Janet and I had been friends and neighbours for years, long before her husband and my wife died.
Now we were both in our late seventies yet still very active. Apart from our competitive love of gardening, we served on several village committees together. We met two or three times a week at some function or other.
The village had expected us to marry, in order to merge the estates or some such silly notion. Our children and grandchildren would inherit whatever we left. We had enough grandchildren to half populate the village. Perhaps I exaggerate but the total must be over twenty grandchildren. I can keep track of my own but I'm lost when it comes to counting Janet's. We seem to have visiting small fry all summer in and out of both houses indiscriminately.
This spring I nearly asked Janet to marry me. Then we fell out over our gardens. Both of us used organic methods of pest control. We planted to minimise greenfly, encouraged toads and grassnakes, and cared for our hedgehogs. We had built hedgehog houses to let them hibernate in peace. Janet had a hedgehog. I had another. Mine was larger and darker.
When we saw and heard the first signs that the hedgehogs were up and about we both put out food to encourage them to stay. That caused the rift between us.
"Alan!" Janet shrieked at me across the hedge, "My hedgehog's in YOUR garden. What have you been doing?"
I was surprised at the attack.
"Me, Janet? I've done nothing."
"You must have. My hedgehog always stayed in my garden. It's big enough."
That was true. Her garden was about one and a half acres. Mine was marginally smaller.
I had noticed that I had more slugs than normal. I had assumed the hedgehogs had hibernated longer. I hadn't seen evidence of two hedgehogs at work in my garden.
I made a mistake.
"Are you sure it was your hedgehog? I've got too many slugs."
"Are you suggesting I'd lie?"
Janet didn't speak to me for a week. She ignored me at all the social events. Her behaviour was so obvious that people commented.
Then one evening at dusk I saw her hedgehog. In MY garden. She had been right. I went round and knocked on her front door. She opened it, then slammed it in my face. Disconsolate, I turned away. Under a hedge I heard a hedgehog snuffling. I bent down and peered under the hedge. There was MY hedgehog in HER garden.
The door opened behind me.
"What are you doing, Alan?" Janet shouted.
"Looking at MY hedgehog in YOUR garden," I shouted back. "YOUR hedgehog is in MY garden. That's what I came to tell you."
Janet came out into the garden. She peered under the hedge.
"It is your hedgehog. Why?"
"I don't know, Janet. They seem to have swapped gardens."
"Haven't we been silly?" she said.
My apology was stopped with a kiss. Nice.
Janet stood with an arm wrapped around my waist. My arm fell around her shoulder. She leant against me. We stood listening to a hedgehog's noisy rooting snuffle.
Another snuffle. Her hedgehog came through under the dividing hedge. We watched as it emerged then realised 'it' was a she. Six tiny spiky hedgehogs followed her. She greeted her mate with a snuffle then she and the six pincushions wobbled across the lawn towards the hedgehog house.
Janet and I kept perfectly still as they waddled out of sight.
I squeezed Janet's shoulder.
"I've got something to ask you, Janet," I said.
"Not now. Not yet. I want to try the goods first. Fancy a night-cap?"
I followed her into her house. We toasted the hedgehog family in champagne before retiring to Janet's large double bed together.
We found that neither of us had lost our touch. My fingers explored her, followed by my probing tongue. She did wonderful things to me with her hands. Her breasts belied her age. I enjoyed kissing them over and over again.
On our first full coupling she rode me. I was worried that our aged bones would bang together. They didn't. Both of us had enough flesh to cushion each other comfortably.
After a long break (I'm NOT that young!) I rode her until both of us were worn out. Janet fell asleep in my arms. She snores so gently it sounds as if she's purring. It is a most comfortable noise. I could get used to it.
In the morning I gently stroked Janet's naked body before saying:
"Can I ask you now, Janet?"
"The answer is 'Yes' unless you want me to produce more babies. You don't, do you?"
"No. I think we're past that. We could try but..."
"We tried last night. Ready for another attempt?"
We were married in the summer with a host of small bridesmaids.
Neither garden has any visible slugs.