This is a work of fiction by Mark Sherman.
She came into the kitchen, in the usual rush, and I knew we wouldn’t have much time. But it was Valentine’s Day, and I wanted to give her her card right then, and not after she came home from work, tired and quite possibly cranky. To make sure I wouldn’t forget, I had put the card on the table as soon as I got up.
“Oh, what’s this?” she said, pretending she didn’t know. “Let’s see if I have one for you.”
And from a drawer somewhere, she brought out the envelope, addressed “T.M.H.,” which only the two of us knew stood for “To my honey.” As usual, I had put on the envelope for her the letters “S.F.” for “Sweet Face.”
“Can I open mine first?” she asked.
“Sure, honey, go ahead,” I said. “I love you, honey. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
She opened it, and read it. This time I had foregone the usual humorous card for a really romantic one, and I had written in something even more romantic at the end. I always did that, on any card I gave her. She finished it, and said, “Oh, that’s so sweet.”
“I love you, honey,” I said. “You’re the best.” We kissed.
“Okay, open mine,” she said. “I really have to get to work soon. Hurry up, open it.”
And I did. It was one of those cutesy cards we often send to each other, the kind which says things like, “Sometimes I can be romantic, sometimes I can be a pain” and “Sometimes I can be so cranky, sometimes I can be so sweet,” and shows dogs dressed up as people in various domestic scenes involving dishes, vacuum cleaners, and washing machines. And they end with something like “But through the weather fair and foul, still you know how to make me howl.”
And she too had a little note at the end, but it was brief, and not extremely romantic.
“Thank you, honey,” I said, and I kissed her.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“You’re not happy about my card. What is it? What is it?”
“It’s nothing. Just let it go. You have to go to work.”
“No, tell me. I can’t just go to work this way. What is it? What is it? I’m not romantic enough. Is that it?”
“Please, I don’t want to get into it. We never get anywhere with this. It’s the way things are. Let’s just leave it alone.”
“What do you mean? Look, I wrote `I love you as much as the whole world. You’re the best.’ What do you want me to say? Or is it the card? We always get cards like this for each other. The one you sent is different. I didn’t know that now there are requirements for what kind of card we send.”
“Let’s forget about it,” I said. “You’re going to be late for work, and you could get into trouble. Your job is really vital to us now.”
“Leave me alone about my job! You’re not my parent. I’m an adult. But let’s get back to the cards. What’s wrong with mine? And what I wrote? I’m not you. Yeah, you’re romantic all right, but you also have your rages, and your craziness. I put up with it. You call me five times a day at work, and ask me things like what shirt you should wear. And I’m there for you. I devote my life to you. But it’s not enough.”
“No, it’s not enough. It’s great. And I do appreciate it,” I said. “But no, it’s not enough. Why can’t you just let go? What does the word ‘love’ mean to you? Remember the ‘pzazz’ problem? You were worried because you felt you didn’t have the pzazz other women I’d gone out with had. But I love you, you’re everything to me. Who needed pzazz? Those women were nuts. You’re the best. But sometimes you’re like a stone.”
She was beginning to cry now. It had been a long time since she drove to work in tears, and now it was happening again.
She said, “I gotta go. I don’t know why we stay together. If you’re so dissatisfied with me, why are we together?”
“Because we’re married,” I said. “And we have children. You see what happens to children when their parents split up. Look at Bob S. and Bob R. I’m stuck, we’re both stuck. You want the stable, calm good provider and I want someone who’ll make me feel like I’m the most special guy who ever walked the earth. But we’re stuck with each other. For better or worse, as they say.”
“I hate you,” she said. “I hate you.” And she was going out the door to her car.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” I said. “Drive carefully. I do love you, you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” she said.
Copyright © 1997 by Mark Sherman Reprinted with permission of the author.