Claire and Ned went parasol shopping to celebrate Ned's successful cataract operation. When they were younger, before the flare, parasols were only for slightly odd women who wanted to keep their skin pale, and a man like Ned would never have owned one. Now that ultraviolet light was more of a menace than before, everyone used them. If you were rich, you had sunglasses too, but those were difficult to source because of their materials. Manufacturing was still being rebuilt, and prescription lenses had priority over non-prescription lenses.
Parasols, however, could be made by hand, and were. Where Claire and Ned lived, the frames were made of bamboo that had been growing feral along the railway line before the flare. Mr Lee and Mr Lim, the parasol makers, had simply set up shop beside one of those feral groves and started their business. Mr Lee, the big red-haired man, made the frames, and little dark-haired Mr Lim made the paper and oiled it after it was on the frames. Both covered the parasols and then painted them, so their products were covered with ancient letters, ideographs, Celtic knots, Asian dragons, butterflies, and old totems or logos, depending on the painter and his mood. Lim & Lee had something for everyone, and they were conveniently located near a railway station.
The train didn't work by electricity anymore, not this far out from the city. However, soon after the solar flare had lit up the night sky with auroras and killed the electricity grid, the railway had come to an arrangement with the steam museums and the restoration groups so that a service ran over most of the network. It was regular, and reliable, but not frequent because there wasn't that much rolling stock, but it did allow you to travel. In Claire and Ned's case it took them three stops from the old town, where they lived, to the bustling village just to the north where Lim & Lee had their premises. Working with the train timetable, because neither of them wanted to walk the eight kilometre distance if they didn't have to, they made a day trip of it. They got on at their home stop while the engine rewatered, enjoyed the scenery whizzing past them for the next fifteen minutes while the train stopped at each of the intermediate stations, and then alighted at the third stop where they stood back and waved the train off on its way to the northern terminus.
Its return trip that afternoon would be their trip home.
They went across the road on the high side of the line and booked seats for lunch in the dining room of the Railway Hotel. Then they walked the hundred metres to the premises of Lim & Lee. Inside the solid, respectable shopfront, built alongside the workshop which in turn abutted the bamboo clump, there were browsing customers and three sales assistants. The eldest of the assistants patrolled the shop floor, keeping an eye on the customers. One of the assistants, young enough to have been born after the flare, was helping a customer of Islander extraction place a special order for a parasol that matched his tattoos. The third assistant stood beside the till, waiting for customers to make their purchases. There were almost a dozen customers in the store besides Claire, Ned and the man at the counter.
Claire asked Ned, "What would you like on your parasol? The butterfly ones are nice." She pointed at a stand where the parasols were decorated with images of butterflies and moths.
Ned glanced in their direction but answered, "Actually, I want one of the bigger ones, just to be on the safe side. I've already had cataracts, let's not aggravate my eyes or make my skin worse." He’d had several operations to remove skin cancers already. He headed over to the section with the larger, more expensive sunshades on display.
"I know we can afford one," commented Claire, "but they're awfully dark, aren't they?" She looked at the furled black parasols with disfavour.
"Sir. Madam." The older assistant came up to them. "Can I be of assistance?"
"We're getting my husband a new parasol to celebrate his cataract surgery," replied Claire quietly, "and he would like a broad one, but these large ones are very....black. Very funereal."
"I see," the neat woman nodded. "Now, not every piece in this size has a dark ground. These, for instance," she walked over to the stand and reached around the back to pull out a multicoloured parasol in strong tones, "was a popular high visibility design before the flare." She opened the parasol to show that each segment was a different colour of the rainbow. She closed it and put it back in its place. "If that doesn't appeal, then most of these dark ones only have a black ground so they can better display a decal. This one, for instance." She pulled a black-looking parasol out of its slot, and opened it to display the three round, red decals spread equally around its circumference.
Ned took a sharp breath in. "I loved those movies when I was a kid. I haven't seen that symbol in decades."
"It is a popular design," agreed the sales assistant.
"I'll take it," said Ned.
"Very good, sir. If you'd just step over this way?" The assistant led them to the till, where Ned paid.
When they walked out, Ned put up his new parasol with its insignia of an imaginary alliance and asked, "Do you mind? That I got something that's mainly in a colour you don't like?" The old brown one hung over the crook of his arm, they had a grandson who might use it.
"The logo does make up for the ground colour," Claire told him. "I always liked those movies too. Now, let's see if their grocery store here has fresh eggs. The price Amy Jackson is charging for a dozen would be highway robbery if she was on the main road."
"If you say so, dear." Ned smiled at her, and they went off to enjoy the rest of their day out, content to be together and that life was slowly getting better.