Saturday, 11 February 2012

Valentine

I get the call from Philip just as I leave the office.

“Say if it’s too much hassle, but is there anywhere you could stop on the way home and get an onion?”

“An onion? Just an onion?”

“Yep, I’ve got everything else, but I need an onion.”.

Ten minutes later I'm in the huge supermarket on the outskirts of town, on a fleeting shopping stop between the town where I work and the village where I live, between the day at work and the evening at home.  An in-between visit to what feels like an in-between world.

People walk slowly, silently, sullenly; leaning heavily on their shopping trollies. It’s mostly single adults. Maybe like me, they're popping in for a forgotten item on the way home, or perhaps they're just putting off returning to an empty home, reluctant to re-heat the meal-for-one they’ve thrown in the trolley,  that nobody sees, and nobody will share.

It’s a bit of a pied-piper world, no brightly clothed children careering around, no shrieking or crying. No laughing. There aren't any old people either; I guess they’re indoors keeping warm, away from the lightly falling snow. I remember how my Dad, when he got older, used to have a four o’clock curfew. It drove us mad that wherever we went with him, he always wanted to be back indoors by 4 o'clock. I couldn't understand the urgency then, his need to get back and sort out his dinner before the early evening news.

You’d never have found him amongst the after-work Tesco shoppers. Not then. But I know there was an earlier time when he was one of the people stopping on the way home to make sure there was food for his daughters' dinner. Picking up a pack of Findus Crispy pancakes, or a Fray Bentos tinned pie – quick to prepare fuel, for someone who’s found themselves suddenly having to take on the cooking, but who never really learned how. I wish I'd got to cook more meals for him myself.

I've only gone in for an onion, but the shop’s too big and I don’t know where anything is. I find myself  wandering aimlessly, gazing up at the signs above the aisles, falling into the trap of wondering if maybe I should get some tea and bread while I’m there.

I turn a corner and suddenly there’s a whole aisle of Valentine gifts. Chocolate hearts, fake red roses, balloon-bearing teddies. Between the purple cellophane wrapping and the scarlet red tinfoil, I see LOVE written in gaudy shades of pink, in a dozen different fonts. Row upon row; I can’t imagine how they'd ever clear these shelves, not even if every single shopper for the next five days bought a Valentine’s present. Not even if they gave them away free at the checkout.

I've never quite bought into Valentine’s day – the idea that someone might tell us how and when to love. And when I see the startling rows of coral, fuchsia and rose, I’m more glad than usual that it’s not something we do. I know I never want to be the sort of person who thinks they must buy a love token, and then throw it into their trolley with the cat food and the washing powder.

I walk on until I reach the vegetables. The green and brown hues are a welcome sight, even under the fluorescent lighting they remind me of the real world outside, and there at the end of the aisle are the onions. I take my time choosing; it seems only fair, if he's doing the cooking, that I pick the best I can.

In the end I buy three.




41 comments:

Philip said...

What greater love hath a woman for a man, than that she brings him onions when he craves them.

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Sounds like he's cooking...now THAT' love.

Chantel said...

"It’s a bit of a pied-piper world..." Such a lovely snatch of life you've captured, humanity and its vulnerability. All inspired by onions--one of my favorite things!

I do so love your writing style...

ND Mitchell said...

Loved this. It's amazing how everyday things can send you down different "aisles" in your memory. Your writing made me remember a Carol Ann Duffy poem called "Valentine" that I taught to my high school class a few years back. If you haven't read it, it's worth a read...Very impressive that your husband was doing the cooking too. There's a lesson in there for us men also...
David

Raymond Alexander Kukkee said...

An onion, an onion, my kingdom for an onion -and a woman that would so thoughtfully out pick three of the best on the way home, especially after she passes the chocolate, and dreams...
Beautifully written, Sharon!

Robbie Grey said...

I'm sure there's somewhere in the world where the giving of three onions is amongst the deepest signs of affection.

