You Want to What With That?
Bard Valentine Invitational 2015
Reading the message inside a greeting card, Morgan Birch groaned unhappily.
“You can’t dislike all of them,” her best friend Jacqueline Leslie said looking at her gloomy friend.
“Sure I can,” Morgan said pulling another card free and opening it. “Roses are red, violets are green, you’re the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen,” she read aloud. “Thing… they want me to give my wife a Valentine’s Day card that refers to her as a thing?” she grumbled jamming the card back into the rack. “Jeez, don’t they have anything wishing a wife Happy Valentine’s Day?”
“They’ve got a whole bunch down at the end of the aisle.
“I looked at those. They’re all written as if a man is giving them to his wife.”
“Now, that’s a surprise,” Jacqueline quipped sarcastically. “Just get something generic. You know Cheryl will love it no matter what it says.”
Frowning, Morgan shifted a step to her left to peruse more cards. “Do you ever wonder where these idiotic ideas come from?” she asked picking out a card displaying a bouquet of roses.
“I’m sure people are paid to sit in small, dank rooms all day and come up with these sappy sentiments.”
“Not that…” Morgan put the card back in the rack then turned to face her friend. “Where did these special days come from? Think about it… do I really need a specific day every year to tell my wife I love her? I don’t think I have any problems doing that on my own.”
Jacqueline smiled. “It’s a conspiracy between the card, candy, and flower companies. Oh, and don’t forget the restaurants.”
“Did you know Cheryl hates going out to eat on Valentine’s Day? Too many lovey dovey couples faking that they really care for their significant others… her words not mine.”
Jacqueline laughed. “Sounds like something she’d say.
Morgan grinned. “It does, doesn’t it?”
“So if she doesn’t like Valentine’s Day and you think it’s silly, why even bother to celebrate?”
“It’s not so much that I think it’s silly—”
“I believe your exact wording was idiotic,” Jacqueline stated matter-of-factly.
“Okay, so I do think it’s idiotic to name one day out of the whole year for me to tell my wife how much she means to me. But that takes me back to my original question… where did the idea come from?”
“All I know about Valentine’s Day… and I got this off a history show I watched a couple of years ago… way back when, like in the four or five hundreds, the Romans executed a guy named Valentine on February fourteenth. Then a couple of years later, they did it again—same day, same name. And some time later, both guys were given sainthood.”
“Why were they executed?”
“Why were they made saints?”
“Haven’t a clue.”
“So two men, out of the tens of thousands that the Romans killed, were picked out of the bunch and named saints. And since they were named Valentine and died on February fourteenth we now have Valentine’s Day?”
Grinning, Jacqueline shrugged.
“Ugh… I’m sorry I asked. That makes about as much sense as my mom naming me Morgan because she was drinking rum the night I was conceived… or so she says.”
A burst of laughter exploded from Jacqueline. “Oh my goodness, that explains quite a lot about you.”
Morgan sneered. “Ha, ha.”
“Well, it does,” Jacqueline said chuckling. “Quit wasting time… I’m hungry. You’re already off the hook for dinner; grab a card, a box of candy, and let’s get out of here.”
“I can’t find one I like,” Morgan moaned turning back to look at more cards. “I guess I’ll get this one,” she said reclaiming the card with the roses. “It’s the least offensive one I’ve seen,” she added picking a matching envelope.
“You are so picky,” Jacqueline teased snatching the card out of her friend’s hand. “Its blank inside,” she said in surprise.
Morgan snatched the card back. “That’s what makes it less offensive,” she stated heading down the aisle toward the checkout. “Come on, lunch is on you.”
For the umpteenth time, Morgan kicked at the blankets but with arms and legs tangled in the coverings, her frantic attempts to roll over failed.
“Are you not in good health?”
Morgan’s eyes flew open at the sound of an unfamiliar female voice in her bedroom. “Wha?” she asked vigorously shaking her head to clear the cobwebs.
“I asked if you were unwell,” the voice responded. “You have been thrashing about for some time.”
