MILKING THE ODDS
by Rosalyn Gingell
I have lived here for a few months now, here on this tiny island where … but I am beginning at the end. Let me fill you in briefly on how I got here.
Married young to the most popular boy at school, starry-eyed and envied by the hormone-raging female population of our town, my future happiness, or so I believed, was sealed. Gary, my husband, was fun-loving, optimistic, easy-going, handsome .. and mine.
Motherhood followed six months after the wedding: a healthy, contented child, the image of his father. Gary was ecstatic; a son! How proud he was pushing the pram through the park on our Sunday walks, talking constantly of how he would teach his son to fish and play football. How lovingly he snuggled the baby between us in bed, our bodies warm and protective ... and fertile. When the twins arrived nine months later, things began to change.
Unlike their brother, the girls were delicate and demanding. My days were over-filled with crying and feeding, feeding and crying, nappies and stress. I was always tired; always fraught. Gary worked harder and longer to support his growing family, often taking private jobs that ate into our diminishing time together, time which saw us both irritable and exhausted. He became distant and sullen and, despite the ever-increasing time he was putting in at work, money remained a problem.
Within five years, the attractive, smug bride had become a dowdy, ridiculed single parent. Not that I was the only one; at least two of those who had mocked me, whilst secretly enjoying my husband’s sexual prowess during ‘working late’ sessions, soon discovered they were in the same boat, adrift and sinking. He left for work one morning, slightly more attentive than usual, and was never seen again. Neither was the voluptuous, middle-aged, midwife.
Left with three little ones and no money, my options were somewhat restricted. My father begrudgingly took us in, not out of a sense of parental duty, a sense he seemed never to have been granted, more for the convenience of having a housekeeper. My mother had left him the day after my wedding, thankful that the years of ‘staying for the children’ had finally come to an end.
So I kept house and cared for my children during the day and worked at the factory in the evenings, while my father spent his remaining years boozing on the couch, scoffing at my stupidity and belittling me at every opportunity.
Thankfully, the years were not many. He keeled over clutching his chest and going blue in the face in the middle of telling my daughters they would end up as useless and unwanted as their mum. Four mourners with dry eyes, we buried him on the twins eighth birthday.
As the children grew, and having the security of the house, mortgage fully paid from the old man’s insurances, I was able to squander some time and money on myself, a luxury which had long been forgotten. I enrolled at the nearby college and studied Art. I wasn’t much older than the majority of the class, most of whom were romantic, intense little darlings who wore their hair and their clothing both long and unkempt, yet I was old enough to have known better.
Gus, eagle-eyed, hawk-nosed, pony-tailed artist of dubitable merit, taught with passion and praise. Every one of us, he said, had talent. Some of us, he said, could even become famous. One or two of us, he said, would benefit from just a little extra tuition. Well, who wouldn’t want to earn a good living and public acclaim? I signed up for private lessons.
Our affair lasted seven weeks and five days, two months of artistic license and sexual abandon before, and with just a scribbled note informing me ‘it was fun’, the next misguided hopeful usurped my spot on the seedy mattress in the pretentious, paint-daubed studio.
Confidence crushed, heart hacked, it very nearly shattered my love of Art; but it taught me a greater lesson than any of his absurdly fanatical classes ever could.
My amateur canvasses created brilliantly obscure pictures as the flames of the bonfire distorted and destroyed them. My easel became the stand for a landscape print I bought at the charity shop, and my expensive smock made very useful dusters.
I steered well clear of the artistic type after that.
I re-vamped my dismal wardrobe, allowed the hairdresser to chop and wave my lifeless hair and submitted myself to nights in front of the mirror, experimenting with cosmetics and exercising away the flab that had taken over my body while I wasn’t looking.
Determined to nudge my boundaries, I bought a computer and a handful of ‘How To’ books and subsequently found a simple office job. After a couple of years as a reasonably contented typist, I eventually secured a secretarial position with a thriving Export Company. Things were looking up. Money was good, conditions were perfectly acceptable and colleagues, apart from the odd dumpy spinster and a few over-enthusiastic teenagers, were mostly male.
Two men in particular caught my eye. The Financial Director, in his forties, well-turned-out from sleek, styled hair to Italian shoes, and gay; and one of the Managers who spent half his time at the London office. It wasn’t his looks that attracted me, they were fairly commonplace: medium height, glasses, off-the-peg gray suits, but whenever he was around, his jovial character ensured bursts of sunlight on the dreariest of days. He was cheerful and friendly, interesting and interested, and it wasn’t long before we drifted from the crush of the canteen and spent our lunch hours at the pub, deep in conversation, high on expectation.
