Four Red Roses: A Valentine Story

(750 words)

Sandra Malone sat staring at her laptop. On the left side, a heart with a ribbon around it and the words, ‘To My Valentine.’ On the right, a blank page anticipating her inspired verse. She sighed. She’d needed the work and, as a poet – of sorts, had been recommended to Gibson’s Cards to crank out twenty Valentine verses and messages. After a morning’s work, trying to think of original lines using ‘Valentine,’ ‘please be mine,’ ‘heart,’ ‘never part’ and such, she was sorely tempted to rhyme ‘heart’ with ‘fart.’ That’d make Gibson’s sit up!
Her self-published collection of poetry, Waste Disposal, a humorous – she hoped – ‘take’ on T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland, hardly qualified her to write such drivel! As for her own slim book, it had yet to reach the fifty sales mark, and, she admitted to herself, even those sales were largely down to herself, buying copies to give away to friends and family, most of whom had smiled politely and tucked the book away on a dusty bookcase, to be perhaps glanced at one day in the distant future.
She stood up and walked across to a patio window, gazing out across the lawn to a small group of silver birch trees. She’d become cynical since Tony had left her, she realised. Stuck on her own with Arthur, her nine-year-old autistic son. She looked at her reflection in the window, noticing a slim figure and long blonde hair, pleased that her crow’s feet and marionette lines weren’t visible. But, hey, she wasn’t unattractive. Men still made the occasional ‘pass’ at her. Just that they only wanted one thing, and it wasn’t to be a stepdad to a difficult child.
Barry, her last ‘boyfriend,’ though decades past boyhood, if truth be told, had been different. He’d experienced hardship of his own, losing his wife to a bizarre accident – a sheet of glass had fallen from a building, practically slicing her head off – and neither of his grown-up children would talk to him. But one day, Arthur had decided to make a rabbit hutch. Barry offered to help and was rewarded with a nail through his hand and a trip to the hospital. After that, his visits diminished to zero.
Sandra smiled a wistful smile. Barry’s had been the only Valentine’s card she’d received for several years. Even Tony hadn’t bothered towards the end, instead doubtless directing them to Irene, his ‘dancing partner,’ with whom he was now ensconced. And here she was, racking her brains over composing sentimental nonsense for the wretched cards. How ironic!
The phone rang. “Hello Sandy, it’s Marge, how’re the verses coming on?”
“Oh, er, OK, I’ve still got a few to do.”
“What, how many? We agreed on twenty. I need them by five o’clock.”
Nervously, Sandra glanced at the time. Just gone three. “Oh, I’ve done, er, fourteen. I’ll have another six in an hour.” She crossed her fingers, hoping that Marge wouldn’t ask her to send what she’d done so far. She’d been told that Marge had ‘scary’ days.
“That’s fine, Sandy, I’m checking the image proofs now. As soon as we get the verses, Copeland’s will get the presses rolling. Think of all those lovers you’ll be bringing together. And all those babies you’ll be making!”
Sandra forced a laugh.
“OK, hun, rushed off my feet here. Make sure you get them to us by five, OK? Byeee!”
Sandra replaced the handset, finding her hand covered in sweat and her breath short.
Sitting at her laptop again, she gave in to temptation. By 4.45 p.m. she had nineteen verses, adapted from Valentine cards found online. ‘Old verses given a fresh twist,’ she tried to convince herself. And well-matched with the images! One more to go … but she felt tired, fed up with writing doggerel.
Splashing her face with cold water in the bathroom, she heard the phone ringing. It would be Marge again, no doubt. Well, at least she was nearly there.
Instead, a voice from the past. “Hi, Sandy, it’s me, Barry, look I know it’s been a while, er, but could we talk?”
He must have the radio on, she thought. In the background, she could hear The Beatles. She hesitated, “Barry?” Then she had a sudden inspiration. “Just a minute.” She went to her laptop and, opposite an image of four red roses, typed, ‘All You Need Is Love.’ Simple, but it would do nicely! Pressing ‘send,’ she returned to the phone. “Hi, Barry, how’s your hand?”

Featured in the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories

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