Slippers. That’s what she wanted.
She had told him about them, described them even though she had only seen them in her imagination.
“Soft,” she had said. “Soft and warm,” as if there were any other kind.
“And packable,” she added suddenly.
“Packable?” he asked. “What do you mean?”
She took this as a good sign, a sign that he was paying attention, enough to ask a question from across the room. Maybe he was taking mental notes. She should be really clear, so he’d get the ones she wanted.
“Packable, you know, foldable. Not hard soles. So I can take them when we go to Michigan next month.”
He nodded and went back to reading his book. She thought she saw a sly look in his eye; she pretended not to notice.
It was the first time she had asked for something specific. Usually when he asked what she wanted for her birthday, or for Christmas, or for their anniversary, she would wave her hand and say, “I’m just happy to be with you.”
But this time she had decided to ask for something she really wanted: soft, warm, packable slippers, so she could take them everywhere, so her feet would never be cold again. And because he asked a follow up question, she knew he would remember.
She began to look forward to next week, to the upcoming yearly anniversary gift exchange, an event that had brought some anxiety in past years, an event she had thought to suggest they skip.
But this time, she thought, I’ll find the thing I want when I pull off the paper and open the box. Because I asked. And he will remember.
He’ll get something he wants too, she hoped, as she listened closely past his vague answer to her question about what he might like from her. She chose his gift carefully, had found just the right kind of pepper grinder that he would enjoy using on his stews and pasta dishes. He was a lover of fresh cracked pepper in restaurants, but they only had shakers at home. The one she chose was walnut, gracefully curved, with adjustable grind settings. It was elegant and simple, and would fit nicely in his hands.
“It’s so perfect,” he said with a true smile – the first she’d seen in a while – after he pulled it out of the bag. He seemed awed by her ability to know this was something he would like.
And then, he handed her the box from him. She wondered if he had chosen her favorite color (purple), or if he had gone with a more neutral tone that would match everything. She wondered if he had found slippers with any special features, like a sheepskin lining or extra traction. She hoped he had gotten the right size. She was looking forward to wearing them in front of the fire as they sipped their evening cocoa that night.
When she opened the box, she found a collection of lovely items – some earrings, a candle, a small book of poems. She thanked him, and he smiled.
She put on the earrings, lit the candle, poured their cocoa. He set his pepper grinder next to the stove, ready for the soup he would make the next day. They watched a movie, she can’t remember now what it was.
They had gone to Michigan the next month, to their cabin, she remembers that much now, and she had most likely taken warm socks and curled up in an extra blanket as she read her magazines and watched the lake.
The day after they finally called it quits, after she moved out, she walked to the drugstore down the block from her new apartment, bought a pair of soft gray slippers, size medium, on sale for $6.99.
Now she wears her slippers every night as she drinks a nightcap on the couch, watching TV.
She slips them in her bag for every visit to her cousins, the rare business trip, a weekend away with her friends.
They are packable, foldable. She feels their softness, feels their warmth.
Every night she looks down and remembers: she bought the slippers herself.
They are exactly what she wants.