Thursday, February 10, 2011

Valentines in the Snow - #fridayflash

Oh my goodness! That woman reeks, thinks Annie Breyer. She burrows her offended nose into her turtleneck sweater and tries not to think about the old lady standing next to her in the card aisle of the Bracebridge Rexall. 
Even through the fabric softener fresh scent of her handmade sweater Annie gets whiffs of sour wine and caesar salad. Yucky! The woman is right beside her, rifling through the For My Husband valentines. It’s exactly where Annie wants to be. There’s nobody in the whole aisle, nobody but her and the stinky lady, both crammed together looking at the same valentines.
Annie perseveres. This is her first Valentine’s Day as a married woman and she wants to get the mushiest card she possibly can. She’s so excited. The diamonds on her ring finger sparkle under the pharmacy’s fluorescent lights. She plucks another card from the rack, pushes her long blonde hair behind one ear and smiles broadly as she reads “To My Darling Husband,” in golden raised script, on a background of red roses and scarlet hearts. 
“Since I met you
I have fallen in love with you
a thousand times
in a thousand different ways.
As each day passes
I find a thousand new reasons
to fall in love with you all over again.
My husband, my heart, my love, my life.”
Annie presses the card against her chest, sighs happily and closes her eyes. It’s perfect, she breathes, perfect! And with that breath the sour smell of wine and garlic assaults her again and she giggles and glances at the old woman, who gives her a look as sour as her winey breath. 
“Sorry!” Annie blurts out and she lifts her shopping basket off the floor and hurries to the till. She’s got a bottle of Diet Pepsi, some of the toilet paper that’s on sale and a bendy-fresh package of strawberry licorice for Derek, the kind he likes best. And the valentine, of course. She digs through her coin purse for the $14.71 that the bored clerk requires of her. She says please and thank you and have a nice night, and she waltzes out the front door and into the purplish snowy dusk of a Thursday evening in February.
“Oh geez it’s cold!” she says out loud, shivering and fumbling through her purse, trying to find her keys. The wind gusts hard and she winces as she puts the key into the lock, throws open the driver’s door and tosses her stuff inside.
“Brrrrrrr!” she says, settling her self behind the wheel and praying her little Sunfire will decide to start. “Please, please, please, please,” she cajoles, the tip of her pink tongue poking out from between her cotton candy glossed lips. The car starts, but not without complaint, and Annie does up her seat belt and guides it through the parking lot and onto Manitoba Street.
It’s snowing hard and it’s everything Annie can do to see through the windshield. She putters up the big hill and decides to turn in at KFC. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s the valentine on the passenger seat but she thinks it would be nice to splurge and pick up a bucket of chicken for Derek for supper. She is always trying to surprise him. It’s what drives her, this simple, guileless desire to make him as happy as he has made her.
She orders some chicken and his favourite macaroni salad and takes a seat to wait the 10 minutes or so the waitress says it will take to fry up a fresh batch. She unbuttons her pink coat and looks out the window as traffic fights its way through the storm.
A harried mother and three young boys come through the door in a flurry of stomping boots and blowing snow. The waitress takes her order as the boys scuffle and argue about what size the fries should be and what pop to buy. Annie watches them with a smile. She imagines what her and Derek’s children will look like. She wants four or five. Derek wants three. They talk ceaselessly about saving up for a bigger house and starting an education fund.
The wail of an ambulance stops the boys’ tussling. They go to the window, press their faces against the glass, and watch the lights of the paramedics’ vehicle light up the snowy night. The waitress and the mother watch silently. Annie does, too. It’s a small town and a rushing ambulance is a rare enough thing that everyone stops to watch.
Annie thinks immediately of Derek, hoping he is alright. He works in a body shop in Port Sydney, 15 minutes north. Not much of a drive, not normally, but it can be nasty on bad nights like this one. 
Annie feels worry creep over her. She immediately pictures Derek in the back of that ambulance, and a police cruiser in her driveway, with an officer waiting to tell her bad news. 
“You always think the worst.” This is her mother’s voice, in her head.
It’s true. She always does. If there’s a worst case scenario, Annie has no trouble imagining it. While she waits for the chicken her fear grows.
But then the three boys resume their roughhousing and their mom and the waitress strike up a conversation about the hockey game on TV tonight, and Annie lets the warmth of the restaurant and the smell of frying chicken melt her burgeoning panic.
It’s a winter wonderland out there, she thinks. Pedestrians with shopping bags, heads bent against the wind. Streetlights ringed with halos of falling snow. She relaxes. Her naturally buoyant happiness surfaces and by the time the waitress calls her over to pick up her order, she is smiling again.
“Drive careful, now,” the waitress says as Annie steps into the howling wind. Her little Sunfire complains again but starts and she heads for home, thinking of the valentine she has picked out for her husband – husband, how she loves that word – and what he’ll say when he reads it.
Annie doesn’t have to worry about Derek. His four-wheel-drive pick-up cuts a swath down the highway. He’ll be a little later than usual but it takes more than a snowstorm to slow him down at suppertime.
Unlike his young wife, Derek never thinks the worst. Which is why he doesn’t give his wife’s trip home a second thought. Not until he turns onto their street and sees a police cruiser in their driveway.


