The judge knocked his gavel twice instead of the once as is so common in television programs. He pronounced the finality of the divorce without saying another word. Molly Parker didn’t move at the strikes. The divorce was official and she felt nothing. For four months it dragged on with her alone in the condo sitting in front of the television trying not to think about what would happen on this day though it always phased in and out during commercial breaks and trips to the kitchen leaving her to push it aside — hoping it wouldn’t come again. The day that she would be free that amounted to feeling nothing. The three hours in court simply passed. For a while she thought of doing laundry when she was done, missing something important that she failed to grasp through the trailing words. She tried to conjure up emotions when she realized what had happened — the day that Art would be in her past and whatever her life would be would finally happen. The peanut gallery cheered at the conclusion. All of Molly’s friends were there to comfort her and congratulate her. She moved from the front of the room back into the theatre where they all said their best wishes. At first she tried to keep track of who said what to catalog for later use, (if one were to partition the responses it would go about half and half well wishes and how-are-you-doings with subdivisions around getting-back-in-the-saddle and coffee-tomorrow?). She nodded in the end and just wanted to go home and draw a bath and do laundry. Friends bounced in and out of her vision as she pushed through the dozen trying to wish her the best in the end. Dom gave her an exit. He knew what would happen on the day, he had been there through it all, he saw it as inevitable — friends all expressing their best and closing in with well intentioned hugs and her wishing to get through another day. He was a part of the how-are-you-doings division, but didn’t need to really ask.
He drove her home.
Dom continued the how-are-you-doing while she stared out at San Antonio passing her by while following the tracing paths of pedestrians speed past and then slow to a crawl as she stared them down. Her brown hair mashed against her forehead and felt like sandpaper whenever she shifted but she didn’t mind. Pedestrians held fixed positions as she traced their paths. She hadn’t talked to anyone in the past two weeks, Dom was the last she said a word to. Dom reached out an arm to calm her and it felt like something she should enjoy but she didn’t. Instead his hand laid there. He tried squeezing her shoulder while driving but she didn’t move or respond. She thought back over the past four months. The proceedings went quickly, very quickly according to her lawyers. They told her that she was smart to hire a private investigator to catch Art (now ex-husband but she doesn’t know what to call him now — she doesn’t even want husband associated with her and for a while she just refers to him as that man before retreating to just ‘him’). Dom always reiterated that she was smart — it was his idea to hire the private investigator. He was always there throughout the divorce. Coming and going through the condo, picking things up when he was there, sometimes cooking meals. All of her other society friends tried to cheer her up by taking her out and arranging men to hit on her. Dom was simply around to watch a movie with or talk to over supper. She swiped his hand off her shoulder. She also looked when he said she shouldn’t and partially blamed him for ruining her marriage by giving her ideas about Art. Now she just wanted to unravel from the day and relax in the end.
They arrived at the condo and Molly oozed out of the car and stumbled for a few steps. Dom rushed around to help her and led her to her home (she got the condo, and the car, and the vacation home on the Gulf). She pushed Dom away — his mothering, his constant attention, he would probably want to come up and clean the place. It didn’t take longer than a vituperative sentence aimed at pushing him away for her to move from him smothering her to wearing wingtips to a divorce proceeding when all of her other friends showed up casual and how he was always fussy like that and antiquated, he still carried a handkerchief with him everywhere even though he called it a pocket square (she knew they were the same though he always protested), he once said m’lady to a girlfriend (and she mocked him mercilessly for), always held doors open for her, always pulled the chair out for her, all the little old style things built until she pronounced him a bore. But not a bore as a flippant aside, but as a judgment of character that he was worthless and never belonged to her circle of societal friends. She took it back and said good night. Dom stood in the underground parking lot and then shuffled to his car after Molly disappeared into the elevator.
