A Story for January: ‘Monty, Tiger, Rose, etc’ from The Exquisite Art of Getting Even

January 2023

Rose first saw Colin at the thirtieth birthday party of her vivacious, redhead friend, Vicky. It was a large party, held in Edinburgh, at Vicky’s father’s golf club. “Vicky has countless friends,” somebody once said to Rose. “It’s something to do with being a redhead. You speak to virtually anybody – anybody – and they’ll say, ‘Oh yes, I know Vicky.’ One hundred per cent of the time. Try it.”

So, it was not surprising that when Vicky decided to have a party to celebrate her birthday – “Almost a third of a century!” she remarked – there were over sixty people there. And that was just the tip of the iceberg, people said. Those were just the close friends – there were plenty of others who heard about the party and who would have loved to have been there but who were not invited. “You just can’t keep everybody happy,” Vicky said.

But Rose, who turned thirty the same year, was there because she had been at school with Vicky, and they were like this, she said, crossing two fingers to demonstrate the closeness of their friendship. And because they were so close, Rose felt she could be frank with Vicky about her interest in Colin, as they looked across the crowded room at the well-built man near the window. “I’m going to faint, Vicky. Seriously. Faint. Look at him – I mean, just look at him. Where did you get him? A male-order catalogue?” She paused, then spelled out the word “male”.

Vicky laughed. “That’s an idea,” she said. “They could have one of these catalogues with the models wearing the sports shirts and chinos and so on, but you can’t order the clothes – you order the man himself. A great idea.”

Rose waited. “So?” she prompted. “All right,” said Vicky. “He’s called Colin. Colin Fanshaw. Lovely name, that, don’t you think – Fanshaw.” She paused, and then continued, “I wouldn’t, if I were you.” Rose looked puzzled. “You’re warning me off?” It occurred to her that Vicky might be involved with Colin, in which case she would apologise for her tactlessness and bow out – it was Vicky’s party, after all.

Vicky lowered her voice. “Colin is good-looking – very good-looking, but” – she lowered her voice even further – “he’s also very dull.” Rose cast a glance across the room to where Colin was standing in a small group. They were all laughing.

He did not look dull to her. “He doesn’t look—” Vicky cut her short. “But he is. He’s perfectly nice, but . . . do you want a man to be that nice?” Rose looked thoughtful. Her last boyfriend, Freddie, from whom she had recently parted after two years, had been possessive and demanding. A nice man, she thought, was just what was required. “I’ve got nothing against nice men,” she said. Vicky shrugged. “Do you want to be introduced?”

Rose hesitated. She could not see any reason why she should not at least meet Colin. If he proved to be as dull as Vicky suggested, then she could easily detach herself and talk to somebody else. There were plenty of ways of getting away from bores at parties. “Yes,” she said. “If you don’t mind.”

Vicky smiled. “Poor Colin,” she said. “He means well. He’s an accountant, by the way. I think he does tax returns – that sort of thing.” She gave Rose a knowing look. She had given her every warning and need not reproach herself. Some women, of course, liked dull men and, for all she knew, Rose was one of them. There was no accounting for taste, she thought, as she led her friend across the room, through the throng of partygoers, her friends, all celebrating her birthday, all well disposed towards her.

Rose whispered to her, “I was just interested in meeting him – that’s all.” Vicky laughed. “Your secret’s safe with me.” Rose blushed. It had always seemed to her to be most unfair that an overt expression of interest by a woman in a man was taken by some – not all, of course, but certainly by some – to be something to feel apologetic about. It was yet another example of the double standards that people had in these matters. Things were changing, of course, but not fast enough, in her view.

They reached Colin and his two friends. He turned to face them. “The birthday girl,” he exclaimed, holding his arms out towards Vicky. “Come and give Colin a big kiss.”

Their first date was to a cinema. The film was not one that Rose was keen to see as she had read a very lukewarm review – “What’s this film about?” asked the reviewer – but Colin had chosen it and she had gone along with the suggestion. He had called her after she had given him her telephone number at the party. “What about a movie?” he had said. “The Dominion Cinema? Any time that suits you.”

She hesitated, but only for a few moments. Vicky had been right, she thought: Colin was not very exciting. But at the same time, there was nothing exactly wrong with him. He had been good-looking when seen from over the other side of the room, and he had been even more so when viewed from close-up. But were looks enough to sustain a relationship? Marrying for looks was as pointless, she said to herself, as marrying for money. But then she stopped herself.

Was marrying for money pointless, or was it simply expedient? There were many people who married for money and never regretted it – not for one, sybaritic moment. She knew at least one person who had married a much older man who happened to be extremely wealthy.

He had lasted two years and then died. “So considerate of him,” another friend had observed. He had left her with two expensive flats, a house in France, and a fortyseven-foot yacht in an Ionian marina. The widow had dyed her hair and started a new life. “She turned quite blonde with grief,” observed the same friend.

Colin arranged to meet Rose at the cinema, where he bought two tickets for the large sofa seats at the back. Then he went off for two large tubs of popcorn. She did not like popcorn, but she tackled it nonetheless. Colin said, “This is great, don’t you think? Sitting here, eating popcorn. Just great.”

She said, “Yes. I like the cinema.” “I’m glad,” he said. “I’ve always liked the cinema – ever since I was a boy. There’s something about it, you see – I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about it.”

She thought about this, and then replied, “It’s dark, I suppose.” “And there are films.” “Yes, the films are important.”

The advertisements began. She glanced at him in the semi-darkness. His profile was really breathtaking, she thought. He was like one of those Greek gods with their straight noses descending like a mountain ridge. And she thought, There’s nothing wrong with being handsome. Sometimes, good-looking people could be pleased with themselves; often they could be narcissistic, and arrogant too. But then there were people who had those sorts of looks and yet were modest and unassuming. She felt that Colin was probably one of these, and this realisation made her warm to him.

This extract is from the story ‘Monty, Tiger, Rose, etc’ from the collection The Exquisite Art of Getting Even.