Slowly scanning the glittery shelves, Arnold tried to hide the disappointment in his face. The aroma of perfumes mingled and caught on his throat as a fresh-faced girl of around eighteen approached him.
"Can I help you sir?" she chimed, her head moving in rhythm to her dangling Rudolph earrings.
Arnold spluttered into his white handkerchief but quickly let the twinkle return to to his eyes.
"I was looking for the perfect gift. For someone special. But I think you're all out of her favourite. It's Anais Anais, I was searching for."
"I'm sorry sir. We haven't been able to stock that recently. You could try Boots?"
"Thanks I'll do that," said Arnold.
As Arnold trudged back into the mall, the sound of Jona Lewie was being piped out of a clothing boutique. Arnold imagined himself shuffling along, like in his days of National Service. The Salvation Army brass band outside WH Smiths took up the refrain. Arnold stopped to listen and threw a few coins into the bucket when he moved on.
Nearby, the queue to visit Father Christmas wasn't as large as one would expect on Christmas Eve. Arnold guessed that people had been put off by the snow. Still, the shops were bulging with folk looking, like him, for last minute gifts.
Reaching Boots, Arnold loosened his tartan tie a little and unbuttoned his top shirt button. It was warm inside; the contrast even more striking because of the bitter cold outside. He'd taken off his overcoat in Debenhams and it was now draped over his arm like a wine waiter's towel.
Arnold approached the counters and scanned for Mildred's perfume. In his head he tried to recall the many occasions when he'd done the same in the years gone by.
Then he saw it. On the top shelf. A gift-wrapped box set, complete with matching hand cream. It was the perfect gift.
He parted with the crisp £50 note and wished the assistant a merry christmas.
As he wandered out of the store Arnold struggled to push his tweed jacketed arms into the overcoat. Placing the bag on a bench, he wrestled himself into it, till finally he was ready for heading outside.
Out through the revolving doors, Arnold battled against the wind, his boots crunching through the freshly-fallen carpet of snow. In his right hand he gripped the bag and the knowledge of his purchase raised his spirits once more.
Reaching his street, Arnold was suddenly aware of all the brightly-lit windows. A curtain was being drawn in one as he passed. A "Santa Stop Here" sign stood on the front lawn of the next. At number fourteen, they had, as usual, gone for the works: white lights on every bush, a multi-coloured rope-ladder leading Santa up the wall to his destination and the small brightly lit animals on the lawn seeming eerily quiet in spite of the wind.
Arnold moved slowly up his garden path. In the darkness, he fumbled for his keys. The door creaked open and he battled the wind to shut it quickly behind him.
The house was steeped in darkness. Arnold placed his finger on the light switch.
He slumped into his armchair by the fire and slid his fingers under the gift wrap. Clutching the glass bottle, he sprayed the perfume all around him...
For just a brief second, she was there in the room with him again.