Marc sat in a room scattered about with half a dozen other quiet, solemn individuals. They sat on long wooden benches, lined like pews, divided down the center with an aisle. Next to him sat his wife,eronica, though she would not be his wife for much longer. The countdown was on. He could hear the death rattle. That was ok, That was fine. He was fine. He was absolutely fine. At the head of the room a man, older, gray, bespectacled, sat behind a raised dais rattling off words in a bored and practiced monotone that he had rattled off a a dozen times this day already, would continue to rattle off after they had gone, would do so tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day. A middle aged woman with loop earrings and horn rimmed glasses sat to his left tapping away notes.
It was in the news recently that Chicago had a single, solitary day where not one man, woman, or child was injured or killed by gunfire. Not so in this room. This was an endless bloodbath.
Marc had no idea what t9 expect before walking into this room, drudging through January’s slush, removing his belt at the courthouse metal detector. He had seen too many courtroom dramas, too many daytime shows of judges berating the bewildered and lostsouls before them. Would he be examined and interrogated and forced to provide evidence of why and how this relationship just could not be saved? Would he be ridiculed and shamed for the failure of yet another sacred institution? Would Egyptian death gods weigh the contents of his heart? No, that was silly, bureaucracy was never that simple.
The divorce was four years in the making and, as such, welcomed. It had been a mixed bag of years where he had initially blamed her for all his misgivings, then blamed himself for their separation, and finally leveled out at a much more realistic and simple explanation of “I did some shit, she did some shit, you know, shit happens.” Resolved does not necessarily mean settled, though. Not in Marc’s head. As a naturally anxious man, his was a mind of infinite parallel universes where this choice or that could have mild or drastic alternate conclusions. Butterfly wings. Happy ever afters. Police involvement. Prison time. But mostly, almost always, it ended here, in this room, on these benches, with this judge. Some things just weren’t meant to happen
He sat next to her, quiet. She sat with her hands folded together, wearing a dress printed with purple flowers. She looked forward, ever forward. Three flat screen televisions had been flipped sideways and mounted on the back wall of the courtroom. Long vertical lists of names were scheduled throughout the day. There had to be dozens of names between those three glowing monoliths. He watched the judge drone off his words, had been for the past half an hour. A couple would approach, swear in, answer questions in yeses or nos, and be gone in five minutes. One after another. A goddamn bloodbath.
She kept her head upright and poised, respectfully, seemingly uninterested in the world around them, but it was his nature to examine and think and overthink and, eventually, panic. He noticed that, of all the people in the room, they were the only couple sitting together. He had sat next to her upon entering the courtroom, out of duty and familiarity.But now it seemed perverse and mocking. All others chose a side of the aisle, and it became clear that it was whatever side their lawyer had been assigned to. Names would be called, the selected would rise, file down the middle with a respectable distance, be rattled to in bored monotone, answer in equally monotonous tones. The judge would conclude with a “grant for the dissollution of marriage” and they would thank him respectfully and file back down the aisle, out the door. No rice, no applause, no fanfare. It was the photo negative of what put them into this position to begin with. It was a wedding in reverse.
It occurred to him that every one of the men and women in this room, every one of the names listed on those three glowing screens, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, began this with the best of intentions. They had drank the Kool-aid, most likely along with friends and family in a lavish and expensive procession meticulously planned step by step for months, maybe even years. They had all wanted happiness, the woman next to him included, looking ever forward. Behind them, on those three screens, there would never be a lack of names. Never be a day where that judge and his clerk just didn’t know what the fuck to do.
And that judge stationed behind that dias with his monotonous ritual of dissollutionment, was he married? How could he have any hope for his own relationship, watching this, day to day, year by year. Not just watching, but executing;, taking Old Yeller behind the shed and pulling the trigger. So many dogs gone rabid, what was to stop his own from doing the same? He must drink, Marc decided, or have a great fucking psychiatrist. He probably golfed. and did woodworking in the winter. He wasn’t quite elderly, but he was up there; she might already be dead, and he simply didn’t have to worry about it anymore.
