I was staring at the television when I heard a wail from outside my front door. It made me jump. I glanced at the clock and was surprised to see it was already eight o’clock. Surely it had only been six o’clock a few minutes ago?

I clicked the TV off with the remote and listened. There were some low voices, one of them more high-pitched and tearful.

I got up, walked over to the door, and opened it. In the gloom of the October evening were a witch and Wonder Woman. Actually, two girls, one very young, probably no more than seven. She was the witch. The other one was much older, perhaps eighteen or nineteen, and dressed as Wonder Woman in blue hot pants with white stars and a low-cut red and gold bodice. Wonder Woman was fussing over a cut on the witch’s leg. Beside them were two small buckets, with the bright, reflective wrappings of various pieces of confectionary just visible.

They both looked up at me as the light from the doorway illuminated them.

“Your path is DARK!” said the witch accusingly. “I tripped on it!”

“Sssh, Charlotte,” said Wonder Woman. “It wasn’t his fault. You were running. I told you not to run.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I did mean to put some lights on the path. Do you want to… come in and clean that up properly? I’ve got some iodine somewhere.”

“Not the stingy stuff!” Charlotte’s lip trembled again. “I don’t want the stingy stuff! Please don’t let him put the stingy stuff on it, Tara!”

Tara soothed her. “I won’t, don’t worry. You don’t need it. It’s only a graze.” She looked up at me. “Perhaps some water and a sponge, just to get it clean?”

“Sure,” I said, and opened the door wider and gestured them in.

They picked up their buckets and came inside. I led them through to the kitchen and found some paper towels. Tara dampened a couple under the tap and gently wiped Charlotte’s leg. Charlotte was much calmer now, and looking curiously around my house, and then fixed her eyes on me.

“What’s your name?”

“Simon,” I said.

“Don’t you like Halloween? Tara said because there were no lights on your house, you probably didn’t like it, and you didn’t want people knocking on your door. But I said maybe you just forgot.”

She looked at me hopefully.

“Yes,” I said. “I did forget.”

She beamed. “So you don’t mind us knocking? If we had knocked… if I hadn’t fallen over.”

“No. I don’t mind.”

She nudged Tara triumphantly. “See! I TOLD you.”

Tara gave me a brief, apologetic glance, then glared back at her young companion. “You still shouldn’t have run off.”

This was already distant history to Charlotte. “I’m a witch,” she told me. “I was supposed to have a broomstick but I forgot it.”

“You look great,” I said. “You don’t need a broomstick.”

“And Tara is Wonder Woman. Her outfit’s a bit tight because she’s grown a lot since she last wore it and she forgot her jacket so she’s a bit cold. And lots of the boys are staring at her boobies.”

“CHARLOTTE!” Tara was crimson with embarrassment. She did look in some danger of spilling out of her top, which was probably several sizes too small for her. She was a very pretty girl, I noticed. Long black hair past her shoulders, blue eyes, slim and pretty. I noted all this very indifferently, of no more interest than the contents of somebody else’s shopping list. But I did feel a bit sorry for her.

“It is a cold night to be out without a jacket,” I said. A thought struck me.

“Be right back,” I said, and went upstairs to our bedroom. Still “our” bedroom. Not mine.

I opened some closets and rummaged. After a minute or so I found what I was looking for, and took it downstairs.

“You could wear this,” I said to Tara, and held out a light blue jacket, the nearly exact same shade as her blue hotpants. “I think it kind of goes.”

“It’s like a Wonder Woman jacket!” said Charlotte excitedly. “Put it on, Tara!”

“Oh no… I couldn’t… this looks really expensive… it’s lovely, but… I’ll be fine, really.”

“Take it,” I said. “Please.”

She looked at me uncertainly. “Well… I could bring it back later, on our way home.”

I shook my head. “Keep it. I’ve got… lots of my wife’s clothes. I keep thinking I should go through them, take them to the charity shop or just throw them out or something. Please — keep it?”

She was still reluctant, but weakening. “Well… if you’re sure?”

“I am,” I said.

Charlotte looked at me solemnly. “Doesn’t your wife need them any more? Did she grow out of them?”

“Something like that,” I said, and smiled at her.

