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nate kitch The Globe and Mail

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My husband loves watches. He has several; some for fun, some for specific activities and some for elegant wear.

His good watches, when he is not wearing them, are kept in a velvet-lined mahogany display case with a glass top. He also has a matching motorized appliance with a wrist-like appendage that rotates, making a soft purr-click in the night. It keeps the self-winding watches topped up.

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We had a significant anniversary coming up. He has been a pretty good husband, so I saved up to buy him a particular expensive watch he had long desired but never felt he should spend so much money to have. A quick Internet search showed that I could find one in a jewellery store on Toronto's well-heeled Bloor Street, not far from the university where I teach.

Striding along Bloor the day before the anniversary, I was struck by the elegant outfits worn by many of the shoppers.

For ladies, soft suede suits paired with snake-skin shoes and matching handbags seemed to be the order of the day.

Gentlemen were attired in fine suits and highly polished shoes in a style I believe is called "smart business."

I had chosen my own outfit for the day with care. The students from my anatomy class had invited me to an end-of-term barbecue. The forecast was for rain, so I was dressed appropriately in a rubberized fishing jacket, waterproof pants and hiking boots.

Before long, an uncomfortable question wormed its way into my thoughts: Is there a dress code for shopping on Bloor Street?

I didn't really fit in, but there was no time to go home and change. Oh well, I thought, even Her Majesty the Queen wears a rubberized fishing jacket when she drives around her estate at Balmoral Castle – I've seen the pictures – so I was in good company.

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I walked in the front door of the jewellery store and found myself in a small, glassed-in vestibule that was separated from the main store by an inner door, which, to my surprise, was locked.

I rattled it a couple of times before noticing a security guard holding a remote-control device and staring in my direction. Maybe he didn't know the door was locked. I pointed at it, smiled and made a key-turning gesture, expecting him to slap his forehead, grin sheepishly and hurry to unlock the door. But he just kept staring.

Then it struck me: He was trying to decide whether to let me in! Evidently, I didn't look like one of their typical customers.

What to do? There was no time to find another store, so I decided to stare him down and hope that he would think I was an eccentric billionaire, or something. Raising my eyebrows, I gave him my most haughty "well, my good man" look. After a long moment he gestured with the remote control and the lock clicked open.

I was the only customer. Besides the security guard there were several sales clerks, all lovely young women dressed like fashion models and wearing jewellery that was worth more than my house. Ignoring the security guard, I asked the nearest sales clerk where they kept their watches. Wide-eyed and apparently speechless, she pointed toward the back of the store.

Everyone seemed to be watching as I walked along the carpet, my hiking boots making loud creaking sounds with every step. The last time I felt that self-conscious I had been walking down an aisle wearing a white dress. I kept telling myself, "Keep your head up and for God's sake don't trip." It seemed like a quarter of a mile before I finally found the watch area.

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The pleasant young man behind the counter asked if he could help. When I said I was interested in a particular watch he asked how much I had planned to spend. I told him and he smiled, announcing that this was my lucky day. He just happened to have that kind of watch on sale for that very amount.

Even I am not that naive. These watches never go on sale. I figured he had some discretion in the price and was trying to protect my dignity. His eyes were kind and his heart seemed to be in the right place, so I went along with the fiction.

The watch he placed on the counter was a soft platinum. Its elegant, perfectly proportioned Roman numerals glowed in the brilliant lights as the second hand swept by them, and I suddenly understood why my husband wanted one. It really was beautiful.

The decision was made. I didn't ask to see any other watches. After a quarter of an hour to register the watch in my husband's name and laugh politely at the apparently mandatory joke – Ha Ha, if you murder your husband and dispose of the body, make sure he isn't wearing the watch because that will identify him –

I managed to escape from the store.

I didn't breathe easily until I had turned off Avenue Road onto the university campus and was back in familiar territory.

Patricia Stewart-Butcher lives in Toronto.

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