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?

Woman's Weekly (UK) - - Contents -

‘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.’

Re­ally?

‘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.

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