Alexandra Marshall


"But I Ruined My Life for You!"

Excerpt from Chapter One

Even the tropical fruit salad was imported, ferried over on the same flat-bottom barges as the vacationers. That at every meal the resort's cook managed to create the illusion of paradise was both why it was so expensive and worth every dime, according to Margot and Eugene, whose two middle-aged boys now had the privilege of introducing their own children to the salty transparency of aquamarine. After five diligent decades together they felt fortunate to be marking this wedding anniversary here at The Bitter End. The only disappointment was that neither Gene nor Roger had kept their original wives.

"But perhaps this will be the week to decide it's none of our business," Margot proposed to Eugene once the four grandchildren had left the table to wade the island's perimeter.

"I'll drink to that," Eugene joked, having found his way out from under that addiction with the help of his mother and heart surgery.

"I admire the way your mother deliberately intervenes in situations she disapproves of." Margot was coping with the adjustment to having a new pair of daughters-in-law, but found it distressing to breakfast with couples whose sex lives were on public display. She wanted to ask Eugene to see if he couldn't get them to tone it down in front of the children.

"With her deteriorating eyesight she made the right decision in choosing not to join us. But I love the rustic luxury of this remote place, don't you?"

"GoGo would say, 'The only island-off-an-island destination that counts is Ellis Island.' Wouldn't she?"

"Correct," Eugene said with a smile. He could admit to himself that it invigorated him, in fact, to see his sons this stimulated. And while he agreed it was a shame that they'd betrayed the mothers of their children, weren't they obliged by law to behave honorably with regard to their assets? Of course Gene had no choice since he was the network affiliate's news anchor whose on-air flirtation with the medical reporter became a local scandal. At least the seduction of Roger was private, not counting his dominating the dance floor at Genie's wedding reception with—why on earth was she invited?—the groom's divorce attorney.

"Roger's the one I'm more worried about," Margot said, rising to excuse herself as she added, "and here they come." She wouldn't mind the piƱa colada scented lotion if, this early in the day, she didn't have to picture it being rubbed everywhere.

Eugene got to his feet too, but out of habit, his resilient good manners the archaeological proof, he liked to say, that Philadelphia's Main Line values weren't entirely extinct. He'd noted the way Roger's bride seemed always to scan the room for potentially billable hours, although unlike Margot he refused to withhold the benefit of the doubt. And anyway, whenever Genie appeared he had his new sister-in-law's undivided attention, as if Ruth was on permanent retainer.

Roger felt adrift without instant access to the markets, so he carried around the stapled pages of the condensed New York Times facsimile no matter that these were yesterday's trades. His amber eyes were disguised by the titanium-framed transition lenses that grew darker or lighter according to the bolts of sunlight that had to be filtered through palm thatching to prevent the parchment northerners from suffering second-degree burns by the end of the first afternoon. Already, the back of his neck bore a stripe of pomegranate.

"Hi, Dad. Where's Maggie?" Roger ought to have checked the kids' room himself to make sure his daughter wasn't still feeling overwhelmed by the three cousins who each seemed unnaturally easygoing, especially for the children of divorce, as this generation was termed in mainstreaming them in school like the kids with actual disabilities.

Eugene answered, "Good morning! And good morning, Ruth!" to restore the necessary order of First Things First. How else could this pristine world's borrowed serenity perform its magic except by the willing suspension of reality? "The kids are collecting shells," he then added with a satisfied smile, knowing Roger probably wouldn't need to find Maggie immediately, before coffee, especially if it meant consigning him and this newcomer wife of his to the polite conversation of strangers.

Ruth paused before asking, "Should I?" Her role hadn't been this undefined since the first week of law school.

"No, sit," Roger said, supplying "thanks" for his father's benefit. How was he supposed to understand why this family vacation made him so uncomfortable, including the theatrical sex Ruth kept initiating? He had no problem with her pleasing herself as much as him, but what about these rolling orgasms where her desire seemed to include wanting to be overheard? "I have no shame," she liked to describe her chief asset as a litigator, but if in their sex here she was merely showing off, as she claimed in her defense, wasn't it fair to question for whom? Wasn't it obvious, for example, that his parents needed witness protection?

When at last Genie appeared, to the rescue, Roger's discomfort dispersed along with the pretty yellow birds that fluttered to the porch rafters. Their father came alive again too, inquiring about the night's sleep and praising the calming influence of the waves' constant advance and retreat. Although the resort made available every sort of watercraft that a guest could possibly desire, Gene announced that he'd decided to take the raft-like ferry across North Sound to where he'd heard there were bikes to rent.

"Can I come too?" Later, Ruth would be lying when she told Roger she hadn't meant it the way it sounded. ▣