My lawyer’s intern offered me a coffee while I waited. “Black and bitter, please and thank you.” He duly obliged and threw metallic into the mix for good measure. The intern, Matheos, would undoubtedly translate this little incident, as well as the other countless valueless moments of his internship, into a glowing retelling of how he was so privileged to learn under a beast of legal nous, soaking up morsels of fine-tuned analytical reasoning and argumentative prowess.
“How’s the coffee?” “It’s pretty bad, I have to say. But hey, who cares, right? Long as it wrings a cry from the old gastrointestinal tract there.” I rubbed my belly contently and smiled honestly. He looked at me with his mouth slightly agape.
My lawyer’s office door opened and a fat man with thin eyes walked out. He did not look at me or seemed to notice my existence. I stared. His bald head was freshly shaven, as was the rest of his face. Only those slivers of eyes remained to adorn that fleshy blob. I liked this shoes. No, I loved his shoes. Brown leather loafers. They looked painstakingly carved from still-living mahogany and varnished over and over again for a hundred years. I fantasized about prying the hard briefcase away from his meaty fist and smashing his head in just so I could nab those loafers.
“Alia’s ready for your now”, the intern’s voice interrupted my daydream. I picked up the beautiful mug with the nasty coffee. “Thanks for making me feel like your number one client”, I said. “Good morning to you too, Gianni”. “It’s the afternoon”. “Don’t act like you didn’t wake up just before having to come here”.
I raised my hands in meek surrender. “Let me guess. The Blue Siren.” “Your spies deserve a raise.” “Right, let’s get on with it. Who’s dragging you to court this time?” “You think so little of me.” She seemed unamused and tired of my presence already. “I need you to write my will.” She laughed. “Why are you laughing?” “You couldn’t have picked a more tedious request to waste my time with. My intern can draw one up for you. In, say, thirty years from now?” “As much I appreciate your intern’s ability to navigate simple paperwork I’d prefer if you handled this for me.” “Fine. See you in about seven American presidential terms.” She had sip of water and started shuffling some papers around, looking to cross out the next task in her moleskine.
“We don’t have that much time, I’m afraid.” A brief moment of dead air and inaudible gears turning. I pushed out a wink and a smirk. She looked perplexed then sad before settling on stark. “What did they find?” “Colon cancer. Stage three. Not so much as catching it late as the ball being the size of a flaming meteorite and flying straight through the damn mitten.” I fake chuckled. She didn’t react. We’d always been honest with each other. She did not condescend. “I’m sorry”, she said. It was blunt and succinct but she meant it.
She turned to her laptop. “There’s a form.” “There’s always a form.” I finished my coffee. It burned my stomach lining beautifully. “The questions that follow”, she paused for a second, “some I know the answer to, but I need to be thorough and ask as if we’ve never met before.”
I stayed silent for the next five minutes while she filled in the more trivial parts of the document. I noticed that her desk was quite bare compared to the elaborate bookcase behind her. Both were made of walnut. The desktop had a grand total of four items on it. The laptop, a cream-coloured leather coaster, a journal, and an unpolished cast iron cube with four holes drilled into it which functioned as a pen holder. The bookcase, wall-to-wall wide and floor-to-ceiling high, seemed to have a system. Legal volumes in the top three shelves, Greek, English and Russian dictionaries along with several history books below that. The bottom shelf, itself protruding further out as it doubled up as the ceiling for the cabinet space below it, contained books on philosophy, knowledge management, public speaking, diplomacy, politics and economics. The additional space on the extended surface of the bottom shelf was riddled with a handful of statuettes and several award plaques.
“You know, we’d save a lot of time if I just told you what I have and who’s still alive to get it”, I said, interrupting her form filling. She looked up at me. My phone vibrated. A message from my ex wife. “Don’t forget to pick up Eve from swim lesson. Drop off at my mom’s. No chocolate!”.
