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  • 1.Grow Old With Me (Tom Odell)

    Every year it was the same thing; was it going be a big Valentine’s card (looks too needy)? A small Valentine’s card (looks too cheap) or a bunch of flowers?
    She picked a large card and the most expensive flowers – if you wanted to make an impact you had to spend large. It would impress everyone and keep her Mum off her back.

    “Who are these to go to, madam?”
    She felt embarrassed saying it, so she’d written it down and then quickly slid the card across the counter.
    The flower woman picked it up and read it aloud.
    “Miss Sophie Breckstaw, 19, the Gardens. Any message?” The woman asked and Sophie wondered if perhaps, the woman knew.

    So what if she did, there were bigger crimes in this world than sending yourself a Valentine. Okay it was sad but hey, if it kept her mother thinking there was someone waiting in the wings to taker her daughter away, it was money well spent.

    She laughed as she stepped on to the street. Another year, another stupid lonely year. Nothing changes.
    The following morning she opened her eyes to February the 14th. It was a blue sunny sky that had a hint of winter laced through it. She loved those kind of days. Where you came home from a walk and felt that you had experienced something.
    She planned to be out when the flowers and card arrived so they would be left at her door. That way, the neighbours wouldn’t think that she was just an old maid waiting on an obsession with cats to kick-in.

    Sophie was only 32, for goodness sake, but thinking back on it – several hundred years ago - that was probably a lifetime of living. There was possibly a time when 32 was the mark of an elderly woman. God, she felt depressed.
    She decided she’d go to the library (where else?) – She’d hidden in there as an obese teenager (the bullies never went to the library) and she still found the place comforting. It was her church, her sanctuary.

    She caught her reflection in a window and liked what she saw (well, kind of) – she was now the proud owner of a very svelte body and (almost) thought her face looked presentable. Sophie never usually saw the admiring glances she got from men and some woman. In her head she was still that ugly child, still fat and still unworthy. The trauma that school kids inflict on other school kids takes some people a lifetime to get over (if ever). Bullies may never achieve anything great in their lives, except for the fact that they live on in nightmares.

    The library was full of old men, old women, the unemployed and Sophie – the........well, she wasn’t quite sure where she fitted in. She was between jobs at the moment and had applied for a job in a bookshop just around the corner from the library.
    “Miss Breckstaw,” whispered the librarian (the one with the wonky eye) to Sophie as she came through the door.
    “That book you ordered, has arrived.”
    “Which one?” Asked Sophie.
    “Let me see, ‘Cosmic Ordering for Beginners’”.
    “Oh that one, if I’d been any good I suppose I should have ordered it from the Universe, myself.”
    Judging by the expression on the Librarian-with-the-wonky eye’s face, this was truly an irony-free zone.

    So she was desperate enough to ask the universe for a job and why not, eh? Life was nuts, life was really nuts. It was only the stupid, social climbers who thought that life began and ended with the right schools, right jobs, and in saying the right things.

    Just wait until the aliens landed, that would put a fly in the ointment. Still, the stupid middle-class folks that Sophie knew would probably try and social climb with little green men. It wasn’t enough for those folks to live a life, they had to go whizzing to their grave with fashionable clothes on.

    Sophie thought that maybe she might (just might) be jealous of the people she despised. Okay not despised, but generally they got on her nerves. If Sophie had been offered a pill which took away all her doubts, made her shallow and superficial, and therefore only unhappy, when her furniture got out of date – would she take it?
    Probably, yes, she thought while sitting in the public library making a good job of impersonating the saddest human being alive. Maybe she wasn’t impersonating, maybe, in fact, she was the saddest person.

    Still, here she was – she’d made her bed (through inaction and inactivity) and she would have to like it.
    She decided that as she was too lazy to read a proper book, that she’d read a Dan Brown instead. She perambulated (today’s big word from her ‘one word a day makes your brain bigger’ book) over to the popular section. Usually the homeless, the drunks and the mentally challenged sat over there but she was willing to risk it to get a nice book, one that would drown her problems for the afternoon.

