copyright © 1996 Dennis Paul Himes

The Feast of Saint Valentine

The last dryad giggling nodded into a tree and swayed in the wind for me, the stars glittered and froze and fell as snow, touching my face and melting in their love. And with the snow the cold came in and held me, while the wind forgot to break around me. I lifted my head to create a sneeze, which shattered all around and left me lost and alone on a cold winter's day.

There were footsteps in the snow and so I followed them, the lone survivor of some great and terrible tragedy, I did not know or care what. I was tired and hungry and my feet were growing numb, but still carried me ever toward the house. And soon I came to it, dark and silent without, bright and humming within. The warmth ran out jumping and shouting to greet me as the back door opened. And amid the cries and sobs of homecoming I made my way to the fire, which painted a coating of heat on my face and hands, while inviting blood to come and resurrect my feet.

Then a woman appeared and shouted, "Victor, have you heard a word I've been saying?" I did not know how to answer as she had not been saying anything. She pleaded "Victor!" for sorrow and so I said, "I'm sorry."

"Victor," she said, "Honestly, I don't know what I'm going to do with you, you could catch your death of cold." I remember those words, "catch your death of cold." I thought about that for quite awhile. I knew what it was to catch. Death I knew only too well, but death of cold I could not understand. I meant to ask but I knew it would be of no use. She was best left alone or she would ask questions of no answer and offer pleas of no meaning.

And I thought who is she? Who is this woman who shares my house and prepares my food? I knew her once I thought, yes, I have met her before. I turned to look when her back was toward me and I thought, ah yes, I remember. She tried to hide it but I saw beneath her pants the smooth and pink panties which had so terrified me that night such a long time ago. And I remembered this was the one who had scared me so with her body so soft and so heavy. This was the one with breasts of quicksilver, more a liquid than even a tit had a right to be. This was the one with the nipples which disappeared to the kiss. This was the one who enclosed me when I cried.

But I saw that she had changed. When I did not know and it did not matter. Her breath was not nearly as warm and she moved much more quickly. I asked the fire why this was so but the fire never answers. It just dances in place, it talks to no one and pretends not to hear.

She asked me, "Victor, what am I going to do with you?" and I did not know the answer. So when she left I walked through the house, careful and silent as the rooms were all sleeping. When I opened the last door the cold stopped what it was doing and waited for me. I stood there for a while looking at the cold and wondering where the wind had gone, until the trees turned to see what was keeping me. I bundled myself warm, checked my papers, said my goodbyes, looked back at what once was, and left on the journey, from where I did not know, to where I did not care.

The snow was playing, sliding and gliding, running and chasing. And when I looked up the whole sky let forth in such a glory as was like to make me cry for having to leave so quickly. But the machine was waiting sleeping in the corner and so I sat inside the shell, looking at the corner and wondering what it would be like, to live outside of the machine. I wanted the machine to roll towards me, to breathe on my hair, as I remembered from someone I had met such a long time ago. But the machine asleep is not even a machine, just a statue, forsaken and forgotten.

Then I touched it and it came to life. Humming like a bumblebee, indifferent to threats and not thinking to strut, power in the absolute. I put my hands to the wheel and the wheel was cold. But soon the life blood flowed through the machine, flesh and metal softened and joined, the connections were fused and the machine responded, once again a part of my body, amplifying my every thought.

As I crept down the driveway a woman screamed, "Victor! Victor, where are you going?" I paid her no mind.

The road was in a quiet mood, as it eased me up and gently set me down, putting a finger to her lips and telling me to relax. The snow turned to see who I was, bowed and hurried past. Animals looked up but did not move, forgetting me as soon as I had gone, the snow erasing the memories, leaving the road once again untraveled for untold years. A tired wanderer, on highways built by some once mighty but long forgotten civilization, I tread ever so softly, not knowing what it was I was trying not to disturb. And I thought of the terror one saw in the eyes of a cat when he thought no one was looking. And I wondered why I would think of that now.

I chanced upon a building, alone and secure, secluded in a little visited hollow, a shelter built by the first explorers, abandoned and then rebuilt by the men who hide in the forest and steal apples for sustenance, a home for the forsaken, the Selene's Diner. I shed the machine, trusting it to the care of the snow, which tucked it in playing a lullaby. I peered inside not wishing to interrupt, until the room noticed me and beckoned me to enter, the heat herself coming to take my hand.

I settled myself bridging a stool and a counter, using my body to stabilize the room. A man appeared looking a question. He wanted the word tea and the word I gave him. He took it and left with it. In front of me and on high the word SODA stood and stared, wary and unblinking.

Far to my left a woman with new skin sat looking at some vision I could not see. I looked to where two tits huddled within her dress, until I realized they were under her care and protection and suspicious of any stranger.

A man appeared with an offering of tea, leaving with a coin he found lying on the counter. Another coin much smaller than the first jumped at me shiny and silver, chuckling to itself at its little joke. The tea was quiet and gentle, filling my head with its fragrance. I cradled it in my hand and lifted it to smell it more deeply. There was some long lost ritual I had once known, a rite of the tea I tried to remember. But failing to recall it I closed my eyes to sight and let the tea seep down my throat, leaving it to find its way to my veins. Slowly it filled my body, bringing its heat and soothing what tension it found, until the vibrations stopped and I sat still and silent as the tea itself.

The tea vanished in an instant when a shout of "Victor!" found me standing, ready to fight if necessary, ready to flee if not. A woman grabbed me, afraid I might escape. She said, "Victor, where have you been? I've been worried sick about you." I covered her with my arms and we tightened and tightened until we began to merge. And I thought, yes, this is why I have been searching, this is why my body trembles, unable to be at rest. I have been only a half, unstable where the other half was not there to steady me. I thought now it is over, now we are joined and we could never separate, even if we so desired. Now I would never have to worry where to put my foot next, where to set my gaze, what to say or what to do, for I will be for eternity standing here, slowly rocking back and forth.

She said, "Victor, Victor, what's happening to you?" and I could see that she was worried, so I said, "Not to worry, not to worry, I will protect you, I will see that no harm comes to you." And I thought, yes, I remember, I have met this one before. This was the one who had scared me so with her body so soft and so heavy.

And when she started to cry I tried and I tried, but I could not figure out what it was that made her so sad.

- Dennis Paul Himes