The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories in Dreamscapes
Valentine's Day Mascara
“You don’t bring me flowers any more.”
Ben Adams, a State of California administrator, was listening to this song on a CD through his headphones while trying to complete a report the Division Chief wanted ASAP. He thought that the song was one of the saddest ever written, a duet between a man and a woman who’d once been in love but now had moved apart.
“You hardly talk to me when I come through the door.” Ben smiled wryly. The song, he thought, was a pretty good description of his marriage. He was 40 years old; his wife Mary was two years younger. They’d been married over 15 years: had two children, a girl Joan, 13, and a boy Kyle, 10; lived in a Sacramento suburb. In the morning, each had a hurried breakfast, saw to it that the kids were ready for the school bus, then Mary, a teacher, drove to her school and Ben commuted to his office downtown. They might exchange a few words, like, “Don’t forget there’s a PTA meeting tonight” or “I’ll be working late” and that was all. When Ben came home from work Mary would look up to acknowledge him but lately didn’t even ask him about his day.
Dinner was usually late, which made Ben irritable. At the table, the kids were scrapping more often than not. There were arguments, with Joan, who, as a teen-ager, wanted more freedom, and Kyle, who complained about having too much homework. Afterwards, there usually followed a couple of hours of mindless television and then to bed. Ben sometimes made an overture to do more than just go to sleep, but, as he’d come to expect, Mary would say she was tired.
Of course it hadn’t always been that way. Ben had met Mary at a party in San Francisco. They were both in their twenties. He thought she was pretty and, overcoming his shyness, asked her out. They went to a San Francisco institution, Tommy’s Joynt, for Irish coffees. She had never been there. It was crowded so they shared a table with a group of boisterous Irishmen, who bought them drinks and said they must go to Ireland on their honeymoon. They continued to see each other, became a couple, and Ben, being a young man, of course wanted to take their relationship to the next level. Finally, they went to Monterey for a weekend, registering at a motel as married, and, laughing at their audacity, went to bed. Four months later they were married.
They spent a pleasant year together in a San Francisco apartment, then moved to Sacramento so Ben could get a promotion. Then came the house and the two children. Ben wasn’t sure exactly when but somewhere along the line the joy went out of their marriage; maybe it was after the second child when Mary seemed to be tired all the time and Ben became entangled in his job. He remembered thinking that it was probably normal. You couldn’t stay young and romantic forever. He didn’t think too many couples did, maybe none. It was sad but that was life.
Ben’s secretary Angela came into the office and told him it was quitting time; everyone else had left. “I have to finish up this report,” he said.
Angela shrugged. “Don’t forget, this is Valentine’s Day,” she said.
Left alone, Ben looked at his desk calendar. Yes, it was Valentine’s Day. This was one of those dark, dreary winters in Sacramento and somehow he hadn’t realized it was already mid-February. Also, he had this damned report. It was almost done. Everyone else was gone. Most of the men were probably buying last-minute gifts. Hell, he’d finish it in the morning. He left the building and found his car in the garage. On the freeway going home it was already dark and misty. He checked his gas and saw that it was nearly on empty. That was all he needed, to run out of gas. He turned off the freeway to a main avenue and found a gas station he remembered was there. .
“You’re late,” said Mary.
“Had to stop for gas. Here, I got something for you. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
He’d noticed a drug store next to the gas station, one of those large ones that carried everything, even drugs. On an impulse, he’d gone over and bought a box of chocolates, creams, which he thought he remembered she liked, and a bouquet of roses. Chocolates and flowers, the traditional gifts.
Mary seemed surprised, then she surprised him by stepping up and kissing him. “I have something for you, too,” she said. She went off to their bedroom and returned with a small package, gift wrapped. It was a wallet. “I noticed your old one was getting frayed along the edges,” she said.
“Thanks,” he said. He took her in his arms and they kissed again. The kids came in and it was, “Mom, Dad, what are you doing?”
“I have to put these in water,” said Mary, holding the roses.
“I’ll put the wallet away,” said Ben.
The moment was gone, but in the bedroom Ben reflected: maybe there was still a spark left. He hoped so.
© Martin Green April 2015
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