february 14th

the stores are filled with pink and red — 
they’re filled with hearts
and teddy bears
and teddy bears holding hearts.

the grocery store serves as the harried,
last minute stop for
the husband
on february 14th, 4:45 p.m.

he realizes he hasn’t made reservations.

at home,
his wife tries on several outfits
for the big night out.
she reserved the babysitter on january 9th
at five-oh-five p.m.

she wonders where
he’ll be taking her for dinner — 
that will determine whether she pairs
the slacks with the sexy silk blouse
or the long skirt
with the chiffon.

he makes a few perfunctory calls
to her favorite places:
booked,
all of them booked.

he decides to make
a romantic dinner at home
and buys two lobster tails.

he doesn’t know how to cook lobster.

he looks it up on his phone.
he frantically searches the gourmet food aisle
for a boxed risotto.

she finalizes the cute card
and signs it
all my love, always

he decides on the white teddy bear
holding the small heart
filled with cherry chocolates.

he’s not sure if she likes
cherry chocolates.

he knows that he likes them,
but can’t remember if she does.

they have been married 16 years.

what he does know:

she loves denzel washington
and hates horror movies.
when she drinks beer,
she gets the burps.

she can’t drink tequila.
he knows what her face looks like
in the third stage of labor,
he knows how to comfort her when she’s afraid.

he knows when to take the kids out
so she has a day to herself.
he knows when her period is due
and knows she likes him to bring her
french fries and a chocolate shake.

when he learned her father was a violent drunk
who never came home after work,
he stopped drinking almost completely,
and comes home from work every night by 5:15
so she never has to worry.

he cleans out the cat box
because it triggers her asthma.

he doesn’t like the cat.

he knows that when they fight,
he can’t ever raise his voice
or she will have ptsd, and
if he’s the first to say i love you,
she melts into forgiveness.

he knows she’s scared of wasps
so he’s vigilant about spraying every year.
she really likes it when he defers to her on
what movie they’ll see.

he knows what it means to hold her
after her mother died,
knows that when she vomits,
she pees her pants a little.

that she is most beautiful after sex
and when she’s still drowsy in the morning.

he puts the teddy bear back on the shelf.
he puts the lobster tails
back in the frozen food department.

he grabs a frozen pizza.

he hopes that saving her from cooking
and everything else will be enough.

he knows it won’t be

and he wishes he knew how he could
make it up to her.

she puts the final touches on her makeup
and can’t wait to see his face
when he opens his gift.
she justifies the cost of the new laptop
by telling herself that
valentine’s day is
about showing appreciation
for the ones we love.

she hopes he likes it.

she hopes he got reservations at renauldo’s.
she wonders if he forgot again this year.

he hopes that loving her every day
is a good enough gift for her
and that it fits her perfectly,
like a ring
or a pair of silky pajamas.

she waits by the door, heart sinking with the fear
of disappointment.

he walks into the house, heart sinking with the fear
of disappointing.

their eyes meet
but neither of them speak.

they’ve been married for 16 years.

he brought her flowers — 
he remembered.

she looks at his face — 
and she remembers.

and so they love.

— j.a. carter-winward

— j.a. carter-winward