Molly Parker stepped out of the elevator at her home that felt like a new home. She reminded herself that it was hers now after she destroyed it so if Art ever got it he would have nothing. Inside was the deconstructed husk of what it once was when Art still had his things in it. On nails still standing from removed artwork she had hung socks and leggings in place. The bookcases had been deconstructed in a thorough manner as she took book after book off to read briefly and then leave it laying where it was and if it was one of Art’s she had torn the pages out and strewn them over the room and if was hers she would later hurl against the wall for ever bothering to read it. The dry wall was pock marked where the bindings struck. She kicked off her heels and slipped out of her dress, letting it fall to the ground, and smiled at the chaos. She didn’t want to come home to a clean palace waiting for her to kick her feet over the arms of the couch with a glass of wine in her hand. She wanted it all destroyed. Before drawing a bath she reached down to nick a leftover slice of pepperoni. Around her feet were a few cigarette butts (she had started smoking in secret long ago but Art never let her do so openly). The rest of the apartment was silent. She loved it for a moment. The pizza was dropped and a half smoked cigarette was picked up. A few ash flicks later it was stubbed out in the carpet. The apartment screamed at her that she could be careless now. Molly went to draw her bath, hesitated for a moment and left, then returned with a half full pack of Spirits balancing them carefully on the side of the bathtub so that they might just fall in the water but anyone who’s done this knows that only happens maybe half the time and still do it.
The water was not quite an inch high until she slipped in. The chugging warmth over her feet that barely ran up the subtle incline brought the relaxation she desired. Something to feel again. She lit a cigarette and laughed at herself, choking it out. It was over. The place was hers as the thought repeated itself in her mind. Art would never again enter it. As the water filled she spread her legs apart and played. She thought of the tall Italian lawyer that represented her and how she started to have fantasies about him throughout the trial but still felt a vague obligation to Art whenever she acted in any personal way on it. But nothing happened. As the water filled and she tried harder, imagining his soft hands running over her breasts with his head buried below, but she could only remember the way Art used to touch her. She stopped all together when Art’s face appeared in her mind with his sappy grin that lured her into his bed to begin with. She went to curse him for getting that in the divorce, but failed to finish through with any of it and instead dragged on her cigarette. There was no more energy to hate him anymore. The water chugged against her toes and that was all she really felt of substance. It was all over. She would have to start again. After shutting off the faucet she became just another recent divorcee in midday San Antonio smoking a cigarette slowly realizing she would have to clean as soon as she got out of the bath. But before that she sank low in the bathtub so the water covered most her face and she played submarine with a cigarette as the periscope.
Out of the bathroom she roamed with her hair up in a towel and nothing else. She had ditched the his and hers robes just after she kicked Art out. Pizza boxes in the living room went first. And then nothing else. It was going to be done later in the day, or maybe tomorrow when she would whip herself up to cleaning mood. The boxes went by the door (they couldn’t go out because she didn’t have a robe on). Books were kicked into clusters, though assorted by author. Cigarette butts could be grabbed by a vacuum cleaner when she cleaned. She milled around a few more edges of cleaning. After nibbling for half an hour the room improved (only if one were to ignore the four months of carnage elsewhere in the condo). She smiled on her good day’s work and let her hair down. It was not as lonely in there once she had the TV to keep her company.
Friends had been calling and leaving their congratulations that the scum was out of her life. For the first few buzzes from her phone still on vibrate she ignored. The tv continued to drone and cancel the buzzing. An episode of Frasier, where Frasier dressed up as a clown, was on and she caught the part just where he almost scares Marty to death. Molly smiled. Her phone kept buzzing. She prayed that the batteries would just die so she could be done with it and have an excuse for her friends on why she never called back. It would only be filled with well wishers and people wanting to get coffee and ask her how she was doing when she would say that it’s great to have the place all to herself and she would finally be able to move on and others telling her what a fucker Art was and how they didn’t know what Molly saw in him and she would grinningly say that she didn’t either as she took a sip of coffee but she knew that she did fall for him and deep down she still missed him four months later and couldn’t sleep in the same bed (she slept in the guest bedroom). Art treated her like a servant over the years, but she still loved him, she couldn’t choose who she was going to love. It was just one of those things. Whenever she tried to get away from him she would just end up crying and falling into his arms. She didn’t know why. She hated herself for being so weak. But she couldn’t sever it. Not until she saw the photos. She tried to watch television to drone out her thoughts. Her friends didn’t know better, they just didn’t know, they didn’t know what it was like to be in a loveless marriage where one person still loved the other and then to have that legally removed. It was lonely, and isolating, to have such definitive proof of him cheating all those years when she always expected it and longed to know for sure and in the end the knowing was just as bad since she couldn’t continue believing his lies and comforting herself with them. Failure. In the end it felt like a failure. That she had done something wrong to drive him to another woman, that she had him for a while and made a mistake that he couldn’t forgive. Midway through a Seinfeld rerun the events took her and she fell asleep. She stayed on the couch until the next morning.
