A Valentine’s Gift
by Walt Trizna
Jim Reed sat in a desolate park in a seedy section of the city and pulled the collar of his badly worn coat up as the North wind howled, he sipped from the bottle concealed in the brown paper bag and, with each sip, a grimace spread across his face while momentary warmth filled his empty belly.
That goddamned day is coming, he thought. He did not have a calendar for a calendar needed a wall on which to hang and his watch was gone, hocked long ago. Jim kept track of the date and headlines the world produced from the newspaper machines along the sidewalk.
He drank rapidly; trying to prevent his mind from wandering to the day he lost his future, his purpose, that Valentine’s Day five years ago. But he could not prevent his numbed mind from reviewing his life and recalling the day his reason for being was erased.
* * *
While in college, Jim developed a drinking problem, and it lingered after graduation. He found a job as an accountant, worked hard during the day and drank hard during the night.
A friend from work wanted to fix Jim up with a girl. A date was arranged, a Dutch-treat dinner. Jim arrived at the Italian restaurant early, sat at the bar drinking red wine when a stunning woman with long black hair walked in searching for someone. She approached Jim and said, “I’m Debbie Wilson, could you be Jim Reed?”
Jim could not believe that this woman was his blind date. He gulped down his wine, took her hand, and headed for the restaurant area. He drank less than he usually did on a blind date and just enjoyed talking to Debbie.
Before he knew it, they had spent two hours over dinner, and he was sober. He wanted to pay for dinner but Debbie demanded to pay her own way. She smiled and said, “Next time you can treat.”
This brought a grin to Jim’s face. Debbie paid her part of the bill, and as the cashier placed the change in her hand, Debbie exclaimed, “What’s this?” She looked down at the dirty white penny in her hand.
“That’s a steel penny,” Jim explained. “One year, during World War II, pennies were made of a lead composite in order to save copper in order to make shell casings.”
Debbie’s eyes brightened as she said, “This is going to be my lucky penny and always remind me of this night.”
Their relationship grew into love, and six months later they were married. They bought a small house and soon Debbie was pregnant. Jim’s life had a hope he had never imagined as he watched Debbie grow with their child.
They found a hospital providing a room for natural birth, but had the facilities to cope with any problems that might occur. One day, as Debbie was preparing a special dinner to celebrate a special day, her water broke. Jim rushed her to the hospital thinking, “By the time this Valentine’s Day is over, I’ll have two loves, not one.”
After they entered the hospital, a nurse took Debbie’s blood pressure and immediately had her rushed to the emergency room. Debbie’s eyes reflected the fear Jim felt as he sat at her bedside. When Debbie began to convulse, Jim was escorted to the waiting room.
Hours later their obstetrician entered the waiting room and sat next to Jim. The doctor’s eyes never left the floor. In a soft voice he told Jim, “I’m sorry but your wife is gone, we lost the baby girl too. If you will come with me, I’ll take you to your wife.”
Jim felt horror, shock and helplessness all at once. On shaky legs he followed the doctor and soon found himself standing next to a bed and staring down at Debbie’s pretty face. She seemed so much at peace while Jim was in such torment.
The next few days were a blur; Jim drank himself into numbness while friends and family expressed their regrets. Jim stayed numb for five years, never cried over his loss, keeping the grief tied up inside. He stayed numb as he was fired and eventually lost his house. He had been homeless for two years now and just didn’t give a damn about anyone or anything.
* * *
Jim left the park and made his way into the city. He mumbled, “That goddamned day is here,” as he sat on the grate of an office building immersed in the steam, trying to stay warm. The hour was late and the street strangely deserted. Steam created an odd glow around the streetlamps. Through the mist, a small girl approached and stood before him.
“I’d like to help you mister,” she said.
Jim yelled, “Get the hell away from me,” but the girl wouldn’t budge. She just stood before Jim as her eyes filled with tears.
“I’d like to help you mister,” she repeated as she placed a small cloth sack before Jim. As she turned to leave she said something strange: “We love you.”
Jim watched through the mist as the girl departed; saw the tall figure of a woman waiting in the distance for the child. The child stood next to the woman and they joined hands as they looked back, and then melted into the mist.
Jim sat there, drinking from his bag and lifted the small cloth sack. He opened it and spilled its contents into his hand. He sat there looking at the single dirty white penny. He lifted the paper bag to his lips and then tossed it away as tears coursed down his face.
Copyright © 2006 by Walt Trizna