His mind wandered.
Veronica was beautiful to him once, and she was still attractive, but she was no longer shiny and new like she had been. That was bound to happen, but he had seen her cracks, and she had seen his. She had been a hell of a bride, white and gleaming like a China doll. He had almost passed out on the church floor, watching her walk down the aisle. The officiator (not a priest, it was fairly non-religious) had to whisper his ear, remind him to breathe. Their family and friends had noticed and tittered. An adorable moment worth noting, the nervous groom swooning over his gorgeous bride. It was a good day. It was a good night. There was music and dancing and drinks and happiness. Veronica had vanished around eleven, a full hour before the end of the festivities, and Marc assumed she had drunk herself dumb; she wasn’t much of a drinker. As well she should, he considered; this was their day, let her celebrate how she wants. He continued on, socializing and thanking and blissfully, drunkenly happy.
Veronica had not drunken herself dumb. She had gone to bed in the honeymoon suite crying. He did not know that until she had confessed it to him, two years after their separation.
A couple walked out, separately. A name was called and two more approached the bench, separately, and stood by their respective lawyers. Marc and Veronic would be next.
He glanced at her hands. hey were folded over each other, but every now and again she would unclas[ and clasp again. A strip of gold adorned her left ring finger, briefly, before being covered with her right hand. He knew she had a boyfriend, they had been living with each other for years now. He knew her boyfriend personally, even; he had been at the wedding, drinking and dancing with the rest of them. He wasn’t upset or jealous when she told him, he had had his own fair share of girlfriends and flings during the separation. Life goes on. He couldn’t throw stones in that glass house. But a ring? Really? Was she crazy enough to do this all over again? Had she learned nothing? Nevermind the fact that the body hadn’t even cooled on this mistake of an institution.
Well, he sighed to himself, good luck to her.
The judge granted his dissolution of marriage. He pulled the trigger and the dog lay dead. The couple thanked him, were given their respective shovels, and hefted the body of their once beloved golden lab out the back door of the courtroom to bury in the backyard. His shovel had a string of cans tied and dangling, rusty and dented, clunking like hollow bones. Her shovel was adorned with a dirty veil, smudged with dirt and dust.
Their surnames were called, a surname that she wanted reverted to her maiden as soon as the ritual was done. He filed out of the bench and stepped backward, allowing Veronica to exit and walk before him, always the gentleman. They approached the bench and stood beside their respective lawyers.
Anubis towered before him, standing behind the judge and his clerk, black and foreboding, smelling pf must and time, He had the long muzzle of a dog perhaps a greyhound, and long pointed ears, all of lustrous onyx. His chest was adorned with a half circle of gold and jewels. His torso and legs were human, and an equally adorned loincloth fell to his knees.. His Left hand hel a scale, golden eagle, each outstretched wing dangling a disc on chains. His other hand was outstretched, palm up, expecting, patient. Marc felt himself reaching into the left fold of his sports coat (he had dressed nice for the occasion, it seemed only appropriate), rummage about for something lost, and with a pained grunt, handed him his heart, red and wet..
Anubis placed the heart on a disc of the scale; on the opposite disc lay a single grain of sand.. It tottered back and forth, up and down, like a playground seesaw. Anubis did not watch the scale. He stared forward, into a distance somewhere up and behind Marc’s head.
Marc glanced over at Veronica. He could not see her Anubis. He could not see her heart. That was her business, and hers alone.,
Sins were weighed.
Despite what politicians and religious leaders would have you believe, Jesus said not a single word of the evils of masturbation or homosexuality but he was, Marc had remembered from his youth, vehemently against divorce. Not that he believed in the sins of organized religion, or religion itself. He had given up that long ago. He tried to be good for the sake of being good. But it sat there, a kernel of unforgotten childhood shame; he could circle jerk day in and day out in some anonymous bathhouse with nameless gay men from here to eternity and Jesus wouldn’t blink an eye, but divorce, that was a major no-no.
