Kicking off #FridayFlash in February with a love story of sorts. Did something a bit experimental here, so I’d love to hear any feedback you have to offer. Happy reading, and don’t forget to check out the other great #FridayFlash stories this week, too!
I cannot imagine loving anyone more than you.
Our hearts aren’t big enough for more than this.
This lock will symbolize our passion.
Here, let me.
The key turns, grasps, fails and drowns.
You can’t do this to me.
I’m not doing this to you.
You’re killing me.
You’ll live. I promise.
The lovers part. The lock remains.
Tear-reddened eyes stare.
No more words.
The wind gusts.
The lock clanks against the metal.
Night falls, but the stars stay hidden.
Mist covers the known world.
Steel pincers emerge and bite hard.
The lock falls, splashes, sinks.
All hope lost.
A friendly current takes pity.
The reluctant mud finally concedes.
The lock sails, then catches on a miracle.
The pieces, though battered, still come together like new.
Reunion delivers its sweet release.
© 2013 Elizabeth Ditty
I just saw a bolt of lightning in the distance and silently squealed with kid-like delight. I love storms, at least the kind where they’re just a little scary like a good rollercoaster or a solid horror film rather than the sort where they threaten lives or to blow away childhood homes.
There’s a storm brewing on the horizon now, one they’ve been promising for days that keeps getting delayed for whatever reason the weather does things, and I sort of feel like that’s my life right about now. I’m not even going to attempt to form this into a cohesive post today, but here are some thoughts currently swirling around in my brain.
Nicholl deadline is in 4 days, & other important ones follow in quick succession. Meaning my view for the weekend will be variations of this.
Self-employment tax is a real kick in the teeth, isn’t it?
Assuming there’s no relationship disaster between now and the clock ticking over to Saturday, I’ve got a six-montherversary tomorrow. Haven’t had one of those in… well, I’d’ve been a senior in high school, and I had my 10-year reunion last year, so… Well, it’s been a while. And that’s a bit weird. But mostly just pretty wonderful.
On the other hand, the boyfriend seems to think he can, as he put it, “roflstomp” me at Super Smash Bros. So, that relationship disaster could be looming after all when this lady & I kick his arse.
My mom keeps teasing me with offers to sell me her iPad and then backing out. Next thing I know she’s going to attach it to a fishing pole and dangle it barely out of my reach just for kicks. Right this very minute, I’ve got an e-mail from her that says, “It’s very possible I could sell you my iPad.” And the subtext to that is, “And it’s also very possible I will NOT sell you my iPad! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” I just don’t know how much longer my heart can take this cruel, cruel game.
I took part in a photoshoot with some of my fellow freelancing friends the other day. Amy, my DP for STILL (which is coming out of hiatus and going back into post-production in May, so help me God!), had the brilliant and terrible idea to do a sort of video business card thing. Brilliant because, well, it is. Terrible because it required me to be in front of the camera, thus re-proving to myself that I am meant to be behind it. The worst part was I got my self-written lines right on the first take, but it was too windy & didn’t take. So I then proceeded to botch the next three attempts and became the only person of our quintet to drop curse words for the day. So that was fun.
Here’s some street art I found that seemed pretty appropriate given my failure to maintain on-camera composure.
Lastly, I’ve been a homeowner for a week now. Feels a bit funny when everyone offers a hearty congratulations considering I’ve been living here for seven years & just bought the place from my parents, but I guess it’s still a good thing. If you consider massive amounts of debt you’re contracted to pay off over the next 30 years of your life a good thing anyway.
And hey, the sun’s out again. Go figure. That’s it for me, folks. Have a lovely weekend. Enjoy the last bits of April, since the rest of it disappeared to who knows where!
P.S. — My friend Matt is doing his first movie review assignment for Screened today, so stay tuned to his twitter to see the article, and check out his blog for some stellar film analysis in the meantime. Also, my friend Stuart has a collection of dark short stories being featured for free on Amazon today, so do check it out!
Last night I made my way to the cinema to see a special TCM screening of CASABLANCA in honor of its 70th anniversary. It was not meant to be a solo adventure, but plans fell through, and going alone was a small price to pay for seeing one of my favorite classic films on the big screen.
