by Tony Domaille
The shop girl’s bubble-gum went pop, and she slowly used her tongue to pull the sticky mess back into her mouth before saying, “France I s’pose.”
I rolled my eyes. “That’s very good,’ I said. ‘Where can I find the French knickers? France I s’pose. Very good.”
“They for your fancy woman then, mister?” she asked, as if it were a natural question.
“My wife, actually.”
The shop girl tilted her head to one side and regarded me with a frown. “You tryin’ to be funny?”
“No, young lady,” I said, returning her look. “I wouldn’t attempt to engage you in a battle of wits because I think you are unarmed, so I think I’ll move on.”
“Suit yourself,” she replied, just before popping her bubblegum again and walking away.
This always happens to me in shops. People behind counters seem to immediately recognise me as someone who doesn’t have the first idea what he’s doing and decide to add to my woes. They seem to instinctively know that choosing a Christmas gift for my wife is torture for me and they revel in adding to the pain.
I looked around the department store for inspiration. I had given up on the French knickers idea for two reasons; I couldn’t find them, and I also couldn’t remember if it was my wife or I who wanted her to wear some.
The sign seemed to flash at me in neon (mostly because it was neon) and I cried out in relief, “That’s it. Make-up!”
A passing woman gave me the sort of look says ‘pervert’ as she passed and I felt a bit hurt that it was people both sides of the counter who seemed to have it in for me. Never mind, though, the answer to my prayers was there. Hell, you can spend huge sums on make-up, and the more I spend the more the wife is convinced I put my heart and soul into the purchase.
“Excuse me,” I called to a white coated, painted lady behind the cosmetics counter.
“Yes, Sir, how can I help?”
“I’d like to buy make-up,” I said, assuredly. “Lots of it…and expensive, preferably. It’s for my wife.”
The lady looked me up and down. “For your wife?”
She shook her head before tilting it to the same angle as bubblegum girl and I briefly wondered if they were trained to do that. Then she put her hands on her hips, delivering a withering look before telling me, “Men like you make me sick.”
I took a step backwards. “I beg your pardon?”
“You want to spend a lot of money?”
“Then in my experience it won’t be for your wife,” she said, bitterly. “My husband…ex, I should say…spent a fortune on that bitch he ran off with and what did he spend on me?”
I stood silently stunned.
“Well?” she asked.
“Er...not much on you?” I offered.
Tears welled up in her eyes. “Got it in one, so don’t you dare come in here talking about expensive gifts and expect me to help you deceive your poor wife, you…you…” She seemed to pull herself together momentarily and added, “I’m sorry sir, we cannot accept your credit card or your dirty cash or anything else.”
“But...” I started.
“Bastard,” she hissed, and a dozen passing customers stopped in their tracks to look me over.
“He’s having an affair,” yelled the make-up lady.
“I’m not,” I denied, pathetically, as I looked from face to face of those who had stopped to see what the commotion was about. All I could see were contemptuous looks and disgusted faces. “I’m not,” I complained again. Then an old lady hit me with her handbag as I retreated out of cosmetics and made my way to the store exit.
Outside it was snowing and I pulled my collar up in lieu of a proper coat. “No knickers, no mascara, no lipstick,” I whispered and the woman who’d passed me in the lingerie department was suddenly there again. This time she said, ‘pervert’ out loud before scuttling off into the crowd.
And so the afternoon wore on. In the shoe shop I didn’t know if I wanted stilettos or sling backs or bloody Wellington boots. In a dress shop I didn’t know what 10, 12 or 14 meant. Then in a handbag store I was propositioned by a gay guy, convinced the snakeskin, gold clasp bag was really my style. I ended up buying a rucksack to assert my waning masculinity and to put him off, but I knew it would never make a Christmas gift for Susan.
At five o’clock I miserably got onto the bus without a gift and still no idea what I was going to get Susan. I had been smart mouthed by a teenager, yelled at, insulted, sexually harassed, and snowed upon. I had failed miserably.
The bus rumbled homeward and I wiped the condensation from the window so that I could look out on the world that had given me such a hard time, yet still twinkled with Christmas lights. The pavements were full of people, slipping and sliding their way along the icy pavements to their homes or the pub or wherever.
Then I saw it. Outshining even the snowy scene or the coloured light. The answer to my problems was just standing there. Okay, it would be a good deal more expensive than an arm full of lingerie or a basket full of cosmetics or a designer dress, but it was the answer. I rang the stop bell and leapt from the bus at a run with my credit card in my hand.
The sun reflected off the snow-covered world on Christmas day. When Susan opened her gift, she squealed with delight and we both ran outside with the keys she had found in the box. I don’t know why I never thought of it before. Susan has always liked fast cars and I like fast women; well, one fast woman anyway.
About the author
Tony has written a number of award-winning plays, published by Lazy Bee Scripts and Pint Sized Plays, that have been performed across the world. He has also had a number of stories published in anthologies and magazines. You can follow him here -https://www.facebook.com/tonydomaillewriting/