This story is by Les Wilson and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“A great lay but a lousy wallet” Four years ago, signing their final divorce papers, that had been Vanessa’s take on him.
She got the house and contents, both cars, the chalet, and a lump sum in lieu of future spousal support. He got to keep his business and enough money, just, to pay six months rental on a run-down apartment, but little else. Her lawyers allowed him the contents of his clothes wardrobe, but she took away any self-respect that might have let him look good in them.
Vanessa and Damien had known each other since elementary school and had turned out to be a classic case of a small town, rich girl prom queen marrying “handsome most likely to succeed” lad from the wrong side of the tracks.
These days, his best suit was bought at a stretch from a thrift store.
He had, once upon a time, looked at himself in the morning mirror and told his dazzling reflection that today he was “Going to bust the ass off his profit target!” Today he was more likely if he could face himself in the morning, to think that he’d be lucky to have enough money to meet his utility bill at the end of the month.
His business had been a shining success, a car dealership with two prestigious agencies and a stream of happy customers. But when Vanessa divorced him, she took her expensive friends with her, and if they had an open order for a new car with him, they cancelled that without conscience or reason. Helped by some vicious small-town gossip, this had a ripple effect on sales, and only a couple of years later, the state-of-the-art saleroom had faded into a seedy looking used car lot, bereft of any shiny new cars.
The face and appearance that Damien showed the world had matched that rapid decline. But even that was not as low as his self-esteem. It had also not helped that his business strategies were being viewed through the perspective of the bottom of a whiskey bottle. Turning up drunk to meetings lost him both agencies. An “iffy” tax return had left him a hairsbreadth from a jail sentence. The hefty fine had cleaned his bank account.
One evening as he headed home, he chanced upon a fellow drunk, poleaxed and comatose in the street. An inner voice shrieked – that’s you in a couple of years! His next folly was to make his way to the nearest bar, The “Shotgun Saloon”.
“How long is it since you guys divorced?”
The question was asked with great delicacy by Iris, part-time barmaid and coincidentally a classmate from elementary school; also a sufferer of the consequences of divorce. Her ex-husband had left her with more debts than she knew about when he was around. Now she had to take any job to make ends meet.
“About four years and a thousand nights of….” Damien hesitated and said no more. Instead, Iris drew out from him the story of his married life. The bar was otherwise empty, so she was able to give him her full-time attention.
By the end of the evening, Iris knew, as she had guessed, that the cruelty and bullying that had been levelled at him was merely his reasoning with her to curb her spending.
Iris also found out that Damien knew about only two of the string of Vanessa’s extramarital bed-partners. It was not new for her to entertain that Damien needed to look at his lost marriage in a way that did not make him feel inadequate.
Next morning, Damien’s first realisation was that last night had been the first time that he had ever been openly critical of Vanessa. His second thought was how low he had sunk. His next reminded himself that he had lost any drive and motivation that he had ever possessed. By the time he reached the car lot, he had convinced himself that he hadn’t even had any in the first place.
It was a slow day for business – not a single potential customer on the lot. Damien had time to dwell on his failures, to castigate himself for holding a master degree in business administration and not being able to hold his business together. He reached to liberate a bottle from his bottom desk drawer – vodka, (it didn’t smell too much on your breath).
He heard a car draw up outside and left the bottle where it was.
The closing door meant a potential sale. He conquered his lethargy and made his way to the forecourt.
“What happened to Jeff and Rowley?” demanded a sassy voice he knew only too well – Vanessa.
“Economics,” he said. “I had to let them go because there were no sales.”
“It’s the way things are at the moment” she sympathised.
An awkward pause stretched as possibly both of them remembered attraction, good times, sex, and then the bitterness.
“Why are you here?” Damien barked.
“I came to let you know that I am getting married again…” Vanessa faltered.
“Oh” replied Damien in the way he would have replied if someone had just told him that a car had four wheels. “Poor bastard.”
“I just thought you might be interested,” she shouted slamming her car door and driving off in a puff of angry-bitter-rich-girl dust.
Another car drew up behind the settling mini-storm An older and more battered vehicle stopped almost sedately by comparison.
A cheerful looking man aged somewhere between mid-fifties and late-sixties approached Damien and shook his hand. “Hi – my names Markham – Luke Markham,” he continued, “I’m sure that you’re the man that can help me.”
Markham had a gentle, avuncular way with him, and Damien took to him at once. It turned out that he wanted to replace his old pick-up that had 180,000 miles on the clock with something more modern. He hoped that Damien could find one for him at a reasonable price and still make enough to have fair compensation for time and effort.
With little haggle, they agreed on a price – Luke Markham had researched the market before approaching Damien
To discuss detailed finance, Damien led him into the office and made coffee. As they went over the details, Markham revealed that he owned a company felling and selling timber, as well as managing a small forest. Damien asked him some perceptive astute questions about the firm as his interest sparked in the man before him and what he did for a living.
“It seems to me” observed Mr Markham “that you know a whole lot about the timber business?”
“I should do” replied Damien without pause, “I did my master’s thesis on the way that timber usage and manufacture could spark an environmental revolution given current technical advances.”
“Then why the heck are you selling cars for a living?”
“Needed quick bucks. The ex-wife had expensive tastes.” Almost true, though he had bought the business before proposing – but the gist was accurate. Damien registered that this was the second, no it was the third, public criticism he had made of Vanessa in less than a day if you included the epithet ‘poor bastard’.
He jolted back to the present and agreed with Luke that he’d deliver the car to the timber yard.
“But don’t you dare drive my vehicle if you’re drunk!” Luke demanded.
Damien’s shock was visible at fifty yards. Nobody had ever told him that his drinking habits were that obvious
“Takes one to know one.” Luke explained, “Been there – but threw away the tee shirt.”
Damien and Luke parted amicably and would be talking again when a suitable replacement vehicle was found.
It had been such an odd day that Damien felt the need for someone else’s perspective on it.
So he went to the “Shotgun Saloon” and sought out Iris.
She smiled and said, “Damien, you are a wonderful man underneath it – but you’re the only one that doesn’t know it.”
A couple of weeks passed before he drove the newish pickup truck to Mr Markham’s log yard.
Luke smiled, “I see you’re freshening your act up.”
As Luke showed Damien round the entire business, the older man’s expression softened even further as he watched Damien’s interest grow, and saw how the employees warmed to Damien.
At the end of it, he asked the blunt question, “Well Mr MBA….would you like to be a partner in this business?”
“Like a bear shits in the woods, I would……………but………” Damien responded
Luke told him he could sell the car lot for a down payment, they’d sort the details later. Damien could hardly believe his luck – he’d found his mojo again, he wanted to start there and then. They shook hands on it.
The first person Damien told about it all was Iris.