Brian and Eunice got married in 1973 although Brian only asked his Dad if it was OK in 1976. Since he’d already done it, Brian’s dad, being a darn good bloke, said yes.
Eunice, petite and continental, was delighted. They lived on her farm and, with the money that Brian earned, she could expand its traditional methods until she had mountains of butter and lakes of wine. Brian promised never to eat Anchor from little New Zealand ever again and they and their growing family feasted on the fruits of their labour. In times of trouble the produce was a source of comfort for Eunice and in 1990 Brian looked up from his desk where he sold insurance 7 days a week in order to be able to buy enough fertiliser, took a long look at her and noticed how her slim frame had disappeared under layers of fat. Brian never wanted a big partner – it wasn’t who he’d married – but a deal’s a deal.
Things got worse soon after, when Eunice suddenly announced that she wanted to go out more often. This seemed harmless enough. There was no need for her to stay at home, she should be free to move around wherever she wanted. But she didn’t roam far. Her maternal instincts were strong and after rearing her natural offspring she also decided that she wanted to take in some poor distant relatives from the other side of the Continent. Brian, like his Dad, is a darn good bloke, so he wanted to help. He wondered about it out loud to his Dad while they were on a weekend vacation to Maastricht. But Dad was enjoying the food and didn’t really pay attention. Why would he? “Eunice is a grown woman, a big woman”, Brian explained. Brian’s Dad felt hot and just nodded. It wasn’t anything to do with him and anyway, Brian’s Mum, Maggie, had set up a family trust to make sure that Eunice couldn’t use the family money to look after them, before she passed away.
So Eunice started taking in her second and third cousins from the countryside hundreds of miles away, and enjoyed time by the fireside sharing stories with them about how their parents had fought wars against each other for centuries, while Brian’s family had been sailing around the globe to places where they spoke his language, after a bit of persuasion. One day Eunice made presents of special tokens made out of wine and butter for her relatives. They loved them and asked her for more. Soon they were awash with the things and made huge towers out of them which they called property investments. But when Brian’s Uncle Sam came to visit, they all caught pneumoneya, a new disease which didn’t affect the children but made their towers crumble. Brian felt sorry for them so he made up new tokens which he called Nevernevers, and spoke of new property investments where his Dad lived, which had magical powers – many of them had samovars, some had oil lamps that lit up at night to show the empty spaces. Some of Eunice’s relatives came to live with Brian’s Dad, hoping to buy another property investment. But they didn’t have enough Nevernevers because they were all locked up in the banks, so they had to clean the samovars and lamps instead. So when Brian went to see his Dad, sometimes he had to sleep on the couch in the sitting room. He even thought he saw the odd rat outside the back door.
One day, while Dad was asleep, a wizard called Boris arrived from Hamelin and offered to clean up his Dad’s place. Brian jumped at the chance. Boris got rid of the rats, apparently, but his magical powers were not those of a Pied Piper – they just made everyone feel light-headed – and the children remained. Returning to Eunice, Brian asked her to take some of them back so that he could have a bit of peace and quiet, and sleep in the bed that had been his since childhood. Eunice looked at him with her piggy eyes and said that she would only look after Peter, the smallest one, sometimes.
Brian, still feeling slightly queasy, contemplated another sleepless night, looked around at the faded palace that Eunice had built, with the extra-large maze that everyone could get through except him, and forty years of frustration with his over-expanded wife and family erupted. Without thinking, he said “I want a divorce”
Eunice, despite her over-adequate frame, jolted. But she was a proud woman with a mission to look after all her family, however large it turned out to be. She thought of today’s calls from people in places she hardly knew, whose claims to be related rested on the fact that they both bred the same cows, and their insistent pleas to come and stay. With Brian gone there would be a bit more room….
She clenched her fists, but released them. She fought back the tears of rejection as her mother had done when her father sent his wife to sleep in the cow shed for 6 years, and maintained the hauteur she had inherited from Maman. “Well if you’re going, then go now” she replied haltingly. Brian suddenly wondered if he had done the right thing. He recalled happier times, getting their first car and holidaying by the Med where the alcohol flowed like water and was almost as cheap. “Can I come back and see you whenever I like?” he whispered. “Maybe. So long as you remember that you have been my husband for 43 years and I expect to be kept in the manner to which I am accustomed,” was her stony retort. Brian looked in his wallet and it was almost empty. He would have to toil long and hard to get to sleep in his old bed again.
He went back to stay with his Dad who was entertaining Uncle Sam and distant relatives from even farther off lands than Eunice’s brood. Bemoaning the fact that divorce seemed as much effort as marriage but without the benefits, his third cousin twice removed, while chewing on the lamb that he had brought from New Zealand asked, “Can’t you make a clean break with her? Might make things easier between you?”. “Hey, bud, great idea” said Sam. Brian thought it would be a strain but better than seemingly endless maintenance payments. Dad had just finished paying off Uncle Sam the money that he’d borrowed for his overseas expeditions some seventy years ago, so he might be willing to do something similar again.
And so, many moons later, when the dust had settled and both Eunice and Brian were calm enough to negotiate their divorce like grown-ups, the decree absolute was signed. Eunice was to receive a one-off payment of a million dollars, which Brian borrowed from his relatives. His relatives promised to buy his insurances, which had always been the best in the world and were now really good value, and that he could come and stay whenever he wanted. Brian said to Eunice that, so long as there was room, then he would have her relatives to stay from time to time too, especially if they made themselves useful; after all Dad was getting on and there was no-one else to help him.
Brian went back to his Dad’s, made his old bed and lay down on it. It wasn’t quite as comfy as he remembered.