(1st Place in the Sydney Hammond Memorial Short Story competition 2023)
Today’s magistrate loathes me. I know because when he looks at my tie, his lip curls as though something’s off in the room. I’m sure he recalls buying a car from me years ago. The giveaway is his vengeful look cloaked beneath woolly undomesticated eyebrows.
‘For Mr Ternan, I award the house in Beecroft and the flat in Gordon,’ the magistrate says, while simultaneously smiling and frowning like an overripe Persian cat. ‘And of the share in the company formerly owned between the parties, he receives forty percent.’
I feel the toothpick drop from my mouth.
He then sneers in my direction, to finish with, ‘While the remaining six properties and company share goes to the former Mrs Ternan. I distribute all other goods and chattels in accordance with the lists submitted by their counsels. Good day to you both.’
Twenty-four years of marriage, six cars, two businesses, and one phantom miscarriage later, I’m left with four million dollars. While the ex-Mrs Ternan, née Codpiece, grins out of the courthouse with a hefty nine point eight million stuffed in her Gucci bag. It would have been ten big ones if she hadn’t spent two hundred grand on the best divorce lawyer in town. Whereas I picked a mate’s mate who owed him a favour and got a tenth of the fee and a third of the assets. Nicely played, Bill, you idiot.
Outside the district courthouse, the ex-Mrs Ternan, née Pesticide, marches up with her yeasty bulldog. The snorting, slobbering fellow looks like his face is about to implode. How the lad can take a dump with legs built like question marks is beyond me.
‘Here!’ A tentacle thrusts out the dog lead.
‘Mr Popperwell is yours.’
‘But I don’t want the dog.’
‘You should have read the lists better.’
Mr Popperwell sniffs my leg as though he’s never met me before. Even with his forehead pressed against my trouser leg, his nose is still an inch from the fabric.
‘But … I don’t want the dog. He’s yours.’
‘Not anymore. I have a new Lowchen x Cavalier King Charles puppy.’
The ex-Mrs Ternan, née Tapeworm, drops the lead at my feet and strides off before I can speak. It’s at this moment, as the magistrate materialises like a patrol cop in a school zone, Mr Popperwell proves me wrong by showing the world he has no trouble shitting. The crusty old judge gives me the pick that up face he’s undoubtedly given countless poor dog owners before me.
Of course, the darling hangs around to make sure, doesn’t he? I scan the street for a plastic bag. There’s nothing. The best I can do is dig out my clean hanky. The turd is huge and hot, and moisture seeps through the material before I reach the bin.
After a few false starts trying to get Mr Popperwell into the car, and with my hand pressed firmly against an old hernia scar, the new bachelors set off home. It takes three suburbs to realise we’re driving the wrong way. Palm Beach isn’t mine now. Bugger that woman; there’s a better pub and even better Indian takeaway around the corner from the Gordon flat.
‘What do you think, Mr Popperwell? How’s this for a blessed change?’ I say aloud.
Mr Popperwell is smearing his face against the passenger’s side window like a kid painting with snails. Something from his nose has left black lines across the glass.
‘You want some air? Gees, you don’t half pong. Didn’t Mrs Chlamydia ever wash you?’
On cue, he turns to me and farts wetly into the faux leather seat. I drop both windows, which creates a vortex of warm tar, diesel exhausts, and abattoir haze.
‘God Almighty! What’ve you been eating?’
Mr Popperwell has the good grace to begin panting.
‘I’ve never been one for following rules,’ I say with my arm across my face. ‘My view on life is if you come to a fork in the road, always turn left. You with me, buddy?’
Mr Popperwell doesn’t like the windows down. He takes to licking his balls, which comes as a surprise as I thought the ex-Mrs Ternan, née Formaldehyde, had neutered the poor sod. She’d made damn sure I’d been nutted before our first anniversary ticked over.
By my third beer, the pub’s wooden chair has become bearable, and my bachelor-in-arms is asleep with his head against my suede loafers. He enjoyed his saucer of Melbourne Bitter although clearly hasn’t the head for beer. The great lump must weigh thirty kilos, so I figured he could handle a whole can without breaking a sweat, but to be fair, he’s had a big day. Mr Popperwell wheezes gently as I scratch behind his ear.
‘Hello handsome man!’ says a woman out of nowhere.
‘You referring to me or him?’
The mid-thirties woman reaches down to pat my dog. ‘I love it when owners and their pets look alike.’
Being compared to an overweight bulldog would normally bring me to my feet, but when said by a girl with a smile like daylight and a chest you could rest your head on, instead, I automatically grin back.
‘Would you like a drink?’ I boldly ask.
‘That would be lovely.’ She takes a seat opposite me as Mr Popperwell grunts over so he can snuffle his dribbly chops against her outstretched palm.
‘I have a bulldog as well,’ she says.
‘Miss Mansfield’s her name. I think she’d like your manly boy here.’
Mr Popperwell starts making obscene noises into the hand of this poor woman.
The woman points to my pint glass. ‘I’ll have what you’re having.’
I stand to get my new friend a drink, and with a ray of sunshine returning, begin my fourth trip to the bar for the day, while behind me Mr Popperwell rudely embraces a stockinged leg.