This blog doesn’t actually have much in the way of fiction, but today I figured I’d make an exception. Yesterday I was at a creative-writing get-together and we were prompted to, for an hour, write a story about love, or Valentine’s Day. So the following is what I wrote up, and it’s weird and I probably should be sorry for it, but I’m not. At any rate, it’s more entertaining than anything I could think to write about for today.
A Love(?) Story
There are good days and then there are good days, but Valentine’s Day was, decidedly, neither type of good. Charlie, often mistaken for a man because of her name, spent every Valentine’s Day collecting hearts. Real hearts. Not the candy-type or the paper-type or heart-stickers or any heart-shaped object or metaphorical heart. No. She collected real hearts. It was sort of like being a holiday card company that got extra business on Valentine’s Day, but without cards and with added murder.
The thing is, Charlie doesn’t collect actual human hearts on Valentine’s Day because she hates Valentine’s Day. In fact, she finds the collecting of human hearts to be a rather thrilling experience that reminds her of the fragility of life. No, Charlie collects hearts on Valentine’s Day because they are an offering to a god who thrives on such sacrifices.
If you think that this god is St. Valentine, you would be mistaken. The god in question is, in simple terms, the god of heartbreak, and the only way to assuage his feelings of loneliness are to collect hearts. Valentine’s Day is particularly hard for him. Hence, why Charlie is employed to bring him hearts.
The god in question is called February, and he rarely smiles.
Charlie might be something of a goddess herself, but she’s never questioned her role. She brings February the hearts of those who find themselves heartbroken, who would find it easier to have their hearts ripped out of their chests (after death, of course, Charlie is not a monster) rather than go on living without the loves of their life. These hearts, full of sadness, take away from February’s own constant melancholy and for a day each year (the day after Valentine’s Day) he finds himself slightly less depressed.
But it is never enough. Last year Charlie brought February a grand total of thirteen hearts, and it was a record, and she didn’t even get caught, and February hadn’t even smiled. He’d just said, “This should do for a few more hours,” and dismissed her and Charlie thought, if thirteen hearts isn’t enough to make him happy than what is?
Which is why this year, Charlie has been reconsidering her choice of heart-donor.
For who-knows-how-long February has subsisted off the misery of others in a sort of cathartic process of hanging up hearts in his bedroom until they rotted and left behind the ghost of depression, but never has it been enough. Charlie spent the following year after her record wondering if it would ever be enough, or whether sadness was simply not the way to go.
Valentine’s Day, Charlie had noticed over the years, had two extremes: heartbroken sadness and sky-high joy. The sadness hadn’t work; this year Charlie has decided to try the joy.
As Charlie makes her way to a French restaurant in upper Manhattan she thinks about how much harder this will be. Sad hearts from sad people are easy, because the sad people are single and alone. Joyful people, on Valentine’s Day, usually find themselves with other people, usually the person they are in love with. Charlie will have to lure someone away, and make it subtle.
Charlie assumes that French restaurants would be full of love-struck couples because, well, French is apparently romantic in America. The French themselves might disagree, protesting that French restaurants are only romantic in France. But either way, when Charlie arrives at Le Bon Pain she is not disappointed. The cozy atmosphere lends itself to declarations of love and marriage proposals, what with the candles glowing seductively on the tables, which are arranged to mostly accommodate pairs, and the lights dimmed so that everything is wrapped in this seductive candle-glow.
Charlie finds her target almost as soon as she walks in, unnoticed by the staff, which has turned about three other couples from the door, claiming a full restaurant. Towards the back, a young man kneels in front of a young woman in a shimmering white dress. Charlie makes her way towards them. She can see his lips moving, forming the words, “Will you marry me?”
Charlie sees the young woman answer, “Yes.”
He slips the ring on her finger and they kiss and they look so happy. Charlie has a moment of longing that stops her in her tracks. This is what she needs. Someone to love her. Someone to spend their life with her.
This is unlikely, almost impossible. The life set out for her is not the life of the young man who has just asked someone to marry him, nor that of the young woman so greatly loved. She regrets, for a moment, that she will be the end of this happiness, but then she thinks, if this is what she needs then surely this will be what February needs.
