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From where he was standing beneath a washing line we never took down, and which for three weeks a year was strung with Christmas cards at an angle we had to invert our necks to see, Hen declared he needed to go out and buy a shirt.

"Christmas Eve," I replied. "Couldn't you have thought of it sooner?"

"Couldn't you be a woman who understands that a man's wardrobe needs updating for special occasions?"

"If I don't bother..."

"Exactly."

And I knew exactly where he was going. Couldn't you be a woman...a special occasion...what a man needs...My husband was going to visit his mistress. (Why should I modernise my vocabulary for him? Tell me why.)

"Make sure you're back by one. I need help."

"Don't bang on. How long does it take to buy a shirt?"

I covered my tracks and became solicitous. "Not all the shops will be open. And don't buy blue. Anything but blue."

As I milled in the kitchen the mug of tea was still warm in my hands. It was a comfort. I somehow found myself outside checking the bird table. Nothing really keeps the squirrels and the pigeons away but sometimes a blue tit takes a glimpse through our windows with a nibble at the weathered peanuts. 

Cardy, we called her Cardy because she couldn't bear Carrie, let alone the sweet name of Caroline, and cardies were back in fashion and she usually wore one, with ballet shoes. It was fashion in one of its more feminine moments, for which Hen and I were grateful. She looked pretty up to the chin. These days I took my fill of my daughter indirectly. I peeked at her through a receding perspective of open doors. I watched her through the window, when she was leaving for school. Otherwise I fixed my eyes on her feet. "New shoes, Cardy?" 

"Maybe."

She was staring murderously at half a piece of dry toast with a scrape of marmalade. Butter was for losers.

"I thought maybe we could..."

"I'm going to Linzy's."

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