Kevin completed his crossword, his pencil lead breaking under the pressure he exerted. His wife offered him a cup of tea.
‘Snap out of it, Kev,’ she ordered.
He accepted the cup of tea but made no answer. He stared round the kitchen. Gwen belonged here. She and the kitchen were familiar with each other, whereas he was a clumsy interloper, his hip knocking into the corner of the worktop or his feet tripping over the dog bed. He didn’t want to be here, despite the warmth of the steam curling from the kettle and the aroma of freshly baked lemon cake, his favourite, that Gwen had whipped up to celebrate the day. A light covering of condensation blurred the view of the garden, adding to his sense of imprisonment.
He thought back to his office days; dressing in a sharp suit and a shirt freshly pressed by Gwen. His shoes were polished regularly. He glared down at his trainers. There was nothing wrong with them, but this was a weekday. It should be a work day.
‘I know we were asked to think about it, but we know the outcome they want. They hope us old boys will retire, to let the new brood take over. Don’t know about you, but I’m going to take the money and run.’
Kevin had held out for a month or so but the loss of his friend, Jim, and the sea of young faces swarming around the coffee machine soon made him feel uncomfortable in his work environment, so here he was; day one of retirement. Day one and he had already reached his boredom threshold.
‘For goodness sake, get out of my kitchen and take yourself off to the shed. Remember all those times you complained about going to work when you had projects to complete? Go on, off you go.’
Seemed he wasn’t wanted at home either. Wasn’t wanted anywhere. He sniffed and rubbed his hand over his unshaven chin. Didn’t see the point in looking smart when there was no one to see him.
When he was still working, his shed had been his sanctuary. At weekends and in the evening he had escaped to the welcome scents of wood shavings and machine oil. Now he looked round at half finished projects with a less than enthusiastic eye. Dust lay thick on the surface of a wooden jewellery chest he was supposed to be stripping and re-varnishing for Gwen. It had been on the workbench for at least two years now. He sat on an upturned crate, resting his elbow on his knee and his chin in his hand.
On the wall behind him hung his guitar. Gwen had insisted it was removed from the house when he wanted to practise.
He heard a muffled bark outside and saw that Darcy, the dachshund, still dizzy as a puppy though she was now coming up three years of age, had been turfed from the kitchen. Gwen would be mopping the floor, no doubt. After hurling herself several times against the firmly shut door, Darcy eventually accepted that she was banished. A stray puff of wind blew an abandoned plastic plant pot across the patio. Darcy crouched down and bared her teeth at this intruder before pouncing on it, shaking it from side to side until she was satisfied that it was no threat, her tail wagging furiously throughout.
Her attention quickly switched to a pink plastic ball that was bigger than her head. The kids next door must have kicked it over the hedge. Darcy opened her mouth as wide as she was able, but was unable to grip the sleek surface. Each time she tried the ball skittered away and her teeth snapped together. She sat, head tilted, as she observed this new plaything. She wasn’t going to be thwarted.
She spotted Kevin and raced towards him, barking an urgent request.
‘Leave me be, dog. I’m not in the mood for games.’
Darcy didn’t move from her spot but gazed at him and her whole body wriggled in ecstasy in the hope of a game.
‘I said leave me be.’
He turned his back and heard the click of her claws on the concrete path. She had given up on him. Work had given up on him, and so had Gwen. He grunted as he stood, his knees popping in protest. When he was certain Darcy wasn’t looking he chucked the ball back over the hedge. At least the kids next door would be grateful.
Returning to the shed he plucked the guitar from the wall and strummed an experimental chord. The flattened notes offended him and almost without thought he set about tuning the instrument.
‘I’ve got the retirement blues…’ he crooned. ‘No place to be, nothing to do…’
He was as out of tune as the strings, which would have to be replaced. He wished he hadn’t snapped his pencil. He needed to make a note of it somewhere - his memory wasn’t what it was. His mobile vibrated twice; a text message from Gwen - ‘The floor is dry if you want to come back inside. Sorry I was grumpy.’
‘Be back in soon.’
Remembering the notes function on his phone he jotted down, ‘New guitar strings.’ As an afterthought he added the lyrics he had just sung. He used to write the odd song when he was at school, some of them quite popular amongst his peers.
Picking up his mobile he sent a text to Jim. They had jammed together once or twice when they had first met, before life and work got in the way of such frivolity. ‘Hey, buddy, do you still play keyboards? Just found my old guitar. Want to see if any of the old magic is still there?’
Without waiting for a reply he hung the guitar back on the wall, locked the shed behind him and whistled to Darcy as he headed back to the kitchen.
© Kathy Goddard