In the afternoon, it was cool and humid without even a breath of wind. Although the sky threatened rain in a misty pall which hung over the tops of the hills that surrounded the little valley, Jackie maintained a cynical view of the situation. Autumn, she felt, was actually a male season: just because it promised to do something didn’t mean it would definitely make good on said promise. It was more likely to run off on you and set up house with a languid little summer layabout and not pay maintenance for six months.
Of course, Jackie did admit to being slightly jaded in terms of seasons, but she claimed thorough understanding of the ways of men. And why shouldn’t she? She’d been through quite a few of them in her time. The first had been a disaster of tragic first love and an agony of divorce. He had given her a fairly benign STD and she had settled for not much more in the divorce agreement.
Number Two hadn’t taken her quite so much by surprise, although Jackie had still been quite naively trusting in those days. His indiscretions had cost him their flat, one of the cars, and most of his company shares, (which Jackie smugly admitted had matured quite nicely in her portfolio). A much wiser female lawyer had been the deciding factor in that encounter, and Jackie had stuck with her through Numbers Three, Four, Five and finally Six, for whom her lawyer had drawn up the ANC. Six’s lawyer, however, had acted as executor of his estate when he finally pegged it from a heart attack, on top of his extremely surprised and even more extremely young PA. Jackie, having suspected it for months, could afford herself a small chuckle at Six’s favourite joke: when do you know your secretary is part of the furniture? When she’s been screwed on the desk.
From her previous three husbands, Jackie had gained a collection of status symbols: a rather expensive Tag Heuer watch, some heretofore undiscovered Beatles vinyl albums, mint condition and autographed by all of the Fab Four, a custom Harley Davidson Softtail, a custom Harley Davidson Road King plus two helmets and a tasselled leather jacket, some band T-shirts signed by members of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Who, and (her personal favourite) the prototype Porsche 911 GT3. Since she didn’t really need the money Jackie had instead taken the most treasured possessions of each of her husbands, in the event of infidelity. After all, she believed in poetic justice.
When Number Six kicked off his dancing clogs, Jackie had packed up her house and auctioned it off to the highest bidder, taking with her only a few clothes and other personal belongings. She had bought her smallholding here in the hills of Belland and now lived a relatively simple (and male-free) existence, keeping herself busy by breeding and showing birds and growing organic herbs. Not one of her neighbours knew her worth, and she enjoyed it that way, feeling more kindly-disposed towards people she knew she didn’t have to rely on for anything, and who had no reason to find excuses to rely on her. As far as they were concerned, Jackie was a slightly eccentric (and possibly lesbian, although she never had anyone there) widow who got by on what she made off her various farming enterprises.
As she looked out across the valley from her small stoep, she sipped a gin and tonic and mentally outlined her schedule for the following day. Mostly she did whatever took her fancy, but sometimes her labourers would take off and then she would have to fill in personally. Jackie grinned to herself when she considered what her society friends would have to say if they saw her, ankle deep in bird shit, wrestling with a water trough to free it from its moorings so she could clean and fill it. Of course, it was much easier to do the eccentric old lady thing in her herb garden, with her old white straw hat – a colonial staple – and her thousand-rand secateurs.
But Jackie had other things on her mind, and they soon overtook her musings. This new and incredibly appealing prospect, which had only recently presented itself – himself, she corrected – bore more consideration before she made any moves. Jackie hadn’t married for money, but she certainly had not failed to learn from whatever lessons life threw her way, and although she was still sprightly and in great physical health at fifty-eight, she also knew that she couldn’t afford to have any more of the crazier lessons thrown her way at her age. She would act with caution, as she had since she had discovered that Number Two was having it off with her cousin, six months after their honeymoon. Jackie was nobody’s fool.