The Street Corner
It was hardly the Valentine’s Day people were expecting. A heavy downpour fell from the dark sky as a frigid wind whipped through the city. Any hope romantics had for sweet picnics or sunny strolls was dashed. This did not dampen the spirit of Krista Knight. She had a thick raincoat and a sturdy umbrella. They’d surely keep her dry when she left the apartment.
She did not have dinner reservations that night, nor were there rose petals on her mattress. Instead, Krista planned to cook a modest meal at home—alone. She decided she would visit a quirky market down the street. They had the best produce selection in the city. With that in mind, Krista prepared to face the elements.
After a brisk walk in the rain, Krista found herself on the corner beside the market. She had one foot in the door when she noticed an elderly woman across the intersection. The woman had a folding lawn chair, which she set up on the sidewalk. A plastic bonnet covered her head, though the rest of her outfit was not waterproof. Drops of rain fell on her through a ragged hole in her old umbrella.
The woman didn’t seem to notice. She sat in her chair, unmoving. Krista observed her for several moments. If the woman became chilled, it could easily spiral into a serious illness at her age. For Krista, her next move was obvious. She left the doorway of the market and crossed the busy street. She cautiously approached the woman who was staring intently at the market’s front windows.
“Excuse me,” Krista began. “I noticed that your umbrella has a tear in it. I’d hate for you to catch a cold, so I’d like to give you my umbrella.”
“Really?” the woman replied.
“Really. I have a raincoat on. It’ll do just fine.”
The woman shook her stubborn head. “No, no. That’s your umbrella. You need it.”
“I don’t. I have three more at home. Please take it. If you plan on sitting here for a while, you’ll need to stay dry. That coat of yours is lovely, but it won’t do a thing about the rain.”
“I suppose that is true. I plan to sit here all night.”
“All night? The temperature is dropping. They say the rain will be ice by dark. You must be cold already.”
The woman laughed. “I’m a popsicle.”
“Why don’t you let me buy you a warm drink? There’s a café around the corner.”
“Don’t you have a date to get ready for? A nice young lady like you must have somebody.”
It was Krista’s turn to laugh. “My wife and I celebrated yesterday. She’s working over at the children’s hospital tonight.”
“Is that right?”
“Yeah. She’s a doctor there. I’m proud of her work, but I admit it sometimes gets lonely on nights like this. I wouldn’t mind making a new friend.”
“Well, in that case, I could use a cup of hot tea.”
The woman folded her chair and tucked it securely beneath her arm. She followed Krista to the quaint café. Krista ordered her usual latte while the older woman asked for green tea. They sat together at a table in the corner. Between sips, their conversation began.
"I’m Krista, by the way.”
“Dottie. Nice to meet you.”
The women shook hands before Krista asked the obvious question. “So, why were you planning on sitting out there all night?”
“You’re new to the neighborhood, aren’t you?” Dottie countered.
“We moved here last spring.”
“Uh-huh. The locals…they know me. They know why I do what I do. I’ve done it every Valentine’s Day for the last five years. I bring my favorite chair and stare at that market. Time seems to stand still. I can remember things much more clearly that way. It’s like they’re happening again.”
Krista paused. “I don’t know if I follow you.”
“Fifty years ago, I met my partner on that street corner. Suzanne. My, she was a sight. Bright red hair. Sparkling eyes. A dress that fit in all the right places. I’ve always had a weakness for gingers, you know. When I talked to her, I didn’t know what I was getting into.”
Fifty years earlier
There were two days that Dottie hated more than anything: Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. That was because her boss at the market, who happened to be her father, insisted they set up a flower cart on the opposite side of the street. It was Dottie’s job to lug the cart and a wide array of bouquets through the crosswalk to the corner. She then had to stand beside the cart all day, attempting to convince people that they had to go home with a bouquet of flowers.
That Valentine’s Day, Dottie managed to ensnare a sharp businessman. She showed him a dozen roses and used her most convincing voice. “These were sent to us only this morning from a local florist. You won’t find fresher roses in the entire city. Every woman loves roses.”