“Perhaps I should summon a healer.”
Morgan untangled her limbs from the blankets and sat up. Standing beside the bed was a young girl dressed in what looked to be a bed sheet wrapped around her body and knotted at her right shoulder. “Who are you? And why are you talking that way?” Noticing for the first time that the room looked nothing like her bedroom and was lit only by flickering candles tucked into niches in the walls, she barked, “And where the hell am I?”
The girl gasped. “Sweet Venus, such words should not be spoken during the feast.”
“Feast? What are you talking about?” Morgan asked shifting to place her feet on the floor. Stopping in mid-motion, she poked at the surface she was sitting on. Expecting to feel the firm, thick mattress of the king size bed she had gone to sleep in, she was startled when her hand came in contact with a thin, straw filled sack. “What did you do with my bed?” she exclaimed.
“Why do you ask such questions?” the girl inquired, her face twisted in confusion.
“Why don’t you answer my questions?” Morgan snapped standing up.
“I know not of which you ask,” the girl stated. “The room is of the inn… the inn is not of me.”
“Uh?” Morgan tossed the girl a perplexed look then set about exploring the strange room. A dozen cots similar to the one she had awakened on were laid out in neat parallel rows making it look more like a dorm than anything else. The only other furnishings were a pair of short back-less stools in one corner. Four walls, barren of any adornment, framed the room; three were solid while the fourth was broken by two windows of matching size— their views blocked by thick wooden panels.
Hearing boisterous shouts and laughter outside, Morgan crossed to one of the windows and pushed the wood panel up. Using the stick lying on the window sill, she propped the heavy board open then stared with disbelieving eyes.
Outside, in the center of what appeared to be some sort of plaza, a large bonfire burned. Running about were numerous young women in various stages of undress with many completely naked. Chasing after the women were men waving bloody animal hides about. Whenever a young man caught up to one of the girls, he would slap the hide against her bare skin and she would laugh giddily. The bizarre behavior was encouraged by other men and women standing about and loudly shouting mostly unintelligible comments.
Morgan spun about to glare at the girl who was now standing beside her and also watching the activity in the plaza. “What is going on out there?!” she demanded.
“Do you not know of the Feast?” the girl asked innocently.
“That’s the second time you’ve mentioned a feast… and that,” Morgan pointed out the window, “does not look like any feast. It looks like a bunch of drunken men beating naked women.”
“Beating the women? Oh, no… that is not as it is.”
“Then what—?” Morgan stopped. The woman’s inability to provide understandable answers to her questions was causing a level of frustration she hadn’t experienced since Cheryl took several days to respond to her marriage proposal. “Please,” she begged, “please answer my questions… what is going on out there? And what is this feast you keep referring to?”
Smiling, the girl peered through the opening. “It is the Feast of Lupercalia. Have you never partaken in the festival?” the girl asked incredulously.
“Can’t say I have,” Morgan scoffed turning back to the window. “So just what is the Feast of Lupercalia?”
“Oh, it is most wonderful,” the girl said. “It is a time to be chosen.”
“Chosen? Chosen for what? By whom?”
The girl looked quizzically at Morgan. “For a young man to choose a companion for his bed,” she said as if the explanation should have been obvious.
“Are you telling me that,” Morgan jabbed her finger at the activity in the plaza, “is a mating ritual?”
The girl nodded.
“Damn, that’s worst than the old cartoons showing cavemen beating women over the head then dragging them into their caves,” she muttered shaking her head. “I don’t get the animal skins,” Morgan said ignoring the girl’s puzzled look. “And why do the women seem to enjoy being hit by them?”
“It is most desirable,” the girl responded with a sigh then grinned bashfully. “It is said that one who is not beaten will not bear the fruit of the coupling.”
“Being whacked with a bloody hide is supposed to make you fertile?”
“Oh my gosh!” Morgan groaned slumping against the room’s rough wall. “So, where do the hides come from?”
“Goats and dogs are sacrificed at the beginning of the feast.”
