The coffee establishment was practically empty now. Newspaper ink branded my fist as damnable evidence of yet another crossword undone.

Finally Alex swept in - naught but a pinstripe blur – and proceeded to slump into the seat opposite to mine.

  "Good afternoon, my good sir. How do you find the day?" I ventured.

  "Glorious to be sure, for I am in love, my friend!"

  "Love? Do elucidate, my dear Alexander. Does she radiate like the brightest star? Or he perchance? My particular church welcomes all so do not fear divulgence," I replied.

  "Ah alas Samuel. I do fear to say, for this news may shatter your heart like the most delicate of glass. Damn you lord! For you have given me the severest of quandaries!"

  "Pray tell me who is this creature you have fallen for? Surely she is not of your own kin? To conceal brings only misery Alex, whereas this union should bring such contentment!"

  "It does to be sure, but I am much afraid as to how it will paint me as a man! Her name is Charlotte…" There was more than a hint of nervousness in his voice as he spoke. Alex was always shy when conversing in matters of love.

  "Charlotte? And where might this lady reside? Surely that is not the source of this self-torture and that which makes you unwilling to confide in your oldest friend?"

  "Do not laugh dearest Samuel but…she resides at the Zoo."

  "She is of vocation there or she resides there? I was blind to such accommodation being provided for those who are in the Zoo's employment…"

  "No you misunderstand me sir. Again, do not laugh, but she resides…within a cage of sorts. Charlotte is a name bestowed upon the fairest giraffe of the Zoo, Samuel."

I laughed, then coughed it away as if it were insignificant phlegm. All the while, my head filled with such raucous jollity.

  "A Giraffe, my good sir? Surely you would have me dressed as jester, dancing a merry dance while the king laughs heartily! You mock do you not?"

  "Tis no mockery. I am in love, Samuel, and neither seek nor need your endorsement!"

  "Do not fret, I just feared you were telling strange tales, I assure you in my heart I am joyous for you."

  "In which case, I seek your advice. As you know the season of goodwill is nearly upon us, yet my mind conjures nothing of a gift for my beloved Charlotte! Pray, what should she receive?"

This was a perplexing puzzle indeed as my lack of expertise in this field was not overwhelming. My late aunt had engaged in relations with a fox once, but it was merely sympathy and goodness of heart that motivated the act, not love. As such (at least to my best knowledge) presents at yuletide were in distinct absence. My poor Aunt June! Blast the coincidental hunt that occurred that day, the hounds made not a distinction between female and fox!

  "A present for a giraffe eh? Who could have foretold we'd be sat here deliberating over that my dear Alex?"

We both laughed heartily, and I accidentally sent my crockery spilling to the floor. This drew the attentions of the surly looking blaggard behind the counter who strode over with purposeful steps and proceeded to pound his fist upon the table.

  "That's enough-you're disturbing the customers!" he exclaimed somewhat rudely.

  "You've been warned before- we even have a sign up now…"

 The huge chap motioned to a sign on the far wall. It read:


We uttered not a word as a silence fell over the entire café. No, we strolled out with our heads held high and with dignity like true gentlemen should. Is to dress oneself in suit and bowler a crime? And to employ the decorative language of days past is that a crime too? For us it was a lifestyle, and bloody dandy it was too! No matter, I had no time to be preoccupied with such things as there were more pressing issues to hand!

Alex walked briskly along the pavement, as did I, clutching my hat to my dome as a fierce bluster strove to knock it from its perch.

  "So, what of a gift?" Alex asked, his voice wavering in the oncoming wind.

I pondered for a second.


  "The children's board game?"

  "Indeed. The box is fairly slim in terms of width, an elementary rotation and the item should easily penetrate the gaps in Charlotte's enclosure …"

  "But Buckaroo? That is an utterly ridiculous suggestion, Samuel, and well you know it!"

  "My dear Alex, it was not a suggestion in jest- it is a frivolous gift and will bring much pleasure to Charlotte. I once bought it for Rachel Cluedo as an anniversary present, for example. While she may have appeared to be seething with hate I could tell that on the inside, at least, she took it as the gesture it was intended to be "

  "That may be. However there are already existing issues of height and perspective between myself and Charlotte, if I give her a plastic mule of eight inches tall I suspect it may muddy the waters even further!"

I clearly had not thought this idea through to its conclusion…

  "And what then, Samuel, what then? What would paint me a giant in her tiny giraffe mind - able to balance a kicking beast on the palm of a single hand! Logically then, how immense does that make her? Not only taller than man as is usual, but taller than a giant! A giant who in turn is already positively colossal in comparison to the mule! I think I'm getting my point across…"

  "The point is well and truly taken, Alex."

