Gladys cradled her shoe box covered in pink tissue paper and adorned with cut out hearts. She had worked on it all weekend. Gluing red felt hearts to white doilies she worked her way around the box. They hadn’t had any empty shoe boxes so Nurse Meme had finagled one from the Buster Brown store and even managed to get Gladys a Buster Brown Egg. It was a true work of art or better said, work of heart.
Gladys walked spine straight, chin up into Mrs. Perkins class and gently placed her masterpiece in the center of her desk. She smiled smugly at her classmates and critically eyed their receptacles. She perused the smorgasbord of offerings. Mildred Dubois barely had any coverings on her box. Rusty Robin covered his in the Sunday comic page, how droll, she thought with an eye roll. She moved on to Max Wiseman and snorted when she saw his was covered simply in white butcher paper with crayon colored hearts. Gladys was feeling far superior than her classmates, what with the felt hearts and the curly cues that sprang randomly from her tissue paper covered box. She absent mindedly stroked the big red felt heart on the top of her box and swelled with pride.
She took a deep breath and pulled the 25 envelopes from her plaid book bag. Each envelope had a name written on the outside but inside each had its own special message. Gladys had gone through the whole bag of candy hearts and picked one for each of her fellow students. Then she had taken just a dab of Elmer’s glue and stuck it to the card. It was genius! She didn’t have to write anything on the little valentine because the candy heart people had done it for her. She walked from desk to desk slipping her envelopes in the little slot cut on the top of each box.
She had chosen one that said “flirt” for Patty Moore and another that said “true love” for Brad McElroy. She could imagine Brad opening the little envelope and pulling out the heart shaped card. He would stare at it for just a moment then he would look across the room at Gladys and he would know that she was the only one for him. It would be a 3rd grade romance of legend. Yes, this was perfection. Now all she had to do was wait until after lunch when they would have the Valentine Day Party.
Time moved slowly as Gladys watched the clock and paid little attention to her SRA workbook. Heck she couldn’t even concentrate when it was reading time. Finally the bell rang for lunch and the whole class buzzed with excitement. They uncharacteristically lined up quietly for lunch. They walking in a straight line, not pushing or shoving, but politely and reverently toward the cafeteria. Gladys spotted Mrs. Wells, one of the room mothers, unloading cupcakes and balloons from the back of her station wagon. Gladys tingled with excitement.
Lunch was a blur of mystery meat and milk. She didn’t taste a morsel. All she could think about was Brad finally knowing how she felt. She had watched a movie on television about a woman who was in love with a man, only he didn’t know it. This woman had sent him a letter anonymously, but the man knew it was from her. He rushed to her and professed his deep and eternal love and they lived happily ever after. Gladys figured if it worked on the black and white screen then it would work in Mrs. Perkins third grade class room.
The class entered the room and it was a Valentine wonder room. There were balloons and accordion folded hearts hanging from the ceiling. There were little accordion hearts on each desk surrounded with little cinnamon red hearts. Gladys was vibrating. She had been on her best behavior all morning for fear of loosing the opportunity to partake in the festivities. Now the moment of truth had arrived.
Mrs. Wells and Mrs. Goody passed out cupcakes with sprinkles and little glasses of Hawaiian Punch. It was a feast fit for the gods. Then Mrs. Perkins did something dastardly. She did something heinous. She instructed the class to choose only one envelope from their box and open it, read it to the class and then open the rest at home. Gladys panicked. What if he didn’t choose hers? What if he DID choose hers and read it out loud in front of God and everyone? Oh NO! She would die of embarrassment.
Gladys pictured it all in her mind. Brad would stand and he would pull her envelope out of the box. He would open it. He would read it silently then look across the room at her and then he would announce it to the world. Her moment would be ruined! She of course would have no option but to melt into the scraped and scratched wood of her desk. She would die in a puddle of embarrassment only to be swept up by the janitor with that sawdust stuff he threw on vomit.
Gladys’ heart beat loudly in her ears and she couldn’t swallow. “GLADYS! I said it’s your turn” she heard Mrs. Perkins say. She swallowed the half chewed bite of chocolate cupcake and reached blindly into her pretty pink tissue paper covered box. She pulled out an envelope and opened the card. She stared at the card but couldn’t see the letters. She could only see the signature. There in scrawling penmanship was HIS name. She drew Brad’s card. She cleared her throat and read “Roses are red, violets are blue, skunks stink and so do you!”
Gladys felt as if someone had just kicked her in the stomach. She stank? She stunk? What did he mean? Did he mean she smelt bad or that she had girl cooties? She was heartbroken. The whole class giggled then they laughed harder. Gladys smiled as best she could and tried to act like it was a big joke so she replied “Oh yeah, Brad, well you smell like boy cooties!” Mrs. Perkins put her hand on Gladys shoulder and gave her the teacher silent code for sit down. Gladys sat and turned the card over and over in her hand. Then it hit her. He had HER card. Oh NO! There was no way to get it back. What if he opened it and read it in front of the class now? What was she going to do?
Gladys looked at the half eaten cupcake. She glanced at the now empty container of cinnamon hearts and the sucker string that lie on her desk. She looked up at Mrs. Perkins and then over at Brad. There was only one thing she could do. Yes she must do it to save herself. She raised her hand and covered her mouth with her other hand. Mrs. Perkins turned to Gladys “Yes what is it?” Gladys removed her hand from her mouth “I don’t feel so good.” Mrs. Perkins cocked and eyebrow and started walking back toward Gladys. Gladys gagged and choked. There was a moment of the whole class sucking in air then expelling it all at once in anticipation of the volcanic eruption that would happen next. Mrs. Wells jumped into action grabbed Gladys and pulled her through the back door. “Let’s get some fresh air” Mrs. Wells said as she drug Gladys into the afternoon sunlight.
