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The first time Hector Fogg felt really ashamed was when his second daughter, Alice, was born. He stared at her and there she was, lying at his wife’s Pauline’s breast, still covered in the typical yellow gloop, whimpering and trying to sniff out the nipple. His last chance to have a son gone forever.
Pauline was very clear about not wanting to have any more children.
‘Not good for my figure,’ was her typical response.
His mother warned him about marrying a woman ‘only one step away from becoming a prostitute.’
He would have to live with the shame of not passing on his name and fortune to a male heir. Hector, the Financial Director of an international investment bank, felt more pity towards his daughters than any other emotion because he knew that their lives would revolve around choosing the right length of a pearl necklace and keeping their husbands happy until the said spouses would turn their heads towards a younger model, a nanny or a PA. Someone not from their own circles, to avoid unnecessary drama, and no amount expensive education that his daughters were going through would ever change that. These were the ways in Hector’s world.
Hector had heard of feminism and the 21st century and all that but he had also experience of running a very successful business and growing up in a household where a wife was a silent beautiful trophy until she became a piece of antique furniture that was best to be admired from a distance and not to be touched after she had fulfilled her purpose. A household where men discussed politics and women conversed about their next charity project.
During his career in the bank Hector had only ever worked with one female high profile manager. She had short silver hair, always wore black suits and had a nickname ‘Les’, given to her by a herd of overweight and permanently half-drunk market analysts. Hector avoided having too much to do with her. ‘Scared of a woman who doesn’t embroider?’ Pauline wiggled her finger at him.
‘No class, all mouth,’ said his mother the first time he brought Pauline home, and that remark made him like that girl with a fiery ponytail even more. Pauline with her jingly bangles, a bit too revealing top, a skirt verging on being called a belt and leopard peep toes sat on the beige designer couch and bit her nails under the silent scrutiny of his mother. Ma, with a string of pearls strangling her neck and a black and white Chanel suit, growled a couple of times and sharpened her freshly manicured claws against the antique coffee table and this was when Hector decided to marry Pauline who went against everything his family represented. He thought he would never get bored of her exotic personality and love for neon pink lipstick.
They met when he visited Fun Girls club on a night out with his business partners. A topless singer stretched across a stage of broken dreams and smiled at him. He took her back to his flat that night and she stayed for the rest of the week.
He spared his mother that detail and introduced Pauline as ‘an aspiring vocalist and interim waitress.’
‘Your mother hates me,’ soon became a handy excuse for Pauline to use whenever she wanted him to stop working on a Sunday, take her shopping to Harrods or visit her parents in their council house on the outskirts of Brighton.
Her parents never warmed up to Hector either. Not after he had parked his Bentley on his future mother in law’s rose patch and refused to touch the Indian takeaway they got especially delivered for the occasion. His worst crime in that class tug-of-war was to mumble something about Tory politics in his deep and long vowels only to later take their daughter away and return her occasionally. All changed and most of the time drunk.
Hector’s and Pauline’s parents met only once, at the Wedding. The gathering was not an agreeable affair and was never repeated. His mother almost fainted from wrapping her pearl necklace too tightly when Pauline’s dad offered her a pint of lager. Pauline’s mother claimed she couldn’t understand a word of what the members of the Fogg clan were saying. Hector did not remember much from that night, courtesy of his best man and endless supplies of gin and tonic
Even after the girls were born the visits were carefully scheduled to avoid any unnecessary exchange of (un)pleasantries and over the years, as the parents were dying one by one, Hector felt a certain relief. No more was there a nagging feeling of bridging the divides and dressing the wounds after yet another battle. Hector’s general view was that the less the girls had to do with that side of the family the better. Pauline’s exotic personality and neon pink lipstick became a drain on his patience and bank account.
Of course he never said it out loud to Pauline. She would have scratched his eyes out.
‘Pauline, where the hell are you?’ He thought as he sat in his living room with his face in his hands. The girls, Isabella and Alice, finally fell asleep, together in his marital bed. They insisted and he was too tired to say no.
He thought about how angry he was with his wife and how lucky he was that it was his PA, Miss Jones, who recognised the girls when she went outside to have a cigarette, something that Hector didn’t approve of, but she was a very efficient and discreet secretary nevertheless. He listened to the girls’ story about the beach and ice cream, a kite and missed school. About a surprise their mother had prepared for him and about a mobile phone smashed to pieces on a motorway.
He prepared a speech for when they would get home. A speech that he would end with ‘I want a divorce,’ and ‘You won’t get a penny.’
When he parked the car outside their house, the windows were dark, the curtains open and not a sign of life anywhere. Upstairs in the bedroom, Pauline’s wardrobe with its door wide open swallowed his anger and replaced it with anxiety. Her clothes were gone and so was a photo of her as a little girl riding a donkey on a beach in Blackpool. It was always there on her bedside table. ‘The best day of my life’, she often said.
Tonight the shame was even greater. How would he ever admit that his wife left him and there was that important golf game tomorrow to prepare for or (God forbid) cancel. And she abandoned him with two daughters that looked pretty in the pictures and with whom he occasionally spent an afternoon, more out of duty than pleasure, before he ran off to the peace and quiet of his office.
He cursed the day he agreed not to employ a nanny.
‘I don’t know them.’ He said quietly to himself and filled a tumbler with whisky reserved only for entertaining his sleazy Eton ‘chums’ as Pauline liked to call them.
He only managed one sip before the phone rang.