The Crest of a Wave

Duncan McAdam was preparing for the last few days of the school year. He hated change and especially when it involved his usual routine. The thought of saying goodbye to all the staff and kids filled his heart with dread. What would he do each day? He could walk his dog, Hattie, and speak to the odd dog walker.

Next evening, he set out for the Fox and Hound, breathing in the cool outside air with a chance of snow pending, and soon he was inside embracing the smoky, warmth of the pub. The orange flames of the fire flickered in the corner, brightening up the dark outside.

‘Hello Duncan. All going well at school?’ asked James.

‘Great thanks, but not for much longer. Retirement looms.’

‘You’ll have to write a memoir about your teaching career. I’m sure you have many a yarn to tell.’

‘Perhaps. Though writing takes a great deal of self-discipline, which I seem to have lacking these days.’

‘Well, we’ll have to keep asking you how it’s going, to make sure you’re writing.’

When Duncan had picked up Hattie’s lead and left the pub, James turned to his neighbour at the bar.

‘Duncan’s such a kind, thoughtful chap. The kids run to him with all their problems, and he always makes time to help them. He’ll be sorely missed at the school.’

‘Retirement is always a great adjustment, especially when living alone,’ replied his bar companion.

‘It would be nice if Duncan could meet someone to spend his retirement with, but he’s such a confirmed bachelor, I can’t imagine anyone being able to deal with his lifestyle,’ said James.

A few days later, Duncan was in the Fox and Hound with all his goodbyes over, and his life stretching in front of him in an empty, tangled mess without a goal in sight.

Before he left home, he had searched through his overstuffed drawer to find a tin opener. He watched his frozen bread making a sound like a cork jumping out of a bottle as it popped up.  He then ate his usual baked beans on toast and wished he could think of tastier snack.

After he and Hattie had settled near the pub’s fire that evening, a quiet voice said, ‘Hello Duncan, I’m Emily. I met you at the school PTA earlier this year when I was helping with the flowers.’

‘Oh yes, hello Emily,’ he said.

‘What a beautiful dog. I also had a golden retriever years ago when my husband was still around. Nowadays, I live in an apartment which is no good for animals.’

‘Maybe you might like to walk with me sometimes,’ said Duncan. ‘I take Hattie to the woods in the afternoons and would appreciate some company.’

This might be the start of his next adventure, thought Duncan, and he was delighted when Emily took him up on his offer and soon enough, it became routine for Emily to join him and Hattie on their afternoon walks, which always led them back to the Fox and Hound in the evenings. People soon began to think of them as an item, and they were sometimes invited for dinner by other couples.  

‘Duncan, you know what? We must reciprocate all of these invitations,’ Emily said after their sixth invitation.

‘My house is really isn’t up to it, Emily,’ he said doubtfully.

But within the week, Emily came over to Westhaven, where he lived.

‘I see what you mean, Duncan,’ she said glancing around. ‘When was the last time this house had a proper clean?’ She looked behind doors and under furniture. ‘I could get my cleaning lady to come and help me give your place a complete clean,’ she finally said.  

‘I’m not sure if Hattie will take to strangers.’

‘I’m sure she’ll like Bridget. I’ll bring her next week so they can get acquainted,’ Emily said firmly.

The next week Bridget met them at the pub with Noddy, her spaniel, and they spent time getting to know Hattie and after, they all walked together. The bluebells were beginning to appear, and sprinklings of blue brightened up the dark wood. Duncan thought a new season was breaking out around them and he felt his new chapter was also beginning.

It was Sue who first noticed the difference in the little Westhaven house. Since her husband died, Duncan - his best friend – sometimes took her out for lunch when he had a short day at school. Sue had seen that Emily was always with Duncan and Hattie in the pub now, and he never suggested lunch out with her anymore and she missed that. Next thing she noticed was the yellowy smile that he used to throw towards her when she entered the pub had been replaced. He now had a glistening white smile, just like a Colgate ad.

‘Sue, please come to a barbeque at my house next Thursday evening after the pub,’ said Duncan to her one Tuesday evening.

‘I’d really like that thanks.’

Sue arrived early on Tuesday and noticed all the leaves that usually cluttered the driveway had suddenly vanished and the shrubs had been cut back leaving a neat, tidy, and uncluttered ambience.

‘Duncan, you’ve had quite a clean-up,’ she said, on greeting him.

‘Well it’s spring, a seasonal beginning and it’s a new adventure for me too now I’m retired.’

‘Good idea. I’m sure you must find the days very empty after such a busy life.’

She walked into the sitting room and noticed Hattie sitting, well behaved in the corner amongst new furnishing fresh out of the shops. The interior had a coat of paint in a lighter brighter colour, and it felt like a new home.

‘Hello,’ said Emily. ‘I thought we’d sit outside as it’s so nice this evening. Is that okay with you, Sue?’

‘You’ve redone the whole house I see. Duncan, can I have a look around?’

‘Sure, come and see.’

The bedroom had new floral curtains and a double bed which somehow took her by surprise and there was a suitcase partly packed on the bed.

‘Are you going away?’ asked Sue.

‘Yes, we’re off to Spain. Emily’s brother has a house on Minorca and offered it to us for a couple of weeks. Hattie’s going to have a holiday with Bridget and Noddy whilst we’re away.’

Life for Duncan has certainly changed, thought Sue, and she couldn’t help missing his company now she was alone.

‘Perhaps you could come to Spain and spend some time with us in the summer,’ said Duncan.

‘Oh, that’s a good idea,’ agreed Emily, seeing Sue’s face brighten. ‘There’s certainly plenty of space.’ And then she led them all out to the table under the trees, where she had laid out a Greek salad of feta and olives and another of tomatoes and mozzarella with garlic bread.

Duncan took in the new food aromas so far removed from the baked beans of his old lifestyle. It was so different from his usual barbeques, where the guests brought the salads and their own drinks.

‘Ready for some bubbly?’ Duncan asked Sue, pouring her a drink.

She took a long sip of the cool, sparkling liquid from her thin flute.

‘You’re certainly now floating on the crest of a wave, Duncan!’

Duncan nodded and flashed her his now Hollywood type smile.

‘And guess what – I’ve even started writing my memoir!’ he said, patting Hattie’s head.

Yes, he thought, Sue was right, he certainly was floating on the crest of a wave. Perhaps retirement was going to suit him after all.