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Mount Creative Writers

Peruvian Valentine

Chelsea Baranoski
MSN Class of 2010

(2/2011) Whoooooshhhhhh. The airplane hit the tarmac at BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport. Lenny hurriedly unbuckled his seatbelt and got out of his car as fast as his bad knees and achy back would let him. He had just returned home from a week in Peru, the birthplace of his wife, Carmen. It took three attempts, but Lenny managed to hoist his forest green duffel bag over his right shoulder while clinging tightly to the bright pink Peruvian lilies in his left hand. Lenny hoped that the lilies would answer his prayers. Carmen was bedridden in a nursing home and suffered from Alzheimerís disease. Lenny had tried showing his wife old black-and-white photographs from their wedding in June 1954, a slideshow of pictures from their family vacation to Disney World in 1964, and a video from their son, Julianís wedding in 1984, but nothing could jog her memory. Lenny sat with Carmen in the nursing home day after day, but she could never remember who he was. "Mr. Lenny, why do you always sit with me?" she would ask. "Donít you have your own family to take care of?" Lenny always responded in the same manner: he raised a bushy gray eyebrow, blinked away the tears, and shrugged his shoulders. The Peruvian lilies represented his final chance to jog Carmenís memory and get his loving wife back.

The Peruvian lilies were the flowers he had given her on their first date when she was eighteen years old and he was twenty. He remembered that day like it was yesterday. He was in Cusco, Peru, studying the ancient ruins with the high hopes of becoming a historian or a famous archaeologist, when a tan young woman with long black hair and sparkling brown eyes caught his eye. "ŅHablas inglťs?"

"SŪ," the young woman told Lenny, tucking her dark hair behind her ear.

"Excellent!" Lenny exclaimed, wiping sweat from his blonde brow. "My name is Lenny, what is yours?"

"Carmen," the tan girl said softly.

"This might sound geeky, but do you know anything about Machupicchu? I guess you could say Iím a South American history buff. Someday, I want to write a book about all of the ancient ruins here. Crazy, I know," Lenny chuckled.

"Thatís not crazy at all," Carmen assured him. "And you are definitely not geeky; you donít have any tape wrapped around those black glasses," she winked.

"Well thanks," Lenny said. He could feel his face getting hot and it wasnít from the bright Peruvian sun shining down on him. There was something amazing about this girl that he could not put his finger on.

"I can tell you plenty of stories about Machupicchu. After all, I have lived here my entire life," Carmen explained.

"Well, then it must be my lucky day," Lenny beamed. "Wanna discuss Machupicchu over ceviche at Salís tonight?"

"Sounds great! How about I meet you at Salís at 7:00 p.m.? I need to run some errands for my mother beforehand."

"7:00 sounds great! See you then!"

*****

Lenny sat at a small wooden table at Salís Restaurant. He clung tightly to the bright pink Peruvian lilies in his left hand. His palms were sweaty and he was afraid that all of his sweat would somehow wilt the flowers. He tapped his chewed-up fingernails against the table. Tappity-tap-tap. Tappity-tap-tap. Tappity-tap-tap.

At last Carmen appeared in the doorway. Her eyes darted from left to right, searching for him in the crowded restaurant. He waved his left hand in the air, forgetting that he was still clinging tightly to the Peruvian lilies. Bright pink petals fell to the hardwood floor, leaving a pattern that slightly resembled a smiling face. Carmen waltzed over to Lennyís table, her long black hair swishing back and forth with each graceful movement.

"I bought these for you, Carmen," Lenny squeaked. "Iím sorry that some of the petals fell off. Iím just kinda n-n-nervous. I mean youíre so nice and so pretty and you like Machupicchu and--"

"Itís ok, Lenny. Just relax! I promise I wonít interview you," Carmen smiled. "And thank you so much for the beautiful flowers! I canít wait to put them in a vase and set them on my nightstand so they can be the first things I see when I wake up in the morning," Carmen gushed.