“Just a second,” I said, “have to text someone back real quick”. “Does she know?”, Alia asked. “Not yet. I found out ten days ago myself. I’d rather have everything sorted out before I let her know. Also, you know, she doesn’t like me much these days and, I guess, I don’t want to leverage this to dilute her true feelings. I mean, it’s inevitable that she’ll have pity and maybe some sympathy for me but I’m just not ready to invoke that yet.” Alia seemed unamused but said nothing and nodded. My phone vibrated again. A second message. “Swimming now at Olympia academy by the football stadium. Cheaper.”
“Would you like another coffee?”, Alia asked. “Yes, but only if I could personally ask your intern to make it.” “You’re such a dick.” “What’s his name again?” “George.” “Right.” She called his name. He walked in. “George, my man, I am in desperate need for another cup of magical brown poison. Change nothing. If it doesn’t taste like a bag of nails I’ll have you take it back until you get it right.” I showed him my teeth. He offered a timid “yes, sir” and went away.
“Are you sure you’re 44 years old?” I mimed spitting in an invisible dishcloth and polishing my bare dome of a skull. “Pretty sure”, I said. She let off an exaggerated sigh. “Wait”, she said, before leaning forward and sniffing vaguely towards my direction. “My god, did you roll up before you came here?” I said nothing and just closed my eyes for a few seconds, my shoulders slouching into the nonexistent depth of my chair. I stood up and walked to the right side of her desk. I picked up one of the framed pictures behind it. “Graduation day, huh? London, right?” “That’s right.” “You know, I think curly hair suits you.” “You’re a stylist now?” “Anything to pay the medical bills.” “Healthcare is free.” “Not every course of treatment.” “Treatment?” “Whatever.”
My phone started vibrating again. Alia gestured that I had her approval to tend to it. A message from my daughter. “Swim class finished early daddy.” I text her back that she can start on her homework in the reception area and to tell her coach that’ll I’ll be there soon to pick her up.
“But I’ve procrastinated. I have about nineteen grand in the bank. I want ten of that to go into a fund that can’t be touched until Eve turns eighteen. After that I want her to have it.” “All of it in one go or in stipends?”, Alia asks. “All of it. It’s not much. She might need it.” “OK. What about the rest of it?”. “I want three grand to go to Maria and three grand to my brother.” “Alright.” “My apartment…”. Alia interrupts me. “You own that?” “Grandma’s gift to her favourite grandson.” Alia’s doubtfulness turns to trace contentment. “As I was saying, my apartment will go to my brother. I’ll talk to him about it. It can fetch about 900 euros a month in rent. I’m going to ask him to split that income evenly between himself and Maria.” “Why not leave it to Eve?” “Maria owns her place now. Eve has a foundation to build a life on. Nikos has had some trouble with the business.” Alia acknowledges my reasoning and writes this down. Turning towards me again she says: “I know math isn’t your strongest suit but I know you know there’s three thousand euros unaccounted for.” “Funeral costs. Like a good little mongrel dog I take care of the shit I leave behind.” I laugh. “Your self-deprecating shtick is so thin, man.” “I know.”
Two timid knocks on the door. “Come in”, Alia says. The intern comes in with the coffee. I grib the wooden armrests and push myself up. “Your coffee, Mr. Gianni.” I take the mug with my left hand. I use the other to pat the boy on the shoulder. “Thank you, George.” I let my hand rest on his shoulder for a second longer than it needed to which throws him off even more. My presence jumbles his rhythm like an aggressively demanding father at his kid’s recital. “You’re doing fine, George. Alia, I’m sorry, Miss Nonda is the best lawyer in the city. You’re lucky to learn from her.” He looks nervous and lost but he knows that he has to acknowledge what I’ve just said and so he does. “Thank you”, he says, before leaving the room with the empty mug of coffee from earlier.
“Your indirect flattery gets you no discount”, Alia says. I laugh weakly. “Honestly, Gianni, aren’t you scared?” “Every moment”, I say with no hesitation. “Since finding out”, I look into her eyes, “I’ve been afraid of my own damned reflection”. I giver her respite and look beyond her. “But the more I process this the more I accept it. I’m still bitter, believe me when I tell you, but I accept it.”
