©Pete Malicki 2011
Today’s the tenth of February and it’s looking very much like I’ll be getting flowers from no one but my mother for the sixteenth consecutive Valentine’s Day. Not that I’m the least bit worried about that. The day’s nothing but pure commercialism. All the taken men out there are guilt-tripped into buying long-stemmed bloody roses and taking their ladies to expensive restaurants. The kind of restaurants where you don’t have bookings
, you make reservations
The thing is, everyone is expected to do something nice. The men really have no choice but to look after their ladies. Romance by its very definition can’t be under duress. And don’t get me started on those women who claim they hate Valentine’s Day. Those are the ones who are angriest if they don’t get anything.
Hang on, does this sound bitter? I don’t want to sound bitter. I’m not like that at all. I’ll be the first to admit I want a special day on Tuesday. I don’t care if the whole thing’s an international conspiracy run by the World Society of Broke Florists; I want to be part of it. My girlfriends are all out getting diamond-studded watches and white gold necklaces while I’m sitting at home alone, eating three bowls of ice cream and watching Desperate Housewives. Depressing. It doesn’t help that those smug bitches are all married. Every year since I turned twenty-five I’ve been so lonely on Valentine’s Day I’ve gone out and bought a cat. I have ten cats.
My desperation finally overcame what little pride any thirty-four-year-old single woman could have so I joined the internet. I’d resisted the urge to social network for years but I succumbed. I don’t want eleven cats.
After only two days of searching for everybody I could possibly think of – from school and uni friends to work colleagues to people I know from TV – I already have one hundred and eighty friends! But none of the damned men are single. Most of my girlfriends from school have three toddlers and a four-wheel drive. They’ve moved on to Phase Two of adulthood and I’m stuck in the same category as all the twenty-three-year-olds. The difference is, I’m too old to be the younger woman their husbands have an affair with.
Having had no luck with this I moved on to internet dating. Jackpot! I had three messages within an hour. One said “hi how u gone,” one was from a lesbian, and one was almost certainly from a sex offender. Three hours and eighteen dirty messages later, I realised he wasn’t a sex offender, he was just one of the millions of dumb guys who’re even worse at relationships than I am. I kept the lesbian in mind as a fall-back option.
Did you ever stop to think that Valentine’s Day shares the same acronym as venereal disease? VD. I feel like that’s not a coincidence, somehow, like, there’s a close relationship between wondering why you ever let someone near your vagina without a medical certificate and feeling obliged to put out to say thank you for the diamonds.
But again, I don’t mean to sound bitter. It’s just a hard time of year for me. I’ve had a few too many gins and it’s probably best I got myself to bed before I get really maudlin. Don’t want to be a bore but tomorrow’s the Eve of Hell for any single woman.
It’s too hot for a hot water bottle, so I nestle in in between a half dozen cats.
Before I know it it’s seven a.m. It’s Monday and I’m hungover and have to get to work. Can’t blow the day off otherwise tomorrow will be ten times more depressing. I get ready in a blur of routine and suddenly I’m sitting in the office wondering if I hate my job more than my life or my life more than my job or if that’s simply a semantics issue and the self-hate is all I should be focusing on.
No, really, I’m not like this. It’s just my time of the year. A few days and it’ll all be over.
“Sophie Wong?” someone says. I look up. “These are for you.”
The “these” this person is referring to is the most exquisite bouquet of flowers ever wrapped in green and pink cellophane and courier-delivered to an Executive Assistant in her cubicle. I thank her then shake her hand then decide to up the ante and give her a hug. She backs carefully into the elevator. I don’t care that I scared her; I got a bouquet!
The boss comes past right then and says, “Who are they for?” For one sinking second I realise they could be his, but there’s a card and it says my name and nothing else. “Me,” I reply casually. “I’m sure you’ll get some tomorrow.”
My boss smiles a wry smile and walks into his office and for another sinking second I realise they’re probably from him. But no. He’s married, and gay, and it’s not his handwriting. I know his handwriting better than anyone’s – I’m paid to forge it.
I need to know who sent these to me. There’s nothing on the card bar my name so I’m guessing there’s a follow-up email or message or wall post or tweet or some ridiculous thing like that. I log on to my work email. Nothing. Try to check my private email. Blocked. Facebook. Blocked. Twitter, RSVP, AdultFriendFinder. All blocked. Thank Job for the iPhone. I check them all.
Perverts. Dozens of perverts.
But wait, no, not nothing. In between all the messages entitled “Ride me all night long” etc on the internet dating sites, I find one with “Flower girl” in the subject line. That’s no coincidence, I’m sure. It’s impossible to see on the small screen so I try the site on my computer. Glory! IT haven’t blocked this one.
I’m not immediately repulsed by his thumbnail. Usually the turkeys on PlentyOfFish dot com aren’t wearing shirts – as though any girl’d be impressed by all those rippling, beautiful muscles – but this guy is acceptably clothed and even has a cute smile. My heart is pounding. I click on the message. All it says is “From Russia, with love.”