Lenny and Carmen conversed for two hours in Salís Restaurant. They discussed their families, their pets, their hobbies, and their career goals. By the end of the conversation, a soft pink blush spread across Lennyís face. "Well anyway, Iím glad you like the flowers. Theyíre Peruvian lilies. I know that Carmen means garden or orchard in Hebrew, so I figured you might like flowers. And I chose Peruvian lilies because they represent friendship. I can tell that you will be a friend for life, Carmen," Lenny rambled.

"Wow, you really thought this through! And guess what?" Carmen craned her face so that she could look directly into Lennyís ocean blue eyes.

"What?" Lenny grinned.

"I think we will be friends for life too," Carmen whispered, rising to kiss his pale cheek.

*****

Years later, Lenny could still feel that soft kiss on his cheek as he drove from the airport to Carmenís nursing home. He felt like he was meeting Carmen at Salís. His palms were so sweaty he could wring them out. While he was waiting at a red light, he said a hurried prayer asking Godís assistance in the quest to salvage Carmenís memory.

Lenny pulled into a parking space and jogged into the nursing home as fast as his arthritic knees would carry him. He ignored the nurses with their pastel scrubs and puzzled expressions. He ignored the children playing cards with an elderly man in the lobby. He was on a mission. He darted into Carmenís room and knelt by her bedside.

"Carmen, I love you so much. You mean the world to me," Lenny breathed heavily.

"Mr. Lenny, why do you say such things? You barely know me," Carmen insisted.

"Oh, Carmen, I know you better than you know yourself," Lenny persisted. His gray brow furrowed and created a tight line across his wrinkled forehead.

Carmen looked out the window. The sun lit up her tan face and Lenny saw the beautiful young woman he fell in love with in Peru. Lenny took her soft hand in his. "Look what I bought you!" he exclaimed, showing her the bright pink Peruvian lilies.

Carmen turned toward Lenny. Her face bloomed like a flower that just received some much needed water and sunlight. "Peruvian lilies," she gushed. "Where did you find them?"

"Well I always told you Iíd travel the world for youÖ" he began.

"Do you know the meaning of Peruvian lilies?" Carmen asked her husband.

"I believe I do. But what do they mean again? I might have forgotten." Lennyís eyes widened. This was it. This was the test.

"Well a young kind of geeky blonde-haired, blue-eyed man once told me that Peruvian lilies represent friendship," Carmen said. Then she studied Lennyís face. For the first time, she saw beyond Lennyís gray hair and lined skin. Lennyís ocean blue eyes calmed her like a cup of chicken noodle soup once calmed her when she was a sick little girl. "And his name was Lenny," Carmen smiled. She fluttered her eyelashes at her husband.

Tears cascaded down Lennyís cheeks, soaking his checkered shirt. "You remember!" he cried out. He brushed the gray hair out of his wifeís face and smiled.

"Of course I remember. Youíre my husband. Youíre my Lenny. You love Machupicchu. And I love you." Carmen leaned forward and kissed Lennyís cheek.

Lenny looked up, the tears still streaming from his eyes. "Thank you God for bringing my wife back to me, if only for a moment."

"Was I ever gone?" Carmen asked Lenny.

"No. You were never gone. You were always right here," Lenny said, pointing to his heart.

"Aww, Lenny. Thatís why Iíve been married to you for so many years," Carmen winked.

"You know Carmen, there is one thing I never told you about those Peruvian lilies," Lenny grinned.

"Really? What?" Carmenís dark brown eyes widened.

"Those Peruvian lilies do not only represent friendship. They represent devotion. And Carmen, I will always be devoted to you. No matter how sick you are. No matter how sick I am. If our minds falter, always know that I am as devoted to you now as I was when we first met in Peru," Lenny said, drying his watery eyes with a tissue.

"Lenny, I will always be devoted to you, too, mi amor," Carmen said, stifling a yawn. Carmen lay in bed, her weak hand tightly grasping Lennyís. Lenny could tell that Carmenís revelation had tired her out. She started rubbing her eyes and yawning over and over again. At last, Carmenís eyes fluttered shut. Lenny did not know if Carmen would remember him when she woke up a few hours later, but for the first time, he felt at ease. His wife remembered him for an instant. That was enough to strengthen his heart and his faith.

Chelsea was the 2010 recipient of the Mountís
William Heath Creative Writing Award

Read other articles by Chelsea Baranoski