Morning was not kind nor a new beginning or any platitude. Molly thought of what she would say to her friends and what she wanted to say and the thoughts never lined up in any coherent structure that she could maintain from one call to the next. The apartment no longer was a delightfully chaotic homestead of a bachelorette that was out on the town living life, it was just dirty. She didn’t want to move from the couch. But she did. Pages crunched under her feet causing her to slip several times on the way to grab some ice cream from her stash and eat that for breakfast. It went down quickly and like cigarettes it’s only good for twenty minutes. She thought of running another bath, but didn’t work up the energy. The morning trudged on and the sugar rush from the ice cream disappeared into a headache around noon. She couldn’t bring herself to go back to eating pizza off of the floor like a frat boy in Art’s day and instead ordered some chinese food for lunch (and dinner) and decided to get dressed using the towel she left lying on the floor. And it was only because she had to order food that she plugged her cell phone in. She waited with a soap on in the background for noise. She passively absorbed it, knowing it by heart without having seen it. On the bottom of the bookshelf next to the TV she could see the Harlequins that she wrote. Soaps use a similar formula to romance novels.
There are of course the initial introductions, where you meet the main characters, and it’s often a turning point in their life (sometimes it’s a murder trial, other times moving to a new city like New York). There some crisis often spurs action that leads to the love interest, other times it’s intrigue set up by a non-chronological beginning that is built up to throughout the novel where they encounter the love interests along the way (Nothing Lasts Forever). The love interests fall madly in love. Or sometimes not. If the former then there must be a barrier keeping them apart (think Shakespeare), or when not then it’s something that builds off of mutual hatred as their constantly forced together in increasingly improbable situations (Pride and Prejudice). The keystone event is either when that barrier is overcome (Romeo and Juliette run off) or mutual hatred must be met by a common foe (or obstacle) that only working together (or a demonstration of love) can overcome/confront the situation (Lydia eloping) and there they find that they love one another underneath it all as their passion erupts. Then the protagonists are off together happily forever with one another whether the book says so or not. Once you know the formula you can spot the characters and how they line up easily. Soaps are like this too, it’s easy to spot the upcoming twin introduction so long as you read the digest. Molly Parker knew this formula by heart and took some joy in seeing it played out hour after hour on broadcast television. Some may sneer at the formula, some may think that a story is only good because it’s original, but Romeo and Juliet is not original (it’s Pyramus and Thisbe replayed). She missed her chinese food delivery. It was left cold by the door. She didn’t miss the call, all her friends had stopped after the first day, she just didn’t care to get up for anything but ice cream — part of it was because her friends had stopped calling. She fell asleep on the couch again with a half pint of ice-cream forming a slurry in the stained carpet.
The day after passed as it did before, except that she found the chinese food out in the hallway.
And then the next day almost the same as well. The phone only rang once. And she picked up. It was Dom. He apologized if he did anything wrong, he didn’t mean to upset her in the car. She said it was her fault. It was. She continued that she didn’t mean to go off, she just didn’t know how to feel. Dom nodded and then remembered he was on the phone. She laughed when he mentioned it. They paused and she fidgeted. Dom was to come over.
Molly paced. She didn’t know what she was doing. She wanted to be left alone but desperately wanted someone to talk to. Dom would be there in about in somewhere between 30 and 33 minutes (he was especially prompt like that). He would definitely clean, she knew this for a fact. He hadn’t been over in the past two weeks as the mess grew exponentially as the final court date loomed and the cigarette butts appeared and then finally the draping of socks and leggings after Art came by with his lawyers to seize his artwork in the process of doing so belittled her by jabbering on about the state of the condo and her lack of being able to do anything by herself. Dom had seen the previous messes but this was the torrent of a depressed mind.
