Sara had wandered to the outskirts of the North Courtyard. Her arms crossed behind her, she silently soaked in the weeping lace leaf maple and moist ferns. After a while, she felt the crunch of high heels pressing into the gravel path, and Gina’s voice tapped her forcefully on the shoulder.
“There you are, Miss Sara.” Dark eyes scanned the floppy spruce trees covered in stiff, square needles. “It’s pretty,” she said with respect to her friend, who found something in the outdoors that forever eluded Gina — like the Easter egg hunts of her childhood that she avoided because she might stain her dress. “I brought you something you could eat.” She held a plate loaded with pasta, kale, and squash, and wrapped in cellophane. “I noticed the caterers bungled your meal. You know, I’ve come to expect a certain level of incompetence around here.” She cast a backhanded wave of the gardens as if the spruce were responsible for the mishap. “But this really dills my pickle.”
“Thank you,” Sara replied, “but I just had some of Cindy’s cake.”
“Oh… that… thing.” She squeezed the knife resting on her plate. “I thought it was a little too spongy, thick, and syrupy. Where is Cindy now?”
“She went back inside with Jane.”
“Ah…” Gina set the plate on the bronze head of a Native American girl that looked like she was sticking out her tongue. “So have you heard from Matt?”
It occurred to Sara that she and Gina talked more about Matt now than before she’d left him, but perhaps that was because when he was her husband, he was a settled issue, a matter of fact they could put aside while they discussed other things.
“Yes, early this week. He wants me to have the house.” Sara also added, as if reading directly from a formal document, an exact dollar amount, which startled even Gina with its magnitude.
“I’m so relieved,” Gina said breathlessly, as though she’d successfully fled a grizzly. “I’m glad you won’t have to worry about money. I didn’t think Matt would be petty about the settlement.”
“I don’t want it.”
“The house? Oh, it’s full of memories, I know, but that can be overcome. It’s also a Seattle Box, which is harder to move past. Still, you don’t even have to think about it until you’re ready. You have a deep cushion, so you can…”
“I’m not taking his money, either.”
Gina reached up and flicked away something that buzzed near Sara’s honey-blonde hair. “It’s your money, too,” she stated.
Sara folded her arms, and although she never slouched, she managed to stand even straighter.
“No. It’s not. I didn’t earn it.”
“Neither did Matt!” Gina snorted. “Don’t be prideful. That’s how Atlanta wound up an ashtray.”
“It’s not about pride,” Sara insisted. “You didn’t take money from your parents for grad school or for your home or for…”
Rubbing her eyes with her fists, Gina broke in, “I had a job!”
“So do I.”
“Honey, any vocation where you leave dirtier than when you showed up is not worth discussing. You’re better than that.”
“This isn’t philosophy class! Now, I have tried not to meddle, but there’s a limit to how long I can stand by while you come down with the crazy pants! Whatever Matt might have done or didn’t do is not worth you ruining your life! Just. Take. The. Money! Consider it an extremely favorable fee for your release from the marriage. Matt will feel better about the whole thing knowing you’re not sleeping in your car.”
“That’s not his concern anymore!” Sara realized she’d addressed the emotional instead of the practical: “And I don’t have a car. Besides, no matter what, the divorce is finalized in thirty-seven days.”
“Unless he contests it.”
“He can’t.” Sara’s lips puckered from the sour taste of her words. “OK. Yes, I know he can legally, but that was never the agreement we made. We both have to choose to stay together.”
“You’re expecting logic from a man you’re divorcing,” Gina said, shaking her head. “You’re expecting logic from a man.”
“Matt will respect my decision.”
Gina pressed her hands together as if at prayer.
“I hear you. Look, accepting the settlement… taking what you are owed… doesn’t mean you have to keep it. Well, all of it, I mean. Choose your favorite charity. Give to the poor. Just don’t become one of them.”
Sara squinted, and her tongue probed the back of her mouth, as if working to dislodge a logical inconsistency wedged between her teeth.
“Have you ever been poor?”
Gina drew back as if Sara had struck her.
“No! Of course not! No one in my family has.”
“Then how do you know it’s worse than this?” Sara flung her arm in the direction of the reception. “How do you know anything about it?” She moved in close to Gina. “Haven’t you noticed how terrified everyone you know is of not having enough? And the more they have, the more they’re afraid of losing. It never ends.”
“Is this when you ask me to hit you as hard as I can?” Gina asked, her hands on her hips. “I’m sorry. I’m being flip, but you’re acting like a little boy. They run around pretending to be ninjas or bass players because they’re living in a fantasy world. Girls play with well-dressed dolls and fancy houses, because they know what’s real!”
— from “The Wrong Questions”