|Image courtesy Google/NiceIrishLady|
"Blast," said Julian, looking up from his phone and at his wife, Fiona. She was young, pale and nervous, and a "jolly good wife" as he called her to his colleagues at the bank. She kept his home immaculate, and kept his two children--Julian II and Anne--well fed and well mannered.
Fiona trembled a bit at the tone of his voice -- not that he would ever hit her, "Julian doesn't hit girls," she told her sister -- but if he was annoyed she would feel it in the cut of meat he gave her at the dining table, in the set of his shoulders the next few days. "What is it, dear?" she ventured.
"It's my idiot cousin, Georgina. She wants us to come and help on the sale of that island she inherited."
It took Fiona a second to realise he was talking about George. George, who had transitioned into a man more than ten years ago, George who wore his cap pulled over his buzzcut curls, who had a wife, a "wife" Julian would say, contemptously, making the air quotes, and a dog breeding farm. George, the son of the famous scientist, Quentin Kirrin, who made it possible for them all to travel without worrying about bombs. Fiona had always liked George.
Once, she had ventured to her husband, "I think he prefers to be called George, dear," and Julian had risen to his full height and sneered at her across the dinner table. "Georgina is a grown woman! It was all very well when we were children, but she is a woman, and has womens work!" He settled down and chomped on his roast, reflectively, "It's evil, is what it is, Fiona. Evil. Now look at Anne. They're almost the same age, but Anne has always been a real woman."
Anne. Anne. Anne. It was always Anne. Anne who came over for weeks on end, and turned Fiona's home inside out, "nesting" she called it. "Isn't it fun to keep house?" she'd say, continuously, and cook things like boiled eggs and slap together a ham sandwich, which Julian would eat with more gusto than he ever did any of Fiona's Jamie Oliver meals.
Anne was married to a Frenchman, who was "rather queer", she'd say, tying an apron around her waist and pottering around. "You're not allowed to say queer, Aunty Anne," little Julian II had ventured, "You're supposed to say homosexual." At that, the shocked Aunty Anne had squealed, and had to be put to bed, and Julian was Very Angry Indeed.
Once, Fiona had come downstairs for a late night cup of tea, and seen, through the glass, Anne wrapped up in a rug asleep by the fire, and Julian, sitting next to her, stroking her hair. She never mentioned it.
Dick was all right. They called him Richard now, "who's called Dick, am I right?" he'd say laughing. Sometimes, when they went out to dinner, he'd tell stories about them as children, renting caravans, solving mysteries. Richard was a ladies man, Fiona couldn't keep track of his women, but sometimes, in her darkest hours, she longed to be one of them. Julian used to look a little bit like Richard when she had married him, tall and dashing, with blonde hair and blue eyes, but now what little hair he had was combed back, and he was what her mother called "portly." He was fond of his meat and two veg, and he was fond of her and his children, but beyond that, not much else.
"Which Timmy is it now?" she said, to get him in a better mood. George bred a mixed breed race of terrier-sheepdogs, all called Timmy after his childhood pet. The Timmys, as their children called the dogs, were a set, a pack, Julian said, of large black and white creatures, all whip smart and devoted to George.
"I think her favourite is Timmy the Seventeenth," said Julian, snorting, "Though how she can have a favourite, much less distinguish between all of them is beyond me. Poor Aunt Fanny. She would have been so upset to see her lovely house overrun with those creatures."
"You used to like Timmy, though, darling, didn't you?" said Fiona, remembering stories Julian had told her about brave Timmy, smart Timmy, Timmy getting him out of trouble. Julian snorted again, and waved his empty glass at her. He wasn't a drinker, that was a blessing, but he liked two "snifters" of Scotch on particularly trying days. This was clearly going to be a Two Snifter Evening.
"We wouldn't have needed that dog if only the adults didn't keep leaving us alone," he said, "My god, Fiona, we wouldn't leave Little Anne and Young Ju alone for two hours let alone two days. By themselves! On a caravan! At the mercy of criminals and kidnappers!"
"You solved crimes, dear," said Fiona, remembering a story Richard had told her about George getting bundled up into a car and taken away, and how Richard and Julian had rushed to her rescue. "Did you go too, Anne?" asked Fiona, politely, only because Anne was there too, that evening, and Anne had said, "Oh no, it was no place for a girl" and Julian had smiled at her approvingly.
"For the benefit of Georgina and Richard. They did like the idea of solving crimes, so I indulged them." Julian was quiet for so long, that Fiona thought he had fallen asleep, and went about the room putting out lights and clearing away glasses. Finally, he spoke out of the gloom, and gave her a start.
"So, Kirrin Island is for sale. Well, well."
George stood with his five Timmys at the edge of Kirrin town, gazing out at the island. It used to belong to his mother, and her mother before her. When George had transitioned at first, his mother had built him a cottage on the island to live on, and rowed over every day with sandwiches and root beer, until George reminded her that he was now 25, and could handle something a bit stronger. The next time, his mother brought over a bottle of wine, and George had cooked, and they had watched the sun set over the ocean. After George's father died, everything had been peaceful for him and his mother, no more fights, no more arguments, and his mother celebrated his new identity. "You've always been unhappy as you were, darling."
George missed his mother every day.
Over from the island, the sound of construction increased. Someone was using a power drill, and George could just make out the shapes of the holiday rentals come up.
"I can't believe Julian would do that!" Emily had exclaimed when they first heard of Julian's plans to redevelop Kirrin Island into a "family friendly" resort, complete with golf course and water activities. "He's going to ruin everything, the prat. I know he's disgusting now, but he used to share a childhood with you, George."
"Ju's all right," George said, gruffly. No one was allowed to insult his family, not even his wife. Even if Julian did insist on saying "Georgina" each time they met, even if Julian's wife trembled each time he spoke, like he was going to smack her or something, even if George had seen Julian and Anne in the moonlight, with Anne's face tipped up to his, and Julian's mouth in her hair.
"It'll be okay, won't it, Timmy?" George asked his dogs, and as one, they turned to him, tails wagging, tongues hanging out. "That's what I thought," he said, laughing, "Best dogs in the world, aren't you?"
As they walked home, George saw Emily emerge from the cottage and come running down the lane towards him, waving her cellphone. "George!" she shouted, "You'll never believe what that dick has done now!"
The Timmys bounded away from George and towards Emily, and distractedly, she patted them, all the while brandishing her phone at George.
He took the phone from her and saw an ad in her email.