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Showcase: Petals + The Opposite Of Romance

By Zara Relphman

Welcome to your third showcase of the month! This week, we celebrate Valentine’s Day as I bring to you a selection of romantic and loveable writing. From Akshitha Ramalingam’s poem, Petals, which is sweet and smile-inducing, to Lucy Kaufman’s The Opposite Of Romance, a short story warm enough to break the coldest of hearts.


Bashed and blew the breath of bliss,
Knocked with a knack for an intimate kiss,
Merrily bloomed the petals of her lips,
With a zeal of never ever wanting to miss,
Forever anything and everything from his!

© Akshitha Ramalingam, 2023


The Opposite Of Romance

Newton, my soppy old Labradoodle, jumps up from his basket when he hears me pick up my keys.

“I can’t walk you again, I’ve got my best brogues on.” I ruffle the shaggy curls on top of his head. “Sorry, old boy. I’m meeting a friend.”

Sometimes I wonder what Newton makes of Emma not being here. Whether he even remembers her. Maybe that’s why he eyes me so sadly, though it’s been three years since she’s been gone.

“Yes, I know I’m in jeans,” I say, “but she’s a friend, OK?” Newton eyes me suspiciously. I give him a reassuring look. “Just. A. Friend.”


When I arrive at the restaurant, the full-length windows are plastered with red love-hearts. Once inside, my stomach lurches. On every table is a slim vase, each one containing a single red rose. Of course! February 14th. I’m such a fool. No wonder Jess seemed hesitant when I asked her, why she questioned whether I meant this Tuesday. I scan the tables for my potential new friend but all of them are occupied by couples. Perhaps she won’t turn up. The waiter is coming over. Please don’t try to make this romantic. This is the opposite of romance. The very opposite.

“Ben!” Jess is waving madly at me from a table in the far corner. I make my way over, tailed by the waiter, who pulls back my chair.

“You’re here,” I say.

“Where do you want me to be?” Jess says, with a laugh, and I shrug awkwardly, totally thrown by the whole Valentine’s thing. I must make it extremely clear this was never my intention.

I’ve never seen Jess out of school before. In school, she’s always been in English teacher mode, dressed in her signature high-neck blouses and sensible skirts. Tonight, she’s in a jade, low-cut dress and I can’t help noticing her figure. And skin. I could die to think she might have the wrong idea. I’m doing this because my mum said it will do me good to socialise again with people my own age. “What you need is a blast of youthful energy in your life” were her exact words. And she’s not wrong. Since Emma, I’ve spent far too long in my parents’ company. Emma and I only ever had time for each other. Somehow, without meaning to, but like you do when you’re young and in love and so wrapped up in each other, we gradually dropped all our friends. I glance at Jess, who is ordering wine. This is strictly platonic, my eyes tell her. I inhale a waft of her fruity perfume. Strictly. Platonic.

“I hate all this commercialism,” I say, when our first course arrives. “The cards, the roses.”

“You can’t put a price on love,” Jess says. She raises her wine glass expectantly, but I refrain from clinking it.

“And forcing romance into just one day,” I continue. “That’s not how relationships work.”

“You could have fooled me, if my ex was anything to go by.”

“And don’t get me started on all these love-hearts.” I stare accusingly at a red paper one, stuck on the wall beside me. It stares back, unperturbed.

“Love and the gentle heart are one thing,” Jess says in her clear, unwavering voice. She’s reciting the poem she read out loud to the Year Nines in their assembly. She doesn’t know it, but that was the exact moment I decided to ask her here. “She’s solid,” I thought. “Trustworthy.”

“That’s Dante,” I say.

“You remembered!” she says. I remember everything. Except today’s date.

I should probably leave it there. Quit while I’m ahead. But I can’t help myself. I say, “Love and the heart are not the same thing, though. To you English literature types they are, and to poets, but not to us scientists.”

Jess sticks out her lip. I can tell I’ve said the wrong thing. “Oh no? What do you science types say, then?”

“I’ve researched the heart.” It’s true. In my days before I knuckled down and became a Biology teacher, I was part of a research team at Cambridge, exploring future alternatives to mechanical valves. “And I’m telling you. The heart has nothing to do with love.”

“You won’t love without one,” Jess says. She frowns and pours herself another wine. She must be thinking this is going to be a very long night.

“You won’t do much of anything without one,” I concede, with a grin. “But the heart’s not some airy-fairy concept. It’s a muscular organ.”

Jess stares at me from over her wine glass, a sardonic smile dancing on her lips. “Mr Turner,” she says, mimicking our Head. “Are you trying to tell me that love doesn’t exist?”

I nearly choke on my avocado. Not exist? All my text book answers spring to mind. The explanations I keep up my sleeve for the cheekier students. But Jess’s eyes are challenging, if a little tipsy. And I see Emma. My beautiful Emma who I’d have walked through fire to have been given more time with. I lower my fork, along with my voice. “I never said that.”

“Try telling dogs there’s no such thing as love,” she says, quite animated. “But, of course, their love is just unconditional. Well, I miss my dog with every fibre of my being. But I can’t get another, because I’m out of the house all day.”

I blurt something stupid about how I’m lucky, how I found the best doggy day-care for Newton. How he loves it and they dote on him, and that gives me so much peace of mind.

“So, you’re not entirely heartless,” Jess says, and I feel a sharp twist in my chest. Not my heart, but somewhere behind my sternum.

We eat our main course in silence, barely looking at one another, and the tension between us is even more palpable amid the tinkering sound of couples’ intimate laughter and wine glasses chinking. When we finish, I get the bill. I sense Jess’s hesitation before she whips out her purse.

“Split it?” she says, and I panic. I asked her here, after all, but if I pay, does that make it a date? It’s years since I did this. Maybe it’s all changed. I hear myself say, “Why not?”


On my way home, I catch sight of myself in the shop windows. My hair’s got long and my shoes are the only smart thing about me. I think of lovely Jess in her dress, the scoop of the neckline and her fresh, glowing skin. I remember the silver heart pendant she wore, glinting in the dip between her collar-bones. I picture her selecting it to wear this evening, smiling at its appropriateness for Valentine’s Day, fastening the clasp behind her neck. And I see her now, ripping it off in disgust and shutting it somewhere out of sight. I hear her clear, ringing voice: “Love and the gentle heart are one thing.” And, worst of all, I see Emma, looking down at me and shaking her head.


When Jess comes to the door, she barely pokes her head around it. A ripple of green through the glass tells me she’s still dressed.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t know what I was doing.”

She narrows her eyes. Searching for words, I pull Newton out from behind me. He’s wearing a red bow I removed from the last bunch of roses at the petrol station, which I now press into Jess’s arms. “I’m sorry they’re not better ones. This is all a bit new to me.”

Newton rushes towards her and Jess bends down to fuss him, their delight in each other clearly mutual.

“Ben,” she says, straightening up and meeting my eyes. “I know about your wife. At school they said — I’m so sorry. It must have been awful. It makes perfect sense if you don’t want to rush into anything.”

“Yes, but it’s been a while now,’ I say, and pause. It’s now or never. I sense Emma, watching me, egging me on. There’s no way on earth someone that generous would ever want me to remain alone. “I’m not a poet,” I say, “but I do believe in love. Very much, actually. And we were wondering, Newton and I, if you’d like to come for a walk?”

“You romantic, you,” Jess says with a smile. “Why don’t you both come in. I’ll get some jeans on.”

Jess leads the way, patting her leg, and Newton romps after her. As the pair become acquainted, I feel a huge burst in what I can only describe as my heart.

© Lucy Kaufman, 2020


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