Welcome to Flash Fiction Valentine.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I am writing a short love story with a sentence prompt sent to me from Christi Corbett: Gina scanned the crowded park, searching for the man wearing the agreed upon red baseball cap.
They say true love is hard to find. For many it never happens. They come and go in this world and never find that illusive something that connects them to another human being. That is sad … for as poet Alfred Lord Tennyson said: ‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.
The remains of the day …
Gina paid the taxi, took the tiny map the caretaker provided, and walked along the winding pathways of the Most Holy Trinity Catholic Cemetery, in East Hampton, Long Island. It was where the Gambone family plots were located. It was where the remains of his mortal body rested, under six feet of dirt she did not own, beneath a tombstone she did not select, surrounded by dozens of dead strangers. His grandparents’ mausoleum stood in the background, guarding the others, overseeing in death as they had in life.
It had been three long years since she came to this place. The graves were tended by perpetual care. Flowering bushes, low branches of Dogwood, and the clinging blooms of the wisteria on the mausoleum reached for the noon-day sun. Spring was in the air, its colors splashing the landscape of his rarified internment.
She stopped in front of his grave site and told him, “Not exactly where the likes of Gina Ferrante will be put to rest.”
Her fingers stroked the letters of his name, Michael Gambone, they circled the dates of his birth and his untimely death. The family had kindly provided a stone bench. She sat and placed the flowers from her cousin’s florist shop on the ground. “The family takes good care of you, Mike,” she said. “I guess they always took good care of you.”
She let her eyes wander from the massive house to the grounds with several other benches and the graves of his younger brother, two cousins and three aunts and uncles, “And not a room in the inn for the outsider.”
She felt daft talking to his tombstone although she knew well many others talked to the ground, to cold, hard stones, shouted at the wind and railed against the finality of this place.
She did a semicircle of the bench. “I guess I came to say goodbye, Mike. I owe you that,” she said. “Only to you, not your family.”
Like others who came to visit, Gina began rooting out weeds, picking up dried leaves and doing a bit of gravesite housework. “Your mother told me they spend a fortune to keep up everybody’s graves.” She tossed dried leaves in a small metal can behind her. “I didn’t tell her I was coming. If I told her, she would have wanted to come with me. And I wanted to talk to you alone.”
“I brought some fresh lilac. I remember how you loved the lilac’s in your mom’s garden.” Gina found a plastic funnel and fixed the lilac branches she brought. “I don’t believe you’re really down there. I think you’ve already been recycled.” She laughed. “Of course, I won’t tell your mom.”
She shifted in her seat, unable to be still. “I met someone.” She put her head down, ashamed and embarrassed at once. “Well kind’a met someone that is.”
Gina stood and walked over to the other graves, braved one long look through the stained glass of the mausoleum and paced around to another group of tombstones. Shaking her head, she sat again. “Some friend of a friend told me about this guy. We only talked in emails and on the phone,” she said. “It’s not like I don’t still love you. I’ll always love you, Mike.”
She thought of the day she saw two uniformed officers at her door, the grim reaper in NYPD Blue. “They tried to be nice about it. Asked if there was someone they could call.”
Gina became aware of tears. “Imagine that? Asking me if there was someone they could call.” She swiped her face with the back of her hand. “You were the one I always called. How rotten is that? I didn’t expect to be a widow at twenty-five. I’m sure you didn’t expect to be dead either.”
Gina slipped off the bench and sat on the ground. “I need you to tell me what to do, Mike. Tell me it’s okay.” She stroked the side of the stone. “What would you say if I met someone else? I mean, it’s not like you’re gonna come back. You didn’t take a trip to Cleveland or drive to Jersey, you know. You took the big ride, the last trip.”
A gust of wind blew up the few loose leaves left on the ground. When the wind calmed, Gina looked over and saw a blue jay sitting on the top of the mausoleum. It squawked and complained as they do. “Noisy birds, those damn blue jays.” It complained further and she laughed. “Oh, why do you make such a fuss?”
The bird continued to complain to the universe about something until in a flurry of blue feathers, it was joined by another. They rubbed beaks, preened each other’s feathers and with more noise than a room full of ten year old boys, they flew off.
Gina took it as a sign. “You were a good man and I’ll always miss you. But it’s time for me to take flight, maybe find another bird. You know what I mean?”
She pressed two fingers to her lips and pressed them to his name. “Maybe we can take up where we left off one day.”
Without another word, she walked out of the cemetery.
Four days later, Gina scanned the crowded park, searching for the man wearing the agreed upon red baseball cap. Prospect Park in Brooklyn, was ablaze with spring colors. Gina sat on a bench and waited. She saw another pair of blue jays in one of the giant oak trees lining the sidewalks in the park and smiled.
“I told him to wear a red cap. Like the one you were wearing the day we met,” she said.
She saw his approach, measured his stride. Under the red baseball cap, his wide smile welcomed her. He waved, “Gina, is that you?”
Have you met our soul mate?
And please tell all … what was your most memorable Valentine?