It really was a ‘bolt from the blue’ – a bolt of soft, exquisite lace falling from the top of a stack of bolts of blue linen. It bounced off Jimmy’s head and his reflexes were good enough to catch it before it hit the floor.
‘Oh my goodness; I’m so sorry. Are you OK?’ She was shortish, ‘softly built’ and of indeterminate middle age – and now looking very flustered.
‘I’m OK. Soft lace landing on a soft head does no damage’, he said. ‘It’s a very nice piece of lace I must admit. My wife would have loved something like that.’
‘Oh; can I cut you a length to take home for her? It’s the least we can do after dropping it on you.’
‘No, that’s OK – she passed away last year – in fact 12 months today it was.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ Tears started to show in her eyes. ‘My Jim passed away this time last year as well.’ She sniffed, trying to bring herself away from the memories.
‘There – would it be wrong if I took you over there’ Jimmy said, pointing across to the snack bar, ‘and we both had a cup of coffee or something? Would your boss mind?’
‘He’s up on the next floor – and it’s my break anyway. I was going for a coffee when I knocked the lace on to you.’
‘So you’ll join me then?’ She looked round. There was no staff member to be seen. ‘Yes, thank you; that would be nice.’
‘We’ll take this lace with us for now shall we?’ Jimmy said. ‘Can’t have it falling on anyone else can we,’ he added with a chuckle.
She smiled too.
They found a seat in the corner of the snack bar. ‘I’ll get the coffee’, she said, smiling again, ‘It’s the least I can do. I did, after all, hit you on the head – and, anyway, I get it for free!’
The next 15 minutes were the best 15 minutes of his life since his Alice passed away thought Jimmy.
‘Oh look – it’s time I went back to work. It’s been very nice talking to you.’
‘It’s been my pleasure’, Jimmy said. ‘I see from your name badge your name is Alice. That was my wife’s name. You said your husband was Jim – my name’s James, but I’ve always been called Jim or Jimmy. There has been something special happening to us both today. Take care.’
Alice looked flustered. ‘I must go – thank you; I won’t forget today either.’
Jimmy stood there for a minute or two, then realised he still had the roll of lace. He went over to where the incident had happened. Alice was nowhere to be seen but another member of staff was there.
‘Hello, I’m looking for Alice,’ Jimmy said to the girl, ‘I have to give this bolt of lace back to her.’
The girl looked at him as if he was out of his mind. ‘We have no-one here called Alice as far as I know.’
‘But she knocked this roll of lace onto me half an hour ago – and we’ve just had coffee together,’ he said passing the lace to the girl.
She looked at him, and then down at the lace. ‘I don’t think we have had any lace like that in this store for a year or so. It was a big pile of lace like this that fell on Alice last year – the same day that her Jim died.’
She looked up to see his reaction. There was no sign of him.
Jim had disappeared – just like his beloved Alice.