  1. Oh, Cathy, that was a jagged edge ending. I was all caught up in the bubble gum vibe, and then...

    Happy Valentine's Day.

  2. Her first as a married woman? I wonder where the inspiration came from!

    May yours end with cheerier lights than theirs.

  3. Wow quite a slice of life up until the twist..hope the Chick and the chicken survived for Derek's sake.

  4. What? I have to know! It was all so sweet and then kapow!

    I hope all will end well. Great story.

  5. Oh, gosh. Poor Derek -- doesn't sound good ... that ending was a real downer. Well done.

  6. Bloody hell, you had me thinking it was all romance and roses until that last line!

    Watch what you're doing if you have to drive anywhere this weekend. *hugs*

  7. Oh Cathy, what an emotional roller coaster ride this is! I kept waiting for the news of the stinky woman being hurt to come to her, and for her to feel terribly guilty, but no! You gave us a highly unexpected twist, a tearjerker of a twist! Fantastic work!

  8. By the way, I just realized I've not said - I'm so glad you're feeling better, and hope you continue to feel stronger and stronger!

  9. OK, I don't ever want to see another post where you are doubting. This was an excellent read from start to finish, and what a bang up finish!

  10. I was totally with Annie, moment by moment, smelling what she did, feeling the cold, seeing the snow, hearing the young mother and the counter clerk talking about the hockey game. But at the end I'm all, 'Wait a second dude, your new young bride is out there bringing home the chicken and Twizzlers through a blizzard in a Spitfire and YOU'RE the one with the 4 wheel drive?'

  11. Yeah, a real shocker ending. I thought it was bad-breath lady who was going to come to a bad end. Nicely described story, Cathy.

  12. Oh man, that ending caught me in the gut! I was grooving on all the happiness. Great stuff, girl. and Happy Day o Love!!!!! Peace...

  13. Oh my - that's an ending and a half. Fantastic story. So sad! I'm sure your Valentine's Day will be better than that!

  14. Thought I saw the ending coming, the way she was so happy and sweet, and then WHAM, nope. Very well done!

  15. I figured someone wasn't going to make it through the storm, but didn't see Annie as the one coming to a bad end either. :(

    Well done. (On the flip side, my husband and I are such a non-couple-holiday couple that I totally forgot it was Valentine's weekend until this morning LOL)

  16. Oh, that's quite the sucker punch at the end! I'm like Annie, I think the worst, but that wasn't the scenario I was worried about.

  17. Very well-executed hard left turn there at the end. Turns out Annie wasn't thinking the worst after all.

  18. Ouch.
    Self-fulfilling prophecies??? Instant karma for her judgmental thoughts?
    Great writing Cath. Does this mean you are feeling better? Hope so.

  19. Uh, oh! I don't like this ending, not at all. But at the same time I love it. Look what you do to me!

    Hey, I'm really, really happy to see you writing again! ;D

  20. At first I thought it was going to end up with his death. Then it seemed all nice and rosy and THEN you bring out the twisty pretzel ending. Great piece.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  21. Oh, nicely done. Warm fuzzies, worry, then all's OK, a little more fuzzy and then you drop it on us.

    Really, really good writing. I was completely caught up in her happiness. You left me breathless with that ending.

    Excellent stuff.

  22. The one guarantee about life is there are no guarantees. This story shows how we should live each day to the fullest and love to the max. A good story, Cathy.

  23. Oh ow. My heart. What a sharp, unexpected stab that was at the end. You really had me sucked in with her thoughts of twizzlers and cards and love, even her worries about her husband did't take away from it. Then - pow!

    Did I already say ouch?

  24. OMG. My stomach lurched and tears welled up.
    I supected something like this, maybe her husband was actually the victim afterall or even the old lady who reeked of sour wine and garlic. But BAM!! you blind sided me with this one.

  25. Okay the ending really took me for surprise. It's a geat reminder that we should take nothing for granted.(But I still want to hope that she ended up being okay.)

  26. First, love the new site's look. Very sassy and very classy.

    Second, this is a wonderful bit of fiction you've got here Ms. Cathy. Lovely and rich details, and boy you are truly good at creating tension slowly and surely. Loved it, and I'm going to still think maybe the car just broke down. ;-)

  27. Oh gost, I was not expecting that ending. Great twist. Very relative and likeable character. I hope it is not a Valentine's Day that will haunt his memory.


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