- Date: 2007-02-14 - Word Count: 765 Share This!
Francine adopted a philosophical attitude the moment the stores replaced the Christmas decorations with the Valentine merchandise. Presto! Hearts of red or pink or of polka dots seemed to be everywhere. There were flat hearts, embossed hearts, box hearts. Aisles of greeting cards were awash with Valentines to my beloved, to my sweetheart, to mom, to my ex. Ex? What desperate card writer came up with that idea? Candy counters featured stacks of Valentine chocolates packed, of course, in heart-shaped boxes. Atop cosmetic display cases were bottles of perfume, tubes of shower gels and hand creams. The florists' phones rang off the hook with orders for everything from mini bouquets to wheelbarrows of red roses. As for the shops that promoted romance's earthy side, there was lingerie of silk, satin, lace, and engineering marvels of strings attached to small squares of material.
This year there would be no special Valentine for Francine. She who had enjoyed the attention of many admirers was admirer-less. "Like socks," she thought. "They've disappeared, just like my socks. A matched pair goes into the wash but only one makes it through the dryer." She was relieved when some swains wandered away and sometimes sad when others did; but when the winnowing out left no potential suitor in the wings, she was philosophical - all through January.
But on the first day of February, her mood plunged from philosophical to deep funk.
She stood in front of a mirror and stared at herself. Staring back was an attractive woman of average height and weight who at age 32 was accomplished and confident. She forced a smile. Even a faked smile gave a lift to her image, and she changed from pleasing to look at to someone who turned heads. She laughed and struck a haughty pose. She tossed her hair. She flirted with herself. She stopped smiling and spoke to the mirror.
"If I, adorable me is feeling like I'm chopped liver, how may others feel who life passes by every week, month after month?" She scolded herself. "Francine, you should be ashamed!" And in that moment, a plan was born. She made a phone call and went grocery shopping. She told her boss that due to a morning appointment on the 14th, she wouldn't be in until after lunch.
She spent the weekend in the kitchen. She leafed through cookbooks. She rifled through the newspaper recipes she had clipped and dropped in a folder. She made soup by the quart. Dozens of muffins. Bowls of salads. Deviled dozens of eggs (and opened the windows). Vegetable casseroles and macaroni and cheese. Cookies. And her specialty, mini cheese cakes. In the evenings, she sat at the kitchen table and created Valentines out of construction paper, doilies, glitter and ribbons.
On the morning of Valentine's Day, she loaded her van with the food and the Valentines. She stopped at the florist's and wrestled a bouquet of heart-shaped balloons into the back of the van. At the homeless shelter, she parked outside the service entrance. The kitchen crew helped with the unloading and warming the soups and casseroles. The director was astounded at the quantity of food Francine had prepared. When the residents trooped in for lunch, the buffet table was flanked at one end by two tureens of steaming soup and at the far end, the platters of deserts. In between were the deviled eggs, salads, and casseroles. At each table there was a Valentine heart balloon and at every place setting, a Valentine.
The director said, "It was wonderful of you to do this, so thoughtful."
Francine said, "This was a selfish act. I did it for me."
She collected her pots and pans, swung through a drive-through for a hamburger, and was at her desk by one o'clock.
Three days later, she received a large envelope that contained letters on scraps of paper written by many of the shelter's residents, thanking her for the delicious food, but mostly thanking her for remembering them on Valentine's Day. One said that she hadn't had a Valentine since she was a little girl; one from a man said it was the first Valentine of his life. Another from a woman said that she ate two cheesecake tarts because she couldn't believe the first one could have tasted so good. "But it did!" she said. "The second one was proof!"
Francine spread the messages on her bed. She counted 19. A few writers had drawn lopsided hearts on their notes. "These are the most Valentines I ever received at one time!" she thought. She smiled. And then because she felt so warmed inside, she cried.
- Scarlet O'Cheesecake
Scarlet O'Cheesecake has been writing and eating desserts longer than most. In her day, she was a bit of a dish herself. Now she beguiles with her tales, both bland (not really) and spicy. More of her stories and of course, delicious cheesecake can be found at: http://www.cheesecakestogo.bizn
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