Valentine’s Day. My Valentine is a friend. We are not sweethearts, but pals. I sat next to her for 15 years at the PEN office. More time than I spent with either of my two husbands.
We’re pals who have shared each other’s romantic turmoil. Our romantic fields leveled now by age and death. I ask her to be my Valentine. She invites me for drinks at the Russian Tea Room. Perfect. The room is red. The bar is lined with aged sweethearts, couples toasting their love with vodka and bite-sized bits of blinis.
My friend and I lift our drinks to a better year. Then she gives me a gift from the lingerie store, Agent Provocateur. I accept the slick pink shopping bag. “No, please!” I think…no garter belt or push-up bra, no matter how fabulous, can fix me now.
Thank God, it’s better. A thick book, THE GREEK POETS: Homer to the Present. Edmund Keeley, the renowned translator, says “Hello,” she tells me. Then, the two of us part: kissing each other’s perfumed cheeks, flower scented hair, embracing in view of the drinking, eating sweethearts.
The Metro North Train is abuzz with holidaymakers returning home. Lots of red sweaters and mittens, exhausted colognes overcome by sweat, dozing husbands who missed their Sunday afternoon ballgames but may score later as a reward for their city trip.
A disaffected young man in a suit and tie shifts a limp red-rose encased in a plastic sheath and a miniature cheesecake in the shape of a heart to make room for me on the seat beside him. Is he coming or going? That rose will get him nowhere.
I open my new book in the commotion. I’m sucked in, instantly: Aratus, “Burdens of blood and war shall bow their backs.” Philes,”The drink cooled me down/as it flooded the fire in my heart, /so that, moving closer, I seized/your boiling heat to warm my shivering body.” Kazantzakis, “You’ve drunk and eaten well, my lads, on festive shores, /until the feast within you turned to dance and laughter.”
The conductor punches my green ticket but I’m way gone. Back to one of my summers in Crete, I’m on the back of my lover’s motorcycle tilted close to the road on mountain curves, my arms around his torso, my face hiding in the safety of his hair. Here life is filled with death. It’s the truth.
Later, the long driveway seems especially so in the ice cold car. The empty house stands larger, quieter than when I drove away from it at noon.