Real Property Severance

A Short Story

Fiction by Victor Wolzek

...and the man in the monitor said something like this:

A joint tenancy may be severed, converting it into a tenancy in common. Severance occurs when one of the joint tenants conveys his or her interest to a third party, thereby eliminating unity of time and title which previously existed.

What the hell does that mean?

If your memory serves you correctly -- which is exactly what you cannot count on -- you've been this uneasy only twice before. When you first told her you loved her, and when you told your parents you were abandoning the Ph.D. and following her to start over with law school in California. (Of blue-collar breed, they could never understand why you wanted the Ph.D. in the first place, and law was certainly a more "practical" direction career-wise, but you were quitting after two years and -- more importantly, two Stafford loans -- into it.) Supposedly, you confused your passionate enthusiasm for a new city, with all its secrets and mysteries and possibilities, with authentic love for each other. Blind to the true source of your rapture, you married. And all evidence would suggest it was a disaster.

She said, "I do," but she didn't. Soon it seemed that she couldn't, or perhaps -- (it can't be true) -- simply wouldn't. In any case, she wasn't. Not even a little bit. For all the pretense and self-inflated import, it was all just another Jew-created drama. Vows, in hindsight, are the emotional equivalent of a medieval catapult: bold in concept and artful in execution, they project a future with such grandeur, such physical hyperbole that in the moment everyone fails to acknowledge the inevitable fate of the future launched. Vows: religiously inspired, state supported, personally edifying, spiritually irrelevant romantic trajectories of failed optimism and despair. They meant something when they were uttered in fear and trembling by your parents in the '50s. Somehow, somewhere, between there and here, something has faded. The palpable reality that once pumped the words with blood and meaning is now...gone... A few months ago you were soaring, together. Now, off in the distance, you're hobbling, alone, brittle, trying to recoup from the fall. You still can't bring yourself to utter, "It was good while it lasted."

Friday, the beginning of the week's end, and you're stranded in the sterile silence of a cubicle somewhere on the 26th floor of a skyscraping Market Street high rise watching ABA-approved "First Year Law Review" videos. All year the fluorescent fliers dangled from the auditorium railings and lobby pin-up boards promising a semester's worth of key info in 6 short hours. Why risk trusting your own notes, scrawled in your own untried hand, when in just six short hours, the length of one traditional primary school day, a proven master will walk you through all the material, providing thoughtful analysis, a finely honed review outline, and a superficial but adequate (thats all you really need!) understanding of the "black letter" law and the case histories that support it. Have you come this far, spent this much, just to blow it now? All first-year core classes are offered: Criminal Law, Contracts, Civil Procedure, Torts, and, yes, sweet Jesus, the bane of your existence, the cross for your haul, Real Property!

What you at first perceived to be the pathetic last refuge of over-privileged daddy-sent numbskulls, mostly trust-fund Jews who couldn't cut the Ivys, you ultimately embraced at last as glorious slacker salvation! "Salvation." One among many. You should have known. The safety net, you discover too late, after the leap, is poorly knotted and may not hold. It's a ruse. It's comforting, but surely it will give way, perhaps lessening the impact of the fall, perhaps sparing your life, but not without injury. Not without damage. Where salvation is sought scars are cover charge. It's worst case scenario: the tape you're watching purports to be a re-view of class material, but you're not feeling the slightest twinge of déjà vu.

The state of your case is clear: the only relevant adjective for your individual courses and your semester as a whole is -- unknown. It occurs to you that this seven letter word, unknown, this dime-a-dozen descriptive, unknown, this throw away utterance, this thoughtless scribbling, unknown, this whore of language that gives it all, used by anyone and everyone to describe anything and everything because it is just empty enough and willing to say everything and nothing all at once, unknown. Yes, this singular sign for hire is without question the only word in the English language specially suited, tailor cut, indeed, custom fit to the unwieldy contours of that dangerous question mark you hazard to call a "self." "Karumpfff-ke-kuh!" A loud, sharp cough from beyond the horizon of your beige cubicle walls disrupts your reflection. Suddenly your eyes focus and recapture the monitor on the desk in front of you, a dead umbilicus of coiled brown rubber between it and your headphones. On screen a gray bearded bald man in blue shirt and yellow tie rambles on and on from behind a clout-conferring podium about landlords and tenants, easements and fee simples, remainders and reversions, and severances. And maybe you've had too much caffeine, but you'd swear he just said something or other was "running with the land." You're perplexed. Yet he assures -- someone, you? -- that these rules are not state-specific idiosyncrasies but are in fact "common law" (which you deem then and there the greatest misnomer in the history of western civilization).

"Jesus!" you think. "Something's gotta be wrong here. You check the video box. Shake it to make sure. Empty (it's in the VCR). You read the label -- "Real Property" -- confirming the fact that you are in deep, deep shit.

Panning the room, the rest of them seem irritatingly at home with their tapes. Under-achieving Hook-nosed Heebs. Diligent note-takers, the whole pompous herd of them. Focused, attentive, pausing only to lap at their coffees, yawn, stretch, blow their noses, or enjoy some variant of the few basic pleasures afforded them in this high-rent step-brother trailer park addendum to higher education (the means mean nothing to these people; the end justifies any means).

But you? You're too drained to romanticize your emptiness. If this morning you were able to imagine yourself a kind of 20th century, post-war (post-post-war) existential anti-hero, three coffees later you're unable to rouse the slightest sense of metaphysical "absurdity" or "nausea" -- 'cuz you just don't give a shit.

Surrounded by strangers, hook-nosed over-privileged strangers, whose mere presence is, in some almost indiscernible way, threatening, you find solace in knowing that you know who they are; you used to be them. You find comfort in knowing that you know what they are doing; you used to do it. You have been that well-oiled liberal-loaded memorization machine, that stream-lined, fact-fueled, I-dotting, T-crossing paradigm of academic precision who, in the course of a two hour essay exam, could regurgitate every essential point the professor made in lecture and expected to see handed back to him in print.

Yeah, you have been there. You have been them. Not like now, when the meat of your existence is marbled with reflection. You have really been there, before the wedge was driven, before the divide seemed so goddamned insurmountable. Yes, back then. Then you were there. Then you lived it, were it, with 100% of that blissful somnambulism definitive of the first-person point of view. You have listened through the headphones. You've heard the lecturer's voice unfold concepts so clearly and distinctly it was like hearing yourself think. You've heard the voice of instruction without sensing the slightest fissure between you and it, indubitable truth, a closed circle of hermetically sealed clarity. But today, like a ménage à trois in a Protestant wet dream, there is a woman wedged between you and your work.

"Fuck this," you say under your breath, stopping the video and removing the headset. "Fuck me." You suddenly feel small, pathetic, ridiculous. Here you are, a bright, young , white man, doing all he can to create a place for himself in an inherently hostile world, all in hopes of capturing the love of a woman.

You shake the cup and drip the last of the cold, sweet coffee onto your outstretched tongue. Your mouth is pasty, your cup dry. Café is in the lobby. Starbucks, of course. You want to go but know you shouldn't. Lobby is too close to sidewalk, sidewalk too close to street, street too close to anywhere else, and that is exactly where you want to be, though it is still too close to her.

You go anyway, the anguish of impending failure eased by the thought of flaunting your newly acquired ability to order an "iced café Americano Venti" in a single breath without looking at the board.

You pack up your things and descend in the quiet solitude of the empty elevator. You gaze at yourself in the mirrored back of the elevator door through smudges and fingerprints caught in the light, your image split by the door's vertical divide. You know exactly what you need.

Paper cup.

Plastic lid.

Hot water.



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