By Joseph Sloan
You buy too many flowers. You have to. They are luscious, spilling out of their vases in the center of Griffin’s Market, and you gather them in your arms until you can’t hold anymore. You imagine the other shoppers watching from behind their grocery lists, smiling and thinking: “Now there is a young lady with a Valentine!”
Even Mrs. Griffin seems pleased when you wobble over in your high heels to check out, although you know that she secretly hates you. You cost her hundreds of dollars each year, selling your produce for cheap just two blocks away. It’s not your fault that your garden produces the fattest tomatoes, the most succulent cucumbers, the firmest and brightest peppers. No one understands how a little, poorly lit plot behind an apartment building can produce such bounty, and no one cares when it’s so good and costs almost nothing. You just like to see your customers happy.
And now you are happy. It is a rare feeling, and you wish you could tell someone why. But how do you say it without sounding strange? That for the first time in your twenty-five Valentines Days you have someone? Someone special, someone of your own, just for you. They would laugh. Just like those Dominican boys laugh when you walk by after dark and won’t look at them. Just like the people at the office laugh at you by the water cooler but stop when you come over.
You won’t think about that today. You won’t let it spoil your mood. You make your way down the street, bathed in Brooklyn’s fading light, and you decide that you need to have wine as well. It’s an extravagance, given what you just spent on flowers. But it’s Valentine’s Day, and you have a Valentine, and you suddenly know that you must have rich, dark red wine.
The liquor store is where you start to feel nervous. You’re not sure what he likes; you don’t know him that well. It’s precipitous to have him at your apartment. Dangerous, your mother would have said. A man you don’t know well. A single woman. Nighttime. Your mother was horrified by New York. You hope for the best, make your choice, and hurry back outside.
Now your arms are full and you are almost two hundred dollars poorer than you were this morning as you turn up the walkway leading up to your building. You fumble with your keys and the outer glass door greets you with a pleasing image: freshly cut raven hair, and the lipstick you were never allowed. You shoulder the door open, twist inside, and pull it closed before anyone lurking behind you can grab it.
Your third-floor apartment is very cold. The cat rubs your leg before bounding back to her usual spot on the edge of the couch. You unpack your belongings and spend a full fifteen minutes arranging the flowers in your tiny living room and tinier kitchen, setting out the wine and two (two!) glasses, starting the water for pasta. You wish you could afford steak for him.
Finally, it’s time to turn to the bedroom and now your nerves are back in force. Because there are a number of things you hope will happen tonight that have not happened in twenty-five years. Not when your mother was alive and watching, and not since she’s been dead either, because in a very real way she is still watching.
But tonight will be different. He’s the one. The mailman, of all people! Blonde and handsome with a charming Canadian accent and a shy smile. Broad shoulders and a strong jawline. Perfect. Your heart beats faster just thinking about him and all the possibilities for the evening. You put a hand to your chest, breathing deeply and feeling like one of the heroines in the movies you would secretly watch as a child. Julia Roberts, maybe.
You push the bedroom door open and the light falls on his face. His eyes open wide, staring at you. You close the door and let yourself acclimate to the dark. You can hear his mouth pulling at the tape, words struggling to break free. The sound of cords straining at the four corners of the bed. The smell of sweat, and other things. You walk over to the dresser and survey your implements.
How many times did you offer him a cup of your special herbal tea before he accepted? Every Tuesday and Friday (your days off) for almost four months. And he finally said “yes” on February 13? Fate.
None of the others worked out, which is why they are in the garden. One piece at a time, fertilizing the soil, pushing up Brooklyn’s most delicious vegetables. But not this one. Not yet, at least. This one is going to work out perfectly. It will be just as you always imagined it would be. None of the others, after all, had been on this very special day. He is your Valentine, and tonight is your night.