'One of the most enchanting things about a garden is the anticipation it brings.' How true, Gerald mused… the joy of watching all the hard work of digging and planting finally coming to fruition. All those hours in the greenhouse, watering, pricking out…
He wasn’t addressing anybody in particular. In fact he was quite alone. He exhaled a sigh of satisfaction and took another sip of Pimms before settling back in his sun lounger. The large purple fronds of buddleia, as they moved lazily in the breeze, shaded him from the afternoon sun. Through half-closed eyes he could see the red admirals fluttering about, undecided on which frond to alight. Fluttering and landing… fluttering and landing… seeking out the fragrant nectar. The air was heavy with it. He could feel his eyes closing.
Yes… there was always plenty to look forward to in the garden. It was all in the planning, of course. The wisteria, planted some years ago – and so painstakingly encouraged to grow up and around the metal archways – had finished blooming, but the bank of hydrangeas was just beginning to take its place, arranged as a long hedge separating the formal areas from the kitchen garden. Gerald relished the artistry involved in getting the colours to blend – from the whites to the pale and darker blues, through the purples and pinks and then back to the whites again. Of course, there was effort involved in keeping it that way, the soil in his garden being so alkaline. But it was worth it. They were by far his favourite plants. The fragile lace caps and the brazen mop heads always reminded him of seaside holidays with their aunt on the south coast in times long gone, when he and Rupert were children…
He settled his bulky form even deeper into the sun lounger, stretching his legs out to their full length. He deserved this bit of relaxation. With eyes still closed, he listened to the buzzing of the bees. He languidly flicked one aside before concentrating on the chatter of a bird. An unfamiliar sound… and very insistent. He would check it out later on the CD of birdsong that had come free with this week’s copy of The Times. A smile spread across his fleshy lips and he breaks into a laugh. Failing that, he could consult his friends on their next ‘ornithological’ weekend away.
And he would check out that quotation that had sprung to mind earlier… ‘One of the most enchanting… or was it delightful… things…’ He’d definitely read it somewhere. He may not have quoted it exactly, but the sentiment was there. He mentally scanned the pages of the book of famous gardening quotes that Rupert had given him last Christmas. Yes, that was the fellow! W E Johns, the chap who had written the Biggles books.
He was floating back to his boyhood days. Back from boarding school, and together once more in the school holidays, he and Rupert were huddled in their beds, safe under the sloping ceiling of their shared bedroom, separated only by the bedside table on which stood the lamp, recently switched off with great aplomb, by their mother. ‘It’s your turn to read,’ he would whisper each night, handing his younger brother the torch and the latest Biggles adventure. ‘But best keep your voice down. You don’t want to get into trouble.’
This deliciously illicit pursuit must have influenced Rupert in his choice of career. Not a fighter pilot like Biggles and his creator – both wars were long over when he and Rupert had started to make their way in the world. But his brother’s job of test pilot had sounded more than a tad stimulating for Gerald’s fancy. The tales of Biggles had certainly not prompted him to action. Excitement was a dish best eaten cold and served up via the derring-do of others. Gerald was the cerebral one, the planner… although, on reflection, he had not much liked his job in the city. But good old pater had come to his rescue with his old-fashioned ideas on primogeniture… although Gerald’s legacy had been greatly curtailed by the old goat’s profligacy. Neither had the house or grounds been passed to him in their now pristine condition. Their state of disrepair had not been to his wife Susan’s satisfaction at all. Gerald wilted at the thought of the work that this had entailed. Decades of wallpaper had needed to be stripped, mouldering skirtings had required replacing and, in Susan’s opinion, redecoration needed to be an annual event.
But he mustn’t allow the thought of all that to disturb this much needed bit of relaxation.
The sun was moving further to the west, burning his skin as it escaped the dappled shade of the buddleia. He was not one of those souls whose skin tanned easily. He knew he should move but, of course… he wouldn’t. Now that the Scots pine had undergone tree surgery, there was little shade anywhere in the garden at this time of day. His muscles tightened at the memory of that undertaking. In fact he had needed to do the unthinkable and employ extra help – a specialist, no less. But he hadn’t begrudged the extra expense… not where the garden was involved. Fortunately, they had never required extra help in the house. Good old Susan was prepared to do all the household chores unaided.
It was strange the way their life together had evolved. Gerald, with his fair and freckly skin, had control of the garden, whereas Susan, with her ruddy complexion that resembled seasoned leather at the first hint of summer, spent all her free time indoors. Imagining the effort she expended there quite enervated him. But he did paint the ceilings. Being all of six foot three in his socks, he was quite willing to help her in this respect. The roller glided easily over the surface without even the need for steps.
Gerald yawned. Rupert and his wife would be arriving in a couple of hours. No doubt they would already be fighting their way through the weekend traffic on the North Circular from their bungalow in Dollis Hill. And Rupert’s nerves would be frazzled by the time they arrived. He had always been impatient. Unlike him, Rupert had never learnt the art of sitting still.
They would eat outside on the terrace and enjoy the view of the garden. Susan was a wonderful cook, thanks to the excellent produce emanating from his kitchen garden. He salivated at the thought of her raspberry Pavlova and Eton mess, her gooseberry fool and rhubarb crumble. The globe artichokes had already been lifted and taken inside for her to prepare. Such sensuous vegetables, artichokes… the way each leaf, like items of clothing, had to be removed from the outside in. The way the teeth had to tease out the flesh, until one finally reached the soft and yielding centre… rather like that scene in D H Lawrence’s Women in Love, describing the more vulgar way to consume a ripe fig…
‘Gerald? Are you asleep? Gerald!’ His delicious reverie was eroded by the ever growing fractiousness of Susan’s voice. Like Rupert, she should really learn to relax. ‘Rupert and Angela will be over shortly. Had you forgotten?’
Angela? Whatever had happened to the lovely Maria? Oh yes… divorced. Rupert had been very careless in his treatment of such a prize. He recalled her velvety skin, plump like a peach. Unlike Susan’s, Maria’s hands did not carry the rasp of sandpaper as she explored his body. Her fingers did not sport the cracks and fissures gained from constantly rubbing down woodwork or preparing vegetables. With her persistent desire for perfection, Susan had been pared down to resemble a handful of al dente julienne carrots. Whereas sinking into Maria’s arms had been to lose oneself in the folds of a well upholstered sofa…
‘The grass, Gerald! It needs cutting before they get here. It won’t happen with you sitting here. And Con has been here all day.’
‘Yes, dear.’ He reluctantly obeyed her, moving his lounger up the few steps to the terrace.
‘Sorry to disturb you, sir, but the missus is expecting me home for tea.’
Good old Cornelius! Of course, he had made the man what he was today. When Gerald had first taken him on, all those years ago, he was nothing but a general handyman. He had known nothing about gardening. To him, all plants were either brambles or briars and had to be disposed of accordingly. But with the loan of Gerald’s library of gardening books, the man had become a real asset. In fact, he had become indispensable.
Con had started up the lawnmower’s engine and was proceeding to cut neat velvety swathes in the lawn. He raised his voice as he passed close to Gerald, recumbent once more.
‘I’ve pruned the espalier trees, sir, and next week I’ll make a start on the…’
But Gerald was no longer listening. His mind was wandering over the, as yet, uncharted hills and valleys of… Angela.
Author Notes: If you enjoyed this story, please visit my website http://www.janebean.co.uk where you will find not only more stories, but details of Books 1 and 2 of my trilogy, The Main Man.