Going to movies alone is not something I mind, as there’s no pressure to make sure your moviegoing partner is entertained, no arguments over how to define prime seating inside the theatre (or sacrificing a preferred seat out of respect for a companion’s preferences), no awkward post-movie attempts at polite discussion when opinions don’t line up.
There is also the added benefit of being able to treat oneself to a three-course dinner of espresso, gelato and an entire container of curly fries, with no judgment except perhaps from nearby strangers who glimpse the solo wolfing down of said fries , but who cares about them?
The other perk of solo moviegoing is there’s no need to dress to impress anyone, to look cute or pretty or anything beyond socially presentable. You can go above and beyond, of course, and that can be fun, too. But last night I opted not to change out of my working-from-home uniform of jeans, sambas and an old, comfortable, combination hoodie/three-quarter-sleeved T. I was not alone in my wardrobe choices that night. The crowd was filled with Ts and sweatshirts, with a sprinkling of having-come-from-the-office button-downs and slacks.
Except for one couple.
I found myself trailing behind them as I walked into the theatre. His white hair matched his crisp suit, which looked like he might have stolen it right off Rick’s back. His shoulders were slightly stooped, but his steps were sure as he led the lady on his arm into the dark. She was wearing a dress, black with tiny white polka dots, the silhouette straight out of the 1940s, complete with back-seam stockings and hair styled into victory rolls. They could have walked right into Rick’s Café Américain and looked just right.
After a momentary wave of guilt for my own attire and casual treatment of the event, I began to wonder about their story. They were old, but not ancient, and they seemed too spry to have seen the film in its original release, but the way they whispered secrets and shared smiles suggested it was a special night.
The magic of the moment in the dark hallway was broken a little when we emerged into the crowded theatre. They found a couple of seats much too close for my tastes, and I hoped that they would have disagreed with me. For no logical reason, I wanted their night to be perfect. I entertained the fantasy of an alternate universe where the theatre had balcony seats, where the two could watch from above the dressed-down masses, focused only on the film that meant so much and each other.
The lights went down, and due to some glitch, they never came back up, even after the film had finished. I didn’t see them as I left, and they’d seemed so unlikely all along that I half began to wonder if I hadn’t imagined them. And since that’s less fun, I I reasoned that perhaps they were just time travelers, having a bit of fun on a day off or enjoying the perks of retirement, and had decided to skip the rush out in favor of other nostalgic adventures.
Before I knew it, I’d reached my car, and the threads of the little fantasy I’d been creating drifted away. But then again, we’d all time-traveled a little that night, hadn’t we? The silent gasps when Ilsa comes through the door and back into Rick’s life. The angst as the rain washes the words from Ilsa’s note. The chills as the Marseillaise overpowers the Deutschlandlied. The heartbreak of a reunion cut much too short for all the noblest reasons.
It’s a wonderful reminder that stories have sometimes-unfathomable power — to move us, to teach us, to break our hearts and mend them, and yes, to transport us to places we’ve been, places we’ll go, and places we’ll never even see.
Like Casablanca in the midst of World War II. Unless, perhaps, you’re a time traveler, enjoying a night out with your girl.
For the first time in months, Sheila could breathe easy. The physically inexplicable knot of nerves and emotions that caused the ever-present ache in the pit of her stomach was gone. She touched the little box inside her pocket and smiled.
She’d thought it would be bigger. How could something capable of causing so much joy and so much pain fit into something no bigger than a thimble? Her brain couldn’t begin to fathom it, but she knew if the pharmaceutical industry ever got ahold of such technology, they’d have to redefine what it meant to be “filthy rich.”
As it was, she’d stumbled onto the purveyor of her cure quite by accident. Walking the dirty city streets home from work, still fighting back the tears she’d been guarding against all day, she finally lost the battle when a gust of wind upended her umbrella.
She’d slipped into a little alley and finally surrendered, letting the rain cover up the evidence of her grief. She was rather caught up in the drama of it all when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She looked up, startled, to see a hunched old woman there, holding an unmangled umbrella above her head. There was something about her eyes and the curve of her mouth that was almost a smile that made Sheila wonder vaguely if she had once been beautiful.