    Sometimes, only sometimes mind you, she would fall asleep at the table and wake to find that the homeless, drunks, and mentally challenged were all looking at her in a disapproving manner. Some even ‘tutted’ and that didn’t help the way she felt about herself and so on those days she would go home and drink a bottle of wine, then cry at all the television adverts. She’d normally waken at 3am on the same seat and with her eyes glued together – it had passed through her mind more than once that maybe little people glued her eyes shut when Sophie was sleeping and drooling after a few glasses of wine.

    It was as she was walking towards the popular book section, that Sophie was sure a man, who looked in his thirties (but was probably more thirty plus twenty - knowing her luck) had looked at her. It was one of those looks, where you know that there was a connection but you don’t know why you know that.

    She didn’t look around, but she could feel him staring at her. Then again, Sophie sometimes went on these little fantastical trips where she was sure a stranger was having an affair with her, in their head. Problem was, it always turned out to be only in her head and not the stranger’s - so she now tended to take these so-called ‘connections’ with a pinch of salt.
    She skipped the Dan Brown section and went straight for the weightier writers. Sophie thought that if he was watching, then this would look more impressive – still she’d normally got that wrong too. She’d found that when you tried to make an impression – no one was really noticing, and yet there could be someone she wasn’t aware of, drinking in her every movement. Life was very strange.

    On the way back to her table, carrying ‘1001 Questions about Carpets’ (to be honest it had looked more intellectual but she hadn’t bothered to read the title) that she felt his eyes were staring into to her again. Did we all have a sixth-sense? Probably not, but still he did seem interested.

    She lifted her books to move a little closer to him but when she got there, he was gone. Wrong again, she thought. She knew where this would lead, just like time in the Dragoon Arms Pub, where she’d go night after night hoping to run into a man she’d caught looking at her, and each night she would ignore him, and laugh loudly at nothing in particular. This did look super creepy as she wasn’t actually drinking with anyone. Anyway there were weeks sometimes that went by and he wasn’t in the pub, and then one night the guy would turn up and Sophie wanted to say, ‘how dare you leave me sitting here night after night, don’t you know that we have an imaginary relationship?’ - Still, saying that would have made her even creepier.

    So back at the library, she decided to call it a day. She put on her old woollen hat and walked out into the rain. She decide that she would take the bus home, rather than walking, after all it was St Valentine’s day.
    There he was, standing at the bus stop – did he know she sometimes she took this bus, or was it all in her head? She stood next to him and was sure she could feel him staring at her. ‘Maybe I am completely insane’, thought Sophie just as he turned and said something about the weather to her.

    Instead of saying something back to him, Sophie grinned like a serial killer – she couldn’t help it, he’d caught her off guard.
    When the bus arrived, he waved her on first (he’s a gentleman), then she sat on a seat which could take two, but he sat in the seat in front.

    As Sophie’s stop came up, she stood very slowly, hoping he would stand too – but he didn’t. She could see, as she stepped off the bus that the flowers and card were sitting at her front door.
    Sophie walked away from the bus stop in the opposite direction from her house, hoping that the bus would take her latest fantasy man away and he wouldn’t see the flowers.
    Just then Mister Secombe, her next door neighbour, shouted on her:
    “Where are you off to?” He called.

    Sophie had to turn, make some stupid excuse and then walk up to her door.
    “I wasn’t sure to whether to take in the flowers and card, or not. You’ve got an admirer,” said, Mister Secombe.
    Sophie gave another stupid grin and then turned to see the bus hadn’t moved off and HE was watching her and the flowers.
    So she did what she always did in these circumstances – panic. She picked up the card and flowers and threw them into Mister Secombe’s arms, shouting:
    “Stop sending me these things, you know that you and I aren’t having a relationship.”

    Then she looked to see if HE was watching but to her disappointment, the bus had gone.
    Mister Secombe was completely bemused and wondered if maybe his neighbour was a bit touched in the head.
    He was just about to tell her that the flowers and card weren’t from him, but Sophie had already slammed the door shut.
    Still waste not, want not, thought Mister Secombe and he took the flowers inside as he had a very good idea of what he could do with them. It was one of his better thoughts, and because of that, he whistled all the way to the cellar.
    But that, dear readers, is a story for next time.

    bobby stevenson 2015
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