Charlotte smiled back. “You’re nice! And Tara said you might be an axe murderer! Or a… rapper, or something.”

“Charlotte!” The blush was back.

I shook my head. “I haven’t axe murdered anybody for years, Charlotte, don’t worry. And I was never a… rapper.”

She giggled. “So – what DO you do?”

“Don’t be so nosy, Charlotte! It’s none of your business.”

“Have you heard of architects? Well, that’s what I do. I design houses and buildings for people.”

“Like castles?”

I shook my head. “Sadly, nobody’s ever asked me to design a castle for them. Wish they had.”

“I’m going to live in a castle when I’m older.” She looked at me doubtfully. “Perhaps I’ll ask you to design it for me.” I sensed she would rather give the commission to somebody with a better track record of castle design, which was very sensible.

“Thank you,” I said. “I’d appreciate that.”

“I need to pee,” she announced. “Where’s your bathroom please?”

I pointed her towards the downstairs cloakroom and she trotted off. Tara was now wearing the jacket, and it fitted her very well. By pulling it tighter around her it covered up most of her cleavage, and I thought that the boys outside and any neighbourhood dads answering the door to her later wouldn’t thank me for that.

“This is really nice of you,” she said. “Thank you.”

I shrugged. “You’re welcome.”

There was a pause.

“Sorry,” she said softly. “I realise who you are now. I’m really sorry about what happened. About your wife.”

I nodded. Another slightly strained silence. We heard the toilet flush.

“I’m afraid I don’t have any sweets or anything I can give to her,” I said. “If I’d thought about it… I’d have bought some, just in case.”

She looked at me sympathetically. “That’s OK.” Then a thought struck her. “But I’m sure she would like something from you. Do you have a bowl or a plate or something?”

I gestured to a cupboard. “In there.”

Tara opened it and chose a brightly coloured soup bowl. She put it on the side then quickly darted over to one of the buckets. She grabbed a handful of sweets from it and then dropped them into the bowl.

“That’s my bucket,” she said. “She won’t notice mine’s gone down a bit. And I shouldn’t eat them anyway.”

There was the sound of a door opening and Charlotte came back into the room. Tara looked at her fondly.

“Ready to go?”


Tara glanced at me. Taking my cue, I reached over and took the bowl from the counter and held it in front of her.

“Something for your collection,” I said.

Her eyes lit up. “You do like Halloween!” Then she looked at Tara gravely. “Next year, we have to come and remind him to put lights up.”

She took a handful of sweets, and carefully put half of them into her own bucket and then the remainder she dropped into Tara’s. I liked her very much already, but I liked her even more after that. And I liked Tara too, for her quiet thoughtfulness in giving me something I could share with Charlotte.

As I watched them disappear down my path, I found myself smiling again. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done that.


I had no expectations of seeing either of them again, but a couple of days later I came home to find a note lying on my doormat. The paper and envelope were blue and scented, and the writing was neat and careful.

Dear Mr Garrison,

Thank you again for helping me clean up Charlotte’s knee and for giving me the lovely jacket. I really like it but if you change your mind and want it back I’d quite understand.

I did wonder though if you’d like some help in sorting out all the clothes you said you had to go through? Some of my girlfriends and I would be very happy to do this for you? I’m sure we could sell quite a lot on Ebay or other sites, or you could just give it to charity shops if you like. But don’t just throw them out — I think that would be a real waste.

Anyway, if you don’t want us to that’s fine. But we’d be happy to do it for you — please?

Yours sincerely,

Tara Ross

Below it she’d written out her mobile number and an email address.

I thought about it. It was a job I’d been putting off. And I knew I had to do it. I liked the tact of her note, with no direct reference to my wife. It was just a simple offer of neighbourly help. I suspected what was also unsaid was that she and her friends would really enjoy it. Whole closets of fashionable, expensive, nearly new clothes — unworn in some cases.

I pondered. Why the hell not? So I texted her.

Thanks for the offer of assistance with the clothes. Most appreciated. Most evenings convenient after 6. Let me know. Best, Simon G.

A few seconds later my phone buzzed and there was a simple smiley emoji from her.