“Come inside, dear,” the old woman had said.
Sheila was not usually the sort to run off with random strangers in alleys, but in that moment, she was of the opinion that she really had nothing else to lose. And so she followed the old woman through a door, hidden to all but the most observant by a façade of brick that matched the wall quite perfectly.
Her memories of what happened next were murky. She could glimpse the old woman handing her a cup of something warm that might have been tea. She could hear the story of her latest heartache spilling from her mouth. She could feel of the old woman’s hand as it held hers — her skin had been smooth and soft, but thin, like it would bruise easily.
When she stepped back out into the alley, it was as if she’d awoken from a very long nap. The sun was shining, the air was warm, and if it had not been for the verification from her phone that it was in fact the same day, she might have believed she’d slept through the entire winter. In her hand there had been a piece of paper, which she hadn’t noticed until a warm breeze tried to carry it away from her.
Contained Heart™ Instructions and Recovery
You have just undergone a very delicate procedure to remove your heart. It’s possible you may experience slight memory problems for a few hours following the procedure. This is entirely normal and not cause for alarm; however, if symptoms persists beyond seven days, please return for observation.
As discussed prior to your informed consent (please see attached), your heart has been preserved in a uniquely manufactured container, where it will remain safe and functional should you choose to have it reinserted some day. It is imperative that you keep it on your person at all times. Failing to adhere to this recommendation can have severe adverse side effects, as discussed prior to your consent. Please remember that the container also serves as your receipt for the procedure should you encounter any problems.
Your records will be kept on file in the event you choose to return to have your procedure reversed. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy your newly Contained Heart™.
She flipped to the attached page, which bore a photocopied list of benefits and warnings, punctuated by her signature. At the bottom, it said, “You will find your new Contained Heart™ waiting for you in: __________________” Scrawled above the line were the handwritten words “your right-hand skirt pocket.” And sure enough, that is where she’d found it. It was silver and cubic, with carvings that could have been simply decorative or perhaps instructive in some language or code she could never hope to decipher. It was both heavier and warmer than it should have been.
Weeks went by with nothing but good results. Her friends were surprised and relieved to see her smiling so easily again. With the heaviness of her heart in her pocket instead of her chest, she felt light and free — perhaps even invincible.
If she’d been able to recall more of the procedure and the conversation that preceded it, she would have been more careful. The old woman had warned her that hearts have a way of refusing to be contained. But Sheila did not remember this, and she had never been particular adept at protecting her heart.
After a particularly enjoyable evening out, during which she’d laughed and danced and charmed more than her fair share, she began to feel her mood slip, just the tiniest bit, as she stepped out of the cab that had carried her home. She chalked it up to one too many drinks, one too many dances, one too many hours in her impressively high-heeled shoes, and thought nothing more of it.
Until morning. When the light streaming through her window finally woke her, her limbs felt so heavy she could barely gather the will power to move them even an inch. And that’s when it hit her. She forced herself out of bed and onto the floor where her skirt lay discarded from the night before. She reached into its pocket, and her finger, horrifyingly, slipped through the bottom of it. She flipped it inside out and stared at her finger. Her pocket, it seemed, had come apart at the seams.
She scoured the floor for the little silver box. She searched the sidewalk outside her apartment. She called every cab company in the city. She begged the manager of the club until he let her search every booth, every crack in the dance floor, every bag of trash collected from the night before. Her heart was nowhere to be found.
She rushed to the alley in a panic, informed consent and instructions in hand. She walked up and down, banging all along the brick wall until the old woman finally stepped out.
“Please help me,” Sheila begged.
And once again, the old woman said, “Come inside, dear.”
Again she was handed a cup of something that might have been tea, but Sheila could not take comfort in it this time. She once again spilled the details of her sad story to the old woman’s patient ears. When she was done, the old woman took her hand again and squeezed it, but her eyes were sad.
“I’m so sorry, my darling,” she said, “but our specifications were clear. There is little to be done for those who are careless with their hearts.”
