The stories in Three Men on the Edge are divided into three parts. Here’s the first of three blogposts, one for each of the sections, which I hope might serve as a useful set of introductions.
The sixteen stories in ‘Cause for Alarm’ – the first part of the book – are devoted to Denholm. Denholm has lived in Rickmansworth for thirty four (and a half) years, and has been a Hertfordshire resident all his life since his family set up their newsagent business across the county. He’s retired, long-married, physically fragile – and would admit to a few quirks of behaviour in his maturity. For example, he has five different telephone lines at home, each for a very specific type of phonecall; he owns two garden sheds and every day he squirrels away at building something secret and intricate in the second one; and he makes major life decisions according to the lyrics of Neil Diamond songs – his wife, Joan, is a lifelong Diamond fan, and Denholm is intent upon fathoming this very masculine enigma. Quirks like these, while perhaps socially inconvenient, help to make Denholm the very particular man that he is.
Denholm and Joan have been together for so long that they no longer know if they love each other. Crucially, about ten years ago, Faith, a voluptuous widow, moved into the house next-door and has since embarked on a campaign of temptations in Denholm’s direction. Denholm is equal parts beguiled, obsessed and bewildered by Faith’s many charms.
Oh, and there’s Phil. Phil is Denholm’s only friend in Rickmansworth (he’s not much of a talker or ‘joiner’, our Denholm), and he’s trying to keep Denholm on the straight and narrow, if Denholm would only listen.
Will Denholm remain faithful? Will Joan and he bridge the chasm that has opened between them? Will Denholm’s story ultimately prove to be tragedy or comedy?
You can buy and read Three Men on the Edge here. In the meantime, this is the opening story of Denholm’s section, which first appeared (in an earlier version) in Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine in April 2015:
(Where are the fragranced pillows, where are the flying horses) Denholm balances the square box on his palm, lifts the purple lid, and inside, instead of hazelnut whirls and lemon crunches, resting in the depressions of the plastic tray, are the fifteen pairs of keys which used to open Gorgeous Gifts, no longer a going concern (where are the Union Jack beard trimmers, where are the tiger-print purses), he closes his eyes, fingers the keys, they rattle in his brain, fifty years trading on Rickmansworth High Street, Watford, Chorleywood, Bushey, St. Albans, places where mother’s business dug into Hertfordshire soil (find us the faux-diamond ballerinas, find us the Spitfire key-rings); how he cherished helping buyers turn panic to inspiration, and he drifts back to the Rickmansworth storeroom, clambering through stuffed cardboard boxes, the one-chair staffroom with its grown-up magazines (go find the Hertfordshire egg-timers, go find the invisible inks), and the smell of Grandma’s daily gammon rolls, how the shop became a home, how he memorised those cluttered shelves (go get the coin-box skulls, go get the footballing pigs), and how much he loathed the family party-trick, the loss of light as they put the blindfold in place.