He walked in with that silly grin on his face that usually means he’s had an idea or he’s bought something stupid. He sat down beside me on the sofa and held out his hand.
‘Here,’ he said.
‘What is that?’ I said.
‘It’s a pebble.’ He placed it in my palm. It was warm. He must have held it in his hand all the way home.
‘Yes.’ I said. ‘It is, indeed, a pebble.’
‘Well, aren’t you gonna ask me about it?’ He said.
‘Why have you given me a pebble?’
‘I was reading about Gentoo penguins today and it said that they propose to their life mates with a pebble.’
‘So, penguins get married.’
‘Well, not exactly -‘
‘Do they wear top hats and tails like the penguins in cartoons?’
‘And monocles?’ I laughed.
‘Probably not, but listen-‘
‘Do you really believe that, anyway? How do they know the penguins are proposing? Proposing is a human thing, not a penguin thing.’
‘Listen, will you?’ He looked hurt.
‘I’m sorry. I’m listening.’
‘I’m giving you a pebble.’
‘Really? You’re actually giving me a pebble, right now?’
‘But….what if I want a diamond?’
‘Well, I’ll get you a diamond, if that’s what you want.’
‘God,’ I’m standing up now. ‘I’ve imagined this moment time and time again. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve imagined this moment. And it wasn’t at all like this. We weren’t on the sofa at ten to six in the evening. I didn’t have dinner to make.’
‘And I always thought that you’d buy me a really nice ring. Not a huge, overpriced, showy one, but a really nice, perfect, beautiful ring.’
‘I can still get you that.’
‘Yes, but it’s not the same if it’s an afterthought.’
I left the room, ran up the stairs to the bathroom and locked the door. I sat on the edge of the bath and began to cry. Today had been so normal and all of a sudden everything had changed, and perhaps it was all over. It was just a Thursday in February and I hadn’t expected any of this.
I realised I was still holding the pebble. Almost egg-shaped, it was completely rounded with no flat edges at all. It was a dark grey but also had flecks of green and white in it. It didn’t sparkle, but it was polished, and deliciously smooth. It was still warm, but not from his hands, from mine.
And then it all became clear.
His warmth and my warmth were there in that pebble. As long as one of us held it in our hands, it would never be cold.
This was better than a diamond.
He hadn’t moved from the sofa, but was now hunched over, looking at the floor. I had never loved him so much.
‘You gave me a pebble,’ I said.
He smiled before he looked up. ‘I did.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I said.
‘So am I,’ he said.
‘A diamond’s just a shiny pebble, after all.’
‘It is.’ He was beaming now.
‘I’ll be your penguin.’ I said.
I imagined us as penguins, huddled together for warmth, sheltered against the cold.
He gave me a pebble.