Happy Valentine's Day — our gift to you is this slightly cheeky, totally amusing Valentine's story by the wonderful Gerry Marsh: 'Priceless Love'. Hope you enjoy it!
It made sense to get the Valentine gifts from the supermarket. There were his points to consider for a start. Besides, Conn left work at 6pm, so if he stopped off anywhere else, they wouldn’t be eating till 9pm. Too late. Anyway, he knew what he wanted to get Sally. He’d seen the roses delivered days before, that pleasingly deep, red colour, and they were doing “A dozen long stemmed roses” for £9.99. Pretty good. But probably best to start with the chocolates, the furthest aisle away, and work back to the checkout.
The chocolate aisle was packed. Bloody people, so irritating. Guess everyone had the same idea. Now, what to get Sally. Not that she’d eat any of course. He’d get something he liked. Good grief, a basic’s range of chocolates. Only £1.99. But imagine. Imagine your partner came back bearing a box of basic range chocolates! Why did they even bother to stock them? Well, guess they needed to cater for everyone. Now... what to get. Conn’s eye was caught by a heart-shaped box in deep pink and black with pretty scrolled writing on it. Hmm, that looked good. “A tempting selection of luxury dark chocolate.” Oh, they were plain, Conn didn’t like plain chocolate. Still, perhaps... He felt the texture of the box under his thumb, a sort of flock effect. And it looked like the chocolates were heart-shaped inside. Yes, he’d get them, they said they were the “finest quality”, and maybe he would enjoy them this time. Looked expensive, but were £4.99, not too bad.
Conn had decided they were eating in. You just couldn’t get a restaurant table for love nor money on Valentine’s Day, and what was the point anyway. He much preferred a night in with Sally. And there was a special range of nicely packaged Valentine ready meals all sorted out for you, with a selection of fine wine ready picked. “Create the Perfect Night” range, it was called. It took the fuss out of the whole thing. Salmon he thought, he liked salmon. “Luxury Salmon from the coasts of Scotland, enrobed in a rich white wine sauce.” And it came with a chardonnay. In they went, how easy was that. Two eat for £15. Nice.
The revolving DVD rack stood on his route to the Valentine card section. Conn hesitated. Yes. He could see them after the meal, on the sofa, watching something a bit romantic. But funny as well. He hated all those really intense, emotional movies, it made him feel all embarrassed. It’d make him sweat. He always sweated when he was nervous. That’s why he was glad they had the 3 for 2 offer on “Ice. Deodorant for Men. For the man who stays cool.” He’d buy them anyway, so the deal was good for him. Not that Sally minded if he sweated. Anyway, where was he. Oh, yes, something light. Ah, that looked funny, he could tell by the cover, “Big Sue.” How easy was that. Hmm, mind you there was a special on “Goodbye till Tomorrow.” Only £5. But maybe that meant it was no good. Sally would watch whatever he picked. No, he’d get “Big Sue.” It had four stars and the review announced, “I laughed out loud.” In it went then.
Conn weaved expertly through the aisles back to cards, near the fruit and veg section of all places. He could see where the Valentine cards were from quite a distance, as people flocked around a certain area. He edged past the few pinky Mother’s Day cards that were already in, and a bank of yellow indicated the growing Easter section, but Conn was relieved to see an entire swath of Valentine cards recognisable by their deep red envelopes spread out before him. Now what would Sally like? Something sweet, not too sexy. But he didn’t like fluffy cards, no kittens or anything. And he didn’t like anything too sentimental. Or big. Lord, there were some big ones. Crikey, that man was buying something the size of his shopping bag! Ridiculous. A medium one was the right one surely. “To my True Love.” Conn felt uncomfortable and prickly. “Love Always” “Forever” “Always Yours.” No, not right, but what to get. He wiped sweat from his face, willing the right one to announce itself. Ahh, there. No message, just a thick, cushioned heart in red with a bow attached. He turned it over. Code T. What did that mean? Oh he didn’t have the time to figure that one out. But he liked that the shades of red matched his main present to Sally. Now he had had to go to a proper store for that. He’d got her a basque in black and red. £39.99. No suspender belt with it, stay-ups apparently were easier. He worried about it. He imagined putting it on her, then felt all hot at the thought. It was too sexy for Sally. She was too sweet for all that stuff. Then he would dress her up in it, and then get angry with her, tell her it was too sexy, blame her, even perhaps... No, stop, don’t think of that, not now. Just the thought turned him on, made him feel even hotter and more uncomfortable. Sally in that basque that was so wrong. She was a size eight. He bought all her clothes for her. He loved buying clothes for her, and he knew he should stop.
