May your Valentine’s Day be touched by romance — or chocolate.
by Karen Gilleland © 2015
Closing the kitchen door with her hip, Louisa dropped her purse and book bag onto the table and walked into the reception area. She found Morwenna speaking on the telephone and James in the playpen.
“What’s going on, Morwenna?” Louisa asked after the girl had hung up. “Martin said he would mind James this afternoon.”
“’Doc’ was called over to Bodmin on an emergency fifteen minutes ago. He asked me to take care of James until you came,” she said, standing up and heading for the door. “See you Monday. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Louisa watched the girl walk out, dressed in a flowered, off-the-shoulders top, short shorts, pink tights, and large feathered earrings. Oh, to be twenty again, she thought.
Picking up James, Louisa walked into the kitchen. “Happy Valentine’s Day, darling,” she said, hugging him close. “Would you like to see the Valentines the children gave me?”
She sat down at the table and turned her book bag upside down. The colorful cards tumbled out, and James grabbed hold of one with a red heart and picture of a puppy. He put the card into his mouth, but Louisa exchanged the Valentine for a teething biscuit and set him in the highchair.
“You’re a peach of a teach!”
“Teacher, you’re the reason school is so cool.
“Roses are red, violets are blue. I’m lucky to have a teacher like you.”
When she had read the last of the cards, she shuffled them into one stack and put a rubber band around it with a slip of paper noting the year. Louisa often asked herself why she kept the cards for two years. “Your daddy would roll his eyes and call me sentimental,” she said, crossing her eyes and sticking out her tongue. The baby laughed and patted his hands.
An hour later, she fed James a dinner of creamed rice and corn, topped off with pears, his favorite dessert. She mixed up a ground beef casserole and popped it into the oven, hoping Martin would be home soon. But by seven o’clock he hadn’t arrived, and Louisa decided to go ahead and eat. Afterwards, she took the baby upstairs and settled him in his crib for the night.
Tidying up, she caught sight of Martin’s gray bathrobe hanging on the hook. Those Valentines really are making me feel sentimental, she thought, and she slipped the gray robe on over her red dress, rolling up the sleeves and hitching up the robe with the belt so she wouldn’t trip.
I look like Dopey in “Snow White,” she chuckled as she glanced in the mirror.
Louisa padded down to Martin’s office and leaned back in his chair. She smiled when she saw the Valentine she’d given him propped up against his computer. She touched the desk gently with the palms of her hands.
The corner of a yellow tablet stuck out from the pile of folders at the edge of the desk, and she pulled the pad over in front of her. Not interested in the medical jargon, Louisa turned the pages slowly, looking at the handwriting, running her hands over the sheets, enjoying a sense of closeness with her absent husband.
As she turned over a page, her own name jumped out at her. She stopped, caught her breath, read the words.
I existed in a world of gray.
Comfortable, smug, content alone.
I trod through life with weighted step,
Adorned with learning, heart of stone.
At flowers I never glanced.
To music I never danced.
How did it happen, then, that moment, when,
Per chance, I touched your face.
A firestorm of color – brightest yellows, burning blues,
sensuous reds —
Burst upon me, springing me into a lacy world of love and lust,
Terrifying me —
I knew not how to live in that enchanted world, stoked with passion, grace and trust.
Like a pouncing tiger, I spit out cool reason and feasted on hot jealousy.
I clawed at the tempestuous colors, trampling them back into powdered dust.
But to my world of gray, I could ne’er return.
My heart of stone, now cracked, was compelled to learn,
When a flicker of love ignites the soul,
The flame burns on, redeems the fool–
The words ended, as if the pen had suddenly refused to move. Heart pounding, Louisa read the words again. She didn’t hear the door open or Martin’s footsteps until he came into the office. She looked over at him, her eyes brimming with tears.
“Louisa, what’s happened?” He set down his medical bag and walked over to her.
She shuddered, drew a deep breath and touched the yellow tablet. Martin looked at the page she was reading.
“Oh,” he paused, forehead furrowed.
“You wrote me a poem,” she said, her voice shaky.
“I didn’t think it was that bad,” he said, pulling the stool over and sitting down by her.
“You know it isn’t bad. It’s beautiful.”
“Why are you crying?”
“You were never going to show me the poem, were you?” She looked in his eyes and saw the truth of her statement.
Martin put his hand on hers, but she shifted away. He frowned and said, “It’s not finished.”
Louisa shook her head. “You never intended to finish it.”
“Why!” she exclaimed.
He sat quiet, as though trying to understand himself. “I’m not sure.”
“That’s rubbish, Martin.” She stood up quickly and tripped over the robe, which had slipped loose. She grabbed onto his arms.
“You’re wearing my robe,” he said, holding her until she caught her balance.
“Is that all you can say?” Louisa pulled up the robe, retied the belt and started past him. “I ask you about a poem, and all you can say is that I’m wearing your robe.”
“I’m not sure what it is you want me to say.”
“If you don’t know, there’s no point in my telling you,” she said, walking away. She halted at the doorway, softening the harsh words. “I’ve left supper for you in the oven. Good night.”
Upstairs, Louisa hung up the gray robe, got ready for bed, snapped off the lamp. Martin, she sighed, will we ever live in the same world?
She lay in bed, eyes open. Light from downstairs cast a soft glow in the darkened bedroom. Half-an-hour passed before blackness blanketed the room. She heard Martin’s light tread on the stairs. After a while, she felt him slip into bed.
“Are you awake?” he whispered.
“Tell me why you’re angry.”
“I’m not angry any more. I just feel sad.”
“You have to tell me why, because I truly don’t understand.”
Louisa pushed herself up and sat back against the pillows, drawing a deep breath. “The reason I was hurt when I read those beautiful words is that I’ve lived in a world where I thought you were incapable of expressing tenderness and love. Then I find that you are eloquent, passionate even, but you never share your thoughts with me.”
She stopped, but he didn’t speak. “I’m your wife, and I need to hear the words.”
Flinging back the covers, Martin sat up on the edge of the bed, his back to Louisa. “Why are words so hard for me to say?” he began, frustration in his voice. “In my head, I tell you all the time that I love you. That you mean the world to me. That life wouldn’t be worth living without you.”
Louisa inhaled sharply, taken aback by the fervor of his words, at the same time, knowing she had to be honest about her own feelings. “Martin, I love you. I understand that sharing your feelings is difficult. But we have a son, and we have to set an example, so he will know how to express his feelings one day, when he falls in love.”
“Our son, in love,” he echoed, seemingly awed by the notion.
Silence stretched in the darkness. She sensed his struggle, waited, giving him time, aware that his response would have a lasting impact on their relationship.
He slid over near her, and finally the passing moments melted into words. “When I wrote that poem, I’d been thinking about the mistakes I’d made, how foolishly I’d treated you, how I nearly let you walk out of my life. I was embarrassed by my failures.”
Louisa slipped down under the covers, shivering, the tension draining away.
Martin wrapped an arm around her and said, “Even in my blackest moment, I felt certain that your love would never desert me. I want you to feel that certainty, to know that you can always count on my love.”
Tears stung her eyes, words caught in her throat. When the flood of emotions ebbed, she said, “Your poem stirred me to the very depths of my soul.”
Martin stroked her hair, spoke, caressing her with his voice. “’At flowers I never glanced. To music I never danced. How did it happen, then, that moment, when, Per chance, I touched your face.’” His voice faded as he brushed her cheek, kissed her lips.
— THE END –
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