The scale teetered and tottered.
His friend drove him home from a night of birthday celebrations. Marc was drunk. In the patio window of their small apartment, he saw Veronica waiting, expectantly. She wore the Halloween costume she had chose for later in the month, a witch’s gettup of black lace, low cut and revealing. Thigh highs adorned her shapely legs, exposing the tops of her thighs, creamy and pale and inviting. Marc stumbled in, wobbled, and promptly vomited on the floor in front of him. Twice. The world went black, and he woke the next morning with a vicious biting headache on the couch. The floor was cleaned and vacuumed. Veronica was at work.
There were nights, weeks in and weeks out, of silent condemnation for no particular reason other than Marc hated his job, passed by on a couch, inches away from Veronica, though it may as well have been an ocean of silence. Veronica sat next to him, equally silent. His job was difficult, no doubt; he was verbally and physically abused day after day by adolescents he had no real control over. He had no teeth and no support from his administration. In response, he was petulantly quiet. The one time he did speak, Veronica was venting about her day of work, which she hated just as much, dealing with backbiting middle aged women with nothing better to do with their days than to gossip and develop cubicle cliques. He listened, dully, absently, tuning in and out, before finally responding with, “I don’t care. Ignore them. Listen to your music. I don’t care.I can’t care.” She left the house and did not return for hours.
“I know I fucked up,” Marc pleaded to Anubis, “I know I did. I’ve come to terms with that. You’re preaching to the goddamn choir. That was shitty, inexcusable behavior. But that can’t be all there is. I can’t be judged on bad behavior alone. I was there for her. We wanted a baby, and she miscarried, and I was there for her. That ultrasound with no heartbeat, the technicians wouldn’t tell us anything and I raised hell, she was panicking and I raised hell! Every step of her pregnancy, I was there for her. Our daughter was born and I was the most dedicated dad I could be. I still am! Her family members would find their way to our doorstep and I took them in and housed them and fed them. And most of all, I tried making her happy. I tried so goddamn hard to make her happy for years! It was impossible. It was throwing boulders into an abyss. She was never filled, no matter what I did, she was never happy, and I just gave up. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to, maybe I was supposed to be relentless in a marragie, but I couldn’t do it, it was exhausting, and I gave up. Add that to your list of sins. I gave up.
Marc was quiet. He breathed. His face was hot. He realized his eyes were wet. He brought his hands, which had been splayed before him, placating, back to his sides. Anubis stood tall, oppressive, silent. The scale teetered.
And then he moved.
The dog’s head, black and stony, turned toward Marc and down, leveling gazes. Broad shoulders shuddered up and down in what appeared to be a shrug. His muzzle did not open, but a voice, deep and growling and ancient, reverberate into Marc’s chest and skull.
“You did some shit. She did some shit. Shit happened. You’re not the first, and you won’t be the last.”
The judge had no gavel, which silently disappoint Marc. His questions were done, and with that same flat, bored voice, he granted their disollution of marriage.
Just like that.
They thanked the judge and backed away from the dais. He thought maybe he should shake Veronica’s hand; it seemed a respectable thing to do, closure, a period at the end of a very long sentence. His lawyer, older, who had always reminded him of a heavy set Harold Ramis, caught his attention and informed him that the paperwork would be in the mail soon. Marc thanked him, turned back to where Veronica had been, but she was gone. The courtroom doors shushed shut behind her.
Marc returned to the bench where he had sat before and pulled on his coat. The clerk called the next name, the next execution. Two men, middle aged, took their places in front of the judge beside their respective lawyers. Nobody was safe now It was ten minutes after nine, and the first of the three screens beside the door wasn’t even a third of the way completed. It was going to be a long and bloody day, week, year, but at least the lawyers had something to do.