the short story project


Pamela Howell

February 14

February 14, 1989

San Antonio, Texas


Sage’s telephone rang as she opened the door to her apartment and Quincy, her wire-haired dachshund, clamored to greet her. 

It had been a long day trying to teach freshmen the finer points of a semi-colon; she had papers to grade, and she just wasn’t in the mood for a long conversation. Ring. She knew it was her sister. It had to be. She knew instantly why she was calling. Ring. And, she knew it would be today, of all days. She just had a feeling. She pretended to smile as she answered with “Hello?”

That’s all it took. Heather’s squeal nearly split Sage’s eardrum. Sage yanked the receiver away from her ear, but she could still hear her shouting: “He did it! He did it! Oh, Sage, he proposed!”

Before she could say anything, Heather continued: “Oh, oh, I can’t believe it. I’m going to be Mrs. Brian Mahoney, the third. Wait! Make that Mrs. DOCTOR Brian Mahoney, the third, well, just as soon as he finishes med school, of course, and all, and then he gets his residence and oh we’ll stay here in Norman for a couple of years and, aaagggghhhhh, I just can’t believe it! He proposed!”

 “Heather, I’m happy for you.” Sage tried to believe what she said was true, but her heart knew differently. “Congratu. . .” she began, but Heather had gained momentum.

“Ooooh, it was just so romantic. He proposed! He proposed on Valentine’s Day and we’re getting married in October, on my birthday!”

Sage cocked the phone in her ear and tossed her purse toward the couch. She missed, and the contents spilled out of the bag and rolled like errant dice across the floor. Quincy scampered to inspect and then was back, pawing at her frantically and barking at the top of his lungs. 

“Hey, Quincy!” Heather shouted into Sage’s ear. Quincy cocked his head and stared at the receiver. Sage kicked off her high heels, stripped off her panty hose with one hand and flung them toward her purse and, with the toes of her left foot, hooked the rung of a straight-backed chair and drew it toward her so she could sit down. Her telephone cord was a short one.

Quincy immediately jumped in her lap, getting fur all over her gray skirt. Quincy wriggled and let Sage scratch his scruffy black beard and pat his head, but then jumped back off. He was doing his happy dance, so she knew he had to go out. 

On the other end of the line, Heather was unstoppable.

“He showed up to pick me up for lunch in a white limousine. A limo! I came out of the office and I was, like, so shocked. He had called my boss and arranged the afternoon off for me. Can you believe it?  It was so romantic!” 

Naturally, Sage thought. She rolled her eyes. 

“Brian was wearing a black tux and was leaning against the limo. I walked up to him and he handed me this single, red rose, and I just about fainted. He had the driver take us to our favorite, little place  —  Francesca’s  —  you know, that great, little Italian place down by the art museum…you remember, we ate there one time when you came up last semester for the OU-Texas game?  Remember, I had that great fried ravioli appetizer and you had a salad?” 

“Uh, uh,” Sage answered, absently, as she patted Quincy’s head, hoping to distract him into waiting a minute more. 

“Anyway, Brian had reserved a quiet table in the back overlooking the garden and he ordered a bottle of wine and, oh Sage, get this, he had tied the ring around the bottle with a gorgeous strand of Tahitian pearls! Pearls, Sage, perfect Tahitian pearls, can you believe it? And his parents are going to pay for everything and we’re going to get married in Tahiti. Get it? Tahiti? Tahitian pearls.”

Sage tried to tell Heather that Quincy really had to go, but it was no use.

“And, Sage, you ought to see my ring! It’s a 2-carat Cartier diamond in a Baroque platinum setting. It is to die for! And, of course, you know you’ll be one of my bridesmaids? I can’t wait to go dress shopping and everything. We can meet in Dallas. And, I’ve already picked out my colors  —  tangerine, raspberry, and celadon. Oh, you don’t mind being tangerine, do you?” 

“What? Uh. . .”

Heather switched gears. 

“Well, I guess I’d better go; I’ve got tons of calls to make and this long-distance isn’t cheap.  Hey, by the way, how are things with you at school?” 

This caught Sage off guard. 

“Uh, well, it’s the usual stuff, just trying to get the kids to write their research papers,” she managed.

“Oh. That’s nice,” Heather replied. “Well, gotta run.”


Sage hung up the receiver and looked down at Quincy.   

“Come on, let’s go.”

She lingered in the warmth of the late winter sun, even though the sidewalk was cool on her bare feet, as Quincy did his business on the oleander bushes. It was hazy in San Antonio. Even in February, there was humidity in the air.

Then, back inside, Quincy was content to let her alone for a second and sniff the lipstick case, sunglasses, and medicine bottles which had fallen from her purse. She snatched up the panty hose before he could get to them, tossed them on the table, opened the refrigerator, and grabbed the last diet Dr. Pepper.

She sank down on the couch. She’d go to the gym later to work off the calories from the soft drink. Her ear was numb. She popped the top on the can, took a swallow, and looked down at her wriggling date for the evening. She leaned over and scratched behind his ears, and he rewarded her with a lick on her nose.

Sage leaned in close to his floppy ears and whispered: “Happy Valentine’s Day, Quincy.”


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