My wife comes out to my office shed with a parcel, which she hands to me. “These are for you,” she says. I open the package.
“Fleecy insoles,” I say. “Thank you.”
“They’ll change your life,” she says. “They changed mine.” With that, she is gone.
The insoles are thick and luxurious, like the backs of tiny sheep. Once installed, they make me an inch taller, but also render my boots a size and a half too small: my toes are rammed together, my heels pressed hard against the rear seams. At first I can only hobble. I figure the insoles will compress with continued wear, but they don’t.
“How do you like your insoles?” my wife says the next day.
“Very warm,” I say.
“Have they changed your life?” she says.
“They certainly have,” I say.
“I told you,” she says.
My wife chooses to show her love through caring actions rather than kind words or unprompted displays of affection. After two lockdowns, she may profess to be sick of my company, but she still leaves little presents out for me to find, like an elf in the night. In fact, she would probably prefer it if I indulged in more caring actions myself, surprising her occasionally with flowers or a 100-pack of nicotine gum. Either way, I can’t reject the insoles. They mean too much.
At the end of the week my heels are rubbed raw. On Saturday morning my wife and I take the dog to the park. By the time we get there, I feel as if I’ve walked a mile in ice skates. As we enter the gates my wife’s phone rings.
“I’m in the park!” she says.
“You’re shouting,” I say.
“No, don’t worry.” she says. “You’re saving me from having to talk to my husband, who never says anything anyway.”
“I have some calls I could make,” I say.
“Just circling the park in silence, year after year, after year,” she says.
“Everyone can hear you,” I say.
“I’d better go, he’s making a face,” my wife says. She hangs up, puts her phone back in her pocket and lets out a sigh.
“I’ve lost interest in you, that’s the problem,” she says.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I say. “You’re fascinated by me.”
“Why are you walking like that?” she says.
“No reason,” I say. “This is how I walk now.”
On the way home, my wife stops as we pass a neighbour’s front door.
“Look,” she says, pointing. Their tiled front walk is two-thirds relaid, neat and level.
“He’s very handy,” I say.
“I’m going to ring their bell,” she says.
“Really?” I say. It seems a strangely old-fashioned impulse, dating from a time before you could text someone to say you were coming round, and they could text you back to tell you not to. Also, I need to take my boots off.
Our neighbour Emma comes to the door.
“Can I help you?” she says.
“He’s done a lovely job here,” my wife says, indicating the tiles.
“Thing is, he’ll never finish it,” Emma says.
“I wish I had a husband who could do that,” my wife says.
“I’m a businessman,” I say.
“They’ll be like this for ever now,” Emma says. Her husband, Stuart, comes to the door, a bit of white adhesive on his cheek.
“What do they want?” he says.
“We’re looking for someone dependable to do some tiling,” my wife says. “No drinkers.”
“She’s been fun like this all morning,” I say.
“Has she?” Emma says.
An hour after we get home, my wife catches me in the kitchen, applying plasters to both heels.
“What are you doing?” she says.
“I’ve got terrible blisters,” I say. “From those insoles.”
“Take them out, then,” she says.
“Thank Christ,” I say.
“I’m not going to be hurt because you don’t like your insoles.”
“I like them,” I say, “but they don’t like me.”
“They’re the thickest sort,” she says. “They make thinner ones.”
“Perhaps you could get me some of those?” I say. She looks at me for a moment.
“Get your own,” she says.