Woodvale Hills, Wisconsin
February 14, 1931
Rebecca Gene secured the handkerchief around the brown hair she piled atop her head as she assessed the trash can full of compost materials she needed to set in the alley. The garbageman would be by for his Saturday rounds shortly and she’d lugged it as far as the steps that led down to the gravel area that ran between the rear of the houses. Now to drag it down to alley level.
The cold air did little to stop the smells of rotting garbage, mulch, and compost wafting in the air. The less time she spent here, the better. She gripped the handles and pulled. The bottom slipped down the fist step, precariously tipping towards her head. Usually she didn’t fill it so full. Then again, she also opted to clean out her garden on Valentine’s Day.
Putting her shoulder against its bulk to keep it from sliding further without her in control, she bent her knees and wrapped both arms around its middle. Carefully, she eased it down the next step. It worked! Three more to go. She stretched her foot behind her, blindly searching for the step, just as a rumble came from her right. The garbageman.
Her right heel missed the step. Her other shoe caught a patch of ice instead of firm footing. Down she tumbled, into a pile of dirty slush at the edge of the alleyway. The splat sent muddy snow showering around her. The trash can followed, landing on her torso before spilling its disgusting contents all over her face.
Then, as if her mortification could reach new levels, she heard her name voiced by none other than Abe Holland. The most sought after, eligible bachelor in their little town of Woodvale Hills.
Abe barely took the time to shift the garbage truck into park, let alone turn off the ignition or shut the driver’s side door, as he raced to Rebecca’s side.
“Are you all right?” He knelt in the muddy slush beside her. “Tell me you’re conscious.”
“I’m fine,” she said with a grunt, then rolled the trash can off her person. She was fully encased in brown muck except for a merely dirty line longways down her middle. If he hadn’t spotted what looked like tear grooves on her cheeks, he might have laughed.
“Hand up?” He held out his.
She ignored it, pushing to her feet all on her own. He’d heard of her reputation as an independent woman. Hadn’t much experience seeing it for himself since they didn’t frequent the same circles. His being made up of women trying to get in his good graces for one reason or another despite his insistence on not being serious about marrying any of them. The very reason he never chose a Valentine’s Day date. Much to the women’s annoyance.
“Can I help?” He held out his hands as non-threatening as he could.
She glanced past him at the garbage truck, a question lighting her eyes.
“Ah.” He glanced down at his now-muddy pants. “Mrs. Quince had her baby this morning, so I promised Jacob I’d finish his rounds today since I had no appointments at the law office. Man was giddy as a child over becoming a father.”
“I didn’t realize you were acquainted.” She tossed the refuse that had fallen out of the trashcan back inside. The Quinces won the garbage contract several years ago and fed their pigs from the compost. Neither were exceptionally outgoing and, honestly, Abe rarely saw Jacob outside of church.
“We collided at the florist shop.” He snapped his fingers, remembering the bouquet. Some lout got jilted and refused to take his gigantic bouquet of three dozen red roses. Said he’d send a vinegar valentine instead. The florist, Mrs. Gentry, didn’t feel comfortable reselling them, so she gave them to Abe even though he’d already sent bouquets to his mother and sister and had no idea what to do with them.
Rebecca’s eyes grew wide as he pulled the massive ball of red petals from the passenger seat of the garbage truck. Their cloying scent overpowering even the garbage stink radiating in the alley.
“Truthfully, I didn’t pay for them.” He explained what happened, pretending to ponder how the florist stuffed all those stems in the glass vase while really watching Rebecca and her reaction. “It’d be sad to waste them on a confirmed old bachelor.”
Rebecca wiped her face, smearing the dirt with egg yolk. “Mrs. Gentry does make beautiful arrangements.”
“Do you have one of hers right now?”
Her eyes didn’t leave the red roses. “I usually buy myself a bouquet, but decided to put the money toward improving my garden instead.”
Buy herself flowers? He needed to tread carefully here. “Mrs. Gentry said to give them away.”
Abe shrugged and held them out.
She reached for them, then spun away empty handed. “I have gardening to finish.”
What was she thinking! Almost taking flowers from Abe Holland. No matter that they were give-away flowers. Maybe he’d spun the story just to get in her head. She’d embarrassed herself enough in front of him today. No need to make the situation worse.
She dragged the now empty trash can toward her back door. As she stomped inside, she heard the garbage truck drive away. See? Good riddance. He hadn’t pursued her. Hadn’t made any effort. Just went the easy route. Tried to get her to fall in with the gaggle of girls that usually flirted with him. Picking eggshell out of her hair and brushing off her dirty-encased jeans, she glanced back at the alley.
A flash of color on the pavement leading to the alley steps stopped her. Her heart did a funny little twist. Abe Holland had left a single red rose across the walk. Tears smarted. She’d never been a recipient of anything nearly so kind before.
Cleaning up didn’t wash the incident from her thoughts. Nor did churning up a tub of ice cream, her annual Valentine’s Day supper since her intended walked out on her eight years ago. Two spoonfuls in, someone knocked. Taking her bowl with her, she opened the front door to reveal a bouquet of blue morning glories surrounding a single red tulip.
“What’s this?” she asked, trying to see the delivery man behind the bouquet.
“Mrs. Gentry said morning glories are your favorite flower.” Abe Holland stood on her front step with an uncertain smile.
Rebecca blinked. “Why?”
He shifted his feet. “For the first time in almost a decade, I didn’t want to spend Valentine’s Day alone.”
Her eyebrows rose on their own and she shoveled a spoonful of ice cream in her mouth before she said something rude.
“I admit, there are a lot of women who want to spend the evening with me,” he shrugged, his cheeks turning as red as the tulip, “but the only one I wanted to ask whether she was free was you.”
The man laughed and tucked the vase against his side. “Because that’s the question you asked me. Because you didn’t let me help you with your garbage can. Because you didn’t take salvaged flowers.”
“I really liked the one you left.” Rebecca felt her own cheeks heat. “I always have ice cream for supper on February 14. I have more. If you want to join me on the porch.”
“It’s a date.” He handed her the vase with a grin. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Rebecca.”
She hid her smile behind the flowers. A happy Valentine’s Day indeed.
Danielle Grandinetti loves writing short stories, especially those that highlight a unique aspect of history. Like garbage collection and Valentine’s Day in the 1930s. If you enjoyed this flash fiction piece, keep watch for news about her April 2022 Historical Romantic Suspense novel.