Ruby was wearing a cherry red coat, the hood trimmed with white fur, the skirt full from the waist, red boots, berry-bright against the snow. It was lying unusually deep. You might have thought it Christmas, not Valentine’s. A few flakes were still falling as Joe came out of the church door. Young children were pitching snowballs at each other and then ducking behind gravestones to avoid the rebound. One smacked Joe’s cheek as he passed, leaving an angry red kiss mark, but he just ignored it, intent on catching Ruby up by the lych-gate. He paused at one of the graves, dusted the snow off then carried on.
“Hi, Ruby,” he called and she turned into the snow and blinked as it landed gently on her long eyelashes. Seeing Joe dashing towards her, she waited. He skidded up to her. “Are you walking home?” he asked, then blushed. Stupid thing to say. Stupid. She wasn’t riding a camel to Siberia… He half expected some such rejoinder and he stood there with his hands behind his back, blushing hot in his muffler to the roots of his red hair.
“Yes,” she said.
“Can I walk with you?”
“If you like.”
That was all the encouragement he needed. “I saw you in church,” he said for want of anything to say.
Ruby looked at him as if she expected there to be more. Her face pale with the cold accentuated the line of her crimson lips and a few golden-blond curls escaped from beneath her hood. Joe looked into those sapphire eyes and was more lost in the warmth of her.
“You saw me in church, and…?”
“It’s unusual for you to be on your own,” said Joe, but he really wanted to say, I love you.
“Oh, I wasn’t,” said Ruby. She turned and indicated a group of women trudging behind between the snow filled ditches. “Aunt Bethan was there too. She’s the one in maroon.”
Joe wasn’t quite sure what maroon was but he was sure it wasn’t very far behind. He nodded. “I like your coat,” he said.
“Thank you,” she cooed, swishing the skirt of it to show it off. “It’s new.” Her cheeks flushed with pleasure and her smile glistened at him.
He wondered what she would do if he leaned forward and kissed her, but she turned and kept walking and the chance was gone.
Joe had one more card left to play. He brought his hand forward. “I wanted you to have this,” he said, offering her a red rose as if he had magicked it out of frost.
“Oh.” Ruby took it and held it to her delicate nose but it had no odour, being a hothouse rose.
“For Valentine’s Day,” he added.
“How sweet. Where on earth did you…” Ruby looked at Joe and then back towards the churchyard and reality dawned. “Ugh!” she said and threw the rose onto the snow.
It stuck upright like a dagger in the ditch bleeding its petals onto the crisp surface.
“Ugh! You took it from a grave!” she shrieked. “Men! You’re all the same,” she said, using the exact tone of disdainful womanhood. “Joseph Wylie, I wouldn’t marry you if you were the last man on Earth.” And off she marched without him.
Joe thought it unlikely their parents would have approved anyway at the age of eight but he felt, as he looked at that rose bayonnet-red in the snow, that no other could pierce his heart as she had.
Oonah V Joslin’s first piece on Valentine’s Day was a rant against the injustice of being a fat teenager in The Braid, her school magazine. It was a poem. She has softened since. Married someone who wouldn’t trust a thin cook!