The Lottery problem
I’m not a gambling man and neither is Alun. However, life in a two-man kingdom can tend towards the tedious on occasion, and in order to liven things up we have a weekly lottery. It’s something to look forward to on a Friday night, knowing that whoever wins will have an extra pound to spend on Saturday, even if, living where we do, there isn’t actually anywhere to spend it.
Each of us pays a mainland pound and is assigned a raffle ticket by random chance. 100% of the ticket money is given back in prizes, with nothing wasted on administration or charity. We take in turns to draw the winner and every effort at security is taken, including the use of blindfolds and tickets of identical colour and size.
Usually our luck balances out and neither of us ends up either winning or losing in the long term. However, random chance does throw up some unusual sequences, including the time that Alun won the lottery twelve weeks in succession.
I remember moaning to the boatman about it, I even sent a letter to the Off-Mainlander magazine, highlighting that irony that though the odds were thousands of one against, Alun was only £12 better off. The magazine printed a short extract from the letter anonymously and I thought no more about it.
However, it must have been a quiet news period, as a few days later I was woken at just after 6.30 by the boatman. I knew immediately it was serious as the boatman has never delayed his morning run, not even that time Alun needed help to complete his round the world in voyage in time for his 80 day deadline. For the boatman to be visiting me something exceptional must have happened.
“What is it?” I asked, “where’s Alun?”
“He’s gone home to hide.”
“To hide? But it’s not hide and seek day for another six months.” (we try to keep ourselves amused through the long, dark winter).
“It’s nothing to do with that, it’s about this.” He held up a copy of that day’s mainland newspaper. There, on the front page, was a picture of Alun.
‘Island-dweller wins lottery’ the headline said.
“Alun’s won the lottery?” I said surprised. “But he refuses to do the mainland lottery, he hates all that money being wasted on charity projects that enhance mainland culture.”
“Not the mainland lottery you fool, it’s about your lottery.”
“Our lottery? You mean our lottery’s got a mention in the mainland national paper?”
“No, it doesn’t mention which lottery, it just says that an islander has defied the odds by winning an unprecedented amount on the lottery.”
“But people will think …”
“Exactly, anyone on the mainland that knows Alun will think he’s become a multi-millionaire overnight. Which is why he’s gone to hide from his wives.”
“From his wives?”
“I didn’t think you knew. Yes, WIVES. I think you need to go and see him. I can’t stay, I’ve a boat to run.”
Having known Alun all my life I was surprised to discover he was secretly married, so much so that the whole bigamy thing didn’t even register.
I rushed down to Alun’s house, keen to find out more about this shocking revelation.
After knocking for some minutes without answer, I entered the entry code on the electronic lock. I memorised the number a long time ago, but hadn’t had any reason to use it before that day, Alun’s door usually being open
“Oh, it’s you,” Alun said, looking up from under the table. (Did I mention that he always lost the annual hide and seek tournament? Not being seen isn’t exactly his strong point).
“The boatman gave me a copy of the paper,” I said. “It’s terrible journalism, it doesn’t even acknowledge the original Off-Mainlander letter.”
“The letter you wrote,” he said accusingly.
“I thought it was a nice quirky little tale. Man wins lottery 12 times at 4,000 to one odds and wins the princely sum of £12. It sums up off-mainland life brilliantly.”
“You know I always shun media attention, Jed. That time we captured a real-life yeti, I begged you to let it go and not tell anyone.”
“You said you just feared for the yeti’s privacy. You were passionate about it, you even quoted Hugh Grant.”
“That man,” he said, rising up from under the table, as if in salute to the former-star, “has done more for yeti privacy rights than anyone else alive.”
“Yes, that’s what you always say. But now I understand the real reason. You didn’t want your wives to find out about you and the yeti. Why didn’t you ever tell me you were married?”
“I wanted to put it all behind me, Jed. It was a traumatic period in my life.”
“But you wrote to me every week while you were on the mainland, why didn’t you mention you were getting married. Neither time. Why wasn’t I invited to the weddings? Why wasn’t I best man?”
“You’d never come to the mainland.”
“Of course I would. To be your best man I’d travel anywhere.”
“Anyway, it was all a long time ago. I’ve been trying to forget about it.”
“But two wives,” I said. “Are you even allowed two wives?”
“Under Happy Island law, yes. We have special privileges; we can marry up to seven women, as long as they’re island-born.”
“Yes, a really useful right on an island inhabited by precisely two men, seven geep, six elephants, and zero women. Anyway, you didn’t get married on the island, you married on the mainland. That’s bigamy.”
“It was an accident Jed. I thought she was my wife.”
“You mistook her for your wife, so you married her?”
“She was her identical twin, Jed, I had no idea. I bumped into her in town, we talked and flirted outrageously and I booked a hotel room for the afternoon.”
“For the afternoon? Were you very tired?”
“No Jed, don’t be a fool. I thought it was being romantic, making love spontaneously in a hotel room in the middle of the day. Our marriage had been going downhill, the romance had been lost. I thought this was the start of something new.
“It wasn’t until after we’d done the deed that I noticed anything unusual. ‘We must do this again’, she said. I thought she meant another romantic rendezvous in the middle of the day, then she really confused me. ‘Here, this is my phone number. I don’t even know your name, I’m Mary.’
“I was confused. ‘I’m Alun’, I said, wondering what sort of prank she was playing on me.
“‘Alun,’ she said, ‘my sister’s married to an Alun’.”
“‘Yes my identical twin sister, Sarah.’ I’ve never met her husband though, we drifted apart after an argument about Brian Cant.’
“Of course I realised what had happened then Jed, but it was too late. I didn’t want to be the sort of bastard that slept with a girl then refused to see her again. So we started seeing each other. She was my escape from life with Sarah, which was getting difficult.
