Once upon a time there was a woman. This woman had a spouse and four lovers. Her husband had a mistress, who was also the mistress of one of the four lovers. Another of the four lovers was the husband of one of this woman's very dear friends. Yet another lover was not exactly a lover for he made love to her with his eyes alone. Two of the lovers were brothers. One of the five though not necessarily the one with the lover's admiring gaze was a poet cum musician, and another, one of the brothers in fact, was an actor. All four lovers as well as the husband knew about each other's existence as lovers in this woman's life and each of them had a unique relationship with atleast one other charachter in the story.

If this story reads more like a problem in the Analytical Section of a GRE practice book, rather than a literary piece, then it is not entirely unintentional. The writer is indeed very fond of such puzzles and is wont to solve them whenever she can, but this is the first time she is relating a real tale through one. Anyhow, to proceed with the puzzling story -

One day out of the blue she decides to give up all her lovers and to live the rest of her life with her spouse alone. The husband gets very frightened and breaks out in a cold sweat. He wants his wife to be seen as attractive and desirable by others so he can be envied his position as the spouse. Besides the four lovers have become his friends and he does not wish to antagonize any of them, particularly the one he worships and who he shares his mistress with. This lover is the oldest among all her lovers. He wears a beard and has magnetic eyes. Although with his looks he could pass off for a musician-poet or a scientist he is neither.

When the four lovers hear of the woman's decision to enter monogamy, at first they react differently. The cinematographer laughs disbelievingly; another, the one who wears his hair very long, but not the healer nor the actor, shrugs his shoulders feigning indifference; the third, one of the brothers, strikes a pose of deep melancholy; and the fourth, her girl-friend's husband but not the shortest of the lot, plots at getting the husband murdered. A few minutes later they interchange their attitudes with one another as in a game of musical chairs and soon the roles too change and after a while there is utter confusion as they try to decide on their original positions.

The bearded one, who has no acting skills whatever is raving and ranting at the injustice of it all and trying to incite the others to take her to court on charges of desertion. The silent lover, the scientist and the sexiest amongst all is standing silently in the corner shedding soft silent tears oblivious to the chaos around him intent on feeling most intensely the suffering of separation. The theater actor, the jester without a wife or a second mistress remains the eternal entertainer and is regaling anyone and everyone who cares to listen with all the absurd interesting anecdotes that he has shared with the woman, and at the end of each episode bidding her the most theatrical of good-byes. The fourth, the tallest, who is not the husband of her friend is desperately trying to reach her husband to get her to change her decision and alternately pleading with her to reconsider. The woman more conscious than ever before of the effect she has on men, remains resolute and serene, without the least trace of anxiety or vanity, although she thoroughly enjoys this last act of great drama and emotion.

Meanwhile the husband's mistress hears of the wife's intentions and further tightens her snare around him. The lovely woman (our protagonist) is appalled at discovering that she has no plans of letting go of her spouse, the fattest of the five and that he in turn is using her as a shield to protect himself from a 'real' marriage. The woman is angry with the mistress for being a woman and yet not understanding her situation. She turns to her lover, who is also the lover of the mistress to ask him to make her understand her need, but the lover, who is no healer, in his greed for the beautiful woman further fuels the fire of jealousy and insecurity and turns the mistress from her adversary into her enemy.

The woman discovers this betrayal and also comes face to face with her own betrayal of her very dear friend, who in all this hullabaloo discovers her husband's infidelity with her until-then-considered friend. The woman, upon hearing about her friend's suffering, is mortified, grieved and repentant. But her friend shuts the door on her and she has only herself to contend with. The friend's husband, who is also no healer is equally at sea by the aftermath of the revelation, and unable to be of any assistance.

Having had enough of this wild existence of roller-coaster relationships and exciting but immature conduct, she throws her husband out of her home and her life, for she recognizes him to be the coward that he is. She befriends three of her lovers (the bearded guy, the scientist and one of the brothers) and defines the boundary of their friendship as resting just outside her romantic-couple universe. The fourth, the tallest, the one who made love with his eyes alone she takes to her heart for she remains an incurable ......

And so of course the two live happily ever after solving analytical as well as crossword puzzles in intimate and cozy companionship even at the height of their rosy romance. And should you dear reader be just as fond of such puzzles as they, you could try to figure out which of her lovers wears his hair long. In case you are not very familiar with such puzzles but still want to give it a shot the hint is to work out the entire matrix of the five men in her life, their relation to one other charachter, their proffessions, the superlative charachteristic that each of them have and the two different sets of reactions they'd taken on upon hearing their beloved's decision. I promise you that like all real life problems this too is solvable. If the solution is not entirely to your liking you can always change your preference, or attitude as the yanks call it, but that is another story.

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