Today is Valentine’s – the day of overcrowded restaurants, overpriced roses, and oversized pink cards.
Yeah, I’m not much of a romantic.
Still, that doesn’t mean that the essence of the day is bad. Even if it might be associated with a martyred saint or a Roman holiday honouring a she-wolf that involved blood sacrifice and lashings.
Love, that pure altruistic feeling, is rare and powerful, and therefore it’s hard to write about without descending into trite cliché.
So, I will tell you a story.
Once there was a woman who didn’t believe in love. It sounded dramatic when she declared so to her friends, and they – being young and single – agreed with her. They raised their glasses in toast to unlove on Valentine’s Day, and laughed at cute bears holding hearts and plush satin cards.
“Tacky”; “Sentimental”; “Commercial”; were their pronouncements as they sucked back beers in the crowded red-ballooned bar.
Cupid, elbow on the counter and a cold Guinness waiting for his satisfaction, shook his head and turned to observe the group. To his eyes their past bitter disappointments and ruined expectations hung around them like shades. One of the spirits stuck its tongue out at Cupid; another raised a fist and jeered.
This will not do, he thought.
He reached for his pint, drank a draft, and replaced it.
Cupid bent and rifled through his quiver. The arrows all had different heads. His favourite, the Blockhead as he called it, was often necessary for men. Its aggressive blades could penetrate a sturdy defence. Humans could armour themselves against love – usually a ghost of past rejection jumped in front of the shot. A Blockhead could hammer through a revenant, but as a result they tended to punch into the target. Those subjected to a Blockhead sometimes became obsessive and controlling.
There were the light needle-sharp One-Night-Stands. Usually, they didn’t possess lasting power, but were good for temporary relief. The curved twisted blades of the Diamond-Heart allowed the arrow to drill through several interposing shades of the cruellest hurt.
On this occasion, however, Cupid reached for True-Love. He didn’t have many, and he saved them for special situations because they were tricky to fire. This arrow could not penetrate any ghost of the past, so it had to slip in while they weren’t watching. It lodged in the heart and dissolved instantly, an antidote to pain, and an attractant to love. It would destroy her ghosts completely.
Cupid considered the young woman and gauged the shades fluttering around her. He picked up his blindfold and tied it on. The noise of the bar and its customers faded. He notched the arrow on his bow. A meditative state enfolded him, and he melted from the sight of all beings, corporeal and incorporeal.
The target attracts my arrow; I send it to its destiny.
Her heart was his heart, pumping with life and blood.
He released the arrow, and pulled off the blindfold. The shades of the woman’s past never noticed the arrow, but they felt its impact. They turned and glared at Cupid. He saluted them, and grinned.
The woman sat, quiet, a small frown on her forehead as if trying to listen to an unfamiliar whisper. After a few moments she shrugged, and joined in the conversation again.
Cupid turned back to his drink. Soon, she would open up to the possibility of love again, and this time it would be deep, mysterious, and lasting.
He tapped the barmaid’s shoulder to get her attention – most of the time he blended in – and ordered another pint.
Cupid picked up his quiver of arrows and regarded the crowd: so many people searching for love, and so many of them damaged by the past and fearful of love’s existence. Behind him the pint landed on the counter, and the barmaid promptly forgot about him. Without his help these people would remain haunted and alone.
Cupid sized up his targets, and smiled. I love my job, he thought.
© Maura McHugh; Feb 2008.