Crisps? She hated crisps. They were all right when you first put them in your mouth, but after you’d given them a bit of a chew, they always dissolved into a gooey mess which you’d then have to spend the rest of the day picking out of your teeth.
Why he’d bought her a packet, she couldn’t work out. True, they hadn’t seen each other for a while, but it wasn’t as if she hadn’t made her feelings about them more than clear on more than one occasion. Yet there she was with a packet of Cheese & Onion - her least favourite flavour – sitting in her lap and him grinning at her as if he’d just presented her with that week’s winning lottery ticket.
“Well, go on then,” he said. “Open them.”
She just about managed not to wrinkle her nose. “Thanks, but maybe later. I’m not that hungry at the moment.” She picked up the packet and set it on the table. “So, tell me about your trip.”
“Pleeeeeeease,” he said, like a child who knew exactly how to irritate his parents into giving him what he wanted. “Open them.”
Raising an eyebrow, she turned the packet over. It was a little crumpled, and the seam running down the back appeared to have been resealed with sticky tape. She frowned, looked up at him, then looked down at the packet again.
“What’s this all about?” she asked, teasing the tape with her fingernail.
He shuffled forward in his seat. “Just open—”
“All right. All right.” She had to laugh. “I’m opening them.” As she peeled back the tape, the seam gaped like a greedy mouth and revealed not the flat, fatty slices of fried potato she’d been expecting, but shells, seashells. “Oh!” She poked in her finger and thumb, drew one out and held it up. “It’s … lovely,” she said. The tiny, beige spiral was so thin, so delicate that light seemed shine right through it. She lay it on the table then gently tipped the rest into her palm. There looked to be about twenty in total – different sizes, different colours, all beautiful. “You collected these? For me?”
“I picked this first one up on Hayling Island.” He pushed a small fragment of slate-grey razor shell toward her. “D’you remember?”
She thought back. “I do.” It had been the day before he’d set off on his round-the-world trip. They’d just finished their picnic when he’d started fidgeting on the blanket next to her. “You kept fiddling with it until it broke into little pieces. Why on earth did you keep it?”
He shrugged and glanced away. Slowly, he picked up the shard and began to turn it over and over in his hand. “It reminded me of that day I suppose. They all did. That’s why I collected them, and why I kept the packet.”
She thought back again. Yes, she remembered; it had been one of those ‘more than one’ occasions on which she’d made her feelings about crisps more than clear.
“You know,” he said, his hands suddenly still. “I’ve been kicking myself every day since then.”
“What for?” Her gaze flickered down to his mouth, and she bit her lip.
“For eating those crisps.”