’t looked back.” He clicked his balloon against my snifter and nodded sagely.

Chuckling, Martin touched his balloon against out glasses, his spare form looking insignificant against Brent’s bulk. Then again, Martin had always been a rake, and likely to outlast us all with those vitamins and herbal crap he is consuming. When he gets onto his salesman platform and starts peddling natural foods, I could strangle him.

“You two are losers,” he declared with the authority of a happily married man. “Six years since Brenda and I tied the knot and it never came close to unravelling.”

“Only a matter of time,” Brent said comfortably, leaned back against the couch and sipped the fine Otard cognac.

“Never happen, Skunk.” Martin shook his head as he held his glass between both hands to keep the cognac warm. He raised the balloon to his nose and took an appreciative sniff. He gave me a quizzical smile and pursed his lips. “However, I’ve got to say that Anita didn’t go out of her way to make your life a rose garden.”

I took a swallow of my cognac and lowered the glass to the table with a soft click.

“She wanted eighty percent of the house and sixty percent of all my investments. Can you believe it?”

“So you told us already,” Brent muttered and fondled his double chin.

“Even the magistrate cracked a smile at that,” I mused. “We’ve been married for four years—”

“It’s been a grind for you. I could tell,” Martin interjected with malicious glee and downed half his cognac.

“—and she hadn’t contributed anything to the house or building a joint nest egg. At first, I didn’t even mind that she insisted on having her own bank account—”

“While she milked yours,” Brent added sagely, staring vacantly at his balloon.

“Agreed.” I nodded and gave a small shrug. “But—”

“Here it comes,” Martin said, grinning broadly.

“You thought you were in love, a love that would burn forever, and you granted her every whim,” Brent said. “Trev, my lad, been there myself. I warned you, but…”

We all had more than one drink and it was beginning to tell. The buzz in my ears had settled into a pleasant hum and I felt warm and relaxed, comforted with my friends around me. We shared everything since high school, and that included girlfriends. Over time, we diverged along different paths and the bond that held us together may be frayed along the edges, but it was still strong.

“I know. I didn’t listen,” I said. “Anyway, the magistrate gave her a hard look and I held my breath, knowing that he held the power to clean me out if he believed her sob story.”

“She was mining you,” Martin pontificated, shaking an index finger at me.

“That she was,” I agreed, glancing at Brent. “And despite your cynicism, I was in love! And I did think it would last forever. I believed everything she told me, and the fact that she was divorced didn’t matter.”

“Raging hormones,” Brent grunted. “That’s all it was.”

“Perhaps. The alarm tripped when she told me she couldn’t conceive. I wanted kids and so did she. At least that’s what she told me.” I raised my eyebrows and gave each of them a nod. “Then I found her stash of morning after pills.” I sighed morosely and took another sip of my warm cognac.

“At least the magistrate didn’t shaft you,” Trevor added and I brightened.

“She got twenty percent of my house value and nothing from my investment portfolio which I brought into the marriage. The best part was that I wouldn’t have to pay her any alimony, given that she was comfortably well off from her previous divorce, something that only came out during the hearing, thanks to the private eye I hired. The magistrate banged his gavel and that was that. I tell you, guys, the look of pure fury that Anita gave me would have melted a lesser man.”

“But being the hero type that you are, you survived the onslaught,” Brent said and chuckled.

I lifted my balloon in a salute. “Skunk, you never said a truer word. Watching the magistrate walk out, I felt the weight of the world—”

“Anita’s weight,” Martin added dryly.

“—roll off my shoulders. She cost me almost 200K all told, but I am shut off her forever. Bitch!” I downed the last of my cognac and looked at my friends. “I did love her, you know.”

“And I loved Nancy, but that’s not always enough,” Brent muttered, fondling his balloon. He gave me an appraising stare, then beamed. “Look at it this way. You’ll now have more time to play golf.”

I raised my empty snifter and laughed. “To golf.”

Martin glanced at his wristwatch and gave a long exhale. “I’ve got to be moving.”

“Or Brenda will bend you in two,” I added with a smile.

He chuckled and pushed back his chair. “Better believe it, but what a way to go.”

Making exaggerated groaning noises, Brent heaved up his ample bulk.

“I’m glad things worked out as they did, Trev.”

“It could have been worse.” Looking at them, I realized how fortunate I was to have them as friends. We no longer did some of the crazy things we used to, and the years have marched on as we changed, having to manage careers and relationships.

Skunk made light of his divorce, but I could see it had hurt him, making him more cynical. Having just gone through one myself, I was able to appreciate the change in him. Would I ever love again like I loved Anita? She was my first deep love and it burned with the intensity I was sure would last for all time. At first, she made me feel that it would. In time perhaps, I would open myself to another love, but I wasn’t too sure about that. Not right now. I knew that I would never again love someone else with the intensity and trusting innocence I loved Anita. Too many scars.

