THE PERFECT REVENGE

by Zalman Velvel


Joe and Heshey were best friends. They were best friends a long time, longer than Joe had been married to Maria, and they were to be married 50 years in June, which was two months away.

Joe was retired from a successful career in the sporting goods business, but Heshey was still active as an attorney. Heshey liked being a lawyer, helping people with their problems. He was good at it and his council was still sought after.

Heshey was surprised one morning when Joe placed three urgent phone calls to his office within 15 minutes of each other. After the last call, Heshey interrupted an important meeting and called back, apprehensive.

"Joe?" Heshey began. "Are you all right?"

"Hesh, I have to speak to you right away!"

"Can it wait until tonight, Joe? I'm booked solid until lunch, and then I have to be in court all afternoon on a deposition."

"No, Heshey. It's a matter of life or death!"

"Well, in that case, can you wait until lunch?" Heshey joked.

"If I have to," Joe replied, missing the humor.

"I'll meet you at Salinger's at 12:30, okay?"

"How about noon?" Joe argued.

"Fine. Noon then," Heshey agreed.

Heshey hung up the phone, distracted from the business at hand by the urgent tone in his best friend's voice. He resumed the meeting, and lost track of the time, causing him to arrive at Salinger's Restaurant 15 minutes late.

"I thought we said noon?" Joe said irritably, looking at his watch.

"And how are you, too?" Heshey said, offering his hand.

"Lousy," Joe said, shaking his hand quickly. "Sit down. I already ordered drinks."

"Nothing with alcohol for me. I told you I have to be in court this afternoon."

"Fine. I'll drink your Scotch, you drink my water," Joe said, moving the glasses.

Heshey watched his best friend down the Scotch in one quick gulp.

"So what is so urgent, Joe?"

"I want a divorce!" Joe blurted out.

"What?"

"You heard me. If I don't divorce that woman, I'll kill her."

"Maria?"

"Who else am I married to, jerk?!" Joe said, nodding to the waiter, who hurried off to get more drinks.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't you having a golden anniversary in two months? I received an invitation to a 50th wedding anniversary, didn't I?" Heshey asked.

"We mailed them out a month ago, when I could still tolerate her. Now, I hate her."

"Joe, come on. You can't hate Maria.."

"Heshey, if I don't get a divorce soon, like tomorrow, I may strangle her. Is that enough hate for you?"

"What did she do?" Heshey asked as the waiter arrived with two more drinks.

"She showed me her true self!" Joe said, grabbing the drinks from the waiter before he could take them off his tray.

Heshey waited for the waiter to retreat before he continued.

"Maria is a wonderful woman!"

"She has become the devil."

"What did she do, specifically?" Heshey asked, taking one of the drinks from Joe.

"She does nothing, that's what she does."

"What do you mean by nothing?"

"She does nothing for me. Nothing around the house. Nothing in the kitchen, Nothing in the bedroom. Nothing."

"Is there someone else?" Heshey whispered.

"No, of course not. Who would want her?" Joe said, finishing his drink. He nodded to the waiter again.

"She's still an attractive woman, Joe. She takes excellent care of herself."

"She doesn't keep herself looking good for other men. She does it to torment me. We haven't made love for months."

"Who's fault is that?" Heshey asked.

"Who's do you think? Look, Heshey, I'm still am a man. She's always too tired."

"Tired from what? You're both retired."

"She's tired from tormenting me. We argue the whole day long."

"What do you argue about?"

"Nothing. Everything. Little things, mostly."

"Little things like what?" Heshey asked.

"Little things like ... this morning, for instance. We argued about the coffee. She said I keep making the coffee too strong. I said all she needs is a little more milk in it. So I added a little milk to her cup and asked her to taste it. You know what she did? She spilled out her coffee without tasting it."

"You want to kill her over a cup of coffee?"

"You don't understand, Heshey. It's like that all day. If I told you the fights we had over this golden anniversary, it would make your hair stand on end. We argued over the flowers, whether to have yellow roses or red roses, over the wine, whether to have white or burgundy, over the main course, whether to have chicken or steak, or both. We argued over the clothes we were going to wear. We argued over who we were inviting. Heshey, if you don't want to defend me in a murder trial, you better represent me in a divorce. Consider it an emergency divorce. I need it now. Today, even!"

Heshey looked at Joe for a long time without saying anything.

"What?" Joe asked.

"I was just thinking, it you hate Maria that much, don't you want a little revenge first before you set her free?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, how much satisfaction will you get by divorcing her right away? She hates you, you hate her. You'll be giving her peace by letting her go."

