The Joys of Misfortune
By Franz Jørgen Neumann -
After waiting for a few potential buyers to enter the on-the-market home of Eric and Erica Sweet, Kirk and Leigh head up the balloon-lined walk hand-in-hand, casual-like. They mill about the house, a split-level ranch with overgrown pepper trees and a bubbling jacuzzi that fails to hide the backyard’s neglect. Asking price: 1.2 mill.
Kirk is in his wedding shoes, his only formal pair. Leigh wears one of her mother’s wigs, and a skirt Kirk doesn’t recognize, one she must have bought after their divorce. He finds it becoming.
In the living room, to one another: “Nice crown molding.” “Excellent crown molding.”
In the kitchen: “Like the countertops.” “Love the countertops.”
In the bathroom: “A bidet?” “A bidet.”
While the realtor is occupied with new arrivals, Kirk and Leigh wander alone to the master bedroom with ensuite. They set their flutes of complimentary champagnes on a low mid-century dresser with silver pulls. With clairvoyance, Leigh finds a jewelry case in the top drawer of intimates, then dumps a scintillation of rings into her heavy bag. From somewhere nearby, the dog that’s been barking this whole time continues to bark. Leigh wanders into the hallway as Kirk, in the walk-in closet that’s as large as his bedroom, unzips and drizzles shoes, fine tailored suits, dozens of dress sleeves, and a shelf of handbags, with the full forty, fifty, near-sixty seconds of piss that’s made his bladder ache all morning. He zips up, closes the door, then wanders about the house for another minute, taking a peek at the home gym, a glance at the massage room, a pass through the yard. He takes a chunky mint from the bowl and exits the house with Leigh, a flyer with an attached business card placed into his hand, smiles stapled on both the realtor’s and Kirk’s faces as they regard one another for a flicker of a moment, each casting off the memory of the useless other. Perfect.
At the street: “I never want to eat that much asparagus again,” Kirk says.
“Didn’t I tell you it’d work?” Leigh adjusts the blonde wig. “Now what? Their car?”
This day of redress is because Eric and Erica talked Leigh’s mother into pharma stocks more sour than lemon, with enough commissions and fees to squeeze away what, before, had nicely supplemented Leigh’s mother’s meager social security. Eric and Erica showed up at her townhouse in their fancy twin Audis, like everything they touched could only sparkle: investments, good fortune, poor Rory’s money (because Leigh’s mother still thought of the money, even lost, as her late-husband’s). And wouldn’t Rory be pleased to see it grow? For her?
When Leigh called Kirk last month to tell him how her mother had been bilked, it was the first time they’d spoken since splitting. He’d always liked his now ex-mother-in-law, and for her, he agreed to help. He tracked down where Eric and Erica lived, considered a confrontation, then saw the For Sale sign and called Leigh. The money was gone, there was no money for lawyers, but they could mete out malicious acts to match Leigh’s mother’s losses.
Which has brought Kirk and Leigh now to the alley. Kirk thinks of themselves as the yin to Eric and Erica’s yang; or bad karma, more like—in karma’s corrupted and more satisfying Western interpretation. Leigh sets down her bag. Sloshing inside is a double-sealed tub of liquified dog shit from her newish pooch, Mr. Bobo. Kirk is impressed by Leigh’s fortitude and diligence in collecting, for weeks and weeks and weeks, this effluent justice. She does the honors, funneling a literal month’s worth of liquid hell into the grillwork, vents, and intakes of Eric and Erica’s angle-parked Audi. With the speed of a pit crew, and breathing through his mouth, Kirk goes around and lets out all the air from the tires, then superglues the pins in place and screws tight the deluxe-package-grade metal caps with a small cloth, polishing off any prints.
Later, Kirk and Leigh eat a late lunch outdoors at Brotham’s. The sunshine is glorious. Kirk feels something like elation filling him, head to toe. Leigh tosses one of the rings from her bag onto the sidewalk and waits for someone to notice it. To the little girl, a few minutes later, stopping to pick it up: “Nope, not mine. Must be your lucky day.” They sprinkle additional rings during a walk through the sculpture park. There: sparkling in the sunlight on a bench. There: on the pebbly concrete of a trash receptacle. There: atop the empty dispenser of refuse bags. These gemstones and precious metals are for strangers to discover. Leigh doesn’t know if the rings are worth much. Maybe they are. Probably they are.
