Joseph Levens


Victoria's lips are bright red, but everything else about her is dark. She puts black on in the morning. She goes into the misty bathroom, looks in the mirror and grumbles an obscenity.

Yesterday she spotted it in the news. Rarely did Victoria read the local paper, but when he stopped calling, stopped visiting, she knew something had happened.

Out in the street, her heels dig into the snow. A sparkling crimson heart hanging in a neighbor's window reminds her that Valentine's Day is next week, but it will not be a holiday this year. The snow chills her and she shivers. She will shiver for a long time. She drives.

She drives to the cathedral and she sees the congregation. The ceremony has started and there is mourning and there are tears. She hides among those in the rear pews and prays for his redemption.

He was kind and caring, wild, witty, knew just how far to go before the guilt set in. Victoria sees his lovely family in the first row, his beautiful wife, his two daughters, all wearing hats of black fur. Victoria had been shown pictures of them in the past, a touch and just a touch of envy in her throat every time. Now, seeing them for real, she sincerely feels their sorrow. She fights off a deeper mourning, one that only they are allowed to display.

The minister attempts to comfort by way of words, words solemnly echoing in the thick timber rafters of the high, arched ceiling. As Victoria listens, her mind wanders. She thinks of this sort of thing happening to women the world over, throughout the course of history. Perhaps she was lucky to find out in time to attend this final gathering. Others like her may not have come to know until subtle inquiries began days or weeks later. She thinks of a young woman insecure, lonely, who had been tired of men her own age and their ruthless disbelief that there is no friendship beyond physical love buying strawberries at the market. The girl overhears two elders talk about the death of a citizen years older than herself, mentioning the name aloud, and the only thing keeping her from falling is the grocer's hand asking for the two dollars.

Victoria looks at the faces of those who stand near. Close and distant family members, friends, a few recent business associates. No one knows her. No one ever will. He was twenty years older, could have been her father, treated her in public as if he was. Six years it had lasted, six furtive, blissful years. Another three before that, all in the mind. They were acquaintances in the same office. Casual flirting, fantasies each held to themselves at first, then shared. From the mind to the body to the heart. She soon found he could take care of her better than she could herself.

The red in the minister's garment reminds Victoria of Valentine's Days past, and she remembers the conversation from last year a snowy walk in the woods before dinner, February 15th : a mistress' Valentine's Day, the day after the wife's. He asked her to put a hand in his coat pocket and take out a little box. She did.

"The little ruby you wanted, the one you pointed to in the Toronto store window on our little trip," he said, after she opened it.

"I wanted another five years, is what I said."

"You'll have it," he assured, "and the ruby. Take it."

She did, and fully expected five, not one, more years. Now, as the body moves down the aisle, making its way to the car, she imagines a bright light descending from the ceiling, causing everyone to shut their eyes. The light is hypnotic, but somehow she can see through. Suddenly he is approaching, arms out-stretched, with pleading eyes, giving her a final kiss.

The organ plays solemnly for all in the cathedral, but to Victoria it is silent. She is the last to leave her pew, as the procession and congregation move outside, and no one notices her head raised, her eyes closed, her secret receding into thin air.

Joseph Levens is an editor for The Summerset Review. His work has previously appeared in Other Voices, Slow Trains, The Bridge, Southern Ocean Review, and Newsday. He was also a finalist in Lynx Eye's Captivating Beginning contest.

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