Truth be told, it was the most enormous marrow, both in length and girth. Green it was, with stripes of deep and buttery yellow.
Resting against it, a rosette of yellow silk enclosed the words ‘Country Champion’. A large silver cup stood to one side Behind the trestle table, which sagged under the massive vegetable’s weight, stood Lord Ulysses Plott, a grin, almost as wide as the marrow was long, plastered across his face.
In front of the trestle, Lady Philomena Plott stood in conversation with Al Kidder, the bull-chested and white-bearded Curate of St. Werenfridus. A passing spectator deposited their empty tea-cup on the trestle, which groaned alarmingly under the additional weight.
‘Stand back, Lady Plott. That table is about to be squashed by the squash,’ Kidder gave a deep-chested laugh.
Philomena regarded the marrow, its sheer size and gentle but definite curvature. ‘It’s vegetables like this that make you doubt the sanity of the Doctrine of Signatures,’ she said.
The sun was setting by the time the Plotts headed for home. Philly was driving, Ulysses had had a couple of celebratory gins, and then a couple more. She didn’t mind in the least, he’d done the same for her several times. Today was his turn, and he deserved it.
As they bounced along the winding lanes in their old Citroen, the enormous marrow nestled in heap of old blankets on the back seat, Ulysses said: ‘They said I couldn’t do it, Philly. They weren’t interested in my methods, they didn’t even want to talk.’ He smiled a smile of deepest satisfaction, ‘I showed them.’
Philly had heard it all before, and more than once. She sympathised, she really did. She patted Ulysees hand affectionately, ‘I always knew you’d do it. You and your remarkable marrow.’
‘I know you did, m’dear. Even on the days I stopped believing it myself.’ Lord Plott coughed, cleared his throat, and blew his nose. ‘Couldn’t have done it without you, my sweet. Kept me going.’
‘Well, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?’ Philomena said.
Ulysses settled back into the passenger seat, ‘This has been one of the best days of my life.’
The next day Ulysses was up at his usual time, spent a long morning writing science fiction, and the afternoon in his garden. As the days went by, his writing mornings grew longer and longer. Words were pouring onto the page, good ones too. By the end of the week it was all he was doing. Out in his part of the garden Michaelmas daises set seed, Brussels swelled on the stem, and old raspberry canes rattled in the wind.
It wasn’t long before Philomena noticed.
‘Cup of tea?’
Ulysses looked up from his writing, ‘Slice of cake? Splendid idea. ’
The kitchen table had always been neutral territory. The kettle boiled, Philomena warmed the pot and made the tea while Ulysses cut two generous slices of his home-made fruit cake.
They sat down. Ulysses poured. China clinked on china, that familiar, comforting sound.
Philly looked her husband in the eye. ‘What’s up, Lissy?’
There was no avoiding it. Ulysses realised he was glad to get it off his chest. ‘It’s this marrow thing, Philly. In the end, winning that prize just wasn’t what I thought it would be.’
Philomena thought back to her first novel deal, that heady moment of joy, the champagne, the laughter. After so many years – vindication. Then, a few days later – nothing. She’d never mentioned it. ‘It’s funny, isn’t it, when you get what you want, your feelings aren’t what you thought they would be.’
‘That’s exactly it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel glum, and I’m not down in the dumps, it’s just that…’
‘You thought you’d be happier about it for longer?’
‘That’s just it,’ Ulysses patted the table with a small flourish.
Philomena leaned towards him, eyes intent. ‘But are you satisfied?’
‘Yes,’ Ulysses said after a moment. ‘Yes, I am. Maybe that’s the answer – happiness is fleeting, a thing for the moment, it’s the satisfaction that endures.’
‘And maybe Kipling was right.’
Momentarily puzzled, Ulysses looked down at his slice of home-made cake. Then the coin dropped. ‘Rudyard? Triumph and disaster? It was all right for him, Nobel laureate and all that.‘ He scratched at the hairs on his chin, ‘Maybe it wasn’t that important after all.’
‘It was to you.’
‘Yes, it was,’ Ulysses exclaimed. ‘Still is, actually. Bloody pleased with myself. But that’s it, isn’t it? Job done, game over, and time to move on. Time, in fact, to get back out into the garden.’
‘How about we eat down in the Poet and Castle tonight? Have a chat with a few friends and listen to what they have to say?’
‘Good idea, I fancy a stroll.”
To be continued…?