Nadine looked carefully through the "For Sale" advertisements. She went through them slowly not wanted to miss a bargain if she saw one. 'It's my own fault,' she thought to herself as she ticked each advertisement with her biro, 'I've just left it a little late that's all.' She smiled sardonically. A little late. She'd damn well left it almost too late.
She had always found that time slipped by too fast for her to cope. What she thought she'd leave until Saturday she usually didn't get around to doing until Sunday or even Monday. But this time what was usually just an inconvenience could turn into a major disaster. Why oh why did Joshua want a toy car for his birthday. And not just any car. Oh no. But one of those super de luxe radio remote controlled ones he saw over at the park every time they went. If she'd let him he would sit for hours watching the other boys shrieking their cars on to victory as they had races around and around the special track built by the parks authority. And she was happy seeing him happy. That's why when he had asked her whether he could have one for his birthday she had nodded. But that was weeks ago and his birthday seemed so far away. Now it was in four days time.
She was in despair as she looked at the prices of the ones in the newspaper. They were well beyond her budget. Even more so now that Leroy's alimony cheque was late arriving. She had no worries about it not arriving. Despite all the acrimony between them when they broke up and finally divorced he had always been a good father and the money had usually arrived on the second Monday of each month without fail. She had no reason to think it would be any different this month. It was just delayed in the post. But that didn't solve the problem that she needed the money now. She had tried to telephone her ex-husband but his office said he was in Europe on a business trip. They had offered to e-mail him for her but she had said no, not wanting to bother him. Now she wished she had accepted their offer.
Damn, damn, damn. She threw the paper to one side part in anger and part in despair. What now? She thought. She was so lost in her own thoughts that she nearly missed seeing the corner of a yellow leaflet poking out from between the pages. Normally she wouldn't have bothered but curiosity got the better of her and she lent forward to pick it up.
At first she couldn't believe what she was seeing. A picture of a beautiful racing model car complete with remote control unit and all at a fraction of the cost of the other models in the paper. Thank you God, thank you God she whispered fervently as she dialled the number at the bottom of the leaflet. She tapped her fingers impatiently as she waited. Then...
"Good afternoon. Warren's Model Shop. Can I help you?"
"Uh yes. I've just seen your leaflet in my local paper. It shows a model car, you know a remote control one? That you're selling? Do you have any in stock?" She crossed her fingers and uttered a silent prayer.
"Yes we do but they're going very quickly. We've got three boxes left."
Nadine looked at her watch. Joshua will be coming home from school in an hour. She could just make it in time if she hurried.
"Hello? Hello?" the voice sounded puzzled.
"Sorry I was just checking on the time. Could you please put one aside for me and I'll be with you in half an hour."
"Yes. I can keep it for an hour after that I'm afraid I'll have to let it go."
"No! No!," she almost screamed, "I'll be there. I'm leaving right now."
"I'll see you soon then." The phone went dead.
She rushed to put on her shoes, grab her coat, check that she had some money and pick up the front door keys from the coffee table. Luckily the bus stop was right outside her door and she was there within a minute. She waited. And waited. She felt the tension in her stomach rise as the minutes slipped by. 'Please hurry up!' she thought, 'pleeese... ' She looked at her watch and saw that fifteen minutes had passed already. 'God,' she thought, 'I won't make it. Josh'll be home in forty-five minutes. I'll just have to think of something else to get him.' She was just about to return to her front door when suddenly the bus trundled around the corner and came to a halt beside her. She hesitated for a second, recalculating the time, then throwing caution to the winds she boarded the vehicle.
The shop wasn't far away but the traffic was particularly heavy and it seemed like an age to Nadine before she reached her destination. 'Shop? Shop? Where was the damned shop?' she hadn't taken the address with her but finally she found the place crowded with people.
She wondered what was going on then she saw a sign which said "Closing Down Sale. Last Day Today" 'No wonder the car is so cheap' she thought and tried to push her way to the counter. Eventually when she got there she saw all the sales assistants were busy. She looked at her watch again. God, is that the time already?
"Yes can I help you?" the voice broke into her reverie.
"Yes, yes you can. I phoned in about half an hour ago about the model racing car and somebody said they would put it on one side for me. Is it ready? I must go. My son's coming home from school soon and I must be there to meet him."
"Do you know who it was who spoke to you?"
"No. Only that it was a man."
The woman smiled. "Oh that'll be Mr Warren. Hang on a minute he's out the back. I'll get him for you," and off she went. The crowd behind Nadine grew denser as the customers surged closer to the counter to pay for their purchases, and she found herself wedged painfully against the edge of the counter. She could hardly breathe.
