Below are two additional stories I wrote during Christmas 2017 for the Denholm section of Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018). Both of the stories focused on Denholm and his wife Joan, and I felt that they brought out new elements in Joan’s personality. I sent them to my editor Sarah Leavesley, to discuss including them in the manuscript. We had a long email exchange, but in the end it was felt that it was too late to risk changing the manuscript – we might, in hindsight, regret altering Joan’s role at the last minute. It was decided that it would be more prudent to publish them separately. So, here’s the second of the two stories, in which Denholm and Joan consider whether to move into a retirement village. It seems to be particularly harsh on Watford. Now, as it happens, I like Watford, and have many fond memories of time spent there in both childhood and adulthood. Denholm and Joan, however, are less convinced.
Even when Denholm’s shielded by Croxley Green, and facing away, dreaming of the Chiltern Hills, Watford’s shops, small industry and relentless housing cast a morbid urban shadow. It might as well be London. Nevertheless, he subscribes to the Watford Observer – the only credible local paper. And this morning, while Joan deadheads the triple blooms of the tuberous begonia (female, female, male; female, female, male), his eye has been drawn to an advert for retirement living – maybe Phil had the right idea.
On the outskirts of Watford, between the M25 and the abandoned golf course, homes are being built. Once flung out by London’s centrifuge, he’d thought never to move, but perhaps this new village is reality for threadbare old age.
He looks out through the patio windows: his wife stoops with garden shears in one hand, the other now massaging her hip as she grimaces upright. She scrunches some petals in her fist, lifts them to her nose, inhales. Her brow seems furrowed.
There’ll be coded gates, a residents’ pool, gardeners tending communal lawns, porters to deal with Joan’s demands, and a driving range at which he could refine his swing. A certain, leisurely lure is undeniable, though he can’t bear to leave before his matchstick model’s complete, and surely he won’t find a neighbour as hospitable as Faith. But maybe that’s the point.
The back door opens, and in walks Joan, still carrying her fistful of petals, sniffing them carefully.
“The begonia smells strange this year. As if it’s rotting, though it looks alright. For goodness’ sake, Denholm, come out to the garden with me. Get some exercise.”
“Do you think we should move?” he ventures, uncertainly. “Something cheaper, near Watford?”
She stares, steps over to him, looks over his shoulder at the newspaper.
“Good God. Not that, not yet,” she says, then pauses. “But we do need to move. It’s time you considered it. Recently, you seem addled.”
Humming softly, she turns her wrist. One by one, the crushed petals tumble onto his head.