I read through his profile. The guy is funny! Zany and nonsensical but I actually laugh twice. There are five photos of him, each cuter than the last, and each with a funny caption. I think I’m ready to have his babies. He must’ve known we’re all suckers for that sense of humour thing. There’s a sixth photo of a girl who must be a cousin or even a sister with the caption, “In 2001, when I was a chick.” I laugh for a third time and my colleagues flash me dirty looks. Oh, right, that’s my weekly office laughter allowance used up and it’s still Monday morning.
I respond. “Hi Russia. Next time don’t ship international. Dead flowers don’t impress anyone. Soph.”
I hit send and cringe at myself. This guy is funny. What I’ve said is crap. He’ll never respond. But hang on, how did he know where I worked? My profile doesn’t so much as mention my name, let alone any traceable personal details. A dozen conspiracy theories enter my head. Someone I know playing a prank? A hacker slash stalker? Did my subconscious do all this while I thought I was asleep to make me feel less pathetic and alone?
I decide it’s a work colleague who’s set up a fake account either to play with my feelings or because they genuinely like me. I have to find out who. I get up and go to Rod’s desk. I look him in the eye. He frowns a bit at me, mumbles hello and asks if I’m alright. It’s not him. I watch Lie To Me; I can read any face. I stop by every male’s desk in the office and look them each right in the eyes, one by one. No one shows me any signs. Damn it. None of these nerds are responsible. Who sent me these flowers? Is Russia a real person?
Returning to my desk, I straight away see his new message. “I’ll make it up to you. Dinner tomorrow? Pick you up at 6.”
My heart is going berserk again. “Do I know you? The fact that you know my work and home address feels a little stalky.”
“We met a long time ago,” he writes back three minutes later. “You wouldn’t remember me. Back then I was pretty unremarkable.”
“But now you’re fantastic? Who you are?”
“Find out tomorrow.”
The bastard has me curious. Normally I’d refer this straight to the police and forget about it but here was an opportunity for me to have a romantic date on Valentine’s Day with a handsome stranger. How could I say no? “Ok” is all I write back.
Russia doesn’t respond. I checked my messages at least four hundred times that day. My boss walked past at one point and I quickly put solitaire back on the screen, but I know he caught me not doing my work.
When I get home I feel the greatest ambivalence. I am hopeful and excited about my date with Russia, but the whole thing is so suspicious. Some bastard ex-boyfriend playing a cruel prank, no doubt.
You probably won’t believe this, but I’ve actually had boyfriends every year for the last six years. Problem is, they always dump me before Christmas. My birthday’s in January so they’re probably sitting there thinking, “Christmas, birthday, Valentine’s Day. That’s three gifts in three months. I can’t commit to that!” I knew the last one was going to ditch me three weeks before he’d worked it out himself. When he told me “It isn’t you honey, it’s me,” I actually punched him in the face. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was his way of getting revenge for the knuckle I broke on his forehead.
Six gins later and I’m ready to pass out on the couch, so I check my messages one last time before I pack it in. Nothing but perverts. Russia hasn’t responded. Stupid prick, I think. I decide to block him. Click on his profile and move the cursor over to the “block user” button. A second before I terminate this new relationship forever, I notice he’s uploaded a new photo. I click on it. It’s him, holding a sign next to his face saying, “It’s a date, Sophie.”
I’m so surprised and relieved and happy I almost pass out. Whoo-hoo! I drink three celebratory gins in close succession, get up to do a wee, then pass out in the bathroom with my panties around my ankles.
For the sixteenth Valentine’s Day in a row I wake up with a monumental hangover. My landline is ringing. This will be my mother. I stumble out to the hallway and pick up. “Hi mum,” I croak. “Guess what? I have a date! I met a guy… at the supermarket and he… we… well, I won’t confuse you with the details but he’s taking me out to dinner tonight!”
“It’s Michael Lee,” says my boss. “You planning on coming in to work or are you getting those Botox injections you’ve been googling all year?”
I’m embarrassed for at least three different reasons. I try to respond but nothing comes out. He’s laughing. “Listen Sophie. Have the day off. I won’t even take any leave. Enjoy yourself, okay?”
“Okay,” I manage.
He hangs up and I break out into a swearing fit. That bastard! The implications are crystal clear: he thinks I’m so pathetic that in the unlikely event of me getting a date, I need a whole day to make myself presentable. I resist the strong urge to have a gin breakfast and stagger into my bedroom to get dressed.
Two hours later I wake up feeling human. I shower, dress and eat breakfast. I check my Facebook and five email accounts and Tweets and internet dating sites and blogs and forums and the comments on my YouTube videos. There’s nothing of interest, so I check everything another eighteen times then switch off my laptop. Russia hasn’t sent any further messages or made any cryptic updates to his profile. I look at my watch. Half-past midday. What am I going to do now? The wait will be unbearable.
I ring the animal shelter. “Hello Sophie,” the receptionist answers without waiting for my name. “We have a gorgeous Russian Blue for you this year. He was left in a box on the side of the…”
“Put it down,” I interrupt. “Put them all down. I have a date tonight!”
I hang up, feeling pretty good about myself. The doorbell rings and it’s flowers from my mum. I call her and tell her I have a date. She doesn’t believe me. I don’t even care. Who cares what she thinks? I have a date.
