The Bower Bird and the Butterfly Charmer
The air is warm, for the first time this year. The sun is shining. He pauses and she realises he has led her to the kitchen shop. Like a bower bird outside his construction, he stands at the door and shyly entices her in. She hesitates on the threshold, not unwillingly, but as if registering that at this moment, on this threshold, something significant, something enormous, is at stake. As the automatic door slides open he leads her into a brightly lit vastness, a treasure cave behind the modest façade.
They pause beside the pretty little gadgets. The bean slicer, the melon corer, best of all the strawberry stalk remover.
‘We could have strawberries,’ he says. ‘In summer. On picnics.’
She points to the small mini-mixer in its transparent plastic pot. ‘We could make whipped cream, too.’
A sales consultant approaches them, avid, unctuous. ‘Do you need any help there?’
Not the kind of help you can give me, he thinks. Only if you could make him say it, she thinks.
They pass by shelves stacked and decked and hung with bakeware: bread tins, cake tins, sandwich tins, madeleine tins, muffin tins, whoopee pie tins, in grey metal and bright silicone.
‘I wish I could bake. I never went to cookery lessons,’ she says sorrowfully. ‘Can’t even boil an egg.’
He points to an array of silicone pods, in a choice of colours.
‘We could use those,’ he says.
‘It says they are egg poachers,’ she says. ‘Not the same thing.’ But she is pleased at what he seems to be suggesting.
‘They have special little gadgets to lift them out of the boiling water,’ he says. ‘That’s a safety feature.’
She smiles at him.
‘You won’t scald your fingers.’
He is giving her safety. He cares.
The shop funnels them further in, enticing them towards more and greater opportunities in its bright depths.
‘You like eggs, don’t you?’ he asks.
‘Love them!’ she says. Would she say that about anything he might mention?
He points to the electric omelette maker.
‘We wouldn’t even need a cooker,’ he says, ‘Not with one of these.’ Is he thinking what she thinks he’s thinking?
‘Look, there’s a cup cake maker,’ she says, urging him to say more.
‘And there’s a soup machine.’ He reads the label: ‘ “Chops, boils, simmers, blends…” This is the life.’
She imagines a kitchen bright with daffodils, flooded with spring sunshine. She remembers her nan, who used to tell how Grandad brought her to an all-electric home. ‘With fitted carpets throughout’, Nan said. ‘That’s real love, that is.’ She’ll learn to cook like her nan. If only…
‘What are you saying?’ she asks him, tremulously, as if cajoling a butterfly to settle on her hand. Risking everything on those four words which might send him flying away into the blue. But:
‘Will you marry me, Mary?’ he asks.
‘Oh yes, John, I will, I will!’
They stand, facing each other, contemplating the treasures which will so richly furnish their little home, their nest.
‘Are you looking for something special?’ The sales consultant has returned.
‘We’ve found it,’ he says.
Jenny Woodhouse, from Bath, has been writing seriously since she took an Open University diploma in literature and creative writing in 2007-9. Her preferred genre is short stories, which have been getting shorter and evolving into flash fiction.