I was already grouchy when I walked down the stairs to the breakfast table. Everyone was there eating, as usual. No one waited for me — I get no respect!
“What’s wrong, Daddy?” chirped 9 year old Emma, the joy of my life. She was playing with her oatmeal, stacking piles of blueberries on top like little cannon balls. Her smile almost made me forget why I felt grumpy.
“I tried to take a shower, but someone had used up all the cold water. You have no idea what it’s like having to shower in warm water!” I knew I was grumbling like a spoiled brat, but enough was enough.
“Oh, Daddy! I take warm showers all the time. So does everybody else I know.”
Astonished, I looked around the table at my two older sons, and both of them nodded to affirm that they too took warm showers. Even my 9 month old baby Hugh stopped babbling long enough to move his head up and down sagely, then turned and threw up all over Valerie, our domestic android, who had been trying to feed Hugh his cereal.
Valerie reached for a towel and tried to clean herself off, but only succeeded in smearing it all over her smock. She blurted something indistinct and walked quickly toward her personal utility room.
“I think you’re getting too old for cold showers, Pops,” smirked Mgumi, my oldest son — the illegitimate result of a tropical safari taken in my younger and wilder years. I knocked him halfway across the room with a quick left hook that he didn’t see coming. “But you still pack a wallop, that’s for sure!” Mgumi quickly got up off the floor and finished his breakfast. He then rushed out to ride his motorcycle around the island.
“Dad, can I ride to the beach with Bill and his father?” 14 year old Jack asked earnestly. “They say the surf is going to be perfect, and I haven’t used my board in several days.”
“If I’m not mistaken, you snuck out of the house around 4 am yesterday morning and barely got back by 7, when your mom came downstairs. She almost caught you. I think your board is getting plenty of use.”
“But can I go Dad?”
“Okay, but watch the tides. I don’t want to have to take the boat halfway to Bermuda to pick you up if you get carried away.” We both knew that was an exaggeration, but only just.
“Thanks. I’ll be careful.” Jack wasted no time slipping out to the garage to grab his surf board then ran to the road where his friend and his father were already waiting.
Valerie was back and finishing with baby Hugh’s breakfast. Once done, she carried the squirming human sack of potatoes toward the play room, stopping at the doorway only to turn and say, “You know Mr. Fin, I would be happy to fill your bathtub with ice cubes. A real man would take an ice bath, not a silly “cold” shower.”
I said nothing, coldly eyeing the hibernate switch on her left shoulder. She got the message in moments, and swept grandly into the play room with Hugh, salvaging as much of her dignity as she could.
Reluctantly, as I worked through my scrambled eggs and polenta, I turned to my wives at the other end of the table. Well, two of them were ex-wives, but it was hard to think of them in any other way since they seemed to be there any time I turned around.
My first wife Ingrid, the mother of Jack, always wore the face of a martyr. She seemed to feel that she deserved some sort of award for having helped care for Mgumi, who was already with me when we were married and not hers by birth. That disgruntlement and sense of victimhood is one reason we divorced. But then she never left!
You can then imagine how Julia, my second wife felt. Not only must she deal with my prior children Mgumi and Jack, but she also had to learn to tolerate living with Ingrid, the ex-wife from hell. Fortunately my daughter Emma has been an absolute treasure, and makes up for much of the friction that arises every day when wife interacts with ex-wife. The boys are a lot of fun, and we do a lot of “guy things” together and I teach them a lot of skills. But Emma’s smile and our conversations put a glow into my life.
Yet, the longer we were married the more unhappy Julia became with the unconventionality of our household. Not just step children — including one illegitimate son from the tropics — but a damned ex-wife too! Julia began threatening to leave and to take Emma with her.
So I bought Valerie, our domestic android, and had her programmed to assist in cooking, cleaning, child raising, and as a special tutor to reinforce the school lessons for the children.
It was not enough. Julia divorced me two years ago. But she never left. And there she sits next to Ingrid, eating her yogurt and playing with her iPhone at the table — something I never let the children do.
And then there’s Nadia, Hugh’s mother. Nadia is young, beautiful, and smart. She once worked as assistant district attorney in a city in the mid-west. I suspect there are some things she hasn’t told me about her past. But she has no complaints and gets along with the ex-wives and the step-children, and Valerie seems to be a bit intimidated by her — which is a big plus in my view. Unfortunately, she intimidates me too. But on the bright side, there is never a dull moment.
“Fuck!” the high baby-pitched yell came from the playroom. Uh oh. Baby Hugh was learning to talk at 9 months, and he was learning from Valerie. That android is going to be the death of me yet.