Vrede gets off Boggel’s cushion to do one of his doggy str-e-e-etches. He’s had a good nap this morning and now ambles- stiff-legged and slowly towards the sidewalk. The pole with the street name is his favourite.
He notices Precilla and Kleinpiet on the stoep, close together, whispering. Between them there is a little teddy bear with a huge, pink heart stitched to his chest. Next to it is a box of chocolates, wrapped in a red ribbon. Well, Vrede thinks, as long as they’re happy.
Having serviced the pole, Vrede continues walking down Voortrekker Weg. Gertruida’s front door is open, and he sees her sitting on the porch, reading some old letters. She, he notices, doesn’t seem happy at all.
From the parsonage comes the soft sounds of music – something with a 1,2,3 -1,2,3 beat. And wait…yes, there it is again: Mevrou’s giggle. Now, that is rare. Mevrou can laugh politely when she has to. When she became tipsy that one time, she had a raucous laugh. But giggle? Mevrou doesn’t giggle. It’s not her style. And yet…
He picks up Servaas’ scent near the old man’s home. Mmm – he needs to change his socks again; this pair is getting a bit ripe after four day’s service. Nose on the ground, he follows the smell. He’s most probably on his way to his favourite rock. The one just outside town, under the thorn tree. He always goes there to talk.
“Siena, it’s Valentine’s again. I know we never paid much attention to the day and I can’t remember ever giving you a card or a box of chocolates. You said you didn’t want it, anyway. You told me every day should be Valentine’s Day, and that the 14th should only remind us how important the other 364 days are” Servaas takes out his handkerchief to dab his eyes.
“Well, now you’re gone and I hate this day that reminds me of our years together. I have 365 days a year to remember the way you cooked up wonders on the old Dover stove. I can close my eyes and imagine you slipping in under the blankets, and the way you smelled after a shower. In the mornings, I’d find you by following the aroma of the fresh coffee you had made. And during the day, I walk past the rose bush you planted the day after we moved here.
“I guess I’m trying to tell you I miss you, Siena. I miss the way you looked at me when you knitted in front of the hearth. I miss that secret smile of yours when I told you I loved you. I suppose I didn’t do that frequently enough, either. But then again, you said words are just words. You said love is more about sharing the silence than exchanging schmaltzy cards.
“But now the house is empty, Siena. The stove is cold. I can’t hear the clicking of your knitting needles any more. And I can’t make coffee like you used to. I have to live with a different sort of silence now – a silence without you.”
Vrede pads up to the old man and rests his head on the arthritic knee. He stares at Servaas with his liquid-brown eyes, his nose twitching at the smell of grief.
“Ja, Vrede. Valentine’s... You wouldn’t know much about it, would you? Can you understand love, Vrede? Maybe you can understand loneliness, you being the only dog in town and all that.
“You know, Vrede, love can be a blessing and a curse. It can cause immense happiness as well as complete utter despair. That story about rather having loved and lost, than never having loved at all makes no sense to me today. Having loved means you gave away a little bit of yourself, something so small and so precious that you can never go back to the time before you shared it with somebody special. And if that person dies or goes away, it leaves a little void – a little vacuum – in it’s original place. Never having loved at all may be sad and stupid – but it implies a completeness, an innocence.
“But me? I’ve loved, Vrede. And now that little place is empty.”
They get up to walk back to town, man and dog sharing the silence of loneliness. They’ll find solace in Boggel’s Place, with Vrede settling back on the cushion and Servaas ordering Cactus.
And in the house where the uncompleted jersey on the chair in front of the hearth wait in vain for the hands to pick up the knitting needles again, the old Dover stove is cold. The new socks – the last Siena ever knitted – are on the little table next to the bed. Servaas will never wear them. He keeps them there to remember the eyes and the smile and the smell of love.
Up and down Voortrekker Weg, each house experiences Valentine’s in different ways. The sad thing is: somewhere in the future, they’ll all be like Servaas’ home. with memories of something beautiful. The quest for Love always leaves a little void.
In the end, even tears can’t fill it…