It was their love of John Donne that had brought them together, Larry recalled. While they had been attending the same seminar group on Renaissance Poetry, he had secretly admired her, with her long dark hair and stunning good looks. Yes, too good for someone like him, he had thought. Unattainable, like a goddess!
But then a miracle happened. Sandra had been rapt by his analysis of Donne’s “The Broken Heart” in one seminar, especially when he quoted the final couplet from memory:
My rags of heart can like, wish, and adore,
But after one such love, can love no more.
She had approached him afterwards saying how much she’d like to “discuss” Donne’s poetry with him as he was her favorite poet. This was the genesis of their weekly Friday evening meetings in the snug little lounge bar in a pub off-campus, well away from the noisy student watering holes. They would talk about a poem each week, over a couple of half pints of lager, both rounds on Larry. They would sit, iPads in hand, poring over the lines on their Kindle editions of the collected poems.
They would stay an hour and then go their separate ways, she meeting her girl friends and he meeting his mates Alex and Henry. They would invariably tease him with blunt questions along the lines of ‘Have you fucked her yet?’ but Larry knew their macho bravado was just a front to hide their envy, for they were all virgins and girlfriendless. He would smile knowingly and refuse to answer, secretly proud of his apparent conquest.
Larry had recently mesmerized Sandra with his critique of “The Ecstasy”, his masterful explanation of how the poem makes the lovers’ bodies merely the vehicle for the meeting of their souls. He had even pushed his interpretation to include Plato’s idea of the spiritual preceding the physical, and that true lovers first meet thus. She had got an alpha for her subsequent essay on the poem, which he knew was chock-full of his ideas. Surely she had by now recognized his superior mind and that they were destined to be soul mates?
Indeed, she had begun to confide in him, saying she was so grateful that she could talk to a male whose mind was not “just on one thing”. She talked about her family problems, her ambitions of becoming a journalist, and any small matters that weighed upon her mind. Larry was the listener, but he had become emboldened enough to share some of his poems with her, work he had shown to no one else. They were sentimental lyrics about true love, with trite metaphors about roses (dead or alive according to the emotion), the sun and moon, which he had sent off to various literary magazines as yet without any success.
“They’re beautiful,” she had said, encouraging him in his mission to become a poet.
When they left the pub, Bob, the landlord with the world-weary but kind eyes would say “Goodnight, sir” and “Goodnight, miss”. Larry and Sandra would smile saying, “See you next week!” As far as Bob knew, they were dating and this quiet hour in his pub was just the start of their evening together.
Oh, if only it was, thought Larry.
He had suspected that she had had a couple of one-night stands over the semester, but what girl didn’t these days? Hell, if he was as attractive as Sandra he would do the same. But that wasn’t love, and he had purposely held back from suggesting a physical relationship in his quest to woo her properly. Sex could wait.
Yet this couldn’t go on forever, Larry had reasoned. He had to make a move sometime, and that time was now.
Larry was sitting in the bar at 6:55 with his half pint of Heineken, waiting for Sandra to show up. She usually arrived a little after seven, when he would promptly go to the bar and order her a half of Stella Artois, bringing it back to their table, where she would be looking at the poem they had arranged to discuss on her iPad.
This evening was to be one of high significance in his life.The omens were good, he thought. Today was Valentine’s Day and the fact that she had not cancelled their meeting led Larry to believe she might share his feeling that it was so ‘right’ for them to be together on this special day.
By his side lay a package. Wrapped in the crimson paper was a book, a hardcover edition of “The Complete Works of John Donne” which he had ordered from Amazon for this occasion. Inside the book was a simple card with a red rose on the cover. When she opened the card she would see the lines he had copied from the last Donne poem they had studied:
Twice or thrice had I loved thee,
Before I knew thy face or name;
So in a voice, so in a shapeless flame,
Angels affect us oft, and worshipped be.
It was 7:10. She was later than she had ever been. Larry began to become apprehensive. He caught Bob the landlord’s eye at the bar and smiled uncomfortably. It would be embarrassing to be stood up on this night of nights. Well, even though they weren’t actually dating, the fact that Sandra didn’t show up would make Bob doubt whether they were actually girlfriend and boyfriend.
At 7:15, Larry was beginning to think she wouldn’t be coming. He took out his cell phone to check if she had sent him a message. Nothing.
Then, he heard her voice and his heart leapt up.
And there she was walking towards him. She looked stunningly beautiful. She was dressed to kill, wearing a faux fur coat, a short black skirt, and had put on more make-up than usual. ‘All for me!’ thought Larry, who was ready to claim his prize, his love!
He got up to go to the bar for her half pint of Stella, but she motioned for him to sit down with words that would be imprinted on his mind for the rest of his days.
“It’s OK, Larry, Rick’s getting my drink.”
Larry looked towards the bar. He saw a tall handsome young man ordering drinks. Within a minute the man was walking to their table with a pint of bitter for himself, and what looked like a vodka and orange for Sandra.
“Larry, I’d like to introduce you to Rick,” said Sandra.“
Uh, hi,” said Larry weakly as he stood up to shake hands. His hand was crushed by the stud’s handshake. He recognized Rick as the captain of the university’s rugby team, an engineering post grad student. ‘Engineering!’ thought Larry. ‘How could she!’ Then he remembered the package next to him and as he sat down again he quickly fumbled it under his seat.
“Sandy’s told me all about you,” said Rick. “It’s so great for her to have someone to share her love of literature with.”
“Um, yeah,” said Larry.
“I studied Shakespeare in high school but couldn’t understand a bloody word!” Rick continued.
“Don’t worry, Rick, I can help you out anytime,” said Sandra laughing.
“No thanks, Sandy! I think I’ll give that a miss,” said Rick.
The couple had evidently had a few before arriving, and were quite tipsy. Larry bravely struggled through the ensuing small talk, and even managed to buy the next round, another pint of bitter for Rick and a double gin and tonic for Sandra.
They remained quite oblivious of Larry’s broken heart, and at eight o’clock blithely took their leave.
“We’re off for our Valentine’s dinner, aren’t we Sandy?” said Rick.
“Well, enjoy yourselves,” said Larry.
“Yeah, see you in class!” said Sandra as they departed hand in hand, leaving Larry a pathetic solitary figure with his empty half pint glass in front of him.
He just couldn’t go to meet Alex and Henry just yet. He took his package and went forlornly up to the bar.
“What can I get you, sir?” asked Bob.
“A whisky, please,” said Larry.
Bob poured him a double.
“This one’s on the house,” he said.
Ian has an MA in English from Oxford University. He lives in Taiwan with his family and is a high school teacher there. He has had short stories and poems published in Schlock! Webzine, Short-story.me, Anotherealm, Under the Bed, A Story In 100 Words, Friday Flash Fiction, Dead Snakes, 1947 A Literary Journal, and in various anthologies. He is an Affiliate Member of the Horror Writers Association.
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