A Man For All Seasons
Henry had been good for me, but not any longer – so why was I finding it hard to let him go?
‘I realise, sadly, I’ve left my old chum without a proper goodbye’
It’s no good, I tell myself as I walk slowly along the seafront, trying to avoid the swooping gulls. Henry and I just aren’t working out.
Truth is, I’ve never been great at break-ups. Wasn’t that why I’d been with my ex for so long until, ironically, he’d ditched me? As the years had worn on, I’d started to think that the man I married was becoming ever more distant and uncaring until, one day, I found myself unable to break through his cold exterior. Yet still I didn’t leave.
Maybe I should’ve taken more notice of my great-aunt. ‘Always know a man for at least four seasons before you commit to a lifetime,’ she used to say. ‘People change according to the time of the year.’
I never took her advice seriously, but I’ve tried to reinvigorate Henry. I even gave him a bright-red scarf after reading about colour therapy.
My daughter had told me from the start it wouldn’t last.
‘Rubbish!’ I’d retorted stubbornly. ‘He’s good fun.’
And so he was for the first few months. But now things have changed…
My heart’s beating faster as I approach the allotment. Henry’s leaning to one side on his stick. Seeing his trusting grin, I feel a jolt of misgiving.
‘Wait a minute!’ a voice calls out urgently, just as I’m about to do the deed. It’s the man from four plots away. I’ve seen him many times before, but he’s never been particularly friendly. I always assumed he’d taken against Henry and me.
‘Please, don’t!’ he says, striding up in muddy wellies.
A seagull swoops, knocking right into Henry, then soars back up again victoriously, an old runner bean coated in blackfly hanging from its beak.
Henry slumps to the ground, his body broken after months of wear and tear in the elements. ‘I’ll have him.’
‘Look at him,’ I say regretfully. ‘He’s finished.’ Just like my broken marriage, I think, sadly.
When I moved here after the divorce to be near my daughter, it seemed a good idea to put my name down for an allotment, even though I’ve always been a terrible gardener. I thought it would be therapeutic.
It was – but allotments are far harder work than they look. You can spend an age weeding, only to find they all spring up again. Or your runner beans get blackfly, and snails or gulls eat most of the produce.
That’s why I’d bought Henry. He’d turned out to be quite therapeutic for me, too…
‘I can use him.’ The middleaged man is standing beside me now. ‘I’m Henry, by the way.’
I gesture sadly to the once-proud scarecrow, and say, ‘That’s his name.’
‘I know, I’ve heard you talking to him,’ he says. ‘Actually, I thought you were having a go at me! I couldn’t work out what I’d done wrong.’ ‘What do you mean?’
‘You said something like, “Henry! It’s time you started pulling your weight around here”. I thought you meant I was lowering the tone of the place with my overgrown allotment.’
No wonder he was grumpy with me after that!
‘I know it sounds silly,’ I reply, ‘but it was a relief, in a way, to let all my emotions out and not have anyone talking back.’
‘That’s understandable.’ He pauses, glancing down at the ground. ‘I started gardening because my wife used to love it.’ He looks away for a minute. ‘But I’m starting to think I should’ve stuck to the day job…’
‘And what’s that?’
He’s kneeling next to Henry now as if he cares, too. ‘I’m a recycling artist. I take things no one wants and make them into something else. Any chance I could have this scarf?’
I hesitate. It belonged to my ex. But, I resolve, there’s no point hanging on to the past. So I shrug, then walk off, leaning heavily on my stick because my leg is beginning to ache again.
It’s only when I get home I realise, sadly, I’ve left my old chum without a proper goodbye.
A month later, there’s a knock at the door. When I answer it, there’s a familiar figure leaning against my porch. The likeness is extraordinary, but the pole is sturdier and the body fuller.
There’s a note attached to his new, bright-red felt hat. ‘I’m Henry Mark II, the first in a new line of Made-To-Last Scarecrows. Try me out. I’m guaranteed for two years!’
There’s a phone number below. It’s only good manners to call and say thank you, so…
At that moment, my mobile rings. It’s my ex. ‘Thought I’d see how you’re getting on,’ he begins, casually. ‘How’s the leg?’
I think back to the day of my injury. Out for a drive in glorious sunshine, his usual impatience darkened things spectacularly. He’d gone to overtake the driver ahead without checking his mirror first…
It’d been a miracle that no one else was hurt, but, even as he’d sat beside me in the ambulance, my leg undeniably and agonisingly broken, I’d seen a spark of defensiveness. He’d never been able to accept his own failings, and this was no exception. He’d left me not long after, with gushing, insincere apologies.
Once, just hearing his voice would’ve had me flustered. Now I realise exactly how little this phone call means to me. ‘Getting there,’ I say, shortly. ‘Great! Listen, I’m in the area. Shall I pop in?’ he asks eagerly.
The old me might’ve agreed, but the allotment has helped me to blossom. ‘Sorry,’ I say firmly. ‘I have a date.’
And off I go to put Henry Mark II into the ground.
My widowed friend and I both need time to grow. But, if we still like each other after four seasons of bad gardening, who knows? We might just put down some roots.