Molly liked Dom, not that it was romantic, but it wasn’t just a friendship. He always took care of her and she didn’t want him to see just how far gone she was, but he was the only person she could actually talk to about what was going on in her mind. The ice cream pile went in the trash and filled it to the brim. Then another trash bag to clean up the rest of the mess, but she was out, or couldn’t find them, it didn’t matter. Instead of cleaning any more she just sat down and finished her second to last cigarette of the pack. It was humiliating to have him see the state of the condo, what a grown woman did freely. It was humiliating for him to see her. She wanted to be bubbly like she once was, to be carefree once and for all, a woman to be loved rather than a chain smoking mess. She wanted someone to help her pick up the pieces and hold her.
After finishing the last cigarette she heard him knock. She yelled that it was open and he let himself in. It took him about a minute to survey the situation in the living room before deciding how to clean but also what to do. Then he saw her through the kitchen door. Molly was sitting on the floor with her head leaning against the handle of a cabinet half smiling at him having come through the door. Dom had known her for years through Art. But Art was never a friend that was truly a friend. Instead, Art was someone to go out with because he always knew the newest underground restaurant or the best place to get tacos in the morning after a night out drinking. Art drank with Dom a lot while married and Dom never thought highly of him for doing so. For a while it was fun, but then Dom started going out with Molly and her friends. It wasn’t something he planned, he just came by to pick up Art to see Europa rescreened at the university. Art bailed due to a work emergency and suggested that Molly go along so that she would go out with someone other than her little circle of catty friends that drove Art up the wall whenever they came over. After that she started inviting him along for bottomless mimosas at sunday brunch with the girlfriends and they all loved him immediately. Dom slowly walked through the mess, careful not to step on anything and grind it further into the white carpet. Further into the apartment at the kitchen door frame he found her sitting with two stubbed cigarettes next to her, her curly brown hair matted on one side of of her head and splayed out frizzy on the other (he laughed at her in a friendly way), and he tried not to stare at how her towel hugged her curvy body, but still lingered for a second as his eyes traced down to her legs. He also noticed that she hadn’t shaved her legs since he last saw her, but didn’t care. A pack of cigarettes appeared from his pocket and he handed her one (he doesn’t smoke). There wasn’t much else to do but sit down next to her. The kitchen was a hazard zone that would be worked on first. It once was a palace of granite and Vulcan that became a repository for fast food containers. From the floor it would have been possible for Molly to spy some green mold forming in the bottom of what probably once housed pho. And then from where they were sitting he could see the leggings mounted on the wall, bright pink against slate. He laughed and she playfully took offense.
He came by to tell her that tomorrow was sunday and wondered whether she wanted brunch. She did, she’d like that a lot. She sighed and leaned her head against him and stared out on the atrocity. Dom would clean it. She wouldn’t have to worry about it at all. He started talking about nothing at all, just work tidbits from the psych lab he was working in (programmer for them), how his lab assistant undergrad was trying to seduce him by altering her skirts higher and higher, and how he repeatedly heard the research professors reiterate how much they loved having a computer scientist on board to help with the modeling. Molly asked if he ever thought about sleeping with the assistant — he had. Then she asked how his date with Katerina had gone. She was an civil engineer who had a fascination for pink. Cute, bubbly, not exactly Dom’s type. He didn’t want a girl for a girlfriend. And he especially didn’t want someone whose idea of sophistication amounted to wearing higher high heels or watching Spielberg movies with the commentary on. Molly laughed when he said that Katerina pronounced foie gras as fooie grass. She was fluent in french and had the bare knowledge to pronounce pho as phuh. Then she sighed. She said that she probably couldn’t date for years. Just the thought of being with another man conjured up the probability of infidelity. But she missed being with someone, someone who didn’t make her feel powerless. Molly didn’t know how Dom felt about her, otherwise she would have retracted, or never even said, what she said. She had just been with Art since college and he was her second boyfriend.
He was older and sophisticated and always seemed to know everyone to the point that it was irritating, but he always knew where to go and what made her knees weak. He also had a way of nibbling and lightly biting her left earlobe in a way that her previous boyfriend never seemed to learn. In the end, Art was the man that made her girlfriends jealous of her and she loved that, she loved that she had a man no one else could land and then marry him and remove him from the pool of eligible bachelors. She looked up at Dom. She didn’t think he was like that.
