Thursday 13 February 2020


by Christine Howe

hot chocolate  

The store was like a maze, stock crammed on rails in the women's clothing section. Steve had Meryl's dress size written on his palm, but that was of no use in this vague clothing mash-up that was Women's Tops. Instead of sizesthey had 'S', 'M' and 'L'. He worked his way along the 'S' and 'M' side of the double rail. Plastic hangers clattered and a couple of tops slithered to the floor. He pulled out a dark blue halter-neck top with a beaded decoration, held it up and then dropped it into the basket. Meryl would look great in that, with her skinny jeans; just what the model was wearing in the magazine photo.

The magazine had lain open on the coffee table at the same page for a couple of weeks. Meryl had to have wanted him to see it because her usual habit was to tidy away her magazine to the shelf beneath the table. Easy evening glamour  it read. It recommended a glitzy top and strappy sandals, plus a fringed wrap for warmth. Big hint to what Meryl wanted for Valentine's day and what she hoped for in terms of a night out. Tonight they'd walk right on past their favourite haunt, Joe's Pizza Place, and dine at Carluccio's. He could already feel the pain in his credit card.

Now for the strappy sandals. The other number engraved on his palm was her shoe size. He cruised past the trainers, boots, flats and court shoes to the sandals, glancing at the sizes. No 'S' and 'M' in the shoe department. The strappy sandals all looked crippling. A pity that Meryl wouldn't have time to practise walking in them. She always wore sensible flats for work and trainers at the weekend. He spotted a silver pair in her size, with a high spiky heel and a bit of glittery decoration. Just the business!

He checked his watch. Better get going and find the wrap. By mistake he hit the rugs and throws section and stood doubtfully for a moment before heading to jackets. The jewel-coloured wraps, soft with angora and cashmere dangled their price tags at him and he let out a low whistle. They could always use it as a bed throw he guessed, and chose one in taupe. He hoped that Meryl would be pleased at this bit of practicality. 

At the till the checkout assistant smiled both approval and envy. He asked for the price tags to be removed and paid extra to have his purchases wrapped in red tissue paper and for a big red paper carrier bag.

He was home before Meryl, who had gone to have her hair trimmed. Maybe she was going to surprise him with a fancy up-do like the model in the magazine photo. They had agreed not to buy each other Valentine cards as Meryl said they were a waste of money. 

Upstairs he had a shower and put on a clean shirt. On top of Meryl's chest of drawers was a neat pile of clothes. He saw boot socks and the base layer tops she wore for hiking. He sat on the bed and stared at it. Meryl had started her springtime drawer tidying early. He rubbed his chin and picked up his shaver. 

Back downstairs he waited for her to return, ready to praise her hairstyle. It would be exciting to see her in that slinky top and spiky heels. Maybe she'd keep those heels on for a while when they got back from Carluccio's. 

The magazine was still open on the coffee table. He knew all about easy evening glamour now. His eye slid down the page and met a brief article praising the Yorkshire Dales for a weekend break. He saw the tiny heart pencilled on it just as he heard Meryl open the front door.

About the author 

Christine Howe was once a librarian, then she leapt the desk.

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