One last dozen or so, eh, I think to myself as I return to my apartment and see red roses sitting outside my door. It’s Valentine’s Day and my ex-girlfriend must be getting ideas again. Ha! What kind of girl does she think I am? It’s over, Sonya, and you’re just going to have to get that through your pretty little lesbian skull.
Shame to waste good roses, though. I pick them up and bring them in. They’re nice roses — with lots of frilly baby’s breath to balance things out. Eech, baby’s breath. Did I mention I hate babies? Those little white flowers need a better name.
Later I pop the cork on a bottle of Cabernet and start my solo V-Day festivities. Being alone ain’t so bad. Beats dealing with issues. Did I mention Sonya had issues?
My bottle of red is down to half-mast when I hear a knock. I envision Sonya on the other side of that door, tail between her legs, about to start the pity parade. We’ll see about that!
I rip the door open, but Sonya isn’t there. Instead it’s the little old lady from across the hall, stooped over on her walker. What the hell does she want? I wonder as she flashes me a wrinkly smile. Did I mention I hate old people almost as much as babies?
“I’m sorry to trouble you, dear, but I was expecting some roses delivered, and I can’t seem to find them. You didn’t happen to see them, did you?”
In a flash I feel like a fool. Wrong door, Mr Florist. “Um, yeah, yeah, I just set them inside so no one would mess with them.”
“Oh, that’s lovely of you.”
I retrieve said roses, and bring them to her.
“Could you be a dear and carry them over for me?” She shakes her walker for emphasis. When she turns I follow her toward her apartment.
I slowly enter, thankful the place doesn’t overwhelm me with the proverbial old-person odor. “Just put them on that small table next to Margarete.”
“Next to who?” I ask, then I catch myself. A little shock of embarrassment floods through me as I see the urn on the table. “Sorry.”
“Oh, don’t be. I’ve bought my girl roses every Valentine’s Day since we first kissed. Just never stopped when she passed. Didn’t seem right.”
“Yes,” she smiles. “Scandalous, isn’t it? Oh, not in this day and age, of course, but it sure was back then.”
Bells and whistles go off in my head. I want to shout “It’s cool, I’m in the club! I’m in the club!” Instead, my tongue trips over itself. At length I just stare at the urn, and then the large portrait of a beautiful woman above it. Finally, I ask, “Is this a painting of Margarete?”
“Oh yes,” she says. “She sat for that when we lived in Paris in the Fifties. We were… accepted better over there. She’s quite lovely, eh?”
“Artists really capture so much more than a photographer, don’t you think?”
“And this one, he really did. When I stare at that painting it takes me back to that day. It was a perfect day. Oh, don’t you know those kinds of days? We’d brunched on the Champs-Élysées, then gone for a stroll all the way up to Montmartre. The sky was so blue that day. Look, you can see it in the painting. And the sun shone like gold in her hair. He really caught that, didn’t he?”
“He caught everything. That’s how it is with artists. They catch things you didn’t even know were there, or never even thought about. I believe the very air from that day got locked into the paint as it dried. Maybe even some of my breath as I watched him paint my lover. Hell, maybe some of her breath too. And maybe some of that perfect sunshine, and the scent of her perfume, and the sound of the street musicians that played for us that day. It’s all there in that picture. Least I like to think so.”
“That’s a nice thought.”
“Well, I won’t keep you. I’m sure you’ve got plans.”
Plans. Sure, I’ve got plans. Sitting alone and getting drunk. Pathetic.
“Nah, I don’t have plans.” God, did I just tell her that? I really am pathetic.
“Oh, you poor dear. On Valentine’s Day? Well, you simply must stay and have some brandy with me and Margarete.”
“Brandy? Um… sure. Why not.”
“I’m Genevieve,” she says.
Much later, with a good brandy buzz, I return home, a single rose from Genevieve in hand. “A girl should have a rose on Valentine’s day,” she’d said. I nearly cried. Then we talked for hours. She told me of Paris, and being gay when it could land you in jail. And of her lover. Margarete was far from perfect, I discovered. She even had issues. But somehow, those two made perfection out of it.
Genevieve is one cool lady. So… old people ain’t so bad, I guess. (But babies can still chuck it.)
I finish my wine, open another, then thumb through pics of Sonya on my cell, wondering how an artist might capture the glint of sunlight on her delicate red hair.
I sigh, twirling Genevieve’s rose until petals fall like wayward paint. God damn, I want to love someone like Genevieve loves her jar of ashes. But hell, it’s not just a jar of ashes. She had something. Something I want desperately. Something I’ve tried and tried and tried and failed to get. But maybe I’m doing it wrong.
I suddenly want to go to good old Gay Paree, and I want to go with Sonya. Screw issues. I’ve got issues too. Everyone’s got issues. The two old ladies had them. Worrying about issues is the problem.
“Okay, Kara, if you’re gonna drunk dial, get it over with.”
I key the digits.
Christopher Owen lives in Texas with his wife and two cats. His work has appeared at Daily Science fiction, Mirror Dance, Mystic Signals and other places. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing workshop and the Yale Summer Writers’ Conference.
This story is sponsored by
Clarion West Writers Workshop — Apply now through March 1 for 2014’s six-week workshop with Paul Park, Kij Johnson, Ian McDonald, Hiromi Goto, Charlie Jane Anders, and John Crowley, June 22 – August 1 in Seattle.