Dom told her that April and May were looking forward to seeing her again. It had been a month. Molly snorted at the prospect of talking to her friends. April and May, two societal fixtures in Molly’s life that domineered her and the group. She loved to go out with them and Dom and get bitchy about the boys that they met and how they longed to have a man in their lives where they constantly envied Molly for having landed such an accomplished architect. But when with all her circle they dominated with small remarks to put everyone in their place, including her. May often talked about marrying whatever boy she was with at the time and then critiquing all the other men to make hers sound better, or in Molly’s case, how she treated Art. They loved Dom though. They would constantly ply him with questions and ask for advice on what men think — he was their beard — and they would try to set him up on dates. There was one, it was with a girl that he couldn’t remember her name (there were so many fix ups they all blurred together), she was a friend of May (which should have been a clue about what sort of girl she was) and started talking about how cute babies were on the first date. Then it spiraled into her baby craze of wanting something to take care of and didn’t mind the idea of waking up every three hours to crying. Dom isn’t opposed to children, but the constant barrage of baby talk by girls that had never really lived irritated him. Molly was the only exception to the rule, but he didn’t know why.
He didn’t have the easy life growing up and it showed in the circle. May and April were both born into conservative money and their views of the world were reflected in that. They opposed his philandering at times (though it was hardly philandering), and they also politely mocked him for not knowing as much high culture as they did. Instead, he grew up blue collar as the son of a mechanic. Through high school he worked at the shop all afternoon until close doing menial chores before graduating to work on cars with his father. He loved his father, he was never held down or discouraged, he was instead uplifted and embraced in all that he did. But his father could only provide so much and only so much could be learned as the son of a mechanic. In high school he was never picked on though he loved computers, working in the shop built him into being a football player. From that he got a scholarship to Wisconsin where he played for three years until getting a degree in computer science and exiting sports early and indefinitely. His father helped him move out to Palo Alto where he got his PhD (he loves calling himself a computer scientist). It was there that he met Art (and then Molly). They were all a class of people that he never encountered. As part of the out group he spotted that Molly didn’t belong there either, but had the education to maintain the facade. The group was judgmental and catty and she played the part with them but never gained entrance to their exclusive club. Dom never knew how to approach her. He always thought she would be a model (though she wasn’t really that striking), but never worked up the courage to talk to her. Later, she bonded with Dom because he wasn’t anything like them. He wasn’t judgmental or catty, though he could bitch with the best of them, and he always was someone to talk to, not converse with like May and April, but talk to about serious matter and he would understand them empathetically.
In the end, Molly didn’t have any true friends outside of Dom. Friends that would never judge her harshly or bend her to silly rules. Just an ear and someone to go out with. The divorce made it all the more clear that she was alone except for him.
Dom suggested that Molly should take a bath and get cleaned up. By the time she was done the place would look better. Molly agreed and went off. She felt better with him here. He made her feel secure. Dom set to work gathering up the empty take out containers, she came back out of guilt and haphazardly tried a few times to help (it just made things worse). Eventually Molly gave up and let Dom do his magic. He had been cleaning up after her for the past four months as she slowly slid downward into depression and loneliness. He would come over with a movie or some new music and they would listen or watch together. It was how she made it through it all. As she left to take a bath she pecked him on the cheek and said thanks for being a good friend. Dom sighed when she left. He found the trash bags sitting on the plates in the cupboard. He didn’t usually fantasize about Molly. He pushed it down while she was married and further down when he knew she was vulnerable. Only once in a while did she really assume any sort of sexual position, but the thought of her slipping into the tub started an obsession he couldn’t shake. He could see her before, sitting there in her towel, nipples almost visible through the thin beach towel, and it was the clearest picture of her that he had encountered outside of when he went to the pool with her a year ago. He could see Molly sitting on the side of the tub with her feet in the water, splashing lightly waiting for it to fill, while her buttocks rested on the side of the cast iron. Then sliding in and running a loofa over her breasts. He pushed it out. Dom was desperate and he knew it. And he knew that being desperate and being lonely rarely work out in any way and would ruin their friendship — that would always come first for him. Still, Molly and her friends kept setting him up with other girlfriends that never went anywhere so for nine months he had gone without sex or even a second date. He said to himself that maybe one day it would work out and left it at that.
