The morning mail was on the hall table. That was unusual. Suzy, the Macmillan Nurse had not been due that day.
'Damn! And I forgot the valentine card!'
Barry used to leave that sort of thing to Pat: remembering birthdays, anniversaries, presents. He looked around the living room. No, Pat's little touches had been missing for some time now: no dusting done, no natty vase of flowers and the one surviving spider plant was spindly, wilting and grey. Barry addressed it now, "I know how you feel.''
He looked up the stairs. No, he'd put the kettle on first. For himself.
'And don't sit down until you've done the necessary, otherwise you'll never get up again.' Did he say that aloud?
Somebody had tidied the kitchen, washed up. Where had all those encrusted pots and pans and cereal bowls gone? What was the smell? Vim or something. How embarrassing!
'Christ, that bin was more than full when I left this morning.'
The cooker was gleaming, as was the sink. He had assumed the tea stains were indelible. It was a little like the old days, when Pat ran the home.
He checked the Macmillan message board by the clock. 'Tues. See upstairs. S.'
Now he was irritable. 'I can't do a full day's work and then do all this! She's showing me up!'
He threw his coat onto the kitchen table, took a deep breath, counted to three and began to climb the stairs. Eleven, twelve, thirteen. At the top, he waited for the aromas reminiscent of ammonia and ripe Camembert to offend his nostrils, but this evening something overlay it. There was an unidentifiable sweetness in the air, it seemed familiar.
His mind was racing. 'Oh, Christ!' he thought, 'Pat's died. That nurse's been sorting things out, sorting Pat out. No! Without letting me know!' He remembered once hearing that when a saint died, they smelled of flowers. 'Some saint, eh?' Then guilt clasped his chest. 'You miserable bugger!'
Pat's door was ajar as usual. Barry put on his merry voice and called, "Hi. Be in in a minute."
He delayed going in for fear of what he might find, or not find, and entered what had become his own room. The switch clicked and lit nothing. The bulb had died days before. In the yellow glow from the landing, Barry stepped over his piles of clothes, to the bedside lamp.
The impact hit him hard. Rising in glory from the debris on his bedside table, were roses. Red roses. Deep red roses. Two, four... two dozen. Most were in bud and in the folds of the petals, the red was so deep he could see black. The texture was velvet. Two dozen red roses! In his room. For him! The vase must have been retrieved from the dust in the cupboard under the stairs. Now it was gleaming, and leaning against it was a large pink envelope. Barry's name was in Suzy's hand. The Macmillan Nurse. He recognized her writing from the kitchen message board.
'Oh no. Please no!' He looked over his shoulder at the bedroom door. 'As if life isn't complicated enough! And she's been in here!' He was aware now of how stale and unpleasant his bedroom had become.
He sank onto the edge of the spare room bed, envelope in hand. He stared at the roses. They were beautiful.
He tore at the paper as quietly as he could, prepared himself and, head half-turned away, squinting, read, in Suzy's handwriting, the words, 'Be my valentine.'
Underneath that, was Pat's shaky signature, 'Patrick.'
Barry stood up and cried aloud, "Pat! You silly old fart!"