Strangers by Rosie Thomas
It was just starting to snow.
Annie stood beside the row of coats hung untidily on the pegs and looked out of the glass panel in the back door. The dark grey specks fell out of a paler sky, and the wind caught them and blew them up into a spiral before letting them drop on the path. They changed from grey to white, and then vanished. In a minute, Annie thought, the flakes would stop melting. The snow would stick. She would need to wear her boots to go shopping. She opened the door of the cupboard under the stairs and rummaged for them, sighing as she always did at the sight of the tangle of family belongings. Then she took her coat off the peg, disentangling it from a red anorak with the sleeves pulled wrong side out.
A boy came down the stairs, two at a time, thumping his feet. He swung around the banister post and vaulted the last four steps down to the lobby. ‘Careful,’ Annie said automatically. ‘You’ll break a leg doing that, one of these days.’
The child looked squarely at her, and she knew that he was wondering how forcibly to contradict her. Then he shrugged. ‘No I won’t.’ He went to the door and pressed his face against the glass. ‘Look, Mum, it’s snowing. Can’t I come out with you?’ She buttoned up her coat and picked up her handbag, flipping through the contents to see if she had everything.
She smiled quickly at him, then glanced past him into the kitchen to see if her chequebook was on the table. She felt her attention being pulled two ways, fixing nowhere. It was often like that, nowadays.
‘No, you can’t. You hate shopping and you’ll only nag me to come home as soon as we’ve got there. And I’ve got a lot to do today.’
She found her chequebook in her coat pocket, and put it into her bag with her purse. The boy was sitting on the bottom step now, still staring longingly out at the snow. A thought occurred to him and he looked up at her.
‘Buying presents for me? For my stocking?’
His earnest gaze, a perfect replica of his father’s, made her smile.
‘That depends. And Tom, you may have grown out of Father Christmas, but Benjy hasn’t. You won’t spoil it for him, will you?’
Over the boy’s head she saw the snow beyond the window, falling faster now, powdering the garden wall with the faintest rim of white. Perhaps it would be a white Christmas. She breathed in the scent of pine needles, tangerines, log fires. ‘Okay,’ Tom said grudgingly. ‘He’s such a baby.’
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