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Lorna Hoey: a valentine blog

February 12, 2010

There was nothing. Nothing on the doormat, nothing stuck in the letterbox. I checked twice. Of course I’d tell them at school on Monday that there’d been so many Valentines piled up that the door wouldn’t open. And that I’d even had a couple of those big ones that come in boxes.

I alone would know the truth. None.

It was 1969 and I was a first-year teacher, living in a first-floor bedsit in a tenement building in West Belfast. Saturday mornings meant freedom, but also chores, and so I stood at my window as usual, hands deep in the suds of my weekly washing. Launderettes hadn’t yet reached our neck of the woods.

The view was always the same: a square of grey concrete, a line of metal dustbins, a pair of ancient wooden stable doors, and a group of young teenage boys who played football there every Saturday. I studiously ignored them while they did their utmost to gain my attention, thudding the ball against the doors, crashing it into the dustbins, deliberately kicking it perilously close to my window and endlessly jeering and laughing as I ducked.

It had to happen one day. And it happened that day. The ball went over the wall into the tiny courtyard just below my window, a place we called ‘the cassie’. The boys vanished from view. I heard low voices, plans for how to scale the high brick wall. I waited, watched, but no heads appeared.

I dried my hands and ran downstairs. I picked up the ball, a bright blue sphere on the dull flagstones of the cassie. I turned it over in my hands, feeling the slippery plastic, examining the scuff marks of hundreds of boot-whacks. The ball was mine.

They had seen me leave the window, had heard the door open. They knew I was there. I listened as voices called, pleaded. I bounced the ball gently, and the voices grew louder. I kicked it a few times against the cassie wall. Then the voices stopped. I could hear only the quiet shuffling of their boots.

I threw the ball back over the wall. There was silence.

That evening, opening the front door to head out to the pub, I noticed something stuck in the letterbox and pulled out a crumpled envelope. It was addressed to ‘1st Floor Flat’. I tore it open. Inside was a thin, cheap Valentine card. A smiling owl said  Somebody loves you… and inside: Guess whoooo…

There was a pencilled message underneath. ‘Sory for anoying you’ it read. I put it in my bag.

I didn’t see the boys again. A week or so later there were even louder thuds and bangs around us, and a platoon of English soldiers had taken over the concrete yard. But by that time I had moved away to another part of town, taking my Valentine card with me.

And I have it still.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Gillian Mather permalink
    February 12, 2010 11:27 pm

    A very pleasing short story, right from the introduction– can’t we all empathise with the narrator here? – through the homely action central to the plot, to the neatly executed and satisfying ending. I could visualise myself reading this story in a magazine on a Saturday afternoon curled up with a drink and hot buttery toast and basking in the glow that comes from being reassured that all is right in the world.

  2. February 13, 2010 6:23 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this. I could identify with bits, but not the Northern Ireland situation. However, I have a few friends who can. Often they have enriched my life with songs or poems and kept alive the special quality of that part of the world.

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