Red Hearts

Written as exercise for Women’s Writing Group in Victoria Meetup

Red Hearts

“So, how much are the red hearts?”  Elaine pointed through the cloudy glass counter of the Coffee Shop.  They couldn’t be more than three for a penny.  Her great plan was to buy a bright red candy heart for every kid in her class.  But Earnie’s wife was at the till.  And Earnie’s wife couldn’t speak English.

“What you say?” demanded the old Chinese woman.

Elaine pointed to the red candy.  “The candy.  There.  How much?”

The old woman took out a jar of nougat, “You want this?”

“No, not that.  The red hearts over there.”

“This one?”

“No, that one.”

“Not for sale,” the Chinese woman answered.

Of course they were for sale.  It was the candy cupboard.

“That one please,” Elaine persisted.  “The candy right there.”  She tapped on the glass.

“Go home.  You not allowed in this place no more!  You get out!  I kick you out!  You never come back!  Hear?”

Elaine had heard.  She heard her great Valentine surprise tossed to the wind.  Kicked out of the Candy Shop?

Valentine’s Day!  And no hearts.

Elaine scrambled over the dark barrier of snow taking the short cut to the school.  She couldn’t be late!

Where were her mitts?  She must have left them in the Coffee Shop.  The Coffee Shop she couldn’t go back to.  The wind whistled up her sleeve.  Her hat blew off, and wafted across the street.  Windy day!

“Elaine, just what does the warning bell mean to you?  The warning bell, Elaine, means it’s time to take your seat.  You arrive late one more time, Elaine, and you will get the strap!”  The strap hung handy behind Mrs. Woolf’s desk.  “Tomorrow morning, I want your coat off, and I want you in your desk before the warning bell!  Just come late once more, and you will be a sorry girl!”

Elaine’s forever day-dreaming threatened Grade Four class conformity.  And class conformity in Grade Four was teacher creed.

Just as Elaine was rounding the corner—the school in sight—the warning bell rang!

But Elaine didn’t hear it.

Sure, getting the strap terrorized her; however, her thoughts were on the candy counter; the old lady who didn’t understand; the bright hearts that she did not have.  She had counted on that candy.  What was she thinking?

Now there would be no, ‘Be My Valentine.’  No, ‘My Heart is in Your Hands.’  No, ‘You Mean the World to Me.’ No red heart candies.  Nothing, nothing, nothing to hand out.

Nothing to look forward to; nothing to give to the class!

But she wasn’t going to arrive late.  Nosiree!  David’s mother just careened around the corner slipping and sliding in slushy tracks.  David was with her, and David was never late, so . . .   So, the bell couldn’t have rung yet.

The car stopped.  David, the smartest boy in the whole class, got out of the car, carefully protecting a handful of red papers.  His Valentines!  Would David have a Valentine for her?  He liked Roslyn.  Correction, he loved Roslyn.  And why not?  Roslyn had coal black hair, she was beautiful, short, smart, rich and punctual; while Elaine’ hair was the colour of dishwater, she was plain, tall, sturdy, a day-dreamer, and always, always late.

“David . . .  David, David, David.”  Elaine liked him.  Make that, Elaine loved him.

Then it happened.  David dropped his handful of Valentines.  The wind picked them up scattering some underneath the car.  He knelt down to reach them.

His mother, fighting the snowfall, scated away.  She didn’t see him drop the Valentines; she didn’t see them scatter; she didn’t see him kneel; she didn’t see him reach; she didn’t see him.

She didn’t see him as he slipped under the car.  She didn’t see his coat caught on the bumper.  She didn’t see the body drop, the bright red blood, the boy, her son.

Elaine did.  She saw it all.  And she ran for dear life.

“David.  David.  David.”  But David didn’t answer.  “ Can you hear me?”  There was a deep gash on his forehead.  Blood was getting everywhere.  Elaine began to mop up the blood with the sleeve of her coat.  But there was too much blood.  Where were the teachers, the kids, anybody.  Where?

“David, it’s time for school.  You don’t want to be late.  I’m going to help you stand up.”  But he wouldn’t cooperate, and the wind was blowing too hard to lift him.

“Help!” Elaine called.  The North wind swallowed her plea.  The second bell had sounded; students were in their desks; teachers were calling roll, so nobody saw.  Nobody heard.

“Is he alive?” Elaine spoke to herself.  She unzipped his coat.  His shirt was pooling red.  “Do dead people bleed?”  Elaine put her ear to his heart.  “He must be alive.”

But he was cold.  “Nasty North wind.”  Elaine bucked his boots, tucked his scarf around him.  “Oh no, there is blood everywhere.”  Blood.  Pooling red in the fresh white snow.  Elaine unbuttoned her coat, pulled down the sleeves, stood up to the wind to bundle David.

“Help!”

Mrs. Woolf was finished roll call.  She’d glanced at the leather strap.  Elaine was late again.  Final warning.

It is a puzzling thing, how thoughts come unbidden.  Elaine warmed David’s hand in her own as she whispered her impending fate, “I must be late.  Final warning.  I’ll get the strap.  In front of the class.  They will all laugh.”

David wouldn’t laugh.

“David?  David, can you hear me?”  There was just so much blood.  “David, you are bleeding.  Does it hurt?  David?”

“Dear God in Heaven.  You are holy so you can do anything.  You need to help David.  Keep him warm.  Stop his blood.  Make it not hurt.  And don’t let him die.  Maybe he can die when he’s old.  But not yet, not now.  Please please please please please please help David.  Amen

Dear God in Heaven.  Bless the old Chinese woman in the Coffee Shop.  Bless my mitts on the counter.  Bless the North wind.  Bless the cold.  Bless this red snow.  Bless my coat.  Bless the blood.  Bless this day.  Amen.

Dear God in Heaven.  Help me not to get the strap.  Amen.

Dear God in Heaven.  Bless David to live.  Bless him this very minute.  Bless his breath to come out.  Bless his bleeding to stop.  Bless his heart.  Amen

Dear God in Heaven.  Keep on listening . . .”

David’s Valentines were easy to spot—all red against the white snow.  There were dozens of them.  Still warming David’s hands, Elaine could not reach them—her fingers were clumsy numb.  Icy cold.

With such a wind storm, the snow was banking on the little body.  Elaine brushed it off.  “Good thing you are not bleeding anymore.”  For indeed, the blood was darkening.  Freezing even.

Elaine cradled David’s head in her lap.  She patted his face as she rocked him, rocked him, rocked him, saying, “Don’t be scared, David.  Don’t be scared.  Don’t be scared, David.  Don’t be scared.“  The snow was coming down in sheets now, covering David’s red papers.  Covering Elaine’s bare arms.  Covering David.

“You want to know something David?  I’m going to tell you a secret I’ve never told anyone else in the whole world.  Are you ready?”

Elaine, crouching from the wind and the bitter cold, bent to whisper,  “I love you, David.  You are my Valentine.  My Heart is in Your Hands.  You Mean the World to Me.”

Elaine was certain David heard . . .

I wrote this for Women’s Writing Class yesterday  . . .