Right. The roses, then checkout, that should be easy. But as Conn turned, he could already see many of the big black flower pots were completely empty. Good grief, why hadn’t he thought of that. Course everybody would be thinking the same thing. Oh hang on, it looked like there was one bunch left! Christ no, no, no. Greedy bastard, where did he come from! Just muscled in from nowhere and took the last bloody bunch. Oh yeah, that’s right, pretend you don’t see my dirty look, you big bully. Conn felt like punching something. Now what was he supposed to do. How stupid was that. Didn’t the supermarket realise how many people would be wanting red roses? And they hadn’t put enough in. Why advertise something if you haven’t got enough anyway, how stupid was that. And look, look at all those pink and yellow roses. Why did they bother to get so many of those, if they knew people would be wanting red ones? A dozen red ones. Conn roughly pulled a bunch of pink roses up in his fist. They wouldn’t be the same and he knew it. No one got pink roses. Same price as well, £9.99. No, no, they wouldn’t do. Oh hang on, what were they? A knot of bodies were seething around the black flower buckets at the end of the aisle—the prime spot. Ahhh, more red roses. Conn expertly pressed into the crowd, managing that modicum of etiquette whereby he touched nobody and caught no eye, yet got to the front. Oh lord, no, these were not the same. No, these were slightly bigger red roses. Good colour, all really uniform. He picked a bunch up and smelt them. No smell, but the petals were lush, plump and velvety, and the cellophane felt thicker in his hand. A ribbon garnished the bunch. “A superior selection of long stemmed...” Nice, very nice. But £19.99. Yes he’d get them. Time was getting on now and he needed to get back. Not that Sally would mind if he was late.
Conn went to the self-serve checkout. It was always less crowded and you didn’t have to deal with people. He hated all that enforced chatty stuff you had to do as they swiped your goods through too quickly for you to pack things. Besides, he always felt like they were looking at him, and he didn’t like that. There. Crikey, £59.98. Mind you, that meant more points.
Conn was eager to get home now. He wanted to see Sally badly. He wasn’t even sure he would have the patience to put the meal on, because he wanted to see Sally in that basque. The one that was so unsuitable for her. He wanted to feel its silk and lace texture under his hands. Sally still felt so exotic. She was just perfect. He wondered how long he would feel this way about her. Would it wear off? He had covered the quarter mile from the supermarket quickly and hastily let himself into the hall of his block. Another 22 years and three months on the mortgage and his flat would be his. £182,700 was his last statement. £420 was the service charge. Still, the hall was a pleasing shiny marble and it was new build, so nothing to do inside. All very American as well, like the mailbox idea. But he didn’t want to check his mailbox now. Mr C. Sumer, Flat 22, it said.
He lumbered up the stairs, hastily fumbling with the key in the lock. He could smell his own sweat. There was no time for a shower though. 8pm already. Now where was Sally? He’d found out about her online, and she looked perfect in the photo. He had worried about her not living up to her picture, but she had. Oh how nervous he’d been. That had been three months ago. Now, where was she? Ah there she was. Exactly where he’d left her, on the sofa, dressed in a ‘60s baby doll style dress with pale yellow flowers. She was turned away from him, her jet black hair falling around her shoulders to the small of her back. He could just see a small pop socked foot encased in a low heeled, bar shoe, the sort he remembered his sister wearing for school. Lord, she looked good. So young and fresh, and... only £3,000. “The perfect Japanese Love Doll.” 20% off all purchases if you buy before November 30th. Guaranteed international delivery. He’d got her from a reliable Tokyo company, with 97% satisfaction on the reviews.
Hmm, just a shame she hadn’t come with any points.
Gerry Marsh is a London fiction writer and author of Tales of Urban Encounters (2018), a collection of short stories set in southeast London. Review excerpt from Amazon (anonymous): "These quirky tales touch on themes of alienation, loneliness and how everything including human connection has a price if not a value. Told with humour and a lightness of touch they weave together tentative relationships, lives lived on the edge and lives both enriched and sucked dry by the city..."
Tales of Urban Encounters is available as a print book, ebook and audiobook. For details visit Gerry's website: gerrymarsh.co.uk/books/