“Everything is dead and gray and frozen,” Sadie says to me as we take a walk, down the street, to that little park at the edge of our neighborhood, the three-quarter-mile track that’s presently buried in slush and ice and snow, the stubborn remains of the winter storm that blew through earlier this week.
“It’s kinda pretty though, isn’t it?” I say, almost apologetically, as if I had something to do with this. “The icicles and stuff.”
“It was pretty at first,” Sadie says, “the snowflakes drifting like strands of cotton candy—but now,” she stresses with disdain in her voice, kicking at the hardened ground with her hiking boots, the pair she bought last summer at that outfitter in Asheville, “it’s like a snow cone that’s been tossed into a sandbox.”
I don’t have anything to say to that. Sadie is accurate in her description, though it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it apparently does her. I’m just content to finally be out of the house, and grateful that we didn’t lose power like a lot of the homes in town. And I know that this time of year is difficult for Sadie, the middle of February when Louisville is dead and gray and frozen and it seems like spring will never get here.
“What do you want to do for Valentine’s Day?” I ask, to change the subject, and because I want to know since we haven’t discussed this yet.
“I dunno,” Sadie says, shrugs. “I don’t care, if you don’t want to do anything.”
I’d like to do something, but not a whole lot. Sadie and I don’t usually do a whole lot on Valentine’s Day anyway, not anymore at least, not after being married for as long as we have, not like those people who deluge the Internet with their Valentine’s Day celebrations, nondescript pictures of bouquets of roses and tins of candy and stuffed animals and sparkling jewelry in velvet boxes and gourmet dinners at fancy restaurants. Besides, Valentine’s Day was when I got sick, and almost died. We typically keep it simple, with a heart-shaped pizza from that place around the corner and a ten-dollar bottle of wine.
“You know, when I was in grade school,” Sadie says, as we continue to maneuver around the walking track, veering off into the crunchy snow at sections that are nothing but sheets of ice, human shoe prints and dog paw prints preserved in place and I imagine that I’m a tracker, “fourth grade, I think it was, I was in a spelling bee and got eliminated on the word valentine.”
“Really?” I say, in subtle disbelief as this was something I hadn’t heard before and I assumed I knew everything about Sadie.
“Uh-huh,” she says and nods her head. “It was down to me and this other kid, and I fucking misspelled valentine. Can you believe that? Spelled it with two a’s — v-a-l-a-n-t-i-n-e.”
“Hmm,” I say, and to try and make Sadie feel better about it, if it’s still bothering her, and I can’t exactly tell, the way she is sometimes, “well, I can kinda see that, sorta sounds like it’s got two a’s in there.” I pause briefly, to ponder it, and then I pronounce, “Valentine. Valentine.” And once more only slower, “Val-en-tine.”
“You’re being kind.” Sadie brushes me off. “I think I just choked. I let the pressure get to me. Standing up on stage, in front of the school assembly, on the verge of a spelling bee championship.”
“That is high stakes,” I tease, and I put my arm around Sadie, our thick down jackets clumsily rubbing against each other like we’re a couple of astronauts in our spacesuits. “Imagine how different your life could’ve turned out had you won that spelling bee—we might not have ever met.”
Sadie smiles, and I’m glad about that, because I like to see Sadie smile, especially when she hasn’t been happy, when I know she’s having a tough go of it, and then she plays along. “I’d be an international spelling bee champion,” she says, “traveling the world, defending my title.”
“See, everything happens for a reason,” I tell her, and pull Sadie closer to me as we proceed to navigate this rugged terrain.
“I guess things turn out the way they’re supposed to, huh?”
Sadie and I share a muted laugh, and it warms me on the inside, although outside the temperature is still well below freezing and my cheeks are starting to tingle and feel numb since I forgot my scarf and my face is exposed to the elements.
“So what do you say?” I ask Sadie, as we reach the part of the walking track where we began. “Another lap, or are you ready to go back?” and I hope that Sadie wants to go back.
“I’m ready to go back,” she says, to my relief, yet I would’ve gone another lap had Sadie wanted, if that would’ve helped.
We step off the walking track and head the several blocks straight toward our house. When we do, as if on cue, the thick canopy of gunmetal clouds that’s been hovering above us breaks apart, and this lemon yellow sun appears amidst the backdrop of a pristine azure sky, and immediately that boosts my mood and maybe it does the same for Sadie too.
“The groundhog says spring is right around the corner,” I tell her even though I have no idea what the groundhog has said, whether it saw its shadow or not.
“Mm-hmm,” Sadie says, skeptical, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” And then she adds, as we keep walking, on the street, along the side by the curb where it’s been plowed and salted and is relatively free of slush and ice and snow, “I think a heart-shaped pizza and wine are just fine.”
“Yeah,” I say to Sadie, and I take her hand, “I think so too.”
* * *
This short story is based on characters from the forthcoming collection, The Sadie Stories.