A Short Story for Valentine’s Day

She selected the card with care.  It mustn’t be too lurid, too suggestive.  Neither should it be florid and overly sentimental.  It had to be just right.  She moved past the oversized ones, laden with bubble-headed teddy bears and wide-eyed, sexualised toddlers.  Their artwork was enough to make anyone puke but she discounted them chiefly because of their size.  The card must fit through a letterbox.  And besides, anything large would incur extra postage.  Have you seen the price of stamps these days?  It’s shocking but they get away with it.  You can’t exactly declare undying and anonymous love via the more new-fangled email now, can you?

Sometimes the old ways are the best.

She found a card that showed a black and white photograph.  It looked like Paris; she couldn’t really tell.  And she could only make a rough estimate that the picture had been taken in the 1950s, if the fashions and hairstyles were anything to go by.  The photograph depicted a couple in a busy street in the moment just before they meet.  The young man, in a sharp suit, his hair shiny and slicked back, conceals a single rose behind his back.  The manufacturers of the card had somehow highlighted the rose in red.  Using computers, probably.  They can do anything with computers these days.

She checked the back of the card.  No price but a curious and arcane coding system.  She had to check the notice at the top of the display.  “HH”… she gasped when she saw the price.  Daylight robbery!  She put the card back in its rack.  Then she snatched it up again.  Well, it was only once a year.  And she had saved up especially.  She performed some mental arithmetic.  The card and a first class stamp… She could afford it although it pained her to waste money on such frippery.

She took the card to the counter where a young girl with a face the colour of a house brick was chewing gum and riffling through a magazine.

“Envelope?” the girl sneered.  “Don’tcha wannit in no envelope?”

Ah.  She saw her mistake.  She had neglected to pick up the red envelope that came with the card.  She went back to the rack and found it.

She paid, hoping the girl wouldn’t notice her nervous excitement.  The girl couldn’t have been less interested if she tried.

She headed for home, clutching the card in its paper bag all the way.  As soon as she got in, she shed her coat and sat at the kitchen table.  She tested the pen – she didn’t want it to smudge or run out halfway through a word.  The pen was fine.  She thought for a moment and then, carefully, she wrote the message on the card’s blank interior.

Simple and direct.  There was no need for lamentable poetry or salacious innuendo.

She slid the card into its envelope and licked along the gummed edge of the flap.  She inscribed the address on the front, took a stamp from her purse and placed it neatly in the upper right corner.  She consulted the clock on the cooker.  If she went right away she could get it in the post before the box was emptied.  In fact, she had no option.  She pulled her coat back on and hurried to the pillar-box in the next street, holding the card tightly against her chest, certain that its bright red envelope would draw commentary from the neighbours and anyone who happened to pass her in the street.

What’s she doing sending a Valentine?  And who on Earth would she send it to? – She could imagine their questions, their sneers and their gossip.

Relieved and a little breathless, she reached the post box.  The postman’s van was just coming around the corner.  She pushed the red envelope into the wide-mouthed slot and instantly felt better.  With a spring in her step, and bidding a cheery good afternoon to the postman as he got out of his van, she went home for a restorative cup of tea.

The postman emptied the contents of the pillar-box into a large plastic sack then continued on his round.  When his collection was completed, he delivered the sack and several others to the sorting office.

The sorters worked into the night so that every item could be despatched to its correct destination but then one of them came across a bright red envelope.

“Here, Barry,” he showed it to a co-worker, “What’s this?”

Barry looked at the envelope with the knowing smile of an old hand.

To my late husband, Harold, care of Heaven.

“We get one of these every year without fail.  Go on; open it.  See for yourself.”

“I couldn’t – that’s illegal.”

“Well, we can’t exactly send it on, can we?  Go on!”

The sorter capitulated to Barry’s insistence.  He glanced from side to side to check none of the bosses was watching and then slid his thumb under the flap.  He tore the envelope open and took out the card.

“To Harold,” he read.  “Fuck you for dying.”



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