"Are you here to pick up the model racing car?" Nadine crushed against the counter, her hair, slipped from the hair clip she had hastily put in place before leaving the house, covering most of her face, could only look up from her almost bent over position and say "Yes that's me. Have you got it?"
"Right here." The voice was deep and well modulated and Nadine could just make out a tall figure standing in front of her holding a large box. With difficulty she opened her purse and gave the open palm some notes. She took the box.
"Just a minute I'll get your change." Once again she had to wait. It seemed another age before he gave her some coins and a receipt and by moving backwards Nadine managed to extract herself from the surrounding wall of bodies until she finally reached the front door and the outside.
She was far too flustered and concerned about the time to notice the man behind the counter watching her with a look of mild amusement on his face.
Returning home was easier and she saw Joshua's school bus parked to offload some other children when she was five streets away from her house. As soon as the bus stopped she dashed up to the front door, let herself in and walked quickly into the bedroom. With a feeling of accomplishment she pushed the box in its brown paper bag as far as she could to the back of the wardrobe not bothering with the dust that was up there but making a mental that she would clean it on Saturday.
She went to the front door just as the school bus arrived.
There was no opportunity to look at the model car until Joshua had gone to bed and she had made absolutely certain that he was fast asleep. Now she had bought the present she didn't want anything to spoil the surprise. She smiled to herself as she climbed onto the chair and retrieved the bag from the top of the wardrobe. 'You silly thing, you're getting as much fun out of this as Josh will when he gets it,' she thought. And it was true she was almost as excited as a little girl just thinking of her son's face in a few days time.
She went into the kitchen sat down at the large round wooden table and carefully sliced open the box with a knife. She lifted up the lid, pulled aside the protective cardboard cover and looked down at... at... Oh no! She gasped. No... no... no... But it was. Instead of a wonderful racing car ready to turn on and drive away she saw clear plastic bags. Big ones, small ones, middle sized ones, each filled with what seemed to her to be thousands upon thousands of tiny shapes. There was a black object in its own space at one end of the box with 'Motor' stamped on it and a smaller object in its own space at the other end with 'Remote Control Unit' stamped on it. Nadine was stunned. She gazed at the pile of pieces in front of her and then, not knowing why, she looked at the cover of the box. There printed in large red letters were the words 'Kit Form'. Maybe there was a mistake, she thought and looked hastily around for the leaflet. She found it screwed up with the newspaper. There was no mistake. The words 'Kit Form' leapt out at her from the paper.
'Fool, fool, fool,' she muttered to herself. Why hadn't she checked? She had been too happy to see a model car cheap enough to buy. She hadn't seen anything else.
Despondently she repacked and re-sealed the box and once again put it on top of the wardrobe.
She went to bed very, very depressed.
The next morning she was in a better mood and had decided to take the car back for a refund or at least exchange it for another toy. Getting Joshua ready for school was always difficult but today seemed worse.
"But Mum, I've got a belly ache. I'm not feeling very well," her son groaned and held his arms across his stomach in an exaggerated pose, trying to convince her of his need for immediate hospitalisation.
"Now Josh don't be silly. I haven't got time for all that today, I've got to go somewhere early and I don't want to be... "
"But Mum, honest it really hurts and I think I'm going to be sick."
"Joshua!" she replied in her stern voice looking at him directly in the eye. He began eating his cereal at a snail's pace. "And hurry up," she finished.
By the time she had him ready the school bus was waiting outside the house. She saw him on board with a quick peck to his cheek and waved him goodbye.
Good, she thought, now let's get this over and done with. She cleared up the breakfast dishes and by the time she left the house a light drizzle had started. She looked up at the sky and contemplated going back for her umbrella but it didn't look too bad and the bus came at that moment.
Without her mind dwelling on the clock ticking away the minutes the journey back to the shop was fast and uneventful. Until she got off.
Craaackkk!! The lightening sizzled through the sky and the huge clap of thunder followed immediately. Within seconds Nadine was caught in the middle of a heavy downpour and drenched from head to foot. Quickly she sought shelter in a shop doorway but so many others had the same idea that she found herself being edged out and getting wet anyway. Philosophically she shrugged her shoulders, braced herself against the driving rain and walked the hundred yards to the model shop.
The rain was pouring down her face and she almost missed it but then she recognised the building and tried the door. It wouldn't open. Puzzled and soaked to the skin she peered through the window into a darkened room with no toys, no models, no sign of life at all. Then she remembered the sign. "Closing Down Sale. Last Day Today" Her disappointment was so sharp she moaned out aloud. No, not this as well. Once again she peered through the window forming a small bridge with her hand to keep most of the rain out of her eyes and to see beyond the reflection of the street in the glass. Is that... ? she wondered, yes it is. A light, right at the back of the shop coming from a small room.
