“When the man came to view the house he had vanilla scented candles. Can you believe it?”
“Well Sharon if you say it was so then I must believe it.” said Bill Travers in the usual sarcastic tone of voice he used when talking to junior staff. “Who was it, by the way?”
“Martin Hicks, the retired bank manager fellow who’s looking for a small house in one of the villages round here.”
“Oh, I recall the fellow. Was an area manager I think? Got given an early bath, as they say: any reason for the candles then?”
“Well,” said Sharon, “According to him his mother liked them and he said that until she died they were often lit to cover the smell of his pipe. He said he doesn’t ever smoke indoors now but he needed to see what the house felt like when it smelled the way he was used to. That’s why he wanted to view the house when it was empty”
“Sounds unusual but perfectly reasonable Sharon: the important question is will he buy the damn place?”
In due course the man Martin Hicks did buy the house. It was the right size and very close to the little station that would enable him to get up to town easily and close to the golf course of which he was a member and past captain. As he explained to Sharon, he had many interests and duties in town; rotary, masonic and charitable committees and the train would allow him to travel without the drinking restrictions. “Not that I’m a drinker,” he explained to Sharon, “but the odd glass of amontillado doesn’t hurt.”
Sharon had giggled about that with her mum after she’d looked up amontillado on the internet. Sharon quite took to the old fellow for so he was in Sharon’s eyes though in truth fifty six is no great age these days. She helped him organise a cleaner, someone to do his laundry and someone else to get his shopping for him twice a week; as she explained to her mum. “He’s just a confirmed old bachelor. He needs people to look after him. Until he decided to come here he’d been looking after his mother who died after a long illness. I think he was very fond of her.”
Martin Davies was a very clubbable man and in most of the circles he moved in it was generally assumed that he was probably gay. However, in the way of such matters in his bourgeois society the men didn’t really care one way or another. He was well enough liked and whatever his proclivities he never gave cause for more than locker room speculation and humour. The women were more definite about his leanings but again he was a polite and likeable companion and a useful squire on occasions being no cause for marital jealousy.
He’d been in the new house about a month and the decorators had just finished when Martin finally met his immediate neighbour. They’d spied each other over the fence and naturally introductions were made. Martin weighed up the other man who affected a somewhat more flamboyant dress sense than Martin’s, particularly by topping off his ensemble with a soft round velvet cap. Martin was polite enough to show him round the newly decorated house with its spare but comfortable furnishings and he been rewarded with an invitation to tea, which he accepted. Rupert Bridge his neighbour fussed about getting tea made and laid out with good china on a small tray with biscuits. “Are you OK with Assam? I’ve got some China or Earl Grey if you’d prefer.”
Martin assured him that Assam was fine and over the next hour they shared their histories. Rupert was a little over sixty and effectively retired though he did a bit of lecturing at the local college, “Art history, you know. I taught art for many years and dabbled a bit without ever being famous. My real love was the stage but I never quite had the courage to go for it full out. I’m with the local am dram society. Would that interest you?”
“Only as a spectator”, confessed Martin, “I’d never have the nerve.”
Over the next couple of years the two neighbours became firm friends. Rupert liked cooking and often cooked for them both. “It’s hardly worth putting yourself out for just one person Martin.” Martin, for his part regularly attended the am dram productions and admired the effort and enthusiasm of his neighbour who strode the boards like some reincarnation of a nineteenth century actor-manager.
Apart from that their paths rarely crossed socially but became more mutually dependent domestically and their interest in their gardens became both a cause for sharing tools and competing about which garden was the prettiest and most productive; they’d almost unnoticed slipped into being almost a couple; unnoticed both by them and even the village. The latter probably because their social lives were not intertwined apart from Martin’s attendance at Rupert’s am. drams.
They had arranged to dine out together at a posh restaurant in the town one evening. It was Martin’s way of thanking Rupert for the many meals he cooked for them. It wasn’t until they were settled that, looking round Rupert realised this was not a normal evening. Suddenly he twigged. “Good God Martin do you know what the date is?”
Martin’s eyes swept the room with growing horror. “Oh shit, it’s Valentine’s Day.”
“Too bloody right, old love. We’re sitting in a room full of people who’ve got us firmly pegged as a couple of old queers.”
“What the hell are we going to do”, was Martin’s anguished retort.
“Put on a show for them of course”, said Rupert placing his hand firmly over Martins on the table. Martin gazed intently back into Rupert’s eyes and they both slowly collapsed in a fit of the giggles.
Robert Winston McNaughton