Copyright Oggbashan January 2005
The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
This is a work of fiction. The events described here are imaginary; the settings and characters are fictitious and are not intended to represent specific places or living persons.
* * * * *
This morning, Valentine's Day, my post was the usual bills and advertising rubbish except for one large envelope addressed in a hand I didn't recognise.
I took the post through to the kitchen, sorted out the rubbish, paid the bills and put them aside to post. I stood in the kitchen holding the large envelope. It was Valentine's Day. If it were a card, who would send me one? My ex-wife certainly wouldn't. She seemed happy enough with her new husband. The animosity at the time of our divorce had faded. We had become friends again; friends with many shared memories of a marriage between people who should never have been more than friends.
I made myself some coffee and sat at the kitchen table looking at the envelope. I felt that it was important and that once I opened it there would be consequences. I had to mentally shake myself before I slit the envelope carefully.
Inside there was a Valentine Card folded around a smaller sealed white envelope. It was a fairly plain one with the message 'Be My Valentine'. Inside the card was blank except for the hand-written words 'Remember the enclosed?' The handwriting was still unfamiliar.
I opened the smaller envelope and drew out the contents. It was a faded Valentine card. I recognised it at once. I didn't need to open it to see the poem I had written ten years ago. I had sent it to Mary. It had been the first and last time I had sent anything to her. Even when I sent it I had known that it was too late.
My memory went back to ten years and two weeks ago. I had asked Mary if I could take her to the Valentine Dance. Her reply was still engraved on my heart.
"I'm sorry, John. Someone else asked me and I accepted."
She had hugged me and kissed me on the cheek.
"Thank you for asking."
Another peck on the cheek and she was gone. I was heartbroken. For weeks I had been working myself up to asking her. Now I was too late. I still sent her the card I had prepared knowing it was useless.
I asked Hazel to the dance. Mary was the inseparable partner of Graeme. I wasn't surprised when they announced their engagement. Hazel and I congratulated them. Mary kissed my cheek for the third and penultimate time. She said to Hazel:
"Look after John. He is a good man."
Hazel did. Eventually I was an usher at Graeme and Mary's wedding. Hazel was a bridesmaid. Mary kissed me for the fourth and final time at the wedding reception. By then I knew that Mary and Graeme had been an item for about six months before that dance. I just hadn't known because Graeme was away so much with the Territorial Army.
The four of us were friends. Mary and I treated each other politely but with reserve. She and I knew that I needed just a little spark to ignite what I felt for her. We both avoided any situation that could provide that spark. Mary loved Graeme and I was jealous of him and happy for her. Their marriage was obviously idyllic except that they wanted children that wouldn't come. After seven years of marriage they started having fertility treatment.
Hazel and I had married. The first two or three years were acceptable. The next four were a gradual decline in our relationship. We just didn't fit together. Hazel was and is a party girl. I'm more prosaic and home loving. The eighth year Hazel lost her sense of proportion. She seduced any available man just to show that she could. Eventually I had had enough and started divorce proceedings.
The day in court was a disaster. It should have been an easy divorce on the grounds that we were incompatible. Hazel blew up and shouted in open court. The result was front page in our local daily newspaper.
'Court Sensation. Dying Man's Wife Accused'
The night before Graeme and Mary had been returning from a dinner dance when they were hit head-on by a stolen car. The other driver was dead instantly. Graeme was on life-support for eighteen hours before he died. Mary had her arms and legs broken and eventually recovered.
Hazel didn't know about the accident. She thought that I was carrying a torch for Mary and that I had always considered her, Hazel, to be a second-best choice. I had never known that someone had overheard me ask Mary to that Valentine Dance and be refused, nor that that person had later told Hazel. She had kept it bottled up all the years we were married.
Hazel knew that my solicitor and I had ample evidence of her infidelity. She was worried and burst out that I had been Mary's lover for years. She knew it wasn't true. Later that day her solicitor persuaded her to issue a full retraction. Unlike the front-page accusation, the retraction was published in a small paragraph on an inside page of the paper.
Mary was unconscious when the accusation was printed. Graeme had died between Hazel's outburst and the paper's press deadline. Hazel was mortified that she had added to Mary's grief. Mary forgave her. So did I. Hazel eventually accepted that while I might have wanted Mary before her, I was Mary's second best. Mary had chosen Graeme and I had been too late.
That was two years ago. Since then Hazel had married one of the more energetic of her lovers and seemed happy with him. I had stayed single, as had Mary.
Now what did I do? I had a Valentine Card from Mary, reminding me that ten years ago I had desired her. It was an obvious invitation. Would the old scandal be resurrected if I met Mary? How would Hazel react?
The last was easiest to solve. I picked up the phone and rang Hazel.
"I have a problem you might help me with."
"Yes. This morning I received a Valentine Card..."
"Good for you. So did I – from my husband."
There was a silence. I waited.
"I know there was never anything between you and Mary while we were married. I lashed out when we were at our lowest point. I hurt her, and you."
"If you want to think about a relationship with Mary..."
Hazel stopped. I could hear her breathing.
"...then you two have my good wishes."
"Thank you, Hazel."
"That took some effort to say, John. Now I have said it, please believe that I mean it. You both deserve some happiness and if you find it together then good for you."
"Treat her well, John."
"I will, Hazel, I will."
"You were too good for me."
"Nonsense," I replied briskly. "We just weren't right for each other. I loved you. You loved me. We were like oil and water. Great apart and useless together."
"Not exactly useless, John. I remember... But I shouldn't. I'm a respectable married lady again. Good luck with Mary."
"Thank you, Hazel. Best wishes for Valentine's Day."
"And for you. With my love to you both."
I put the phone down. Hazel had given me her blessing. I picked the phone up and dialled Mary's number so carefully inscribed on her card. Perhaps today would fulfil the expectation I had all those years ago...