Within a year Geoff and I were married. He sold his flat and moved into the house with me and the children; he accepted them without question and they, after a few minor hitches in the beginning, found in him the father they didn’t have. Despite having been single for many years, I felt lonely when he was away, usually just a couple of nights, occasionally a whole week, but he would phone every evening, and when he was home, I was blissful. He was a fine man, loving and affectionate, hard-working and generous, and devoted to my offspring. Life was not only good, it was wonderful.
Unfortunately, work kept him from us one Christmas and threatened to do so a second time; but I had a plan. I took the children into my confidence and swore them to secrecy and, one afternoon after everyone had left, I rummaged the Personnel Officer’s drawer for the key to the filing cabinet and retrieved the address of the boarding house where my husband stayed when in London. Strange I’d never thought to ask.
On the 23rd, Geoff packed the car, told me where he had hidden our presents, kissed us all and left sadly, his waving arm visible until he rounded the corner. The children and I traveled to London by train on Christmas Eve, laden with gifts and baggage, thrilled that we had pulled it off, excited at the prospect of his jubilant face when we surprised him.
It was evening when we eventually found the address, rather more suburban than I had expected, Christmas lights in the window, snowman in the garden, but we rang the bell and, between giggles, started singing ‘Silent Night’.
A youth of medium height with glasses answered the door.
‘Mum, Dad, it’s carol singers. You got any money?’
‘’Course, son. Here ... Oh, s**t!‘
Numb with disbelief then white with anger, the children and I spent the night huddled together in the freezing station, as much for comfort as for warmth, and we traveled home in silence on Christmas Day. Boxing Day was spent burning everything of his we could find.
Gullible Gloria had reached a milestone in her life. It was time to kick back! Geoff was fired, arrested and convicted, and spent his next few lonely Christmases at yet another, far less comfortable address. I was promoted to Personal Assistant to the Finance Director, a prestigious, risk-free position which suited me admirably, provided I kept well away from the salacious charms of the Chief Accountant.
And then, almost before I knew it, the children had all graduated and moved away, leaving me alone in the house, still only forty-two and with a very respectable nest-egg just itching to be cracked.
It was time for a holiday. Not just any holiday, this was to be the holiday of a lifetime; I deserved it. After a few days browsing through colourful brochures, questioning travel agents, checking the Internet, I found it; a three-week luxury cruise around the Caribbean. It sounded perfect. I made the arrangements, took a month’s leave from work and set sail.
Most of the passengers were retired couples or newly-weds; I didn’t go out of my way to be friendly and, thankfully, I was left pretty much to myself. The young, tanned waiters, however, hovered around this mature flower, eager to serve and please. Two of them pleased me very well.
We stopped off at a couple of islands, shopped and lounged on the white beaches; heaven, bliss, no responsibilities; but it was on one particular island that my future suddenly became blindingly apparent. It was incredibly beautiful with a total coastline of no more that three miles, and a staggering population difference of four men to every woman. Maybe it’s something in the water or in the coconut milk that produces mainly male children; I neither know nor care, but such odds could even out my life perfectly.
The journey home was long and tedious, my mind was full of ideas and plans and I was impatient to get things started. I sold the house and most of the furniture, placed a reasonable amount into each of the children’s accounts and resigned. As simple as that!
Three months later, unloading my meagre belongings and taking possession of the large hut especially built for me at the far end of the island, I was rapturously welcomed by a throng of saronged natives.
So, here I am, on this tiny island where I spend my days painting exotic scenery and brown muscular bodies, swimming naked in the warm sea and making love in the sand. My nights are spent under a black, silver-studded sky, sipping tropical juices and making love in the sand.
An exquisite youth, like an obedient puppy, follows my every move, fetches my paints and oils, retrieves fallen brushes; a gray-haired house-boy tends my hut and supplies me nourishment and island delicacies; and two willing lovers compete desperately to win my hand, or at least my body on an exclusive basis. And the more I tease or disregard them, the more adoring and compliant they become.
No responsibilities, no soul-destroying relationship, no heartache.
This is how life should be. I don’t expect it to last for ever, nothing perfect ever does; but for now, for once, the odds are on my side and, like the coconut now dotingly being placed in my hand, I’m going to milk them dry.
'Rosalyn, half Rose-half Daffodil, lives amongst the Tulips where she has raised three children, held an exhibition of her oil paintings, taught EFL and Business English, and freelanced in Language and Translation. Her hobbies include redesigning her garden every two weeks and talking to frogs.She began writing in January 2004 - Short Stories (both adult and children’s) and Flashes - and had her first flash accepted by LSS, whose overworked Editors, in their drowsiness, selected Hags in Autumn for their June 2004 issue. If a story-line ever presents itself to her hazy gray matter, one day she may even begin a novel. Or not.'