The Color of Grey (A Valentine Story)

Helia sat at her desk and looked out of the window. Snowflakes slowly fell into the gray of the day, covering houses, cars and pedestrians. She was playing with the pencil in her hand, thoughtfully. She sighed and looked again at the large sheet of paper in front of her. There was an old couple sitting on a park bench facing a pond, holding each other by the hand. She was supposed to draw an advertising poster for an insurance company, it was about future-thinking. But she didn’t really know what to do out of it.

Again she looked out the window. It had stopped snowing. Light came slowly into the gray, a few rays of sun making their way through the thick clouds, causing the snow to glitter. Something flashed somewhere and hit her in the face. She was so surprised that she cried out startled and dropped the pen. ‘Oh, that’s enough, I’m leaving!’ She pushed the chair back, got up, grabbing her bag.

As she went out, she reached for her coat and scarf and slipped into both while storming out of the building, all angry. She didn’t know why she was in a bad mood today. Maybe a nice hot coffee would cheer her up. She went to her favorite café on the street corner, sat at a table by the window, and looked out again. People ran past the windows, cars honked, slush sprinkled on pedestrians who cursed and jumped to the side. When the coffee was brought to her, she looked up and paid immediately. She sipped the steaming beverage carefully. Above the rim of the mug she saw a young couple at the next table, who looked in love, held hands. Her gaze swept on. A young family was sitting at the table by the other window of the small café. The young woman had a baby in her arms and looked ecstatically at the small hands that were stretched out towards her.

‘Not a good idea with the coffee!’ she thought grumpily, put the half-empty mug on the table, took her bag and left the coffee shop.

She walked a few blocks and into the park. Here she could always relax and collect ideas. At the park entrance was a young man, probably a student, who wanted to earn some money. He sold heart balloons. He handed one to her as she was about to walk past him. ‘Here, for your loved one on Valentine’s Day.’ She shook her head in annoyance, what should she do with such nonsense? She went into the park, which was lightly snowed and quite gray in front of her.

She sat down on a park bench near the pond, which was set back somewhat and was not snowy but dry. Further ahead, more towards the water, an older couple sat close together on two pillows they had brought with them. They stuck their heads together, she could hear them laughing. Helia became pensive. A little boy and a little girl, both around the age of ten, passed her, their two mothers chatting and walking behind them. The little girl said to the little boy: ‘If you marry me, I’ll cook for you like my mom and you will make money for me like your dad.’

What a statement! Was that what people wanted? Planning for the future, following an old scheme, and just not alone? She sighed. Today was Valentine’s Day. And again she was alone. And again the world was full of happy couples who demonstrated their happiness, celebrating. Except her. No one would give her roses. Nobody thinks of her. She was alone, the world was gray in gray.

Depressed, she got up, avoided the park entrance on the way back to the office, and chose another one to exit. Two blocks before her office, she passed a house that had a small, well-kept front yard. Pretty curtains in the windows, colorful flowers in a vase, an inviting house. An old woman was standing near a rose bush by the garden fence. She had a hand-knitted scarf wrapped around her neck, a dressing gown and house slippers on. In her hand she held a pair of scissors and a red rose that she was cutting off. The only one in the garden. When Helia was to walk past her, the old lady held out the rose and said: ‘Even if everything seems gray in gray, there is always something nice to discover.’ Helia, perplexed, took the rose in her hand, murmured a soft “Thank you!” and went on.

A small colorful bird flew past her and sat on a fire hydrant as she turned the corner to the office. And when she wanted to go up the stairs, the young trainee smiled at her. Has he ever been greeting her?

Helia sat down at the table in her office and drew another hour, adding color to the gray pencil drawing. When she was done, she looked skeptically at the result. No, that looks childish. She left the drawing on the table to make a new one tomorrow. Then she took the red rose that had been next to her all the time and made her way home. When she arrived on the street, a taxi stopped and the driver asked, ‘Beautiful woman, do you need a taxi?’ She smiled and said no. She wanted to walk home.

Among the many people all hurrying somewhere, a little girl at her mother’s hand looked up and waved to her. Helia waved back and smiled. She decided to have another look at the garden where the old lady had given her the rose.

When she turned the corner and went to the house, she stopped all puzzled. The house looked abandoned, the garden was completely overgrown and the house was with the windows broken. ‘The house has been shuttered for a long time, the old Miss Luckison is said to be haunting it.’ said a voice behind her. It was an old man who looked just as old and neglected as the house. He shuffled away. Helia glanced over to the rose bush. She could still see the fresh cut where Miss Luckison cut off the rose for Helia.

Her smartphone rang, a message from her boss. ‘I saw your drawing. Wonderful job, best ever! The insurance company will be very satisfied!’

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