There was more pleading and more tears, but eventually she had to accept there was nothing the old woman could do for her. She let the old woman lead her out into the alley, and she did not protest when she closed the door. The sun had gone under the clouds. All Sheila could feel in that moment was the cold.
But there was something the old woman had not revealed. In her many years of research, she had learned many things about the heart. One thing was that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Another was that home is where the heart is. And so, the old woman could not guarantee it, but over the years she had seen many cases in which these two factors worked together quite well to work things out. But you cannot simply tell a woman who has lost her heart to take heart.
Across the city, a businessman late for a meeting hurried to the curb as he simultaneously signaled for a cab. Just as he reached for the handle, a glint of silver in a mound of grimy slush caught his eye. He squinted at it, but he couldn’t quite fathom what it could be.
“You in or out?”
He looked at the driver, impatience permanently etched onto his face. He looked at his watch. He was already so late. He took his hand off the handle. The cabbie yelled something rather rude and drove off. The businessman walked over to the pile of what had once been pristine snow and picked up the tiny box. It was heavy and warm. He put it in his breast pocket and signaled for a cab.
© 2011 Elizabeth Ditty
I know autumn is coming when my thoughts turn gleefully toward the macabre. I was given an impromptu writing prompt by a friend, which on the surface seemed wildly out of my wheelhouse due to its seemingly comedic bent. Well, my brain somehow managed to turn it into the story that follows. To my friend, I apologize in advance for totally cheating on the last sentence. To everyone else, I hope you enjoy.
My mother always told me not to play with fire.
Perhaps it was a warning I should have heeded more carefully, but her caution only served to provoke my interest. If she’d never said anything, I’d probably have been one of those lucky children who burn their hands on the stove and subsequently learn their lesson with no more suffering than some raw skin under a bandage for a few days.
But no, that was not to be my fate. As I stand here, shivering, struggling to fight against the elements with no defense, I can think of nothing beyond how I arrived here. Perhaps if I impart my tale now to the frigid winds, the words will float back in time, to my young mind as a proper warning, or forward into the second thoughts of mothers who first think to instill temptation into their children.
What no one ever tells you is that there are many different kinds of fire, and they all burn in their own special ways. There is a very specific name for the species of fire that would be my downfall. Its name was Woman. I never knew her given name.
I’d seen men watching her, but it wasn’t until she looked into my eyes for the first time that I understood why.
She’d come to my master’s shop while he’d been out. I was apprenticed to a blacksmith, much to my mother’s chagrin. The skies were threatening snow that day. People pulled their clothes tight around them, as if doing so would somehow protect against the biting cold. But she did not cower. She walked as if it were a spring day, and the wind rewarded her, playing with her hair, which was black as night, perfectly disheveling it like a lover would, obscuring her face but hiding none of her beauty.
She entered and closed the door behind her. With one toss of her head, her hair parted, and her eyes locked onto mine. They were blacker than her hair, and I could not look away. And then she smiled, and something in them flashed, and I felt as if my very bones were on fire. My vocation had given me a tolerance for heat, but this was like nothing I’d ever felt. To this day I cannot remember if she spoke a word, but I understood her perfectly. Her cauldron had rusted through, and she needed a new one, a stronger one. I told her I’d see to it personally, as if this would impress her. She smiled at me again, and then left.
After that, I was always looking for her, every moment of every day, and even worse at night. Always burning. As the years passed, the height of my obsession grew with the height of my body. Everyone watched her, but I watched her best. Sometimes at night, I would see her through my window, leading a man down an alley. And she would see me. I would not look away — I don’t even know if I could have — and she would hold my gaze, smiling as if she knew my most secret thoughts, until she disappeared into the dark with her conquest. Some nights I was convinced I’d wake up nothing more than a pile of ash. Some nights I would have welcomed such a destiny. Anything for relief from the fire.
Finally, I could take no more. I would either consume the source of these flames or I would be consumed by them entirely. As soon as night fell, I ventured out. It was the dead of winter, and the ground was white, but I felt nothing but heat.
I hurried toward the alley where I’d seen her take so many men. It never occurred to me to consider whether or not those men had ever returned. My mind could only think of her. I turned the corner into it and stopped in my tracks. There at the end, she waited. She smiled, and her eyes flashed. The fever was unbearable. She put a finger to her lips, and then it was outstretched to me, beckoning me toward her. I stepped forward, and she stepped back. She said nothing, and yet I understood. I followed without any thought at all.
