The Simple Things

Bedtime story

- by Colette Dartford

Glenda wandered along the aisles, her brain numbed by the bewilderin­g array of choices. She fumbled in her bag for the list she made that morning. Too often she got home only to realise she had forgotten something important like toothpaste or that chunky pickle Harry liked. He would tut and roll his eyes in silent judgment. No coincidenc­e then, that Glenda found herself loitering by the supplement­s that promised to restore her youthful vitality, her skin, her bones, her failing memory. Were such miracles possible? It seemed unlikely but she slipped a few packets in her trolley just in case.

Breakfast cereal was last on the list. Glenda stood on tiptoes and extended her arm as far as she could, which wasn’t far enough. “Allow me,” said a velvet smooth voice behind her. The man reached over her head, exuding a subtle whiff of deodorant. Glenda turned to say thanks but was disarmed by his full-frontal smile and dark, wavy hair. According to his badge he was Jonathan, a trainee manager. He asked if she had found everything she was looking for? There was a second before the mortifying bloom of heat erupted over her face, when she was the recipient of his undivided attention. It was a long time since that had happened. Harry seemed to look through her but Jonathan the trainee manager actually saw her. She thanked him and went to the checkout, her heart pattering like rain against glass.

That evening over spring lamb and new potatoes, Glenda recounted how a charming young man had chatted her up at the supermarke­t. She embellishe­d for Harry’s benefit but he reacted with incredulit­y, as if unable to comprehend such a scenario. It would have been nice if he’d played along — flattered her or put on a show of faux jealousy — but no. At bedtime she took four of the miracle supplement­s and hoped for the best.

In the morning Glenda was woken by a slither of golden light that sliced through the gap where the curtains didn’t quite meet. Downstairs, Harry was making tea, the cereal box and two bowls on the kitchen table. Her heart kicked at the thought of Jonathan’s radiant smile and all she wanted was to see him again.

She showered, put on lipstick and the bright fuchsia dress that showed off her figure. When she told Harry she was going for a stroll in the park, he looked up from his newspaper and asked why she was “all dolled up”. Gratified he had noticed, she shrugged and said she just felt like it.

The supermarke­t was quiet and Glenda spotted Jonathan immediatel­y, talking to a young mum with a squirming toddler. He treated her to the same preternatu­ral smile, the same friendly banter, the same attentive gaze. The girl looked up at him, her pretty face aglow with delight. How foolish Glenda felt – how old and silly.

She sat on the park bench for a long time, watching children play, dogs sniff and chase, lovers walk hand in hand. A few sugar-white clouds billowed across the sky. Daffodils nodded in the breeze, beckoning to the first fat stripy bees of the season.

The last person Glenda expected to see was Harry. He sat down next to her and when he took her hand in his, she remembered how perfectly they fitted together. She rested her head lightly against his shoulder and they sat in companiona­ble silence, warmed by the kiss of early spring sunshine. “Promise you won’t let me forget this moment,” said Glenda. Harry squeezed her hand. “I promise.”

Colette Dartford studied politics and worked as a researcher before turning her hand to fiction. Her second novel, An Unsuitable Marriage (Bonnier Zaffre), a story of family, love and betrayal, is out now. Her simple pleasure is “Sunday morning with the newspapers and endless cups of tea.” colettedar­

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