A few evenings later I opened the door and Tara was standing there with two other girls. It took me a while to recognise her as when she’d been Wonder Woman her hair had been jet black. Now she was a brunette. And this time, rather than a costume, she was dressed in a simple brown skirt and a dark green sweater over a white blouse.

She laughed at my confusion. “It was a wig! Didn’t you realise?”

I shook my head and she laughed again. “I’m kind of pleased it worked so well. This is Alice, and this is Claire. And Jess was going to come but can’t tonight but might come another night if we need to.”

We said our hellos. Safety in numbers, I thought. Very wise. After all, I could well be an axe murderer. Or a rapper.

I led them upstairs to the bedroom. I’d carefully removed my own clothes to the spare room, so everything there was Terri’s. I opened the three large closets, all tightly packed, then pointed to the four suitcases on the bed that I’d taken out of the other room.

“And there’s even more I need to bring down from the loft. I’m afraid it’s quite a lot to go through. It might be easier if you just take it all away and sort through it in your own time.”

Tara looked doubtful. “But… there’s so much! I mean… this will take ages. And I think it will be much easier if we can do it here, where everything’s together. If we take it to our houses… my dad will have a fit if I turned up with even a quarter of all this.”

“Mine too,” said Alice. “We could take it away if you really want, but I think if we could work on it here for the next few evenings that would be better.”

“Well,” I said, a little feebly. “You decide what’s best. I’m going to be sleeping in the other room, so you can take as long as you want, I guess.”

Claire had gone to examine some of the clothes in the first closet. “Some of this stuff is really beautiful… most of it, actually.” She looked at me shyly. “Would you mind if we bought some of these things from you? I’d love this top… but you could probably make more money on Ebay than I could give you for it.”

I shook my head. “I really don’t want anything for it, thank you — please take what you’d like.”

The girls looked at each other. I could see they were tempted, but they weren’t greedy.

Tara said: “How about if we choose… say, four things each? And you can check what they are, just in case there’s anything… really special that you’d rather we didn’t take.”

I shook my head again. “Take six things each. Eight if you want. Ten. And there’s nothing I want to keep, I promise. Nothing.”

My words must have sounded a little bitter, as the girls suddenly looked very subdued. But I didn’t know what else to say, so I decided to just leave them to it. I turned and left the room.

Half-way down the stairs I realised I was being rather graceless and rude. So I turned and went back. Claire was sitting on the bed staring at the suitcases while Tara and Alice were rather listlessly poking through the closets.

They all looked up at me as I came back in. I forced a smile.

“Listen,” I said. “I want you to enjoy doing this. And you are really helping me. You didn’t know Terri, but she… she would have really liked you all, I’m sure. She loved hanging out with her girlfriends, all of them trying on clothes and suggesting things for each other to wear. So… please, have fun doing it. Help yourself to whatever you want and help me get rid of all the stuff you don’t need or like or… whatever. OK?”

The girls looked at each other. Then Tara looked at me. “OK,” she said. “Thank you.”

“No need for that,” I said. “You’re the ones helping me, like I said. Just one condition.”

“What’s that?” The girls looked serious again.

“If two, or three, or four of you all want to take the same thing… I’m not going to adjudicate — you sort it out between yourselves. Rock, paper, scissors, or whatever, OK?”

Tara smiled. “No problem. We’ll have a fight to the death if we have to.” Then she realised what she’d said and her hands flew up to her face. “Oh god — sorry! What an awful thing to say!”

She looked mortified but I just laughed. “Well, I’d rather you didn’t do that, but as long as I don’t have to get rid of the body…. Whatever works for you.”

Then, with a final reassuring wave, I closed the door and left them to it.


For the first hour or so it was fairly quiet. Then, presumably as they got more relaxed, there was a more general hum of chatter and the occasional giggle coming from the upstairs bedroom. I turned up the television slightly to drown out their intermittent noise. I didn’t mind it, exactly, but it felt wrong to be listening to it.

I found myself staring at the TV rather than watching it. But I was used to that. I’d sat through multiple seasons of various drama series over the previous months, and for the majority of them I’d struggle to name the major characters. Grief has its own agenda, its own timetable. I was better than I was. But it was still raw.