We wound our way through the darkest streets, her eyes always alight, my soul threatening to incinerate me from the inside out. No matter how fast my pace, I could never catch her. I never hesitated once, not even at the edge of the forest. While mothers warned of fire, fathers warned of this place — always dark and full of spirits, they said. A picture from a storybook flickered in my mind — a fairylight leading a man toward an unseen cliff — but it was quickly snuffed out by my blazing heart, so bent on catching its only desire.
She was so far ahead of me now. I was broke into a sprint, terrified of losing sight of her. I had only the now-constant glow of her eyes as my compass. Suddenly, I found myself in a clearing. In my surprise, I stopped. The moon illuminated the land, all I saw was her. Standing mere paces away, she waited.
I took a step toward her, but this time she did not move. Another, and still she remained. I continued until I could have reached out and touched her, but I was too afraid. She smiled, and her eyes blazed orange. She embraced me, and her lips found mine. The heat up until now had been nothing. Her fire engulfed me, scorched my very being. Never had I imagined such torment and such ecstasy.
And then, at the brink of what I was sure would be my complete incineration, everything suddenly, inexplicably, went cold. I opened my eyes. She was gone.
The wind cut through me, and I reached to pull my shirt up around my neck, but my hands found nothing. I looked at my arms and saw bare, blistered skin. My eyes travelled down my torso and to where my shoes had been. There I saw my bare feet, and under them nothing but ash-covered ice.
I searched the landscape for her but found nothing. Not even my own tracks remained. I realized I was standing in the dead center of a frozen lake, surrounded by snow-covered trees in every direction, with no indication of the one from which I’d come.
And here I remain. How I long for that excruciating fire now, the fire that brought me here, to the middle of nowhere, naked and slowly freezing to death. I try to recall her embrace, to draw some of the warmth from my memory, but I feel nothing but pain. My only comfort is in knowing that soon, very soon, I shall feel nothing at all.
© 2011 Elizabeth Ditty
This weekend I coerced my sister into helping me indulge my Valentine’s Day fascination. We took to Kansas City’s Town Center Plaza with a bundle of roses and a camera, and we spent the evening asking people to share their stories with us in exchange for a rose.
It took a while for people to warm up to us, but as night and temperatures fell and made us look increasingly pathetic shivering in the cold, more and more folks shared their stories with us. Some were funny, and some were sad, and some were very sweet. And now, for Valentine’s Day, I have the honor of sharing them with you. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Last week, I let my journalistic roots run free and did a bit of informal polling/interviewing on twitter and facebook about people’s opinions on Valentine’s Day. A few interesting stories popped up, and for that my writer’s mind is excited and grateful, but not a single person came out in unadulterated support of the holiday. Most responses were apathetic at best, and a few verged on outright vitriol.
- “V-Day is a money drain…and stupid…”
- “Quite frankly I think the holiday is pointless.”
- “It’s not really the same once one has an established family and passing out valentines to others outside my wife would certainly be seen as questionable behavior.”
- “It just feels so corporate. I think it’s for people who have to be reminded that they love each other.”
Some people lamented the potentially depressing effects on singles:
- “I’ve never been fond of the holiday b/c I’ve never had a date during that time period. However, this year is different, so I’m actually looking forward to it!”
- “At uni I was single & heart broken on a V day & thought: This bites. Seeing the sad side of Valentine’s day must have ruined it for me, because I lost interest in it completely.”
- “Let’s just say I’m feeling very Jessica Biel about Valentine’s Day this year.”
Others are just trying to make the best situation they can out of their circumstances.
- “I’m trying to make my Valentine’s week as ‘happy’ and fun as possible; otherwise it has the potential of being a real downer for me!!! Especially this year!! Not gonna let that happen!!”