She began an insistent rapping on the shop window. It seemed an age but eventually she saw the shadowy figure of someone coming towards her. The door opened. Without thinking and with a hastily murmured "Can I just come in for a moment," she pushed passed into the dryness and warmth of the shop. Grabbing a tissue from her pocket she mopped at her face and told her story to the man. He listened without interruption then...
"Yes I remember you. I served you. Don't you remember?"
Nadine looked at him and shook her head, "No I'm sorry I don't remember."
"Not to worry. The problem is we have nothing left to exchange your son's toy for. Everything's been sold. And there's no money in the shop, it's all been banked. I'm only here for a couple of hours just clearing up. I can't really see what I can do to help."
To Nadine's horror her face suddenly crumpled. She couldn't help it. She knew it was silly but, unbidden, tears began to roll down her cheeks.
"I... I'm sorry," she snuffled, "this is stupid. I'll be alright in a minute"
The man stood there silently for a second and then said, "Come into the back room. I've got a small fire there and you can dry off a bit."
She followed him to the room at the back. As she stood in front of the three-bar electric fire feeling its heat thawing her out she began to think sensibly. 'What am I doing here? I should have remembered about the sale. I'm stupid... stupid... stupid... '
"... what do you say?" She heard his voice.
"Sorry," she apologised with a smile, "I wasn't listening." Then she realised how rude that must have sounded, "I mean I was... "
"That's OK" he laughed, "all I said was that I'm going next door for a coffee now. Would you like to come with me?" That sounded just fine to Nadine. She felt she could just do with a coffee.
"Yes thank you," she said without hesitation.
After the first cup and a piece of her favourite chocolate fudge cake, 'I won't eat tomorrow' she thought, Nadine began to feel more human.
"This is nice of you," she said, "just what the doctor ordered. But I don't even know your name."
"Adam," he replied, "Adam Warren." A vague memory came to her from the day before. "Oh yes I remember the girl behind the counter saying your name."
"You mean Carol. She told me that she had a customer outside in the shop who had ordered the car and looked as if she would kill if she didn't get it." And he laughed.
Nadine joined in. "Yes I must have looked a bit frantic. I was worried about not being home when my son got back from school. My name's Nadine."
They formally shook hands with small smiles on their faces.
"Another coffee?" asked Adam.
She only hesitated slightly. She should get back but it was a long time since she had sat down socially with a man. And a good looking one at that.
"Yes, yes please." She said.
For the next half an hour they talked about small things and he cracked a couple of jokes which she didn't think were very funny but she laughed anyway. Then quickly shut up in case she was overdoing it. But then she said, "Well it's been nice meeting you and having a coffee but I've really got to go. I've still got to decide what I'm going to do about Joshua's birthday present."
For a moment Adam was silent. Then he said, "Look I don't want you to think I'm imposing or anything but I'd be happy to build the car for your son."
"Oh no, I couldn't," said Nadine, "it's kind of you but... "
"It would be no trouble. The lease on the shop doesn't run out until Saturday and until then it's still mine. I've almost finished what I've got to do there but after that I'm at a loose end for a while. I'd be happy to do it. I love model making. That's why I started the shop. And it'll give me something to do for a few days."
"Well... " Nadine still hesitated. She didn't know the man. But the car was useless to her now anyway. 'And he does look dependable' she thought.
"Go on say yes," he broke in on her thoughts, "it'd be no trouble. Honest."
It was the 'Honest' that persuaded her, so little boyish.
"Well alright then," she said, "but I insist on paying you for your time."
"We'll discuss all that later," he said with a broad grin. "I'll work on it in the shop. I've got some small model making tools there and a workbench. It'll be easier than doing it at home on the dining table."
Now the decision had been made they parted company quickly. Exchanging telephone numbers. Nadine said she would visit the shop the next day to see how he was doing. He said fine, see you tomorrow then, and off he went carrying the brown paper bag whilst Nadine walked towards the bus stop in a day now basking in warm sunshine.
Now that the problem of Joshua's present had been solved Nadine glided through the rest of the day on wheels of efficiency. She dusted, vacuumed, did a pile of washing and even got round to doing some ironing. She cleared up most of the jobs she had been putting off and by the time her son came home from school she was even ahead of herself for the first time in months. They both had a meal of hamburgers and chips and watched cartoons on TV. Nadine couldn't stop herself from looking at Joshua a lot of the time. He was such a good little boy, she thought, never any complaints and no more whining than usual from an eight year old. God she loved him. It took all her willpower not to reach over and hug him to her.