"Yes, but I will get peace too."

"Maybe too much peace."

"How can you have too much peace?"

Well, she'll get the house, so you'll have to move out and get a new place."

"I'm looking forward to that."

"Maybe. Don't expect your children to visit you much."

"Why not?"

"They will be angry you abandoned their mother and broke up the family."

"But it was her fault!"

"They won't see it that way. Either will your friends."

"What about our friends?"

"Your friends are couples, mostly. The wives probably know about your constant fights with Maria, all from Maria's point of view. You know how women talk to one another about those things. The wives will avoid you because they'll think you'll poison their marriages. They'll keep their husbands away. You'll be know as 'the louse that left Maria right before her golden anniversary'."

"But she's the one who started the fights!"

"Joe, all in all, I'd say you'll be coming out poorly. You'll be living alone in a strange house in a strange neighborhood, with no wife, no family, and no friends. Except for me, of course."

"Okay, Heshey. You obviously think you have a better idea. What is it?"

"Well, I think you should do the reverse."

"Reverse of what?"

"I think you should be the perfect husband, not the louse. You should do everything you can over the next two months to make Maria fall in love with you again."

"That's crazy!?"

"No, hear me out," Heshey said, looking serious. "Slowly, and subtly, so no one suspects anything, you should become a model husband. Let everyone see how considerate you are, how much you care about Maria and her happiness."

"And then what?"

"And then, when Maria least expects it, and needs you desperately, then you ask for a divorce. Everyone will blame Maria because you were the picture of loving attentiveness."

Heshey waited for a reaction from Joe, who was lost in thought.

"Heshey, that's the most despicable thing I've ever heard ...it's cruel ... it's heartless ... it's so ... so ... PERFECT!" Joe said. Then he burst out laughing and screamed, "I LOVE IT!!"

The other patrons heard Joe's outburst, and stopped eating to look over.

"Shush, not so loud," Heshey cautioned.

"I'll be the best husband you can imagine ... everyone will see - the children, the neighbors, our friends ... then at the anniversary party, I'll be the perfect host, the sweetest husband, the kindest friend ... And then, at the end of the party... I'll make the toast ... I'll get up and raise my glass ... and ....I'll announce we're getting a divorce ...."

"I don't know if I'd go that far," Heshey warned.

"Yeah ..." Joe said, lost in a reverie. "It's utterly demonic ... so cleverly fiendish ... so wonderfully diabolical..."

"Joe," Heshey said, trying to interrupt his friend.

"I'll make a list of everything good I did for her ... and then everything bad she did to me .... and I'll read this list out loud ...that will be my toast ...."

"Joe," Heshey said, but was ignored.

"... and then I'll hand her the divorce papers and walk out. It's PERFECT!"

"JOE!" Heshey said, shaking Joe's arm, interrupting his daydream.

"What Hesh?"

"It sounds a little extreme."

"I need something extreme to help me keep my sanity over the next two months."

"Maybe it's better to hand her the divorce papers privately few days after the anniversary, and then leave," Heshey advised.

"No, Hesh. I want everyone to know how she's made my life hell."

Heshey started to say something, but stopped himself, and shrugged.

"Well, if that's what you want, Joe."

"Yes, that's what I want Hesh. When can I get the divorce papers?"

"See me the Friday before the party. I'll have them ready for you." Heshey took out his planner and scribbled in it, "divorce papers - Joe" and the date he would need them.

Joe looked at his best friend and smiled. He touched his arm.

"Heshey, thanks for being there for me."

"That's what best friends are for," Heshey said, smiling back, a trace of worry around his eyes.

Heshey was busier than normal during the next two months. He did not hear from Joe until the appointed day, the day before Joe's golden wedding anniversary party.

"Joe is here for his appointment," his secretary informed him over the intercom.

"Thank you, Leslie," Heshey said, rising. He went to the waiting room and saw his best friend sitting nervously in a chair, leafing through a magazine, distracted.

"Hi, Joe," Heshey said, reaching out and offering his hand.

Joe stood up and shook Heshey's hand.

"Here are your papers," Heshey said, handing over an envelope.

"Heshey, I need to talk to you. Can I come inside?"

"Sure," Heshey said, turning around. They walked back to his office in silence

Once inside Heshey's office, Heshey sat behind his oak desk while Joe walked around the room, examining and touching the memorabilia on the walls.

"I was glad you went to law school, Hesh," Joe said, straightening the frame that held his friend's law school diploma.

"Why is that, Joe?"