Kirk is proud they’ve been able to inflict so many cuts into the soft buttered life of those two hot-shot investors. Such as: the superglue Kirk squirted deep into the lock of the gun safe he found in the walk-in closet. Such as: the open bottle of ink he dropped into the jacuzzi while ostensibly checking out the backyard. Such as: the flapper chains Leigh removed from the tank of all four toilets while Kirk held the porcelain tops. Such as: the champagne glasses they kept as a souvenir of this day, the contents poured under the pillows of the California King-size bed; alarming damp spots for Eric or Erica’s fingers to discover and recoil from later that night, exhausted from all their other discoveries. Kirk wonders what will be noticed first. Maybe: the old rubber-band-around-the-kitchen-spray-nozzle trick. Maybe: the smart speakers reprogrammed to address them as “The Dipshits.” Maybe: the fake positive pregnancy tests they dropped into the empty wastebaskets of two bathrooms.
Now Leigh and Kirk sip coffees and share an almond horn pastry outside a bakery. They wait. Across the street, Eric and Erica emerge from hot yoga, toweling their faces. A woman walking her dog apologizes as she’s pulled between Eric and Erica. She gives her dog full agency as it sniffs its way forward. Apparently the mantle of bad luck on Eric and Erica is odorless and undetectable. The dog stops near the corner and strains out a hefty turd on spastic hind legs and Kirk just loves, loves, the way Eric shakes his head in disapproval and routes his wife toward the curb. Eric and Erica cross the street and walk right past them to their matching Audi parked at the curb. They’re in it and away before noticing that at Kirk and Leigh’s feet lies their liberated dog.
“That was the test, wasn’t it?” Leigh said.
“What would we have done if they’d noticed we had their dog?”
Kirk shrugs. “Run?”
He looks down and the dog falls to its side, then onto its back, teats up for the belly rub Kirk gives it, flakes of dried dirt popping off its pale fur. Poor thing. They found it penned into Eric and Erica’s muddy dog run by the alley. One kick to the rotting baseboards and a little coaxing and out it came, still dragging its attached leash. He and Leigh didn’t even discuss it; they simply took the dog. They visited the park first, distributing rings; then to Brotham’s deli to celebrate the day, where the waitress discovered a possible/likely diamond ring while bending down to give their dog a bowl of water.
“What should we name her?” Leigh asks.
“Mrs. Bobo?” Kirk says.
They take Mrs. Bobo to Leigh’s place, because Kirk’s apartment building doesn’t allow pets. Leigh invites Kirk inside to see Mr. Bobo’s reaction to a new dog in the place. Leigh has made surprisingly few changes since they separated: a new lamp, some second-hand books, little else that he can see. She starts dinner while Kirk gives Mrs. Bobo a bath in the tub. They play with the dogs for hours that evening. Kirk returns the next day to see how things are going, and the next weekend, too.
How they spoil the Bobos! New chew toys and treats and long walks and car rides to the river a couple of times a month. A half year later, Leigh’s mom moves in with Leigh out of financial necessity. They haven’t yet told her about Mrs. Bobo’s origins, or about the events of that day they adopted the dog. Like: how they took all of Eric and Erica’s forks. Like: how they absconded with the remotes. Like: how they poured bleach into the washing machine drum. Like: how she and Kirk are maybe, possibly, together again, though they will wait a little longer to decide, allow more time for the schadenfreude to fade, for the dog-happiness to abate, to be sure this time, this final time, that there are no undiscovered tricks between them.
Franz Jørgen Neumann’s stories have appeared in Colorado Review, The Southern Review, Passages North, Fugue, Confrontation, Water~Stone Review, and elsewhere. You can find him at storiesandnovels.com and on Twitter @storiesnovels.