Sophie’s face faded into the grey winter light of the sitting room. She dozed in the armchair that Joe had bought for her on their fortieth anniversary. The room was warm and quiet. Outside it was snowing lightly.
At a quarter past one the mailman turned the corner onto Allen Street. He was behind on his route, not because of the snow, but because it was Valentine’s Day and there was more mail than usual. He passed Sophie’s house without looking up. Twenty minutes later he climbed back into his truck and drove off.
Sophie stirred when she heard the mail truck pull away, then took off her glasses and wiped her mouth and eyes with the handkerchief she always carried in her sleeve. She pushed herself up using the arm of the chair for support, straightened slowly and smoothed the lap of her dark green housedress.
Her slippers made a soft, shuffling sound on the bare floor as she walked to the kitchen. She stopped at the sink to wash the two dishes she had left on the counter after lunch. Then she filled a plastic cup halfway with water and took her pills. It was one forty-five.
There was a rocker in the sitting room by the front window. Sophie eased herself into it. In half an hour the children would be passing by on their way home from school. Sophie waited, rocking and watching the snow.
The boys came first, as always, running and calling out things Sophie could not hear. Today they were making snowballs as they went, throwing them at one another. The girls dilly-dallied after the boys, in twos and threes, cupping their mittened hands over their mouths and giggling. Sophie wondered if they were telling each other about the valentine’s cards they had received at school. One pretty girl with long brown hair stopped and pointed to her face behind the drapes, suddenly self-conscious. When she looked out again, the boys and girls were gone. It was cold by the window, but she stayed there watching the snow cover the children’s footprints.
A florist’s truck turned onto Allen Street. Sophie followed it with her eyes. It was moving slowly. Twice it stopped and started again. Then the driver pulled up in front of Mrs. Mason’s house next door and parked. Who would be sending Mrs. Mason flowers? Sophie wondered. Her daughter in Wisconsin? Or her brother? No, her brother was very ill. It was probably her daughter. How nice of her.
Flowers made Sophie think of Joe and, for a moment, she let the aching memory fill her. Tomorrow was the fifteenth. Eight months since his death.
The flower man was knocking at Mrs. Mason’s front door. He carried a long white and green box and a clipboard. No-one seemed to be answering. Of course! It was Friday – Mrs. Mason quilted at the church on Friday afternoons. The delivery man looked around, then started walking toward Sophie’s house.
Sophie shoved herself out of the rocker and stood close to the curtains. The man knocked. Her hands trembled as she straightened her hair. She reached her front hall on the third knock.
“Yes?” she said, peering around a slightly opened door. “Good afternoon, ma’am,” the man said loudly. “Would you take a delivery for your neighbour?”
“Yes,” Sophie answered, pulling the door wide open. “Where would you like me to put them?” the man asked politely as he strode in.
“In the kitchen, please. On the table.” The man looked big to Sophie. She could hardly see his face between his green cap and full beard. Sophie was glad he left quickly, and she locked the door after him.
The box was as long as the kitchen table. Sophie drew near to it and bent over to read the lettering: “NATALIE’S Flowers for Every Occasion.” The rich smell of roses engulfed her. She closed her eyes and took slower breaths, imagining yellow roses. Joe had always chosen yellow. “To my sunshine,” he would say, presenting the extravagant bouquet. He would laugh delightedly, kiss her on the forehead, then take her hands in his and sing to her “You Are My Sunshine.”
It’s was five o’clock when Mrs. Mason knocked at Sophie’s front door. Sophie was still at the kitchen table. The flower box was now open though, and she held the roses on her lap, swaying slightly and stroking the delicate yellow petals. Mrs. Mason knocked again, but Sophie did not hear her, and after several minutes the neighbour left.
Sophie rose a little while later, laying the flowers on the kitchen table. Her cheeks were flushed. She dragged a stepstool across the kitchen floor and lifted a white porcelain vase from the top corner cabinet. Using a drinking glass, she filled the vase with water, then tenderly arranged the roses and greens, and carried them into the sitting room.
She was smiling as she reached the middle of the room. She turned slightly and began to dip and twirl in small slow circles. She stepped lightly, gracefully, around the sitting room, into the kitchen, down the hall, back again. She danced till her knees grew weak, and then she dropped into the armchair and slept.
At a quarter past six, Sophie awoke with a start. Someone was knocking on the back door this time. It was Mrs. Mason.
“Hello, Sophie,” Mrs. Mason said. “How are you? I knocked at five and was a little worried when you didn’t come. Were you napping?” She chattered as she wiped her snowy boots on the welcome mat and stepped inside. “I just hate snow, don’t you? The radio says we might have six inches by midnight, but you can never trust them, you know. Do you remember last winter when they predicted four inches and we hand twenty-one? Twenty-one! And they said we’d have a mild winter this year. Ha! I don’t think it’s been over zero in weeks. Do you know my oil bill was $263 last month? For my little house!”
Sophie was only half-listening. She had remembered the roses suddenly and was turning hot with shame. The empty flower box was behind her on the kitchen table. What would she say to Mrs. Mason?
“I don’t know how much longer I can keep paying the bills. If only Alfred, God bless him, had been as careful with money as your Joseph. Joseph! Oh, good heavens! I almost forgot about the roses.”
Sophie’s cheeks burned. She began to stammer an apology, stepping aside to reveal the empty box.
“Oh, good,” Mrs. Mason interrupted. “You put the roses in water. Then you saw the card. I hope it didn’t startle your to see Joseph’s handwriting. Joseph had asked me to bring you the roses the first year, so I could explain for him. He didn’t want to alarm you. His ‘Rose Trust,’ I think he called it. He arranged it with the florist last April. Such a good man, your Joseph…”
But Sophie had stopped listening. Her heart was pounding as she picked up the small white envelope she had missed earlier. It had been lying beside the flower box all this time. With trembling hands, she removed the card.
To my sunshine,” it said. “I love you with all my heart. Try to be happy when you think of me. Love, Joe.”