Joe ignored the question and examined the paper next to it.

"Remember how many times you flunked the bar exam?" Joe asked.

"I try to forget that."

"Three times. Your father and I were worried you were never going to pass."

"That makes three of us," Heshey agreed.

"How come it took you so many times?"

"I guess I wasn't a good test taker, Joe."

"No, you weren't. I think I got better grades than you when we were in school."

"Yes, I think you did, Joe."

"But you were always smarter, Hesh. How is that?"

"I'm not sure I understand the question, Joe?"

"Forget it."

Joe sat down, finally, opposite Heshey and looked searchingly at his best friend.

After a long silence, Heshey said, "So what else can I do for you today, Joe?"

"You're not happy about this divorce, are you, Hesh?"

"I would be lying if I said I was, Joe."

"Would you like to hear how these last two months have been?"

"If you want to tell me."

"I want to tell you ... because it was all your idea."

"Okay, tell me."

"When I left your office, I was happier than I'd been for a long time. I had a purpose in life once again. My mind was on fire with the beauty of our scheme. Maria was going to love me more than she ever had ... and then I'd be gone, and she'd be alone, with only herself to blame ... That very afternoon, I started off by bringing her flowers."

"A good start."

"She asked, 'What are these for?' and I said, 'For no reason. For just being you.' And you know what she did, Hesh?"

"No. Tell me."

"She started crying."

"Then it was a very good start, I'd say."

"Yes. But I didn't want to arouse her suspicions, so I waited a few days until step two."

"What was step two?"

"I took her out to eat at that romantic French restaurant, La Belle Amour."

"How did it turn out?"

"We had a delicious meal by candlelight. We finished two bottles of wine. I had to order a cab to take us home because we were both in no position to drive."

"Good," Heshey said.

"And that night, when we got home, I didn't make any romantic overtures, if you know what I mean. I just held her in my arms until she fell asleep."

"Did she suspect anything?"

"Not a thing," Joe answered.

"And then what did you do?"

"Well, the next day I stayed home instead of playing golf with my golfing buddies."

"You canceled your golf game!?" Heshey asked, surprised.

"Yup. I went shopping at the Mall with Maria instead. We bought her earrings for the anniversary party."

"She must have suspected something was up by now, didn't she?" Heshey asked.

"Nope. Not a thing. But the next thing she did surprised me."

"What was that?"

"That night, she came to bed wearing the same silk negligee she wore on our wedding night. And I swear, with the lights set just right, and a little imagination, she looked just as good as she did 50 years ago."

"She was always a beautiful woman."

"Yes. The next morning, I made her coffee, the way she likes it, and put the cup beside her near the bed. I kissed her awake, and we stayed in bed, talking, until lunch."

"What about your morning golf game?"

"Canceled it again. My golfing buddies aren't speaking to me anymore."

"And Maria?"

"Oh, we talk all the time now. We'll just put things down and go for walks together whenever the mood hits. Sometimes, we hold hands while we walk." Joe looked embarrassed, but he continued. "And we talk about everything on our walks."

"Like what?" Heshey asked.

"Oh, little things. Landscaping the house. What to buy the grandchildren for their birthdays. Where to go on vacation."

"Any disagreements?"

"What, are you kidding? You don't get a woman to love you by disagreeing with her. You get her to go along with your ideas by having her think your ideas are really her ideas, and she's so smart for having them."

"So that's the secret, huh?" Heshey asked, teasing a little.

"Yup. They've been doing that to us for centuries," Joe answered seriously.

Heshey waited for his friend to continue, but Joe was silent.

"So, does she love you now, Joe?" Heshey interjected finally.

"Absolutely. I'm sure of it."

"How can you be sure?"

"She tells me all the time. And its not just the words. She feels it, and she makes me feel it. There's no doubt about it. She really loves me, now."

"So the plan worked, right?"

"Perfectly, just like you said it would."

"And did you prepare your toast for tomorrow night?"

"Yes."

"What are you going to say?"

Joe looked at Heshey and his eyes filled up with tears.

"I'm going to say how much I love Maria. What did you think I was going to say?" Joe answered, wiping his eyes.

Heshey reached over, smiled, and handed Joe some tissues.

"Do you know why I was glad when you became a lawyer, Hesh?"

"No."

"Because I knew I would have someone I trusted, someone wiser than me, helping me when I needed it most."

Joe opened the envelope Heshey gave him, and tore up the legal papers inside. Heshey came around the desk and hugged his best friend.


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The Perfect Revenge, 11 June 1997