Old Habits Die Hard
There was nothing more soothing than the sound of rain, drumming on his leaded-light bay windows; how he savoured, with schoolboy anticipation, this time of year. Winter was undemanding, moving at its customary sluggish pace, asking little of him. Summer expected too much – a hard task-master. Vegetables clamouring to be gathered, bedding plants, begging to be planted, flower-beds forever whinging, “Weed me, weed me.” Not to mention grass, gasping for a drink, then demanding a short back and sides.
“Why doesn’t he sell up?”, the neighbours whispered, surreptitiously. “The garden’s too much at his age. You’d think he’d want something smaller...now. Can’t be short of a bob or two."
‘His age’... Indeed! There was a lot of oomph in the old dog yet, or so he kidded himself, and yes, thank you – he was quite comfortably off, if it was, indeed, any of their business. Oh, he’d heard them right enough, as they exchanged all manner of gossip across their carefully creosoted, larch-lap fences. He might be old, but he wasn’t deaf. Hard of hearing, maybe, or more a case of ‘selective deafness’ or so his long-suffering wife, Marjory had remarked on more than one occasion.
Smoke from his beloved briar pipe hung low beneath the old, oak beams. Marjory, went weak at the knees at the smell of Erinmore; almost addicted to it she became, over the years. Her only gripe being, he should show more care where he tapped out the ash. Certainly not on her pristine, parquet flooring.
“Talk of the devil,” he muttered, cupping hand to ear. “What’s that you say, dear? Yes, I think the Hellebores have bloomed again this year. I’ll pick you some in a while. Only permit me forty winks first. And no, I shan’t forget … you won’t let me,” he muttered.
Marjory loved her flowers; always a fresh bunch on the kitchen table.
Whilst he dozed, the rain turned to wet snow. It padded, only softly on the windows, and he would have slept all afternoon if logs, suddenly bursting to life with a snap and crackle in the fireplace, hadn’t roused him from his slumbers.
His slippers scuffed the carpet as he shuffled toward the back door. He opened it, and in the half-light stood for a moment, trying to remember what he was about to do. Senior moments, didn’t they call them? In a flash of inspiration, it came to him. Marjory’s Hellebores, or Christmas Roses, as he called them, with their custard-cream cupped flowers. He must pick them before nightfall.
Closing the back-door behind him, scissors in hand, he paused for a moment, before braving the elements. A storm was undoubtedly brewing as he observed the wind whipping up ragged, mane-like plumes on the pampas grass, ripping them to shreds.
Carpet-slippers hardly man enough for the job... the wet grass squelching under his feet, doggedly making his way toward the flower-bed by the potting shed. He stooped, as far as his sciatica would permit, and cut half a dozen, or so, blooms.
“Blast it!” he muttered to himself, walking back to the house...job done; his slippers heavily caked with mud. Not surprisingly, as he negotiated the two small steps by the kitchen door, he missed his footing and fell with such a wallop!
“Damn stupid thing to do!” he cursed, attempting to regain his footing, except his legs felt heavy...lifeless … Almost as if they didn’t belong to him.
“Marjory,” he called, his rasping breath condensing in the chill air. “There you are. Thank the Lord. Lucky you heard me. Help this decrepit old codger stand up, would you? I don’t appear to have done any damage, just a touch winded. And these, my love, the cause of the trouble, are for you,” he said, proudly thrusting forward the flowers, still grasped, preciously, in his hand.
He felt her plant a kiss on the top of his head and sensed her smile.
“Perhaps they’re right – the neighbours I mean. Perhaps I am a doddery old fool who’s way past his sell by date, eh Marjory? Somehow I can tell you don’t agree. The truth is we’re peas in a pod, you and me. After forty years or so it’s hardly surprising.
Funny, how we take so much for granted in this life. Imagine it will just go on, day in, day out, ad infinitum. I always told you I would be there for you … whatever happened, and I was. And likewise, you used to say the same to me. Unfortunately though, nothing lasts for ever … only nothing itself, of course.
You seem...on edge, Marjory. What’s wrong, or can I guess? Call it intuition if you will, or more probably what you whispered in my ear earlier, when you thought I was asleep. It’s OK, you know. I am ready... I was ready two years ago, as a matter of fact, not that it would come as a shock to you. No, I’m well ready for the off; pastures new – for me at least. I even took the precaution of stashing some spare tobacco in my pocket, plus my pipe, naturally. Assuming, of course, they permit smoking where the two of us are bound. If not, we’ll have to consider making a move ‘down-under’, so to speak. Only a joke, Marjory. By the way, did I ever tell you how beautiful you were? I had almost forgotten quite how beautiful.
And before you ask...yes, I have locked the back door and put the key under the flowerpot, for all it matters...now. What’s that they say...about old habits dying hard?”