“But why did you marry her? That makes no sense.”
“I had to Jed, she was pregnant. It was the honourable thing to do.”
“And then what happened?”
“I fled the mainland and never saw her again.”
“That doesn’t seem very honourable.”
“Well, I gave her money. The child was looked after.”
“What was it, boy or girl?”
“I don’t know Jed, I left before she had it.”
“You left your new wife, and her sister, who was also your wife, while she was pregnant with your child, who was also your neice/nephew.”
“You make it seem worse than it is Jed. Life gets complicated living on the mainland, sometimes you can’t avoid this type of situation.”
“Weren’t you afraid of being found out?”
“Nobody could prove I’m a bigamist Jed. The wedding photos are identical; they’re identical twins, both weddings were in the same church and they’re wearing the same dress.”
“The same dress?”
“I’m not made of money. Anyway, Jed, you’ll have to help me. My wives will be on the lunchtime boat.”
“Well, you’ve had it then. The sisters will soon realise that they’re both travelling to see a long-lost husband who’s won the lottery and you’ll be exposed as a bigamist.”
“No Jed, the boatman’s been warned, he’ll keep them apart on separate sections of the boat and let them off at intervals. He’s very good at that.”
“But how can I help?”
“Well, both wives will be expecting to see me, but I can obviously only see one of them. You’ll have to pretend to be me.”
“I look nothing like you.”
“She won’t know that Jed.”
“But she’ll notice you’ve changed.”
“Call it growing older.”
“I’m six inches taller than you are.”
“Say it’s a late spurt Jed.”
“A late spurt?”
“You have to help me, Jed, there isn’t anyone else. You need to persuade her that I’m not a millionaire and, if you can, get her to agree to a divorce. I’m sick of being chained down by two marriages.”
“Okay, I’ll do what I can. But I don’t see how this can possibly work. It’s quite possibly your maddest scheme yet.” I paused to consider. “Apart from getting married to your wife’s twin sister, that does actually top everything else.”
I met Mary as she stepped off the boat and hurried her to my house, before her sister got off the boat and saw us.
“Is it really you, Alun?” she said, “you look so different.”
“It’s been twenty years,” I said.
“No it hasn’t. It’s been 14 years. Besides, I don’t just mean you look older. You’re completely different, you’re even taller.”
“I had a late spurt. Everyone ages. Even you, though you still look beautiful.”
It was a corny thing to say I know, but it was true, she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. She reacted with a fierce scowl, so I didn’t attempt to complement her further.
Back at my house I made her a cup of tea and we caught up on old times.
“You’ve a son,” she said.
“What’s his name?”
“Jed,” she said.
“You always liked the name, remember? You said you had a friend called Jed. You always used to worry about him.”
“I got your cheques, obviously, the money helped. But what he really needed was a father. You really were a bastard.”
“Sorry,” I said. “I can’t explain, I just had to leave.”
She sighed. “Let’s not get into the obvious argument. I expect you think I’m here about the money, I know how it must seem, but it’s not that, I was just glad to finally find out where you are. I’ve come for a divorce.”
“You mean there’s someone else?” In spite of the fact that she was Alun’s wife who I had never met and who he had abandoned 14 years previously, I couldn’t help feel that it was a major step to sever the marriage without giving it one last chance. Besides, I’d only just met her, divorce seemed a tad premature.
“No Alun, I mean I don’t want to be hitched to a man who I never see, never hear from. There was someone a few years ago, we were very close, but he was a very strict believer in Mainland Religion 1, and he didn’t want to, well, he wasn’t allowed to, with a married woman. I couldn’t find you to get a divorce so we ended up drifting apart.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Religion has a lot to answer for.”
“Husbands who fuck off for no apparent reason leaving their wives to raise their child alone have a lot to answer for,” she said, somewhat passionately. A fair point I thought. I would go on to quote it to Alun on a regular basis.
I agreed to the divorce and promised a reasonable settlement for Jed. It was the least I can do. After all, it was Alun’s money.
We talked for a long time. I told her everything about the island and the lives we led here. She told me all about Jed and her life on the mainland.
Before we knew it she’d missed the evening boat.
“You can stay here,” I said. “There’s a spare room. There’s no point your walking all the way to the empty house.”
She stayed. We drank wine. We talked some more. We ended up sharing the same bed.
“Well, we are husband and wife after all,” she said.
I didn’t respond. Enough lies had been told already.
By the time Mary left on the next day’s boat Alun’s wife had long since gone. I texted Alun to let him know Mary was safely gotten rid of and he came straight over. I told him it went well and that she’d agreed to a divorce, though I left out some of the details.
“Sarah agreed to a divorce too,” he said, “and she doesn’t want any money, she just wants to be free to marry again.”
“That’s good,” I said, “which boat did she go on?”
“The early morning one.”
“The early morning boat? So where did she stay? In the empty house?”
“No Jed, with me.”
“But you don’t have a spare room.”
Alun gave me a look.
“Oh,” I said. “I thought you were getting a divorce.”
“We are Jed, but we’re still married. There’s nothing wrong with sleeping with your own wife.”
“I suppose not,” I said. What else could I say in the circumstances?
Both divorces went through smoothly, and Alun became single again. For the next few months he would wake me early every morning with his latest scheme to meet women, but none of his ideas came to anything.
Nine months later I woke up early one morning, before Alun had called, as if I was expecting the shock news that Mary was expecting Alun’s baby and that he (and I) were going to be a father again. If it was a boy I’d already decided that it would be called Alun.
But Alun never visited that morning. Neither he nor I never heard from Mary again. Jed did come to visit once, a couple of years later, but I’m sworn to secrecy about those events.