GREAT EXPECTATIONS

by Cheryl

He was a lot like the I.R.S. - the more I had, the more he took. During our six years, nine months and five days of wedded bliss, Johnny never lifted a finger to wash a dish, cook a meal, or take out the garbage, never a word to thank me when I did, which was every single day. He worked, you see, the fact that I also had a job was obviously beside the point.

My paychecks, he made certain, were always quickly spirited away into the bank, to keep the missus from frivolous temptations, like going to a movie or something equally extravagent on his God-given bowling-and-brewski Tuesday nights. I usually stayed home and read from the assortment of classic novels I've collected over the years, something he always dismissed as "la-di-da," which I suppose covers anything deeper than "Dick and Jane."

So when Johnny packed his bags and informed me that he'd quit the bowling league months ago, had been spending his Tuesday nights out IN with his secretary Doris, and was leaving me, it was actually more of a relief than anything. Except for the fact that he had cleaned out the apartment when I was at work that day. He was waiting for me when I walked in the door. "Everything's in my name," he reminded me. "Besides, I need most of MY stuff," emphasis on that word again, "to set up me and Doris' new place," as if he were expecting a housewarming gift or something. I wondered if K-Mart had a registry...

I made a quick survey of the damage. He'd left my clothing and toiletries, dishes and cookware, a couple of kitchen chairs, a TV tray, and my three rows of hardbacks on the bookshelf. That was it.

Johnny opened his briefcase and thrust a piece of paper in my direction. "If you'll just sign this agreement that says all the stuff I took is mine, and what I left behind is yours, I'll let you keep the apartment, the Toyota, and a couple grand." He knew our pre-nup, which I'd naively signed, would probably protect him, but he also wanted to avoid the hassle if I decided to fight him in court. So for the privilege of an "easy" divorce and keeping this cramped duplex, the 12-year old beater car and a fraction of our savings, while he feathered his love nest with our furniture and whisked Doris away for romantic weekends in the brand-new Cadillac, I just had to sign on the dotted line. And so, I did.

"Thanks sweetheart," he grinned as he handed me the carbon copy, "Someday you'll thank me for making this easy." And then he was gone. I sighed and made a cup of hot tea, and pulled up a kitchen chair and a TV tray. I retrieved an old, worn volume from the bookshelf, placed my steaming cup on the wobbly tray, and sat down. The book had belonged to my grandmother, and had first stirred my passion for the classics.

After a warm, comforting sip of Earl Grey, I flipped to page 100, and right there it was, in a place I knew he'd never look. The winning lottery ticket, to the tune of 12 million dollars. I'd bought it Monday from Janey, a 50-ish redheaded widow who worked at Lou's Market, along with a pound of French roast coffee beans and a loaf of warm, fresh-baked sourdough. They announced the winning numbers that morning, which matched Granny's birthdate and mine. I planned to surprise Johnny with the big news that night at dinner, before he sprung his own little surprise on me.

I called up the travel agency and booked a trip to the Bahamas - first class, of course. House hunting could wait until next month. Maybe something by the ocean, with a Lexus parked in front, a pool in the back, and a cute young gardener named Raul.

"Great Expectations," with its special bookmark, was returned to the shelf until I could get to the lottery office first thing in the morning. I could just see Johnny's face, opening a large manila envelope with a foreign postmark, finding a copy of our signed agreement, a newspaper clipping reading "Local Woman Wins Big!," and a lovely postcard of a Bahamian sunset, simply inscribed "Having a wonderful time..."

And for the first time in many years, I will be. Only the I.R.S. will be taking from me now. Well, a certain grocery store clerk who always had a kind word for me - often the only one I'd have all week - will share a bit of my good fortune too, quite surprised by the tip I'll leave her tomorrow when I pop in for a bottle of champagne.

In 48 hours, we'll be on that plane, just two tourists in island print shirts, who've lost the men we loved and spent our lives for, learning to laugh again beneath the tropical sun. And with the first of countless frozen fruit drinks in hand, I'll offer up a toast to Johnny:

Here's to you, sweetheart. Thanks for making it easy.

all rights reserved by author - 1998