My favorite comment, though, was this one, from my friend Meg (@ahrdor):
- My humble opinion (with overly-black&white labels): *because* it’s such a big deal to the masses, if you *didn’t* take that day to (also) show off your loved one, you’re arrogant & lame. Ya know? Those who proclaim, “I don’t need a special day to say I love you” are just being silly. You got a Valentine? Be proud of it. Brag on her/him. Do it on every other day, but geez, really? Not on V-Day? <- I think that’s lame. For the record, I also think a mere dozen roses & restaurant visit is lame, but that’s just me. Some couples adore that & DO show their love that way. More power to ‘em. Home-cooked meal, candles & lots’o’snuggle-like time is where it’s at for me! I’ve always had sucky V-Days & look forward to having one, someday, that kicks ass.
As for my own thoughts, I have a somewhat inexplicable love for the holiday. I have no spectacular Valentine’s-related romantic triumphs — quite the opposite in fact. Here’s a sampling from the high/lowlights reel of my life.
- 1993: I get to leave school for several hours and return just in time for the Valentine’s party with shiny new accessories: braces.
- 1997: In junior high, I get my first dozen roses from a boy, and I carry them to all my classes, reveling in being coupled on Valentine’s Day. (We break up two weeks later.)
- 2001: Eight months into my first serious relationship, I spend the day trying not to expect any surprises because my boyfriend is 1) poor, and 2) away at college. No surprises greet me whilst in school, but his mother shows up on my doorstep around 9 p.m. with a cellophane balloon.
- 2008: A relationship on the rocks leads to an awkward but, in my eyes, sweet dinner/movie date to an Irish pub with the most fantastic bread pudding and DEFINITELY, MAYBE, which turns out to be surprisingly good. I end the night feeling hopeful. I hear nothing for three days and later find out much of that time was spent in the company of another woman. It becomes my last coupled Valentine’s Day.
- 2010: A man outside a flower shop tasked with getting people into said flower shop hands me the dozen roses he’s supposed to be advertising. I try to refuse them because I don’t want him to get in trouble, but he insists. I leave with renewed faith in love and random acts of kindness.
Like Meg, I also hope to someday have a coupled Valentine’s Day that takes my breath away. But in the meantime, I can’t bring myself to feel bad or angry or resentful on Feb. 14 of every year. Even when you spin those negative emotions into something potentially fun, like Minneapolis’ Shred the Love Un-Valentine’s Event (H/T to @austinmn), all the negativity seems like a waste of energy. Why not take that energy and put it toward love? And the best part is, you get to define what that means. If I may be so bold, let me present a few ideas:
Volunteer somewhere that needs love. An after-school program, a nursing home, a library, an animal shelter, etc. There are plenty of needs out there; it’s not hard to find one to fill.
Reflect on what you love, and spend the day celebrating it. Love coffee? Take the time to truly savor a cup. Love to cook? Express it with a special hand-prepared meal. Love books? Make a date with a novel. Love films? Get thee to a movie theatre, or settle into your sofa with an old favorite. Love writing? Sit down and plug away at your current project, and revel in the fact that it’s so simple to engage in something you love.
Define “love” broadly, and express the sentiment to people you love. Friends, family, coworkers, your neighborhood baristas — anybody who makes you smile on a regular basis is eligible.
Don’t forget about yourself. “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance,” as Oscar Wilde so pithily pointed out. So, on Valentine’s Day, be a little kinder to yourself, too, in whatever way that means. Maybe it’s getting in a solid workout or taking a yoga class. Maybe it’s finally forgiving yourself for that One Big Mistake. Maybe it’s a mani/pedi or a facial. Maybe it’s as easy as getting to bed at a decent hour for once. Whatever it is, you deserve a little kindness, too.
So, as the Lone Unadulterated Lover of Valentine’s Day, that’s my two cents on the matter. So much in life is affected by how we frame our thoughts, and Feb. 14 strikes me as a great opportunity to refocus on sharing a little compassion toward ourselves and others while rekindling our passion for whom and what we love. Happy Valentine’s Day, friends!
This week’s installment is a little Valentine’s-themed story that I’d eventually like to turn into a short film script (and then a short film, natch). I wanted to do something similar in tone to Neil Gaiman’s “Harlequin Valentine,” which is the best Valentine’s-themed story in the history of the written word. (It’s available to listen to for free here, in case you haven’t experienced it — but read mine first, please, because it’ll pale in comparison to the master!) Hope you enjoy.