“Sacrificed? As in…” Morgan drew her thumb across her neck.
The girl nodded.
“Can this get any worse?” Morgan moaned.
“It is getting late,” the girl said. “It is time to place your token in the coupling jar.”
“My token? Coupling jar? I hope that’s not what it sounds like.” Morgan pushed off the wall then walked back to the cot and dropped onto the tangled coverings. “I know I’m going to regret asking… but what is a coupling jar?”
“Those without wives choose from the jar. If your token is pulled, you couple for the duration of the feast. But if your coupling is pleasing, you will join for life.”
Flopping onto her back, Morgan covered her eyes with her arms. “I knew I’d regret asking.”
“Hey!” a drunken male voice exploded into the room.
Raising her arm, Morgan stared at the man fumbling to climb into the room through the open window. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she barked at the man in the process of tossing a piece of blood stained at her.
“I choose you,” he slurred struggling to maintain his precarious perch on the sill. Attempting to shift his weight, his foot caught on the stick propping the window open. He kicked at the stick, sending it flying.
Morgan watched in silent delight as the wooden panel crashed down onto the man’s head knocking him back outside.
“Oh, Sweet Venus,” the girl exclaimed and ran for the door.
Morgan squeezed her eyes shut. “To whatever power brought me here, please send me home,” she pleaded shouting as loud as she could. “PLEASE!”
“Honey… honey, wake up.”
Morgan felt her body rocking as someone jostled her. “No, go away!” she screamed.
“Honey! Wake up!”
The familiar voice slowly penetrated Morgan’s muddled brain forcing the of jumbled visions of bonfires, naked men and women, animal skins, tokens, and jars to fade into the background.
“Are you expecting someone else in our bed?”
Without opening her eyes, Morgan’s arms shot out to wrap around her wife. “Thank goodness,” she exclaimed tightening her grip.
“Sweetheart,” Cheryl gasped. “Can you lighten up… trouble breathing.”
Tentatively, Morgan forced her eyes to open and looked around the room to ensure herself that she was, indeed, home.
“Let loose the bear hug, honey,” Cheryl insisted.
“Oh, sorry,” Morgan apologized relaxing her arms.
“I don’t know what the heck you were dreaming—”
Morgan shook her head. “Believe me… you don’t want to know.”
Cheryl squirmed into a more comfortable position, resting her head on Morgan’s shoulder. “Happy Valentines’ Day my sweet valentine.”
Morgan slipped her arms back around Cheryl in a tender embrace. “I hope you know how much I love you.”
Content in the loving contact, they lay quietly for several minutes.
“Just out of curiosity…” Morgan said shifting to look into her wife’s eyes. “What would you do if I sacrificed a goat and skinned it. Then I chased you around and when I caught you, I beat you with the hide. Then I carried you off to have sex?”
Cheryl studied the woman she loved with all of her heart. “Is that what your dream was about? Or have you gone crazy?”
Morgan nodded. “I was in… I’m not sure. I guess ancient Rome. There were men running around with goat and dog skins. And naked women running but not so fast that the men couldn’t catch them. And a chosen jar. And a drunken guy tried to climb through a window to choose me.”
“Honey, I think you better lay off anchovies for a late night snack. Have an apple instead.”
Unseen, hovering above the bed, Venus chuckled. “You have to admit, a simple card and a box of chocolate sure beats the Feast of Lupercalia.” With a wave of her hand, she returned to her own realm.
“Did you say something?” Morgan asked.
Cheryl shook her head.
“Weird… I thought I heard something,” Morgan muttered glancing about the room.
“I think you should go back to sleep,” Cheryl said snuggling closer to her wife. “And this time, if you want to dream… dream about me.”
“Definitely,” Morgan agreed closing her eyes. “Most definitely.”
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY
PS. In ancient Rome, the “romantic” Feast of Lupercalia was celebrated from February 13-15th. In the 3rd century A.D., Romans executed two men, named Valentine, on February 14th (in different years). Did these events evolve into Valentines Day? Your guess is as good as anyone. <g>