(a piece of flash fiction inspired from a photograph I took just this morning! I dedicate it to my friend Patty at Lovenlosses as she loves a tale to make her smile)
I leant towards the window a little closer. The old fashioned display emulated a pre-war home with wooden fruit boxes turned on their sides to create rustic shelving. Pretty coloured glass bottles, hand-written labels informed me of the unrecognisable names of lotions and potions long since forgotten.
A leather weekend bag in a rich mahogany sat open, and spilling over the brass catch a cable-knit jumper with classic yoke patterns in dull reds. I was catapulted back in time, a six year old me sitting in the crook of my grandmother’s arm while she wore a similar jumper. Listening to her read. What a funny threesome Rabbit, Hare and Squirrel made I realise now, but at the time I hadn’t been able to get enough of the adventures of Little Grey Rabbit. I winced as I recall my teenage self turning my noise up at her offer of the same jumper and her effort not to show offence when there must have been a little taken at my brashness.
Now at thirty two I would love to bury my nose in those fibres and have them both back in my life. Swallowing hard to dissuade the onslaught of tears, I moved back from the window and away from the provocative scene just as the strap from my bag became entangled with the handlebars of a bicycle.
‘Oh, for goodness sake,’ I whispered under my breath, hating the contraption and grappled with it for a short while before releasing the strap and leaning the bike back against the window where it was chained at one end to a ring in the wall, clearly some PR initiative looking at the metal triangle panel fixed within the bicycle frame. Gold letters proudly informing passers by that this property was that of FROST & SON, Apothecaries of Canterbury, since 1898. Quite apt I thought, considering there was some on the ground this morning.
Along with the external frost, today I was struggling with an internal icy guilt that my counsellor’s reassurance was wasted on me. I had lived alone since losing my young husband three years earlier and had no intentions of attempting to replace him. Well-meaning friends were desperately trying to get me to create online profiles but Gill had repeated time and time again that I must be content within myself before I started any new relationship, that I needed to have rebuilt a base layer of confidence. Her words always sounded so spot on during sessions, yet within hours of leaving her sanctuary I would have my head in my hands, regret bubbling up around me like a geezer, that I should have driven him that day but I’d been too busy so he’d taken the bike. It had been his final cycle journey. I needed to focus on the job in hand – to source a winter hat. I’d been fancying one of those beanies in navy or cream, with the faux fur bobbles. The country clothing shop in the square would be sure to have them and I headed over.
I found myself wandering through the Mens’ Department having alighted the lift at the wrong floor but would aim for the stairs at the front of the building instead as I loved the way the sun trickled in through the stained glass panels of the windows. Tweed jackets and barbers jostled for customers’ attentions and I couldn’t help but think again of the winter windswept walks along the clifftops at Dover we used to take. A freak accident they’d concluded. Huh. In my humble opinion the van driver who’d been looking at this mobile phone was the freak, steering unknowingly into the back of my unsuspecting husband and smashing him into a lamppost. The smell of leather was oddly comforting as I walked past a button-back leather chesterfield and I took the opportunity to sit and rummage through my bag for a piece of gum. I consoled myself with the knowledge that the van driver would be inside for a lot longer than the three years it had been since I grinned my goodbye to John through the window, my arms full of washing which I’d insisted needed ironing that morning.
‘Can I please?—‘ a small voice accompanied the small fingers already reaching across my palm as I pushed a little white pillow from the foil pack. I was so startled to observe the confidence in this young child, I was transfixed and said nothing. He rushed it into his small mouth glancing towards the changing rooms. Huge brown eyes set in flawless creamy skin glinted with pleasure and his perfect rosy lips remained tight shut so as not to lose the newly acquired treat.
‘Are you allowed gum?’
‘No and on’t tell my dad!’ forming words without opening your mouth was an art this boy was yet to develop.
‘Oh dear. I’ll be in trouble then. Where is he?’
‘No you on’t coz he won’t know.. I can chew wi’out movin, ook!’ and I watched as his jaws moved together, his earlobes flushing red with the effort.
‘Marcus! I told you to stand just outside the curtain! I’m so sorry.’ The last words were aimed at me, a mixture of embarrassment, relief and anger evident across the face of the man who’s sudden presence could only make him the child’s father.
‘I wanted to thit down.’ A huge pout for such a small person.
‘You should have asked me Marcus, then I would know where you were.’ A stern edge to the father’s words, designed to teach the offspring a lesson, was also having an effect on me too and my heart started to beat a little faster. I looked up and caught the wink. He bent over and lifted the chin of his son and their eyes met and I saw the love of a father flow into those of his child as he spoke, ‘This lady looks safe, but not everyone can be trusted son, so next time you want to sit down or walk away from me, let’s talk about it, okay?’
‘Okaaaay.’ The agreement was delivered begrudgingly as the young boy struggled with that internal demon, the call for a little independence. He looked up and smiled and the lesson was over.
‘Sorry if Marcus was disturbing you? I’m Jeremy.’ She took the offered handshake.
‘Martha, and really; he was being entertaining company! Although I do have a confession. We’ve both had gum.’ I made a dramatic grimace in order that I could take 100% of the blame, and was relieved to notice Jeremy’s smirk.
‘But we had a secret!’ more pouting alongside his little arms thrusting into a defiant fold.
‘I’m sorry Marcus. It’s always best to keep to the truth and it was totally my fault because I let you take a piece.’ To my relief Jeremy ran with it.
‘ … and as you’ve been so honest about it, I will buy you your very own first packet of gum. Any flavour you want!’
What it is to be so young, when you could show a range of emotions within such a short space of time and no-one would suggest you needed some sort of professional help. His delight had him bouncing off the chesterfield and hugging his father’s thigh and before he even threw his sticky hands around my neck, his warm minty breath against my cheek.
‘I’m four!’ he announced loud enough for the whole floor to hear, ‘old enough for my own gum!’
‘C’mon, let’s leave this good lady alone now, shall we?’
‘That is very grown up and it’s been lovely to meet you Marcus, but I should get on with my shopping now.’ I stood and ruffled his hair, smiled at his father – our eyes catching just a little longer than they needed to – and walked towards the stairs.