‘Tebic’ by Sylvia Townsend Warner

‘Humphrey, what is Tebic? What does it do?’
‘Its duty – as Woolworth’s expects of it. Now go on to something else, you’re only halfway down.’

Tebic is a small gift – wrapped in silver paper, encased in blue plastic and embossed with a head of Athene – that Humphrey Warburton gives his wife Lydia in her Christmas stocking. The problem: he can’t remember what it is, and she throws it aside – until one day, it is seized on by a lunch guest who declares herself a “Tebic addict”. What I love about this story is that I still don’t know what to make of it, having it read it over and over again, or refined my ideas of what the mysterious Tebic might be – the best I can do is to say it sits in my mind with a black-and-white framed photograph of the back of a woman’s head that I’ve had for years.

(First published in The New Yorker in 1958, and collected in The Music at Long Verney)