KristyInTheCorner said...

You portrayed the world so wonderfully here.

theplantgardener said...

we don't buy into valentines either. come to think of it we are anti hallmark holiday people.

lovely post

savannah said...

smiling here, sugar! perfect post on so many levels. xoxoxoxo

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Wonderful writing. And your description of the colorful Valentine aisle put me in mind of the grim windows of dogs and bears described by MLS a few days ago. We do Valentine's day as another excuse for vast quantities of chocolate, though we really need no excuses.

Liz said...

I must say I laughed. Whenever I get a call at work late in the day, I know hubby's about to say, "Do you need to pick up any groceries?" at which point I sigh and say, "What do you need."

Happy to report that the kids finished their classmates' valentine cards this afternoon and we're done for another year.

Leisa said...

Love this. Lovely wordcrafting. :)

The Elephant's Child said...

Cooking for someone and/or buying the ingredients they need spells love in capitals with exclamation points to me. Recognising the innate sadness in shopping for one sings loudly to me of your sensitivity. Thank you.

terlee said...

Three golden orbs...what more could anyone ask for?

Loved the post--sad, sweet, poignant.

supermac said...

Onions and Valentine's, who would've thought it would work? But in the end, it sounded romantic.

Susan Cooper said...

Valentines and onions ... Humm. Both are sweet when placed in the hand of an artisan, be it a cook or a writer. You did well with this post, Susan

steven said...

i could read books of your writing . . . really i could!!! steven

Young at Heart said...

an onion by any other name would still make me cry in the hell of a huge supermarket....... bravo!!

Andy said...

I, too, was reminded of the Carol Ann Duffy poem.

Nessa Roo said...

I love what Young at Heart's comment. I happen to collect a paycheck by working in a "Hell of a Supermarket", and I think it's a perfect description.
And as for the Valentines, you'd be shocked how many of those are sold on Valentine's Night, two hours before the store closes. It's a madhouse. Personally, I'd rather get the onions.

Jayne said...

Now that's true love, risking well-being to enter a foreign supermarket in search of onions. A mission of love.

I get trapped every time. I'd have left w/a basket full of valentine chocolates (oh, wait, I did leave with those today!) and whatever else catches my eye--which all too often is too much.

I love the bit about your dad's curfew. Not one of us is immune from getting into our own peculiar routines. :)

Bobby Stevenson said...

Love is knowing your onions, Sharon. A smashing story x

Zainab Ummer Farook said...

More proof that love is not about expensive dinners at fancy restaurants and all that sort of thing!

Don't you think it sad that even love is being commercialized nowadays?

Mr London Street said...

I love this. There's no drab dehumanising light quite like that of a big windowless supermarket, and little quite as humanising as the way you write about it.

Yumna said...

Thanks for dropping by on my blog...means a lot :) I read this one yesterday and didn't comment but it resonated with me...I thought of this piece a few times. My mom use to say that when you get married, the ways of showing love change. I never really understood that until recently. Nothing is more romantic than laundry done and folded neatly when I get home :)

Cle Reveries said...

...it's always pure and wonderful love!

Pat said...

There is nothing on earth that can replace an onion and i like to think the fact you bought him two extra is as meaningful as a box of chocs.
One can regard V day as a rip-off or as a day to remember how - if the cap fits - lucky one is and make sure the other half knows it.
Both are valid.
No prizes for guessing which way yours truly plumps.

Pearl said...

Looked at in the right light, three onions not only vaguely resembles a heart but can be seen as actual proof of it.

Pearl

Joe Pereira said...

Im of the same opinion as you when it comes to Valentine's day - beautifully written Sharon :)

Sharon Longworth said...

What an absolutely smashing bunch of comments - thank you all.

Philip - I can only aspire to always knowing what you crave and braving whatever mad environment it hides in to bring it to your door...

mybabyjohn/Delores - I know! I am indeed a lucky woman.

