It was the last birthday card he ever bought for his wife.
He wasn’t to know it, wasn’t to know any of the things that could happen in the next twelve months. Who amongst us truly sees the future? The card had been selected against a number of criteria. Firstly, that it was not in any way sentimental. Secondly, that it did not feature the word “wife” in any way on the front of the card. Third, it did not feature teddy bears or kittens. Fourth, it looked like some actual decision had been made to choose this card and of course, finally, it had to come in at around the small amount of coins in his battered wallet.
There was a small amount of shame to be had in taking the plastic bag with the shop’s name to hold the card. But the card might get crumpled in the inside pocket of his jacket and those looked like rain clouds up ahead. The bag felt flimsy, cheap and reminded the man of his current economic status.
They had once been madly in love and got married without either of them really considering what it might take to shake the foundations of that madness. Within a year of the confetti each had cheated on the other without the other finding out. Things like that happen in life. A Christmas party, too much alcohol, a feeling of wanting to try something different, feeling dangerous. That was her story. His was another kind of boredom. An email from an ex. Then another. Then phone calls and lies. And a hotel room that he had let the ex pay for on her card, not his. There was no chivalry that day, how could there be. There was only a brief feeling of excitement, and no little shame after.
He was thinking of that afternoon now in the autumn wind. The bag in his hand blew weakly. The man imagined a scenario where he’d already written the birthday message and the words were being blown across the card, leaving streaks of biro and no words of congratulation or love in their inky wake.
I only met that man the one time. He was sat next to me on the red seat at the bus stop outside Boots. He didn’t share any of that stuff with me, I just made it all up for this story. He had only glanced at me for a second, nodded at the same thin bag in my hand from the same card shop as mine and smiled in a way that unsettled me. Not then, but much later.