She watches the young couple return to their seats, and people at the surrounding tables extend their congratulations. She thinks of February; the two have known each other since forever, but February has rarely said more than a few words to her each year. A shame, too, because Charlie believes he has an interesting mind. His home is full of books, those from the past and the future. He writes sometimes, and sometimes he watches, and she wonders what he must see. She doesn’t have the patience to watch; she goes out and lives, and perhaps he watches her, too.
Then her mind comes back to her and she walks towards the couple and whispers a suggestion in the young man’s ear.
The man followers her up to the bathroom after telling his new fiancée that he’ll be back momentarily. He walks into the men’s bathroom, believing that he needs to send a covert text message to a friend, which he does. Charlie allows him to do it before making herself known with a few whispered words and a cough.
The man sees her in the mirror and whips around. Charlie knows how she looks; a beautiful young woman in a white dress, long enough to cover her legs and sweep the floor. She has black hair and dark eyes. She is attractive, though not enough so that she might seduce anyone she pleases. She can only suggest, but that isn’t the same thing.
She has the appearance of something neglected and wistful, which is probably why everyone who meets her, including this young man, asks, “Can I help you?”
“What’s your name?” she asks.
“Ronald.” She licks her lips. “I’m terribly sorry.”
She takes three steps forward, enough to reach him, and touches his forehead. She sees the brief confusion in his eyes before there is nothing. He falls, limp, into her and she lowers him down onto the floor, reaches into his chest, parting the bone and feeling it scrape along her hand, until she finds his heart. She grips the heart, slippery with blood but all too still, and pulls and with sounds that would make a lesser person sick, the heart comes free. She holds it for a moment, blood staining her dress red, heart in hand dripping red liquid over Ronald’s dead body, and she feels terrible. But only for a moment. She passes her other hand over him and the blood on his shirt vanishes, and then she vanishes as well.
February is in his armchair, tears running down his cheeks, when she arrives. He is not loud in his grief, but rather unobtrusive. Charlie walks up to him, holding out the heart. She kneels before him and says, “I know it’s only one, but please hear me. The hearts full of sadness never make you smile. They make you feel better for a few hours, at most a day, but they do not bring a cure for your sadness. So I thought…you might find yourself cured if I bring you a heart full of love.”
February looks at her, mystified. He leans forward and takes the heart, and holds it to his chest and though cradling it. “Why would you do such a thing?” he asks, staring at her. “I can feel so much joy here. Why would you take that away from someone who has barely lived?”
“I care about you,” Charlie says. “I wanted to help.”
February holds the heart closer. There are tears in his eyes, but new tears, and he’s shaking and Charlie feels a terrible sadness come over her. She puts a hand on his knee and says, “I’m so sorry. I thought it would help.” And she starts to cry.
February places a cool hand on her cheek and she notices, dimly, that this is the first time he has ever touched her, and he tilts her head up and asks, “Why do you cry?”
“I wanted to help you and I’ve failed.”
“You would shed tears for me? For my well-being?”
“I care about you.” She wipes tears from her eyes with her non-bloodied hand. February still looks at her, but there is something odd in his expression that she has never seen before.
“That is,” he says, “the first time I have heard those words. The first time that someone has gone out of their way to help me. I did not know that anyone cared.” And then he smiles.
The smile is a small thing, and she can barely see his teeth, but it crinkles his eyes and it is genuine, and she feels so overwhelmed in that moment that she hugs him, and when he hugs back she knows that she has done well.
“Thank you,” he says, and this is enough. Charlie pulls away and February rises from the chair, to string up the heart where all the others would go until they were no longer fit to hang. “Would you stay with me awhile?”
“I would,” Charlie says, and then she thinks about her travels and about what she does when she isn’t retrieving hearts. “I would also like to show you where I go. There are a great many beautiful things that can’t be seen from inside this room.”
February steps back to admire his handiwork. Then he looks at Charlie and nods, once. But it is firm.
Charlie has experienced many Valentine’s Days in her time. She has stolen many hearts. But only once has she been successful, and she would trade all of those other days and all of those other hearts for this one moment in time, when she gained a smile in place of tears.