I close my eyes and tilt my head backwards. “But you know what stings the most? You know what makes me feel rotten?” I pause. Alia is not afraid to let me know that she recognizes a monologue when she sees one and doesn’t gap-fill like an overzealous dolt. “Being unable to take care of my kid”, my voice trails off. “Well, every two-bit asshole feels bad about that. It’s an easy cop. Even murderous lunatics have honest affection for their children. Effortless. And not only that, but it fucking flatters them, it elicits sympathy. No, what actually dumps salt and powdery rust on this festering wound of a finale is that one day Maria might have found it in her heart to take me back and I won’t be there to capitalize on her error of judgement.”
Alia looks truly uncomfortable for the first time but it only lasts for a few moments. She smiles a weird accusatory smile. The cold bitch, I love her. “Is that everything with the will? I assume personal possessions go to your brother?” My mind quickly goes through all the shit I in my apartment that I use to lean for personality traits. An Umbro football jersey from 1998, a discontinued copy of ‘Internal Affairs’ complete with no less than six scratches on the jewel case, a hardcover of Stanley Kubrick’s “Drama & Shadows”, a signed and framed poster of Terence Blanchard, a leather replica of a 1930’s football with its cheap boobjob of needless decorative stitches, and so on and so forth.
“Yeah, everything, my brother knows how to disseminate them to people. Pretty certain he’ll keep the sports stuff.” She made a quick note and told me she’ll update the will accordingly. I nodded and thanked her. She stood up and walked to the window, drew the burgundy curtains apart and opened it, letting fresh cold air in. Turning towards me she took out a pack of cigarettes out. “Want one?” “I thought you’d never ask.”
I took my first long drag and washed it down with lukewarm coffee. “Actually, there is one last change I want you to make.” She breathed smoke out of her nose and gestured me to go on. “211 euros. Take that out my brother’s cut. Give it to my dad.” “That’s an oddly specific amount.” “It’s an oddly specific reference”, I say. “Do I dare ask?” I smiled like a devil who hadn’t quite met his soul quota that week. “A long time ago, when I was a fresh-faced romantic, I used some of the allowance he used to send me for university and booked a plane ticket. A three day trip to Belgium. Quick visit to my girlfriend. Long distance and all of that. A few days before the flight he checked my bank statement, as a guardian and guarantor of the account. He flipped out, called me long distance to bark down at me about priorities and hard work and ‘living it up’ on his dime. So, me being me, I cut the trip down to roughly 26 hours, thinking that a compromise would fix things. I disappointed both parties. I became single soon after and I haven’t looked at my dad the same way since. The most aggravating aspect was that he was making good coin at the time too.”
She didn’t patronize me with any ‘stuck in his ways’ nonsense and just scribbled the amount down. We finished our cigarettes and gave each other a quick hug. I walked to the lobby and shook the hand of the intern and thanked him for the beverages. My eye caught a Lacta bar on his desk. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind going to the other room and making a few copies of a form I had no use for. I pinched a five euro note from my wallet and left it on his desk before taking the bar and stashing it in my coat’s side pocket and making my way to the car to pick up my daughter.
Traffic was a nightmare, stop-start stuff. I crawled to yet another stop. First in line at a red light. I felt a little listless, listening to the engine idling, eying the space ahead that I could not yet move into. I scratched the stubble on my jaw. My phone flashed up at the same time the amber light glowed bright. I drove. I arrived at my destination six songs and one radio ad break later. I checked my phone before getting out of the car. A message from my ex wife letting me know that one of our daughter’s friend’s father gave her a ride to her grandmother’s house, followed by an apology for the lack of any substantial forewarning.
I looked at my car’s digital clock on the cheap plastic console. I wondered if it was broken. Stuck at something past six. The sheer state of living felt viscous. Time seemed to struggle to move forward. I thought of my expiring existence drip-fed back to the universe with scant mercy, molecule by molecule. Each one vibrating to the jagged freedom truth purports to bless us with. I thought about the coffee I had earlier. It wasn’t so bad, in recollection.