Flash Fiction by Frances Brindle
'George, hurry up.'
Elaine's voice carried up the stairs and into the bathroom, where George was splashing his face with cold water. He hated Christmas shopping and, previously, his only part in it had been to buy Elaine's present from the jeweller on the high street. Now that he was retired, he was expected to accompany her on the traditional Christmas eve excursion to buy stocking fillers for the grandchildren. A waste of time, in his opinion. All they wanted to do was play computer games. The balls, oranges, and toy cars that Elaine shoved into suitably festive socks were of no use to them.
On the drive into town, Elaine updated him on the state of Mrs. Turner's haemorrhoids, Dr. Anderson's views on the mutability of covid, and her sister's dog's trip to the vet. There was a brief interlude while he bought a parking ticket before the onslaught resumed. Should she choose this or that poinsettia? What did he think about white versus coloured lights? Why was the woman in the queue staring at them? Did he think the eldest grandchild would like a story about dinosaurs? He leaned against a shelf in the bookstore while he waited for her. There were people everywhere, rifling through piles of books with an air of quiet desperation.
By the time he'd loaded the last of the bags into the car, he was mentally and physically exhausted. Under pressure to hurry, he hadn't checked the weather forecast before leaving. As they drove out of the car park, he was dismayed to see it was snowing; fat, fluffy flakes slid slowly down the windscreen. It never snowed at Christmas in rural Oxfordshire.
'It won't stick,' Elaine said with characteristic certainty. 'It isn't cold enough.'
As the car laboured up the hill, the flakes, now smaller and more determined, clung to the wiper blades. George pressed his foot on the accelerator, and the wheels skidded before the car lurched forwards. Elaine paused in the middle of a convoluted story about the newsagent's mother's chemotherapy.
'Is everything OK?'