12+ "Happy anniversary, Darl." My blank look doesn't wipe the smile from his face. "It's our double anniversary, remember?" he prompts, presenting me with a single red rose. "Nine months since the party and six months since you moved in."
Growing up, my Nan had taught me to tell the truth. "Lies will haunt you," she'd warned. But I was a natural-born liar as a child, and I haven't kicked the habit.
"Of course I remember," I lie and smell the flower's perfumed scent. "Thanks, Darl, it's beautiful. I got you something, too." (Sorry, Nan, more lies.) "But it got held up in the post."
"That's okay," he says, still smiling. "Hopefully, it'll arrive before our next anniversary." He laughs, and I laugh, too. We kiss, and the tricky moment passes.
I don't remember much about the party where we met. It was at a friend of a friend's place. I was there on the rebound, and he was there on his own. I drank too much, and he was a steady shoulder to lean on.
I told him I lived with my grandmother and didn't want to go home drunk. He invited me to sleep it off at his apartment. It sounded like a smooth move, but we didn't have sex. I crashed in his bed, and he slept on the sofa.
Several dates later, I took him home to meet Nan. "A true gentleman," she'd pronounced afterwards. "I think you two are a perfect match."
"Nan, I don't need a matchmaker," I'd replied firmly, hoping she'd catch my tone and drop the subject.
"You've got to think about your biological clock, dear," she'd tutted.
"I'm only twenty-eight, Nan!" I'd retorted and stormed off.
My mum died when she was twenty-five. I was three-years-old, and though I think I have memories of her, I'm not sure. I know I don't remember my dad, because he left mum before I was born.
And so I grew up with Nan. I moved out many times in my teens and early twenties. But I kept running out of money or getting into bad situations and returning to Nan.
He'd asked me to move in with him when the government announced the COVID lockdown. “It’d be better for our relationship,” he’d said. But I'd only agreed because I couldn't face spending lockdown with Nan.
He cooks us a double-anniversary dinner and opens a bottle of champagne. Later in bed, his palm caresses my thigh. His touch is soft, unlike some of the hard men I've known.
"I'm sorry, Darl, I've got a headache," I lie again and turn my back on him.
He kisses the nape of my neck. "That's okay," he says. "Sweet dreams."
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As Nan said, he's a gentleman. And if my biological clock worried me, or I was in love with him, he'd make a good husband and father.
I rise before dawn and leave him sleeping soundly, like a saint, and head back to Nan's. It's my gift to him.
© 2020 Robert Fairhead
- Each story had to include a GIFT of some kind.
- Each story’s first sentence had to contain only THREE words.
- The following words had to be used somewhere in the story: PALM, MATCH, ROSE.
The email with the competition brief from the Writers’ Centre arrived on Friday 4th. I had 55 hours to write my 500-word short story before the midnight Sunday deadline. But as I later tweeted, I “wrote” the story while walking my dog that afternoon.
Yes, I had to get the words out of my head and into my computer. And there were the usual edits and tweaks. However, it was one of (if not the!) most fully-formed stories I’ve ever written in such a furiously short timeframe. And I submitted it 12 hours before the deadline on Sunday.
I hope you enjoyed The Gift — and spotted the brief criteria in the story. You might also like to read my first Furious Fiction piece from April 2020, A Song on the Radio.
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert Fairhead is an editor and writer at Tall And True, and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com.
His favourite pastimes include reading and writing, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Football with his son. He is also a part-time dog trainer and runs classes at his local dog training club and through Robert's Responsible Dog Training.
Robert has worked as an electrician, a computer programmer, and a sales and marketing consultant, and he is the principal copywriter at Rocher Communications.
His book reviews and writing on dogs have appeared in newspapers and online. And in 2020, he published a collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story.
Robert has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.