In a way, I envied Martin. Brenda adored him and he glowed when she was with him. They had their down moments like any couple, but those were like fleeting summer storms that cleansed the air. I envied him, but I was also glad for him.

I thought I had that same adoration from Anita.

* * *

I woke with a start, wondering what the hell happened. Yellow sunlight streamed through the gauzy curtains and I could see a clear blue sky.

The house shook and I jumped out of the bed wearing only my boxer shorts. An earthquake? In Melbourne? Australia experienced occasional tremors, but they were mostly mild, the continent being geologically stable.

Something crashed into the house and I could hear wood splintering. Thick dust rolled into the bedroom from the open doorway. What the hell was going on? I strode through the door and peered into the living-room. There was a gaping hole where the backyard wall was supposed to be and the ceiling had caved in. I gaped at the ruin, not believing what I was seeing. Something was demolishing my house!

Through the opening, I saw a large yellow bulldozer blade move ponderously toward me and I instinctively stepped back. There was also a hauntingly familiar background brrr sound. A sound I used to make as a boy playing with my tractor and crane in the sandpit.

The bulldozer blade tore through the house and the walls gave way before it. This wasn’t happening! I coughed as a wave of white dust rolled over me and I scrambled toward the opening. What I saw froze me and made me question my sanity.

A huge kid, perhaps five or six, long black hair framing a freckled face, held a giant plastic bulldozer in both hands and slowly pushed it toward the house, all the while making a loud brrr sound of a heavy engine.

I jumped out of the way as the ’dozer moved toward me. With a tearing crash, it flattened the wall of my bedroom and the roof fell in. The kid laughed, clearly enjoying the destruction. He saw me and paused.

“A worm!” he cried with delight and slewed the ’dozer bladed toward me.

“Wait!” I screamed in panicked horror. “I’m not a worm!”

The open blade loomed over me and I ran toward the back fence, but the kid was faster. The blade scooped me up and the kid lifted the bulldozer. Enormous blue eyes peered at me. The kid wiggled his index finger and poked me. I fell to the ground and shrieked in agony as I felt my broken ribs grate, hearing laughter that shook the air.

Clutching my wounded side, I watched in dismay as the kid positioned the ’dozer over the ruins of my house. He shook the toy machine and I scrambled back as the blade tilted down. Realizing what he intended to do, I screamed, but it was too late. He scooped me up again.

The blade tipped down and the kid shook the ’dozer, the action throwing me into the air. My mind going, not believing I was sane, I fell helplessly into the ruins of my house studded with broken beams, bricks and roof tiles. I struck the jagged edge of a splintered beam and bright blood spurted from a gaping chest wound. Darkness prevented me from crying out in agony.

* * *

I sat up in bed, feeling my skin cold and clammy. Sunlight slanted into the bedroom and I blinked hard. Looking around, everything was as it should be, but I could not shake off the vivid images of my dream. To double check, I glanced at my chest. No wound and no blood, and my ribs felt fine. Giving a long sigh of relief, I sat back against the bedrest.

“Trev, my boy, you’re coming unstuck,” I muttered and swung my legs out of the bed.

Something slammed into the house and I was thrown back onto the bed. Did a car just hit the house? Scrambling to me feet, I ran out of the bedroom, through the living-room and into the formal dining-room. Bright blue steel of a bulldozer blade tore through the front entrance and the wall collapsed. The ceiling above me groaned and sagged.

Hearing the familiar shrill laughter, I looked up as the ’dozer blade pulled back. Driving the yellow metal monster was someone I thought I would never see again.

“Anita! What the hell are you doing?”

To have a bulldozer plow through my house was one thing, but to see my ex-wife driving the thing jarred my sanity. This wasn’t happening and I was still dreaming.

“Twenty percent just wasn’t enough, darling!” she shouted above the engine noise and the ’dozer lurched toward me, belching black diesel smoke from its stack.

“Doing this won’t get you more!” I screamed at her.

“At least, I will have the satisfaction knowing that you won’t be getting your eighty percent!”

This wasn’t happening. She couldn’t be this insane.

I scrambled back as the blade ripped through the dining-room. I tripped and fell. A sharp crack above me made me look up in time to see the ceiling open up. I threw up my right arm to protect my head, knowing it to be a futile gesture.

Broken beams fell around me and I coughed from the dust. A section of ceiling plaster board gave way.

“Ah, shit.” I managed to mutter before an unbearable weight smeared me against the polished floorboards.

I thought I heard Anita’s shrill laughter before a bright light flared in my head and I felt nothing. There wasn’t even time to see my life flash before me like the throb writers made out.

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Copyright © Stefan Vucak 2017