“That is true. They are my wife’s favorite,” the man hummed. “Okay, I’ll take them.”
“Great. I’m sure she’ll be thrilled.”
He handed Dottie exact change before resuming his brisk walk. When Dottie opened her cash box, a gust of wind blew bills onto the pavement. Dottie rushed to retrieve the money, yet a single dollar floated away from her hand. A tasteful high heel stomped on the dollar. When Dottie followed the foot upwards, a gorgeous redhead was smiling at her.
“Is this your runaway dollar?” the redhead asked.
“It is,” Dottie confirmed.
Gently, the redhead handed her the dollar. “You’re selling flowers, I see.”
“From the market. It’s a family business. I help out sometimes.”
“How nice. I’m a secretary for an advertising firm. It’s my lunch hour. Thought I’d go for a bit of a stroll. I’m Suzanne.”
“Dottie. It’s nice to meet you.”
Dottie offered her hand. When Suzanne took it, sparks crackled in their skin. They reluctantly released one another after their touch had lingered too long. Suzanne decided to visit the flower cart rather than walking on. She looked over the bouquets carefully. “These are beautiful. I was thinking about getting some fresh flowers for my desk at work. I don’t know anything about flowers, though. What’s your favorite?”
“I know that most gals like roses, but I prefer carnations. That’s these ones here.”
Once Dottie had identified the bouquet, Suzanne grinned. “That makes sense. They’re pretty, and you’re pretty. Are these the ones that your boyfriends buy you?”
“I don’t have boyfriends.”
“Interesting. Well, I’m going to buy these carnations. I think having them in the office will put me in a good mood.”
She handed Dottie the amount listed on the sales tag. Dottie gave her the flowers, yet she hesitated. “How is it that a woman like you doesn’t know about flowers? I’d think that your sweethearts would be sending them to you in droves.”
“I don’t have sweethearts,” Suzanne retorted as she rubbed the silky petals of her carnations. “It was nice to have met you, Dottie.”
“It was nice to have met you too.”
Suzanne resumed walking down the sidewalk. Dottie felt her shoulders slump. That was the kind of woman she wanted to be with, but she couldn’t admit it. As the minutes passed, she only felt more and more lonely. She began to wonder if she should have said something else, something that would have made Suzanne understand how she felt.
As dusk came, Dottie began to pack up her flower cart. She fumbled with the bouquets, which caused her to drop a sales tag on the ground. Yet again, that extravagant high heel came into view. Suzanne had returned, and she was holding the carnations she had bought. Dottie couldn’t hide her enthusiastic grin.
“Suzanne. You’re back.”
“Yeah. I didn’t buy these for my desk. I bought them for you. I just didn’t want to say it when there were so many people around,” Suzanne explained. She gave the flowers to Dottie as she lowered her voice. “Happy Valentine’s Day. Would you want to be my sweetheart?”
“I was hoping you’d ask me that.”
“We were together for forty-five years,” Dottie recalled fondly. “My family sold the market years ago, but I go back to remember the day I met my sweetheart. She passed away five years ago. I’ve been lost ever since. I had no idea I could love someone as much as I loved her.”
Krista held a somber smile. “That’s a beautiful story. I’m very sorry that she’s gone.”
“She’s not really gone. She’s always with me. But sometimes I bury it for a little while. I shove it down so it doesn’t hurt when I wake up without her. The pain doesn’t seem to stop unless I’m lost in the memories. I don’t get to talk about them much anymore. But you came and found me today. You let me talk. You let me remember. I can’t thank you enough for that.”
“It’s no trouble. I liked listening. You reminded me that Valentine’s Day isn’t about gifts or fancy dinners. It’s about the ones we love. There’s nothing more important than that.”
“Amen. Thank you, Krista. Happy Valentine's Day to you and your wife.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Dottie. Thank you for keeping me company.”