A date who found me online and somehow knows who I am and where I live and work.
I suddenly realise how bad this looks. No, not how it looks, how it is. Who the heck is this guy? Is he going to stab or rape me? This is the stupidest thing I’ve done in my life. I’m about to have dinner with a stalker. Am I really this lonely and desperate?
Yes, yes I am. I comb the house for weapons, searching every drawer and cupboard for something I can use to protect myself. There are no guns or mace canisters anywhere to be seen and the baseball bat doesn’t fit in my handbag. I’m terrified of taking a knife, as I’m very likely to slice off one of my own fingers. The best I can manage is a salad fork, the tines of which I spend the next three hours sharpening with the knife sharpener. I wrap it in a tissue and put it underneath my purse.
I log on to my five hundred online accounts and discover nothing of any interest. Russia has not only not messaged me, he’s deleted his account. I become even more suspicious. If he murders me, how will anyone find him? I decide I have cancer and can’t go out tonight – but I have no way of contacting him to cancel!
Let’s cut a long story short here by summarising the time until six pm with one word: paranoia.
When the doorbell finally rings, my heart is racing and I’m hyperventilating and it’s a struggle to make it out of the living room. I take a deep breath, then twenty shallow breaths to keep from falling over, then open the front door feeling blindingly dizzy.
There is Russia, well-dressed and offering me a single red rose. He is my height, slim, radiating pleasantness. “Hi Sophie.” His voice is a soft murmur. “You’re probably wondering how I know so much about you.” I manage to nod. “We actually went to the same school. You were three years below me. I saw your photo online and hunted you down through a mutual friend who I swore on the Bible I would never name.”
Something about his demeanour makes me relax. “What’s your name?” I ask.
“Dan. Dan Hunsford.”
He walks me to the car and away we go.
As our date progresses, I quickly get the impression that Dan Hansford has no intention of killing, raping, abducting, scamming or religiously converting me. He is a perfect gentleman who drives at the speed limit, opens doors for me, takes me somewhere fancy and orders me lobster. Polite, charming and perfect in every way.
Naturally, this makes me suspicious. Suspicious of what Dan’s real motive is and suspicious of Murphy’s Law, which dictates I will screw him, wake up, see the photo of my grandma on his bedside table and realise we’re cousins.
After dinner, he drives me home and walks me to the door and I badly want to take him inside and shag him. The angel on my shoulder screams “Do it!” in my ear. We stop on the threshold.
“Thank you, Dan, for an amazing evening.”
He smiles warmly. “Thanks for coming. I was scared I’d scared you.”
“No. Well, a little. But luckily for you I’m desperate enough to go on dates with complete strangers.”
There is an awkward pause. A “beat,” as they’d call it at the theatre.
“So what’s wrong with you?” I ask, instantly regretting my tactlessness.
“What’s wrong with me?”
“I mean, well, you’re just so perfect. You’re handsome, charming, funny. If there was nothing wrong with you you’d be married to a supermodel already.”
Dan smiles, sadly this time. “Before I answer that, may I kiss you?”
I don’t actually say “Hell yes” out loud, but from the way I lean forwards with my tongue sticking out the comment would be fairly superfluous. We kiss passionately and I run my fingers through his hair. I’m inches away from clubbing him and dragging him to bed when he pushes me gently back.
“I was born a woman,” he says.
There it is.
There’s the “something” I knew was coming.
It takes a while to formulate, but my first coherent thought is, “At least I didn’t just snog my auntie.”
Dan looks at me with such defiant embarrassment I know he’s not making this up. It’s hard to explain, but when someone tells you such a deeply personal fact about themselves, there’s a look about them which you could never fake.
“I’m sorry,” Dan says, and he turns to leave.
Instinct makes me reach for his shoulder. His slender, feminine shoulder. “Don’t you think you should’ve told me?” I ask.
He avoids eye contact. “I put it on my profile.”
“Yeah, but you have to admit it looked very much like a joke. Not much of what you said was…”
“But why?” he suddenly snaps, making me start. “Why should I tell you? You think I should make this the first thing I tell anyone I meet? ‘Hi, I’m Dan, I used to be a chick, but I always felt like a man trapped in a woman’s body so I got my tits chopped off and take hormones regularly. And it would take me all night to tell you what they did down there.’”
I’m taken aback. After an evening of politeness and charm, this outburst – while warranted – comes like a slap in the face.
“Why did you tell me at all?” I ask, watching tears roll down his cheeks and fighting back my own.
He looks me in the eye. I can barely hold this gaze. “I wanted to sleep with you. Believe me, this would be far more awkward if the first you heard of my sex change was when I use the pump.”
Now he refuses to look away. I bite my lip, frown. Is it gay to do it with a guy who used to be a girl? Is it so bad to be gay?
No, I could never do this. This person before me is a tranny; not a he nor a she, but an it. How emotionally retarded and weak must it be to have its gender changed. I am suddenly filled with bile. It kissed me, knowing I’d like it, trying to trick me into feeling something. The bastard. The utter, utter bastard.
I unlock the front door, step inside, and slam it behind me.
Three seconds later I open the door and say, “Do you drink gin?”