Island Life by David Slack


The Honorary Donor

Owen Glenn stood in the rear of a gaming room at the Monte Carlo casino, among the croupiers and Russian call girls, watching. It was an evening like so many others. The croupiers, the girls, the biased roulette wheel -- these had been what Glenn first saw of his adopted country. The years had changed nothing.

He could not measure himself exactly how substantially he had been under the influence when he offered to take on the title and thereby ‘give something back’ to the country where he had been raised and where he had learned to pick the winner of the second leg. Once to a mannish woman who had cornered him in Soul Bar he had said, "I left Auckland to get away as far as possible from the socialists."

The sky was dark by now so the holiday makers who had been trailing him all day would likely have retreated to their budget hotel. Since the morning months ago when he had begun receiving the calls of tourists who had mislaid their travellers’ cheques or been rolled by con artists, Glenn found he was ill at ease in his fellow New Zealanders’ company.

The Honorary Consul had never caught anyone else doing a selfless act in the whole principality. When he dined out he saw only leather faced millionaires attending to tax haven business. There were sometimes tourists with misty eyes collecting mementoes of the late Princess, but few lovers on the benches or contented women with shopping baskets, and scarcely any socialists.

People when they had first heard of his new title had looked at him with fresh curiosity. Perhaps they thought it was a custom peculiar to Antipodeans. It was not exactly unmanly, but it was certainly foreign. The men here preferred to strip assets or stand at the deck of their yachts and compare lengths, or sit at their desk with lawyers and scheme, or ring up a tax consultant and make her jump though some hoops and all the time, while she jumped, they touched themselves. In public Glenn touched nobody. It was a sign, like his New Zealand passport, that he would always remain a stranger: he would never be properly assimilated.

He began to read the letter again. "She has been working in an unbroken silence, accepting the media torment, like the bad polling, as a law of nature. We have to do something."

It could not be said that Williams wrote badly. There was a heavy music in his style, the drumbeats of destiny were never very far away, but Glenn sometimes had a longing to exclaim to him, "Life isn't like that. Life isn't noble or dignified. Nothing is ineluctable. Life has surprises. Life is absurd. Talking to the media is absurd. Because it's absurd there is always hope. Why, one day I may even talk straight with them.”

I am a man with machismo, the Honorary Consul reflected ruefully, as he picked up the receiver.

Another mannish-sounding woman reporter. ‘Frank’?

He listened to her for a moment and sighed.

"Why do you always want the truth? Contrary to common belief the truth is nearly always funny. It's only tragedy which people bother to imagine or invent. If you really knew what went into this goulash you'd laugh."

He paused to listen to a long stream of questions and assertions.

"Check again," he said. "Mate."

He added, "You people usually lose to me more easily than that."

"Your game's improved."

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