I jumped when Tara gently tapped me on the shoulder. It must have been an hour or so later.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s fine… I’d forgotten you were there, that’s all. Found anything you like?”

She looked at me, slightly amused and incredulous.

“Oh… there’s so much lovely stuff! You have no idea.”

I shrugged. “No… I’m sure I don’t. Terri — my wife — always used to say that she shouldn’t have bothered wearing anything except jeans and old t-shirts… I always liked her in those most of all… I couldn’t tell a… Versace from a… well, anything else, really.”

She looked at me. Her expression was sympathetic and friendly. She really was very beautiful. A similar slender build to Terri, similar height. I noticed now that facially there was a resemblance too. The same slightly upturned nose. Large brown eyes that should have been a little too big for her face but somehow weren’t. And, without the black wig, her long brown hair was the same shade and thickness, though Terri had worn hers shorter.

She coloured slightly under my scrutiny. I realised I’d been staring and dropped my eyes.

“So… you girls need anything?”

“Well… actually I just wondered if you’d mind if I made some coffee or something? We’re really thirsty and we’d like to keep going if we can.”

“Sure… I can make you some coffee.”

“No — really, I’ll do it. Just show me where everything is and I’ll make you some. Just tell me how you like it.” She coloured a little more. “Like milk, and sugar, and… whatever.”

She followed me into the kitchen and I showed here where the things were. Luckily I’d bought some milk earlier that day. Other than that the fridge was mostly empty. I caught her stealing a glance at the bare shelves but she didn’t say anything.

“Splash of milk, one sugar for me,” I said.

“Got it. Thank you.” I think she was a little relieved when I left her to it. I went back to the living room and sat down again, feeling about a hundred years old. I turned down the television slightly. I liked hearing the sound of her moving around in the kitchen. The slight clink of cups and the hissing of the kettle. It was almost as if I could pretend everything was fine and it was Terri back there, sorting out one of her undrinkable herbal teas and a coffee or hot chocolate for me.

She brought me my drink and I thanked her, and she said they’d be about another hour before they had to go, and I said that was fine, and she said it might take them every evening for the next week or so to go through everything properly, and I said that was fine too. Then she went back upstairs and I went back to staring at the television.

A few hours later I woke up and the house was dark. Somebody had put a blanket over me and switched off the lights. I went upstairs and peered into the main bedroom. The clothes were all out of the closets and there were various piles arranged neatly if a little randomly around the room. If there was an underlying system it wasn’t immediately obvious to me. I closed the door, carried on down the corridor to the other bedroom, and crawled under the duvet still fully dressed. I slept badly, but that was normal for me.


The following evening there were three of them again. No Claire this time, but Tara introduced me to Jess, a redhead in a very tight t-shirt which made it quite clear she wasn’t wearing a bra. I thought there was a slight coolness in Tara’s tone when she introduced us, but I could have been wrong.

I told them to make their way upstairs and let them get on with it. This time there was more giggling right from the start. Jess had a distinctive laugh which was infectious and sometimes I caught myself smiling at it. God knows what they were talking about. Probably better I didn’t know. But this time I didn’t turn the television up so loud. I just sat in my chair and enjoyed the noises of people — younger people, attractive people — having fun. If Terri had been here she’d have loved to join them, I thought.

But they’re here because you’re not, Terri, I thought. Damn you. Sorry.

Tara came down after about an hour and, unprompted, made us all coffee. She also produced a packet of biscuits and put some on a plate for me.

“Also,” she said. “I spoke to my mother and… well, we’re having a casserole tomorrow night and there’s always loads and so she said I should bring you some.”

“Oh… that’s very kind but really there’s no need.”

She looked at me solemnly. “I think you’d like it. My mum’s a pain in the ass sometimes — most of the time really – but she’s a good cook.”

I laughed a little at that, and she looked pleased. “Fine. Thank you. And thank her, very much.”

She went back upstairs and the giggling and chat continued. I felt suddenly very lonely, and wished I could just go and sit with them for a while, to bathe in their company, not speaking, just listening and soaking up their youth and good humour and warmth. But they were trying on clothes and I was at least a dozen years older than them and it was much better for everybody that I stayed where I was. But already I knew I would be very sorry when the clothes were sorted and they would have no further reason to visit.