By Su Kopil
The electronics store hums with the sound of fifty television screens broadcasting the nightly news. The anchor woman’s larger-than-life face smiles upon the handful of London shoppers on the hunt for new gadgets. I see him immediately, transfixed beneath a behemoth of a screen.
He called me an hour earlier asking me to meet him. He had a surprise, he said. Still learning my way around the city, I managed to find the place. But I could find Hugh if he was an oasis in a desert, I am that drawn to him.
“What do you think?” he asks, after kissing me soundly.
“What do I think?” My words are husky. My knees quake and I think that I’m a woman well past the fifty mark and have never been kissed in public before. I think I like it.
“About the TV,” he says. “It’s yours. The sales clerk is checking inventory.”
“It’s so big.” I pretend to study the screen but really my vision is blurry because of the tears I’m trying to hold back. No one has ever bought me anything so big or so expensive.
Just then the sales clerk walks up and tells Hugh he’s in luck. There’s one left in stock.
“We’ll take it.” Hugh squeezes my hand.
“This way, sir.” Before Hugh can follow the clerk, I whisper to him that I need to use the loo. He points towards a corner of the store and I hurry off.
The restroom is empty so I take my time studying my reflection in the mirror. Over the past six months my life has changed drastically. I barely recognize myself. This can’t be the same woman who was Harry’s wife for thirty-three years. Harry who didn’t like public displays of affection or private displays either. Harry who said we couldn’t afford children but who could drink at the pub every night.
They said it was a heart attack that killed him, brought on by too much excitement. I didn’t understand. Excitement was never a part of our lives. And then I found the stack of video tapes and DVD’s all with titles like Insatiable Lover and Bedroom Inferno.
I thought my life had ended too. Instead, a weight had been lifted. I cashed in Harry’s insurance policy, paid the back rent, and moved to London. I wanted a new beginning, a fresh start. Then I met Hugh. He was handsome, generous, and well-off — everything Harry wasn’t. And he liked me, really liked me.
Tonight, after we bring the television home, I’m going to ask him to move in with me.
I step out of the loo to see Hugh hurrying towards me. He doesn’t look happy. I meet him halfway, near a display of video cameras. I see our images appear on a small screen and I think what a handsome couple we make.
“I’m sorry,” Hugh says. And he looks profoundly sorry.
“What is it?” I can’t think what could possibly have transpired during the time I was in the restroom to make him so upset.
“There’s a problem with my credit card.” His tanned face is slightly flushed. “The clerk says it’s expired. The new one came in the post but, apparently, I neglected to swap it for the old card in my wallet. Can’t hold the telly. And it’s the last one. I so wanted to surprise you.”
I see the clerk standing at the cashier station, frowning in our direction. I feel myself starting to shrink as that old helpless, victimized feeling shrouds my body. Then I remember. This isn’t Harry. I am my own woman now, with my own money.
“I’ll use my credit card,” I say. I walk straight to the salesclerk and proudly hand him my very first credit card.
While he’s making the transaction, Hugh whispers, “I feel terrible making you buy your own surprise.”
“You didn’t make me.” I brush an imaginary piece of lint from his sweater. It feels good to touch him knowing anyone may see. “Besides, I thought about what you said the other day and I think we should move in together. My flat is plenty big enough for you, me, and our new telly.”
He laughs, as I mean him to, and kisses me right there in front of the clerk and another salesman. I notice the second clerk’s attention is quickly stolen by the fifty screens along the wall and the oversized reporter’s mouth announcing a breaking news story.
“Thank you, Ms. Jonas.” The salesclerk hands me back my credit card along with the delivery ticket which I give to Hugh. I’m eager to escape now.
Hugh is engrossed in the ticket. I can see he’s pleased. I try not to push him but I start walking faster. He easily keeps up. The exit is in front of us. But I can’t help glancing back at the wall of tellies. The reporter’s face has been replaced by a photo. The woman looks nearly sixty. Her gray hair is pulled back in a bun revealing pasty skin, baggy eyes, and thin, unhappy lips. For a moment I’m stunned.
The reporter’s voice cuts through the room. “Mabel Smith, currently at large, is wanted for the alleged murder of her husband Harold Smith. Police say…”
“Sophie, are you coming?” Hugh is holding the door open for me. Beyond it, the busy city street is alive beneath the starlight.
“Of course.” As I pass the door I glimpse my ghostly reflection in the glass. It truly is amazing how a little hair dye and makeup can transform a person.
* * *
Back on the sales floor the second clerk turns to the first. “That woman you waited on looked familiar, didn’t she?”
“Nah,” the first clerk replies. “Never seen her before. But that’s the third time that guy’s been here. Each time with a different woman and every one of them falls for that lame credit card scam.”
Su Kopil is a multi published short story writer. Her latest story, “Crossroad,” can be found in the anthology Fish or Cut Bait from Wildside Press. Available now from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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