Chantel - thank you so much. And as for onions - well what's not to love?

David - thank you. I know the Valentine poem very well. I had it in mind when I wrote this, but when I went back and actually read it, it seemed much darker than I remembered. Now that's the skill of a proper poet - to add layers to a poem that you'll go back and peel away.

Sharon Longworth said...

Raymond - thank you sir! Now there's a debate to be had - an onion or a horse - which would be better to swap your kingdom for???

Robbie - oh I do hope so. And if not, then there definitely should be!

Kristy - thank you.

theplantgardener - 'anti hallmark holiday people' - a wonderful phrase, and one I might just have to borrow at some point...

Savannah - nothing nicer than thinking I've made you smile!

Sharon Longworth said...

Blissed-out Grandma - I think MLS' writing about the dogs and bears was absolutely lovely - and haunting. I wonder if it was still in my thoughts as I wrote this.

Liz - Classmates valentine cards?? that brings an extra dimension of horror to the whole thing!

Leisa - thank you - really glad you liked it.

The Elephants child - I know I'm a lucky woman, on more than one level.

Terlee - I'm not sure where those three golden orbs might be placed on a list of must-have valentine gifts!

Sharon Longworth said...

Supermac - onions and valentines - now that's almost the opening line to a song...

Susan - valentines and onions - I'd never thought of the sweetness - but now I'll just have to - thank you!

Steven - thank you so much - that's just a smashing thing to say - and I'm very flattered.

Young at Heart - 'the hell of a huge supermarket' - ain't that the truth?

Andy - it's a very fine poem isn't it?

Sharon Longworth said...

Nessa Roo - the very idea of that mad two hours before the store closes - hideous!

Jayne - I think I'm as easily trapped by the pointless purchase as anyone else - I probably just steel myself against it more around Valentines.

Bobby - 'knowing your onions' that's an interesting saying - almost the title of a story, if I could throw down a challenge...

Zainab - I'm resisting all temptations to be commercialised!

MLS - and little quite as lovely as seeing a comment from you pop in my in-box. Thank you.

Sharon Longworth said...

Yumna - I had a great visit to your blog - small snippets but full of thought provoking words. I love your mum's suggestion that the ways of showing love change.

Cle - thank you - I really appreciate your positive comments and support.

Pat - I love that your comments always leave me with another perspective to think about - thank you!

Pearl - ok, I'm squinting to see the heart-shape, and I can just about get it....

Joe - thank you!

Bill Dameron said...

Today I bought a single rose for Paul. The lady at the checkout said "A single rose says as much, if not more, than a dozen." She was right on so many levels, but most importantly to Paul a single rose says I am thinking about you, but I am thinking about our future together more.

Three onions, a single rose, a dozen roses, we all know what says love to our loves. Happy Valentine's day, Sharon.

Peaceful Warrior said...

Beneath the words falling randomly at tangents is a love and an understanding of how many of us feel and contemplate life. Your Hubby is a lucky man, your love takes you into mayhem for a lonely onion, but creativity takes over.
I smiled, remembering myself wandering Tescos last night in the wee small hours searching for nothing in particular, but leaving with solitary treats.
Well done, great writing flair.
P.W.

Lucy said...

I really enjoyed reading this Sharon. Touching and funny and thoughtful. (And I completely get the 4 o'clock curfew thing!)

Wally B said...

It never ceases to amaze me how you can craft a story from such ordinary things. It is no coincidence you chose 3 onions.
"omne trium perfectum"

Jennifer said...

I love how you take seemingly normal tasks and turn them into something beautiful without being overly Romantic about it. An onion is just an onion, but you have fun along the way.

That's what I love.

whynotpat said...

I enjoyed this! So much so that I find myself smiling as I reach the end. Thank you for keeping me company during quiet times when all I wanna do is read wonderful stories like yours. Just lovely.