The problem with friendships was the invisible boundary lines and the unscripted definitions that everyone seemed to understand. Everyone except Thelma, who found them mystifying. It hadn’t always been so complicated. On her first day at school, Jenny Smith sat next to her at lunchtime and declared to anyone who cared to listen that she was Thelma’s best friend. Thelma hadn’t thought to question the statement and so that was that. They remained best friends until Jenny’s dad got promoted at work and moved the whole family to Macclesfield.

Thelma had understood friendship back then. It was about walking to school with someone, sitting with them at lunchtime, helping them with tricky maths problems, sticking up for them when other kids said mean things, and going to their birthday party with a present and a card.

Friendship as an adult was a jungle of strangling vines and treacherous pathways. Thelma believed she was friends with Vera from the lingerie department until they’d bumped into one another outside of work. Vera introduced her to the skinny young man she was with as ‘This is Thelma, a work colleague.’ The skinny bloke was introduced as ‘Steve, my boyfriend.’ Clearly the boundary between friend and boyfriend was a major landmark in the world of friendships. But the boundary between work colleague and friend? Thelma realised she had misunderstood where that sat and how it was defined.

In fact the introduction had been thoroughly upsetting. She wouldn’t have introduced Vera to her boyfriend as a work colleague. Not that she had a boyfriend, but that was beside the point. The description made her feel like a petticoat reduced to half price in the sale rather than a matching pair of bra and knickers displayed prominently in the store window. She decided she wouldn’t seek Vera out at lunchtime in future. Perhaps she would have better luck ticking the friendship boxes with Christine from the china department. After all Christine had sent her a Christmas card with a personalised greeting. Christine had also put aside a glass vase that Thelma had admired so she could buy it on the first day of the sale ahead of the crowds of bargain hunters.

That’s what friends did for one another, right? Small helpful things. Kind things. Yes, Thelma decided, Christine would be her new best friend. At least for the rest of the week.

Sharon J. Clark is a poet and short story writer living in Milton Keynes, England. Her writing has been published in a number of anthologies. She is active in the local writing scene, including being part of the team behind the Milton Keynes Literary Festival.

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Every Day Fiction