Through the door we could hear her sobbing, a slobbery gulping sound that verged on inhuman. I feared for the integrity of her body. Something must surely give way.

Cynthia looked at me and shrugged. “If you need me,” she said, “I’ll be practicing in the courtyard.” I decided to try one more time. “Amelia, I’d like to come in and talk to you. Can I?” There was a brief silence, then the sound of mucus being sucked noisily back up her nose. I said, “Right, okay, I’ll leave, but I’m going to slide these under the door for you.” I pushed three Kraft American cheese singles part way under the door, one of which had been cut into the shape of a heart. Cynthia’s idea. “I’m sure he didn’t mean it… I mean, you know, Valentine’s Day and all.”

Stefan, wearing a red bowtie and a black Slickee Boys t-shirt, walked up and said, off-hand, “Is she still at it?” He looked at his watch. “Christ, this is a new record.” He turned toward the door. “Amelia, honey? Please don’t light all those stinky candles this time. It sets off the smoke alarm.” Four heavy objects hit the door in rapid succession. Shoes, probably, and tightly clustered. Good shot. From the courtyard, we heard Cynthia beginning her scales on the trombone.

“Did she leave one of those little notes this time?” Stefan asked. I produced a rumpled lavender sheet that had been violently removed from a spiral notebook. Stefan read it, singsong-humming the words as he went. Halfway down the page, he stopped humming. Then he handed it back to me, holding it as though it were a mouse held by the tail, about to be flushed down the toilet. “That would do it,” he said. Then louder, “Honey, he didn’t mean those things. At least not today.” He winced at his choice of words. Then, brightening, “Say, I bet you could use a smoke right about now.” He pulled a cigarette from the box in his back pocket and pushed it under the door on top of the cheese. It looked like Cupid’s arrow piercing the orange cheese heart.

Footsteps approached the door. The cigarette disappeared, then the three slices of cheese, each one vanishing as though it were on a tiny conveyor belt. Outside, Cynthia struggled through The Girl from Ipanema. Stefan glanced up at the ceiling and asked, not really expecting an answer, “Is Mrs. Batton in today?” Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking…

After a moment, Stefan tipped his head toward the lavender sheet. “Is this the good-looking one, or sweater-vest guy?” It was the good-looking one. He made a concerned pucker, saying only “Mmm. That’s too bad.” We heard Amelia’s stereo turn on: a loud staticky burst of radio news, switched quickly to much quieter music. We could just make it out over the trombone solo. “Shit!” said Stefan, clapping his right hand on his forehead, “She’s putting on the Morrisey! Oh Christ. I’ve gotta leave now. God help us all.”

We heard footsteps approach the door again. Sniffling. There was a faint snipping sound, and then a severed photograph of Amelia and a young man with a blazing smile appeared under the door. She was on one fragment; he on the other. Stefan leaned over to inspect, nodded solemnly: “Yeah, that’s good-looking guy.” Another muffled snip, and an American Express card with the young man’s name on it, Allen T. Ridley, appeared neatly clipped down the middle. Stefan and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised. Snip. A tarot card: the Lovers, followed by Allen T. Ridley’s law school ID. The pieces were forming a neat pile on the floor. I cleared my throat. “Amelia, don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

At that moment, just as Cynthia launched into Moon River, we heard the front door of the apartment swing open. Stomping around the corner, breathing hard and sweating, came Allen T. Ridley. He had a green book bag over one shoulder and three sad-looking roses in his other hand. Without saying a word, he approached us slowly and, to his credit, seemed to get a pretty good read on the situation. I said, “Somebody’s here to see you, Amelia.” He reached into his bag and pulled out a red envelope. Casting a sidelong glance at Stefan and me, he slid it under the door. Within five seconds it returned, vivisected, alongside the other debris. He considered this for a while, and then, on an index card from his book bag, he wrote in a clean bold hand, “Please forgive me. I love you.” He was about to pass it under the door, but I stopped him, lifting my index finger to signify that I had an idea. I took the scissors, cut the index card into two pieces, then gave him the pieces. He hesitated, and then slowly pushed the two halves under the door, one with each hand.

We waited. Suddenly we heard a thumping and a bang from the floor above, followed by a string of profanity. It was an old woman’s voice, strong and abrasive. The trombone music stopped. The three of us there in the hall looked up at the ceiling toward the unseen woman. Then Allen T. Ridley looked at me with an uncomprehending squint, his face was still wet with perspiration. He said, “I hate Valentine’s day.” Stefan bobbed his head in agreement, saying “Mrs. Batton hates trombones.” Something was sliding under the door. It was Allen T. Ridley’s last note, taped back together. Seeing his opportunity, he quickly tried to push a rose under the door, but it only made a mashed-together mess of petals. Cynthia appeared at the other end of the hall, trombone slung over her shoulder. Amelia’s door opened, and her hand beckoned for Allen T. Ridley. Her room was dark and smelled of cigarette smoke and scented candles. He went in.

Cynthia struck up When the Saints Go Marching In, but it was hard to hear over the smoke alarm.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

You look terrific! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Did I sound insincere just now? I’m terribly sorry. But you know I meant it: you really do look terrific. It’s only a shame that sincerity is so often a casualty of Valentine’s day that my credibility has been stretched to its credit limit. Oh well.

Okay, I suppose it’s all very well, this Valentine’s day talk, but I will admit you could do with a little bit more time in the gym. Only a little bit, and then you’re perfect. Not that you don’t look terrific, though. Even so: always remember that you do deserve the flattery that you receive on Valentine’s day, even if the flatterer doesn’t realize it. And if you don’t have anyone around to flatter you today, listen to me: you look terrific! Honestly!