Alison McQueen


Going Anywhere Nice?

Short stories are a devilishly difficult form. Here’s one I wrote for The Sunday Express magazine in an attempt to stick to the brief of short, modern, and absolutely nothing dark or depressing…

Going Anywhere Nice?

‘Going anywhere nice for your holidays?’ asked the girl with the scissors.

David glanced at her in the mirror’s reflection. Of course he wasn’t going anywhere nice for his holidays. At this rate, there probably wouldn’t be a holiday at all. His girlfriend had gone off him. He could tell. He had caught her staring at him in a peculiar way during EastEnders on Sunday. She never used to look at him like that. She used to smile at him and drape her legs over his, feeding him popcorn, but now she chose to perch at the far end of the sofa instead, curling her legs beneath herself.

He couldn’t understand what the problem was. They loved each other, didn’t they? He always assumed that they would continue going out for another year or so and then maybe they would get married or have kids. Then last night they had gone out for a pizza and she had kept looking at that waiter with the messy haircut.

He’d been thinking about getting his hair chopped off anyway. Nobody really did the ponytail thing any more, as his girlfriend kept telling him. She’d been a bit off with him this morning too when she left for work, moaning at him for leaving a half drunk cup of coffee on the floor by the bed. She got like that sometimes, which usually meant that he would have to pull his socks up for a while and remember to be a bit tidier around the flat. He hoped the haircut would be a good move. He described it to the hairdresser in painful detail and she seemed to know what he was talking about as she ran her fingers through his hair, pushing it this way and that and saying uh-huh as he explained.

‘Not sure yet,’ he said. ‘Might go to Spain again.’

‘Uh-huh,’ said the girl with the scissors, her mind elsewhere. She was thinking about her boyfriend. They’d been going out for nearly three months and she was thinking that maybe she should cook them a nice dinner on Saturday and they could celebrate their three month anniversary. There was that meal deal on at the moment. Dine in for a tenner. With wine and everything. They could have a cosy night in. She might even say I Love You. She’d been thinking about it for a while, hoping that he would say it first, but he hadn’t. He was probably too embarrassed, or was waiting for her to say it. Blokes can be a bit funny like that.

‘Do you want a couple of magazines to look at?’ she asked.

‘Thanks,’ David said.

David didn’t really want a magazine. What he wanted was to know what was going on in his girlfriend’s head. Maybe they were stuck in a rut and what she really wanted was to get engaged. After all, that’s what every girlfriend wants eventually, isn’t it? To be on the receiving end of a surprise proposal, done with a big fanfare. She probably hoped to be whisked off to Paris or somewhere like that, him down on one knee up the Eiffel Tower.

‘Here you go.’ The girl plonked a handful of magazines on the vanity unit. Maybe she should get him a present from the card shop next door. A little teddy bear clutching a red felt heart that says I Love You on it. Then she can make out that it’s just a jokey gift if he doesn’t say it back.

‘Thanks,’ David said, picking up a GQ. He began flicking through the pages. Maybe he wouldn’t have to take her all the way to Paris. Maybe he could get away with cooking her a nice dinner with candles and everything. Girls like stuff like that. Maybe he should buy a ring, but then again, what if she said no? Can you get your money back on an engagement ring? He wasn’t sure. And then a thought crossed his mind. Maybe she was going to dump him. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked for messages.

‘Oh!’ said the girl with the scissors. ‘My boyfriend’s got one of those!’

‘Uh-huh,’ David mumbled.

‘I’m a Blackberry girl myself,’ she said. ‘BBM. I’m mad for it.’

‘Mmm.’ David scrolled through his texts, looking for a sign.

‘Just bend your head forward for me?’ Maybe the teddy would be a bit OTT. Maybe she should get it put on a cupcake instead. Then, if it went all wrong, she could just eat it, whereas a teddy would sit there looking at them awkwardly and make it ten times worse.

David looked down into his lap, thumbing a message into the screen. Big surprise for you later. Love you. xxx. A terrible thought suddenly occurred to him. What if she interpreted ‘big surprise’ as something else… something much bigger than a haircut? What if she thought he was going to pop the question tonight? He read it back and deleted two of the kisses.

Maybe he should ask the girl with the scissors what she thought. He could show her the text and make a joke out of it and say, what a stupid thing to do eh? And she would laugh and say no it’s not, it’s really sweet actually. Well, why not? Everybody knows that the only reason that hairdressers ask you if you’re going anywhere nice is because it’s a safe opener for a bit of conversation. He glanced at her in the mirror and saw the far-off look in her eyes. She’s probably miles away, he thought. She wouldn’t want to play counselor to him. It was time to make up his mind. He added the kisses back and hit send.