Copyright is held by the author.
HE HAULED himself from the desk, stretching the day’s anxieties from jumpy legs, and stood by the window. He stared wearily over the darkened city. From the 11th floor he could see the dregs of Friday’s exodus. The start of another winter weekend. The bus queues were thinning out, the people left pulling their coats tight against the cold. In the distance car lights crept along the raised parkway, a conveyor belt to the suburbs.
The scene merely added to his sense of routine, of deadening drudgery.
February was a bitch of a month. Christmas and its uplifting family celebrations were long gone. The snow had lost its novelty but the relief of April’s melt and the first crocuses was still far off. He needed a distraction, something totally frivolous but realistic. Something more than his hockey games — another routine of too many years standing. Neither his own Thursday shinny nor the Wolves league games were enough to alleviate his malaise. Not a winter holiday either — some resort in Cuba or Mexico that would cost an arm and a leg and be gone from memory faster than a Chinese meal.
He returned to his desk and clicked on Outlook for next week’s appointments. He scanned, looking for any signs of relief. And there it was, in bold typeface at the top of Tuesday: “Valentine’s Day.” A smile bloomed. An excuse for that much needed routine-busting event, and it was only a few days off.
On his own commute — to the inner city not the suburbs; they could never live in the suburbs — he mused on the opportunity. Karen and he were in it for the long haul. It would be 30 years together this September. My God, 30 years, two kids, three cities, half a dozen houses, two gut-wrenching renovations, innumerable vacations and, oh yes, a couple of discovered affairs. They’d somehow survived it all while their friends fell around them. No one would have guessed it 30 years ago. Back then, if you’d surveyed the couples that made up their friendship circle they would have been top of everyone’s list of least likely to survive: “How could an investment banker with a sports addiction come together with a meditating Reiki therapist and find enduring common cause?”
Somehow they had. Admittedly they didn’t share as much as most others they knew. Separate bank accounts and mostly separate interests. He didn’t meditate or do yoga; didn’t accompany her to those occasional evenings with exotic mystics from afar. She didn’t talk money or investments, she hated them actually; didn’t come with him to hockey games or watch sports on television. Thank God they shared a love of the outdoors — hiking, canoeing, skiing and cottaging together every chance they got. Closing in on 60, he sometimes worried that these energetic pursuits might be nearing their best before date, and then what? But so far so good, and why worry until you got there?
That evening, while Karen was downstairs in front of the television, dog on her lap and some nature program transporting her to vicarious adventures in Africa, he settled before his laptop in the cosy surrounds of the den, double scotch in hand. Clicking to trusty Google he paused and took a contemplative sip. Valentine’s Day. The images flooded in — candlelight dinners, river cruises by moonlight, skating under the stars. No, they all seemed too romantic, too clichéd and not a fit for who he and Karen were or had become. Hmmm.
Insight came with the third sip of scotch. Of course. Something that bridged the gap, that demonstrated he was willing to cross the divide of interests that had grown between them. How better to show his love than to play on her turf, find exactly what she’d want to do. He fumbled on the keyboard with that two-finger hunt-and-peck style she found so cute; in went “spiritual, meditation” and “local events” to the search. It delivered a dozen or more possibilities. He scrolled down: “guided meditation for beginners,” “experiencing auras,” “spiritual healing by Aghitora.” No, this wasn’t working. It had to have some appeal for him and these all seemed just too flaky. He’d endure them not enjoy them.
And then one caught his eye:
Sufi Dance with Rangkesh Puri.
February 14th, 7:30pm, Emerald Room, The Coliseum. Join Rangkesh Puri and his amazing Zikr troupe. The lilting notes of spiritual music, their soulful singing and the cosmic whirling will leave you breathless and wanting more.
It was perfect. Karen would love it. He claimed and printed two tickets. A warm glow spread from his core, and it wasn’t just the scotch. He knew that it was right — thoughtful, sacrificial and a truly loving surprise for Karen and an antidote to drudgery and sameness for him.
How to surprise her though? That was his next dilemma. What were the logistics here?
“What are you up to?”
He jumped, wrenched from his reverie by Karen leaning on the doorframe.
Flushed with guilt he blurted out, “Nothing much,” and said the first thing that came into his head, “just checking the hockey scores.”
“I’m ready for a scotch myself if that one on your desk there needs a refill.”
On Sunday night, like manna from heaven, Karen presented the solution to the problem of surprise. Their conversation turned to furniture and the need for a new sofa.
“We should go visit the new Skena showroom. See if there’s anything we like,” she said.
“Where is it?” he asked.
“Down Richmond, next to the Coliseum.”
Kerching! Quick thinking produced the plan. “Sure, but I’ve got a hectic week coming up. I think it’ll have to be Tuesday. Why don’t I meet you there from work? Say around seven. Okay? Maybe after we can go for Valentine’s dinner at that French place on Colby.”
“Oh yes, it’s Valentine’s this week isn’t it. Okay, let’s say 7:00 outside the store.”
And so it was set. A solution on a platter. This was obviously meant to happen.
For the next two workdays he felt none of that stifling monotony that had plagued Friday. Time fairly hummed along. By 6:30 Tuesday he was in the car and headed out. Jeez, he was even whistling as he drove and kept reassuringly patting his breast pocket where he’d safely put the precious tickets.
He turned onto Richmond and was immediately stricken. Oh my God, look at this traffic. Shit, he’d forgotten that the Wolves were playing at the Coliseum tonight. The cars were crawling. He’d be hard pressed to get there on time. He really should have figured this out. As the traffic inched forward he obsessively tracked his watch: 6:45, 6:48, 6:50, 6:54. He was still a good half kilometre from the lights. He wasn’t going to make it. All this careful planning and the whole thing was going to fail because of the stupid hockey traffic. There’d not be enough time to get from Skena to the Emerald Room under the arena.
He parked the car at 7:10 and broke into a run to get to the store. He caught sight of Karen, looking relaxed and unconcerned as ever. She saw him and, even in the full glare of the harsh fluorescent light from the storefront, her warm smile and thoughtful wave seemed to fairly glow with happy contentment at his arrival. He was so lucky, how many other wives would be so blithely unconcerned with his tardiness, immersed in the happiness of seeing him, not the anticipation of balling him out? He waved back and slowed to a measured walk.
She moved towards him and he was pleasantly surprised by a warm, moist and lingering kiss on his lips, punctuated by the most tantalizing of touches from her tongue as they pulled apart.
Breathless from both the run and the kiss he blurted out his apology. “I’m sorry I’m late dear. It was the bloody hockey traffic. I completely forgot about it.”
“Really,” she said, “it’s not like you to forget about the Wolves, is it?”
“I know, I know, but it’s because I had something special on my mind. Something to surprise you.”
“That’s funny, because I’ve a surprise too,” she said, tipping her head a bit off centre. It gave her that coquettish look, which still drove him to distraction even after all these years.
She put her arm through his, hugging it affectionately, and moved away from the store. “Let’s go this way.” She steered him towards the Coliseum.
“But what about Skena and our new sofa?” he asked, confused.
“Oh that. It was just a ruse to get you here for Valentine’s. That’s my surprise. I’m taking you to the hockey game. Now what’s your surprise?”
He stopped dead, momentarily tangled in this revelation, but recovered swiftly and resumed their approach to the Coliseum. “Oh, it can wait.”
A boy walking behind the couple watched as two tickets fell from the man’s hand and fluttered to the ground.