It’s eight o’clock on a Sunday night. Mrs Charles comes home and puts her walking stick in a wicker umbrella stand that sits beside the front door. She shuffles down the hallway and turns on the lights to find a man dressed in a black hoodie, navy blue jeans, and white Adidas trainers standing in her living room.
“Oh, hello,” Mrs Charles says to the man. “Hi,” the man says. He doesn’t move. Mrs Charles walks straight past him and goes through to the kitchen. She puts the kettle on. “Can I get you something to drink?” she says to him.
“Oh, no, thank you,” he says.
“It’s really no trouble,” Mrs Charles says. “How about a tea or a coffee or a hot chocolate? I’m having one,” she says.
The man thinks about it for a brief moment. “All right,” he says. “I’ll have a hot chocolate, please. Thank you.”
“With whipped cream and marshmallows?” “All right,” he says. “Thanks.”
“Coming right up,” Mrs Charles says. “Have a seat, and I’ll bring it through. Please, make yourself at home.”
The man takes a seat on the sofa. He looks around the room and sees some pictures framed on the wall. There’s a black and white photograph of Mrs Charles and her husband on their wedding day and a photo of Mrs Charles with two young boys.
They’re both handsome, and one of them looks rather like Mrs Charles; they have the same eyes.
A few minutes later, Mrs Charles shuffles into the living room with two mugs of hot chocolate balanced on a wooden tray. She puts the tray down on the coffee table and hands one of the mugs to the man. “Here you go,” she says to him.
“Thank you,” he says. He takes the mug from her. Mrs Charles looks at his hands. They’re dry and cracked and covered in tattoos.
Mrs Charles sits down on the armchair opposite the sofa. “So,” she says to the man. “What’s your name? You don’t have to tell me your real name if you don’t want to, but I’d like to know what I can call you.”
“You can call me Christopher,” he says. “Or Chris.”
“That’s a lovely name,” Mrs Charles says. “You don’t get names like that anymore. My name’s Margaret, but everyone calls me Peggy.”
Christopher takes a sip of his hot chocolate. The marshmallows have started to go soft and gooey, forming a thick paste at the top of the cup. “I think I should get going,” he says to her. “At least finish your drink,” Mrs Charles says to him. “You’ve barely touched it.” “It’s just, I really need to get home,” Christopher says. He gets up.
“Just stay a little while longer,” Mrs Charles says. “Please.”
Christopher stays on his feet. Then, after a minute, he sits back down on the sofa. Mrs Charles smiles at him. He smiles back.
After a time, Mrs Charles finishes what’s left of her hot chocolate. She uses a teaspoon to get the last few bits of whipped cream out of the bottom of the mug. “That was good, wasn’t it?” she says.
“Yes,” he says. “It was.”
“Can I ask you something?” Mrs Charles says. “Are you married?” “No,” he says. “Any children?”
“Yes,” he says. “A son.” “And what’s his name?”
“Christopher,” he says. “But he goes by CJ.”
“I know how that is,” Mrs Charles says. “My eldest son Alan was named after my husband, but he prefers to go by Paul, which is his middle name. Isn’t that funny?”
“Yes,” he says. “I suppose it is.”
There’s a knock at the door. Christopher stands up. He looks as if he’s about to make a run for it.
“It’s all right,” Mrs Charles says. “It’s just my food shopping.” Mrs Charles lifts herself out of the armchair. She holds onto various pieces of furniture to support herself as she moves down the hallway. She turns on the porch light and opens the front door.
“Hello, there,” the delivery driver says to her.
“Hello,” Mrs Charles says to him. “Are you all right?”
“I’m good, thank you,” says the delivery driver. He catches a glimpse of Christopher standing in the background. For some reason, something doesn’t look right to him. “Is everything okay?” the delivery driver says.
“Of course,” Mrs Charles says. “Everything’s fine.”
“All right,” says the delivery driver. Then he says, “And where would you like your shopping today?”
“You can just pass it over if you like,” Mrs Charles says. “My son will take it.” She looks over at Christopher. “Won’t you?” she says to him.
“Yes,” Christopher says to her. He walks towards the front door. The delivery driver passes him the bags, and he brings them all into the house.
“Okay,” says the delivery driver. “That’s everything. Have a nice evening.” “You too,” Mrs Charles says to him. “Buh-bye now,” she says. And then she shuts the front door. Christopher puts the bags of shopping down in the hallway. “Would you mind helping me unpack it all?” Mrs Charles says to him. “If you take everything out of the bags and put it on the counter, I can do the rest.”
Christopher does as she says and takes the bags through to the kitchen, putting them down on the chequered floor. Mrs Charles follows him into the kitchen and watches him unpack the bags. “Do you do your shopping online?” she says to him.
“No,” he says. “I don’t.”
“You should think about it,” she says. “It’s quite easy, you know. Even I can do it.” She laughs to herself. Then she says, “Oh, and if I refer a friend, then we both get a discount.” “That’s okay,” Christopher says. He finishes unpacking the bags. “Is that everything?” “I think so,” Mrs Charles says. “Thank you so much. What would I do without you?” Christopher looks at her. “I think I should go,” he says.
“Of course,” she says. “I don’t want to keep you any longer.” She walks him to the front door. She moves very slowly. “Oh, and Christopher,” Mrs Charles says. “There’s one more thing. Did you get the ring? You know, the one in the dish on the bedside table?”
“Yes,” Christopher says. “I got it.”
“Oh, good,” she says. “You should be able to get something for that. It belonged to my mother. She got it during the war, I think.”
Christopher doesn’t say anything. He opens the front door and goes to leave the house, but he stops himself for a minute and turns back. He’s facing her now.
“Yes?” Mrs Charles says to him. “Is there something else?”