The cleaning went fast and Dom didn’t mind. Molly wasn’t doing well, worse than ever, and he wanted to help for the sake of helping. While picking up some of the fallen pages he remembered when he first met her she was exuberant. He didn’t know anything about film, that was Art’s domain and Art was educating him in Danish/Scandinavian film. Molly knew everything from Von Trier to Bergman. He learned more from her than from Art. He was always learning things from her — she seemed preternaturally endowed with knowledge. A crush grew into an obsession for a period of time from their constant goings out under Art’s nose. He finished a gloss coating of the kitchen and moved to the living room. Then he found the cigarettes under all the pages. Underneath the stacks of books and newspapers were stubbed cigarettes. Packs and packs worth of cigarettes littered the floor being slowly ground into the carpet with each step, leaving the chemical smell permanently imbedded in the flooring. Molly smoked occasionally when she went out with him and the girls to go dancing. It was really only when she was drinking. But in the two weeks he had seen her she clearly went through pack after pack chain smoking leaving the apartment only for another. He picked up a half smoked cigarette and lit it for himself. She was so far gone. Two weeks before she had cut off all ties with her friends and himself to spin downward into self destruction. He called though. Molly didn’t answer. He knocked. She didn’t come to the door. It seemed at the time that the only reason she left the condo was to go to court where she wore the most seductive dresses she could find in an effort to make Art jealous, to remind him of what he lost. Dom knew what Art knew, she was a shell, just not how much of one though. She would sit there, numb, not reacting to anything. She should have been furious at times, sad at others, but nothing came. Instead, it was just passive absorption.
Dom stubbed out the cigarette in the sink. Molly didn’t need a savior, but she had to be saved from herself. Picking up would only cover up the problem. She needed a break from the hell that Art had dragged her down into. A break from San Antonio and her friends. He finished cleaning the clutter and food boxes while Molly pruned in the bath. The windows were opened to the hot June air of Texas that was muggy and stifling but less so than the smell of molding pepperoni. It sucked the life out of Dom as humidity flooded the dry air-conditioned condo and seeped into his lungs. It was not the crisp fresh air of the Gulf or San Francisco. San Antonio needed to disappear along with the rest of Texas. He pulled his laptop out of his bag and looked up plane tickets to anywhere on a coast. San Francisco, L.A., Miami, and then France. His lab didn’t need any help that he couldn’t provide from half way across the world and his classes were months away.
The longest time he could visit with her and help her. They would sun together on the never ending beaches of Nice in the south of France and swim in the Mediterranean Sea and escape from her clamoring friends to a vacation half a world away. Without thinking another thought he purchased two tickets to surprise her (though, it was not entirely innocent).
Molly wrapped herself in a towel after barely drying off and left wet footprints on the tile floor (the carpet would dry her feet according to her logic) and let her hair fly free and oily. Dom wouldn’t mind, he never would, he was part of her girlfriends but closer than them. She missed her girlfriends but they would only offer platitudes. She wanted to talk to Dom, sit down with him and have an actual discussion about something she didn’t know of yet. She couldn’t talk about everything with Dom either, but he seemed to understand better than others. In the living room she found Dom hunched over his computer and paused for a second to observe him. He didn’t notice her. She didn’t know why she never found him attractive. It wasn’t that he wasn’t her type. Things just never seemed to line up between them. She silently laughed at herself, she probably would have cheated on Art first if things had been different and they weren’t friends first. And then he turned and saw her.
She was going to Nice.
She ran and hugged him and kissed his cheek.
He understood what she needed.
Dom saw some life come back in her.
Molly grabbed hold of her towel so it wouldn’t slip down as she ran to her room to start packing. Clothes piled up on the bed as she picked through her dresses and skirts and blouses to find the right ones to sun in and go out at night in and a few that she might want to seduce a man in. Dom continued cleaning and Molly came out time after time with a new outfit on to get his opinion. To him, they all looked good, but he tried to provide subtle critiques. She bounced in and out of the rooms searching for him as he moved through the condo armed with trash bags and a vacuum cleaner. By the time he had finished she had selected what was needed.
They left the next day.