I stared intensely into the polish of my shoes as we continued our stroll, the noise of feet slapping concrete the only sound between us. The pregnant pause was increasing towards an anticipated bursting point, straining every sinew in its body as a prelude to spewing its word-baby all over the pavement. Finally, as we arrived at the corner of the street, the silence and metaphorical perineum were noisily torn open.

  "AHA! No wait, actually that is terrible. I need ideas, Samuel, it is all I ask."

There was something rather endearing about Alex and his wide-eyed naivety. His happiness wouldn't last, these things never do. Rachel and I had tumultuously proved as much. I nodded, and then looked to the heavens for inspiration. Regrettably, as an atheist I saw nothing but clouds.

  "Tights!" I exclaimed after stumbling for some considerable time. My saviour was a young woman struggling with a pushchair across the road who happened to be sporting a striped pair that clung to rather substantial legs.


  "They are practical and just slightly alluring my dear Alex- yet not too overtly sexual. You wouldn't want to mark her as a female of loose morals…"

  "Well quite…"

  "In addition I've seen an offer which allows you to purchase two packets for the price of a single one. Though I'm sure it wasn't created with four-legged consumers in mind, you must admit it is quite beneficial!"

Samuel threw me a hard and unsmiling stare, apparently taking umbrage at this comment of (what I considered) considerable wit. Yet nevertheless still accompanied me to the aforementioned store.


  Walking through the park two days later I was rather surprised to see the figure of Alex in the distance, coming towards me at quite a considerable speed. As his outline grew ever larger and so his features, it became apparent that he was somewhat irked.       "Hel…." I started as he arrived, but my greeting was violently quashed as a teary-eyed Alex drew a white glove from his coat and struck me twice about the face with it.

  "What hell is this?" I spluttered incredulously.

  "The animals mock Charlotte, they mock her with such venom! Her eyes have dulled over this whole escapade; I fear I may lose her!"

  "Would such a scenario be so disastrous? Foreplay must take centuries for as to kiss every inch of neck!"

  "You utter bastard, Samuel!" He responded furiously.

  "Calm yourself my good sir, I am joking; I'm always one to jest even if the situation may appear inappropriate and I apologise.

  "In which case you can start making amends by rectifying this situation!"

I was pondering and my mind was processing at quite an alarming speed. Naturally, one could easily enough replace the gift, but that would mean the initial present going to waste. No, I was determined that the tights should remain in all their (possibly) seductive glory. My mind at least, was still open. Others would no doubt mock or even hate Alex for his abnormal relationship but who was I to judge? It was surely doomed regardless, and as a positive bi-product of this split Alex would never have the audacity to glove my face again.

  "It is merely a question of balance, as with all matters. Simply purchase something to enhance her femininity: the tights will not appear out of place or awry then."

  "Are you sure?"

  "Naturally. Maybe even some provocative undergarments…"

  "Samuel, please!" he snapped. His complexion had reddened to a deep scarlet. This apparent blushing made me smile.

  "You aren't forgiven yet you know. Serious suggestion is what I require here, you are atoning for your sins as it were!"

  "I truly am sorry, my friend, please regard it as an error of judgment." I was genuinely sorry and could see Alex's face begin to brighten again.

  "We all make mistakes" I said tentatively, "One only has to recall that time I dropped a cup in Oxfam which ended up wiping out half of Cambodia to see that."

We embraced and began to discuss the new gift in more detail. Naturally I was cautious not to repeat the same mistakes twice.

  "I'd suggest some foundation, eye-shadow…maybe even some lipstick. Giraffes do have lips don't they?"

  "Oh yes", Alex responded, "They certainly do…" At this he raised his eyebrows suggestively, then upon lowering them, blushed again. Something was bothering me as this conversation progressed, but despite me looking all around me for stimuli that may trigger off a reminder, nothing came.

  "Make-up it is then, my good friend!"

Alex shook my hand vigorously, smiled and bounded away no doubt to make his purchase. The thought finally struck me and I shouted desperately after him, till my jaw ached and my throat felt sandpapered.

  The following week I stood silently in our agreed meeting place, yet Alex never appeared. His absence, I noted ruefully, meant that we would never see each other again and that our bond was broken. It meant that despite shouting myself hoarse he hadn't heard my yells to purchase something that had been tested on animals. It meant Charlottes face had been burnt clean off as a result of my incompetent advice. Finally it meant that as a friend, human being -and perhaps most of all- as a priest, I'd somehow failed.