by Pat Eby
The day hadn’t been too bad. Valentine’s Day. Not exactly a happy day for the single, the uncoupled, the undone-by-romance senior cynical citizen I’ve become. I’d filled the day with favorite pursuits. Coffee hot, black and sassy to start the morning. Early morning visits to local thrifts in pursuit of treasures.
A leisurely lunch at home of soup and a very fine tuna salad sandwich. A short nap with two companionable canines and one fractious cat. The cat zonked out without biting me. Neither dog farted or barfed. I slept. Life was good.
I’d not succumbed to self-pity. I hadn’t smeared chocolate around my mouth from stuffing in truffles. I didn’t read leftover love letters from men long gone. No sappy romantic comedies clogged my DVD player and no overly sentimental singers wallered from my radio.
I’d steeled myself against the Cupidian onslaught. I felt lucky. I had darn near escaped, hide-bound and intact, but I tempted the Fates. Those wretched creatures brought me face to face with romance and love on my last trip out, to the Goodwill store, in case a second fifty-cent Harry Potter mug might lurk on the shelves like the one I sold for thirty-six dollars on eBay.
I stood at the jewelry counter and sorted through the dollar earrings hoping to find gold among the dross. Once, I’d found gold earrings clearly marked 14K and stamped with a goldsmith’s mark for four dollars at a different thrift. I’ve wondered about the staff’s competency ever since. I’ve looked each week thereafter as well.
I didn’t know certain Harry Potter mugs were going for big bucks. Anyone could miss that, but jewelry clearly stamped 14K seems too obvious for anyone to overlook. Thank the goddess for inattentive texting, phone-talking help. No such gold gleamed from the dollar tray at the Goodwill. Still, the counter person twitched nearly as distracted as the staff at the other thrift, sans the phone. A whoosh of cold air told me the door had opened.
A cloud of red roses in a huge glass vase floated behind me. I caught the whip of wide red satin ribbon tails flapping valiantly in the brisk winter wind. A young man trailed in with the roses, scrubbed and polished from his horn rims to his Chuck Taylors, his cheeks pink from the wind, his eyes bright and wild.
From the far reaches of the store, Nicole came hopping at a pretty good clip, followed by a second Goodwill employee who flapped and clucked nearly as expertly as my clerk had done. “Nicole, honey, he sure did surprise you, honey. Mm, Mm, Mm . . . . look at them, girl—must be two dozen them roses.”
The young man stiff-armed the roses towards a smiling, shaking Nicole, who couldn’t quite figure out how to kiss her Galahad properly with two dozen or more roses waving wildly. A customer grabbed the vase, “You kiss him, now. I said I wasn’t going to cry today, and you give this girl these flowers. . . . “
“Oh My God, girl—he goin’ down on one knee,” my clerk shouted. She waved her arms above her head and did a little dance behind the counter. She whispered to me. “He’s gonna propose, gonna do it. She knew he was up to somethin’—Lordy, lordy—he’s gonna propose.”
The young man took a box from his jacket pocket, opened it, and said, “Nicole, will you marry me?”
Nicole was incapable of speech. Customers from all over the store moved to the front, like waves to shore. “Say yes. Don’t make that boy wait,” an older gentleman shouted. Nicole cupped her hands around her lover’s face and moved in close. We didn’t hear what she said. That’s okay. What she said was for his ears only.
We all cried a little. The clerks, me, other customers, other workers. Even the men. I didn’t know Nicole or her young swain, but I recognized them. Romeo and Juliet. Snow White and Prince Charming. Abelard and Heloise. Bert and Ernie.
I hope they have a happy life. Statistics don’t favor them, but maybe the gods and goddesses will smile this time. At first, I didn’t know how I felt about the proposal, in the glare of the fluorescent light at a Goodwill, with racks of used clothes, bookshelves, bins and scarred cases holding yesterday’s treasures.
Love comes on its own terms, I thought. I went home and slapped a sappy romantic CD on the stereo. Can’t get any more good than a proposal in the Goodwill.