The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 14, No. 4

GardenersÂ’ World

by Julian Barnes

They had reached the stage, eight years into their relationship, when they had started giving each other useful presents, ones that confirmed their joint project in life rather than expressed their feelings. As they unwrapped sets of coat hangers, storage jars, an olive stoner, or an electric pencil sharpener, they would say, “Just what I needed,” and mean it. Even gifts of underwear nowadays seemed more practical than erotic. One wedding anniversary, he’d given her a card that read, “I have cleaned all your shoes”—and he had, spraying everything sueded against the rain, dabbing whitener on an old pair of tennis shoes she still wore, giving her boots a military shine, and treating the rest of her footwear with polish, brush, rag, cloth, elbow grease, devotion, love.

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