‘The small shop on the cor­ner looked

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father in a room sud­denly elec­tric with shock. The stare he of­fered his father showed out­raged in­no­cence; but alive, not live. Ian-Aziz had no un­der­stand­ing of the daz­zle of kisses that had then quite as spark­ingly as that slap come at him, nor of the par­tic­u­lar way in which his father had of­fered to carry him high aloft later in the bright tick­ling of snowflakes that they shoul­dered in the last of the park af­ter­noon, when they should have been in the shop, and had later tucked him into the sledge with his cousins, like he might set a mango in its box of tis­sue for a present for Am­rit Aunty.

Ap­proach­ing the shop on the cor­ner slowly up the hill, cling­ing to rail­ings while print­ing and lift­ing high sug­ary boots through the pressed and ris­ing snow, came Clara and Don­ald, come to visit his mother, not want­ing to very much. And so the more deter­mined to do it, filled with grim sea­sonal good­will.

“ We’ve to take her some­thing sweet,” said Clara into her scarf, “to make up for it all.”

“Right enough,” dis­agreed her hus­band, as far as he might dare. “Right you are,” he said, to make it en­tirely clear he dis­agreed with what­ever it was his wife was driv­ing at. He quite liked the odd dis­agree­ment with her; they were that happy, tus­sles pleased them as a form of in­volve­ment one with the other.

“ You wait, I’ll go down and find some­thing,” she said, mak­ing it plain, for her part, that she would put her­self out for his mother though hell froze over, also want­ing to pro­tect him from her care for his no-longer-young bones on the stone steps down.

The small shop on the cor­ner be­low the level of the street looked wel­com­ing any­how and bright to Clara, the spillage of fruits at its front, tan­ger­ines among their leaves in boxes, spathes of wrapped fake flow­ers, gay coloured buck­ets and plas­tic pan­niers, be­fore the lighted win­dow in the bil­low­ing white­ness al­most like a hearth in the stoni­ness and chill of the street.

She noted the freshly salted steps, the hospitality the grit and salt to­gether of­fered.

Clara looked around the small shop. She felt as though, in all her coats and jumpers, lay­ers and scarves, she would fill up its crammed space and get stuck in this cave of jum­bled light and warmth.

“Good evening dear. Com­pli­ments of the Sea­son,” said Mrs Ghosh, who didn’t know Clara, so she mustn’t stay here­abouts. “Any­thing spe­cial for you?”

“A bag, please, yes, a 5p bag. And two tins toma­toes, and this” – she took up a spiny pot of heather and laid it on the counter be­tween the evening paper and the Dori­tos – “and th­ese” – she bunged over some teabags in a box and two rolls of di­ges­tives, one plain, one cho­co­late, “and dog-bis­cuits, gravy flavour, please, and a litre of Vladi­var and 20 Qual­ity Street, 10 green, 10 the lilac ones with the wrap­ping, please, in a bag; an­other bag. A paper bag.”

Mrs Ghosh had known there was a mean­ing in those sweets they gave one an­other at aus­pi­cious times of the year. She had just known it.

She put a few of her cut-out card­board shapes into the creak­ing plas­tic bag of mes­sages, a tree, a moon, a star.

It was dark be­yond the shop, darker to look out into

PIC­TURE: JULIE HOW­DEN

The au­thor Can­dia McWil­liam

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