Gladys stood in the sunlight biting back tears. “Honey, it’s okay. I was probably just all the sweets and the excitement. Everyone gets sick from time to time” the sweet Mrs. Wells consoled. Gladys turned away from the classroom and took a deep breath. “May I call my mother? I think I need to go home.” Mrs. Wells patted Gladys on the back “You sure can sugar. Let’s go on up to the nurse’s office and give her a call.” Gladys looked up at Kitty Wells mother with gratitude. “Mrs. Wells, will you have Kitty call me after school? I want to know how the rest of the party went.” Mrs. Wells took Gladys by the hand and replied “I sure will sugar. Don’t you worry; we will even save you some goodies.”
Gladys sat in the bed with a thermometer in her mouth. Nurse Meme was in getting ready for her shift at the hospital and came in to check on her. “Temperature is normal. Is your stomach still hurting” she asked as she shook down the mercury and wiped off the cylinder with alcohol. Gladys knew that she had to play it out and replied “yes ma’am. It fills all wooshie.” Nurse Meme pulled down Gladys’ lower eye lid and looked in her eyes, and then she made Gladys breath out and in. “You know, your breathe is pretty metallic and I don’t like the look of your eyes, they are a little yellow.” Then she was gone.
Gladys fell back on the pillow and closed her eyes. She could just imagine what had transpired after she left. The party would have resumed and each person would have read their cards. Brad would come to her card and he would announce to the class that STINKY SKUNKY Gladys loved him and he didn’t love her back. She wanted to die. She wanted to run through the moors and fall off a cliff like that woman in movie “Wuthering Heights”. She wanted to disappear into thin air like the invisible man.
Nurse Meme broke into her imaginings and brought her back to reality. She held a tablespoon and a bottle. She poured the liquid into the spoon and started toward her “What’s that?” Nurse Meme cleared her throat and replied “medicine. Now open your mouth and swallow ALL of it.” Gladys did as she was told. She opened her mouth and then it hit her. The smell, then the taste of Castor Oil. “That should make you feel better” Nurse Meme declared. Gladys gagged and sputtered and spewed. “but I already feel better, momma. I don’t need anymore of that stuff. Really I feel good. I’ll go to school tomorrow I promise.” Nurse Meme raised an eyebrow and prepared the second dose. “Gladys, you take this and that is all there is to it. If you were sick enough to come home from school in the middle of a party, then you need this medicine.”
She had just had injury added to her insult. She had been found out by her mother that she was faking. She had been insulted by the love of her life who could go jump off a cliff himself for all she cared now. She had left her cupcake and candies on her desk and she didn’t even get to read the rest of her Valentine cards because her pretty pink tissue heart encrusted box was still at school. “Now then young lady you want to tell me what is really going on?” Nurse Meme demanded. Gladys picked at her cuticle and then it all came gushing out in racking hiccupping sobs. Nurse Meme stood looking down at her and said “well looks like you had a pretty shitty Valentines Day and now it’s going to get a little more so.” Gladys wiped a snot bubble and blew her nose into the Kleenex her mother handed her. “You just have to remember that name calling and hair pulling are usually the way a third grade boy tells a girl he likes her. Don’t get so worked up over it. Just play hard to get and you will have him eating out of your hand. Now lie down and take a nap. Your eyes really don’t look too good.” Nurse Meme kissed Gladys on the forehead, pinned her nurses cap onto her beehive hairdo and disappeared form the room.
Gladys dozed and dreamed of falling in a hole and trying to climb out but she couldn’t. She was stuck and the school bell was ringing. She was going to be late. She jerked awake and realized the telephone was ringing. She jumped out of bed and ran for the kitchen. It rang again and she leapt for it. She grabbed the receiver from its cradle and blurted “Hello?” There was a crackle and then “Gladys?” She froze; this wasn’t Kitty, her best friend. It was a boy. “Yes” she squeaked. “Um this is Brad. Um, you know from school?” Gladys nodded her head. “Are you there” he asked. Gladys whispered “yeah.” Then even stronger she barked “what do YOU want?” The line was silent for a moment then “I wanted to see if you were feeling alright. I mean, we all thought you were going to blow chunks. Did you? Blow Chunks?” Gladys blushed with embarrassment. She would be forever known as the girl who almost vomited on Valentines Day. “Um, no. I just didn’t feel good. My mom says my eyes don’t look good and I might have sam and ella or something and she’s a nurse so she should know.” Gladys stood up straight and tall. She wasn’t going to let him insult her again. “Oh, um that’s good. I mean that you didn’t vomit. I mean you know because …um well. I just wanted to see if you were okay.”
“Well, thanks Brad. I mean for calling. Is that all you wanted?” Gladys waited while there was a long pause from the other party.
“I wanted to say thanks for the card too” he replied. Gladys sucked in air. Oh my gosh, he read my card. Brad cleared his throat and then said “would you like to wear my I.D. bracelet? I mean when you come back to school and are feeling better?” Gladys smiled remembering what Nurse Meme had said and twirled a ringlet of hair and replied “um, I don’t know. We’ll see.”
P.S. HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO TROOPER BOB AND DOE. http://gladysspeaks.blogspot.com/2009/02/about-boy-and-girl.html