LOVE IN LOVE
The dress had to be perfect. Everything was riding on it.
She examined the fabric of the little burgundy number she was wearing. Too thin and it would show every bump and dimple she hated about herself. Too thick and it would hide every line and curve she loved. Her eyes poured over the places she liked and loathed. The fabric, she decided, would do.
Her eyes traveled to the hemline. Too high and it would make her look like a Halloween Catholic school girl. Too low and she’d look like an everyday Catholic school marm. She raised on her tiptoes, and then she stood flat-footed. She pulled up a stool and sat down, crossing her legs at the ankles and then at the knees. She stood back up, twirled, all the while keeping her eyes glued to the place where the burgundy met the peach of her skin. She stopped and looked at herself straight on. The hemline, she decided, would do.
In all her focus, she nearly missed the flash of gold dart behind her in the mirror. She turned around just in time to see an old man throw aside his cane, take his equally-decrepit wife in his arms, and kiss her passionately. The woman’s brow furrowed. She took one more quick look in the mirror, ripped the tag off, and stomped to the cash register to pay. She couldn’t chance going home to change. She was wearing this baby out of the store.
As the cashier handed the woman her receipt, a bolt of gold flew over her shoulder, whisking her hair forward. Before her eyes, the cashier, a dowdy matron who could be pretty if she tried, clasped her hand to her heart. She turned to look across the way to the cologne department, where, after another barely noticed flash of gold, a balding man turned to face her. The woman watched in annoyance as the two left their stations and met in the aisle, embracing as if they were star-crossed lovers who’d finally sorted the constellations. The woman scowled. She did a little mental geometry, calculating where the darts of gold had originated. And then she set off at a pace somewhere between catwalk and slight jog.
Down the street she went. Another spark of gold to her left, and another match made. She picked up her pace. To her right now, two lovers reunited with tears of joy. She looked ahead, and there she spotted a tall man in a white suit. He saw her, too. And then he turned and disappeared into the rush-hour crowd. She ran after him, thoughts of grace replaced by the heat of the chase, ignoring the shooting pain from her heels to her knees and praying that her brand-new, blown-paycheck heels could hold their own.
She followed the flashes of gold like they were yellow bricks, and they led her to another glimpse of white. She refused to blink, breaking into a sprint now. She gained, and finally, just as the man in white was releasing two golden, heart-tipped arrows from his bow, she caught him. She made to grab for his arm, but he was too fast. Pointed straight at her chest was a dark, pewter-colored arrow. The woman froze. The tip of this arrow was heart-shaped, too, but down the middle of it ran an ominous, lightning bolt of a crack. Her eyes ran along the silver shaft to the crow-feathered fletching, and then up the arm of the man and finally into his steely eyes.
“You can’t,” she pleaded, her voice barely above a whisper. “I’m in love with you.”
She saw the pity in his expression. The bowstring loosened, if only by an inch. “You can’t be in love with Love,” he said.
She shook her head and moved toward him again. The bowstring went taught, even more so than before. “I’m sorry,” he said, and something in his eyes made her believe he meant it. Before she could cry out, there was a leaden arrow in her heart.
And then he was gone.
The woman walked the dark streets, the sun having retired hours ago. The sky opened up and let loose the rain it had been threatening for days. Still miles from her apartment, and the cabs of the city filled with Valentines both new and old, the woman sat down on the curb and stared at the rainwater washing the pavement of its debris. She heard footsteps, but she couldn’t summon the passion to look up.
It was only when the splash of red passed into her vision that she looked up. A well-dressed man, soaked to the bone, walked down the street, a dozen red roses dangling facedown from his hand. She looked at him curiously. And then he turned and returned her expression. He retraced his steps and offered his hand to help her up. She accepted. He held out the roses, and she accepted those, too. And as they looked at each other, whatever heartbreak had befallen them that night was suddenly forgotten.
Neither suspected or noticed a thing when a man in an unblemished white suit passed them by with nothing more than a nod of his head and a wistful look in his eye.
© 2010 Elizabeth Ditty