We pass each other in the park every weekday morning at approximately 7.32.
We’ve walked towards each other so many times we’re on nodding and smiling terms. More seems impossible, because she has a dog.
Until, on one of the lonelier paths, my keys fly from my hand, somehow, and land – Ching! – at her feet upon the turd-stained ground. The fob is a grey gunmetal heart, flecked with lost paint. There’s a jingle inside.
She bends down to retrieve the keys with only her bare hands. The dog noses forwards.
‘No!’ I shout. If she touches them now she’ll be contaminated. Forever, she will be the sort who picks up dirty things.
They both look at me, startled, as I search my pockets. No tissues, no plastic gloves. I jam my lips together trying not to shout. In a minute, she will start to run away. I’ll never have a smile from her again.
She takes a poo bag from her pocket, turns it inside out and slips it over her hand. Scooping up the keys she draws the bag around them, keeping them contained. She makes a loose knot and holds the bag up for me to take. The dog puts its head on one side.
After a moment’s hesitation, I reach out. She smiles at me and gives the bag a shake.
We break into laughter, for the pleasure of hearing it chime.
A version of this story appeared in ‘The Lobsters Run Free’ an anthology of flash fiction longlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award in 2017.