by Cat MacLean
*Dear diary, what a day it's been
*Dear diary, it's been just like a dream
*Woke up too late. Wasn't where I should have been.
*For goodness sake what's happening to me.
*Write lightly, yours truly, dear diary.
It has been, as they say, a hard day's night, or day or whatever. Between you,
me and Sidney, I am much too exhausted by the days events to have a clue. I swear, this
is the very last time that I agree to swap shifts with anyone on days. I'm getting too
old for it; just can't force my mind to adjust. However, I must say that today was
different, definitely different and so deserves to be duly noted.
With that in mind I take pen in hand to inscribe 'February 14, 1997' at the top
of the first blank page. 'Dear Diary'. No, too insipid. 'The Journal of the Nobel
Prize Winning Dr. Natalie Lambert'. Better, much better.
You know, I can't think of anything more tedious to read than a journal filled
with my memoirs. I know, I'll bottle it and market it as a sleeping aid. But, Carol
gave me this beautiful book for Christmas and I feel guilty every time I look at the
rose tapestry cover and all the unsullied pages within.
Anyway, to begin at the beginning. It's funny how the first event of the
morning can set the tone for the entire day to follow, isn't it? My morning, a morning
when I should have had better sense than to get out of bed began, to put it mildly,
badly. And got worse...until it got... Well, all things in their time. Anyway, it was
plain from the outset that this was _not_ going to be an ordinary day.
My ears were ringing. I rolled over in the heavy tangles of the down comforter
and held a pillow to each ear in hopes of stopping the noise. Goose down makes for a
wonderous slumber, but as earplugs, no. I thought that perhaps with time the infernal
ringing would stop, but it only seemed to get louder and finally, finding myself
gritting my teeth together against the noise, gave up and sat up in bed.
The offending instrument of my rude awakening was my soon to be lately lamented
big ben alarm clock. With a glare and a wicked slam dunk, I hurled first one pillow and
then the other at my bedside table. Inanimate objects really do need to be beaten into
submission occasionally, I thought with smug satisfaction as the clock sailed across the
room with the pillows. Unfortunately, old style workmanship be damned, the thing was
still ringing jaringly as it spun around on the parquet flooring.
Flinging the bedclothes aside I leaped, with what I assumed was a nimble grace,
out of bed and swooped down to retrieve the clock. As my bare feet hit the frigid
flooring all thoughts of grace flew out of my mind and I hopped into my robe and then to
the bath, looking for all the world like a huge, pink, fuzzy stork. Still, as I closed
the door behind me and began to run the hot water, I smiled to hear the discordant
ringing of the alarm clock echoing from the trash can where it had been deposited.
Finally, I was bathed, shampooed and even dressed, ready to face the world.
And, only one half hour late, thanks to a blow dryer that needed badly to be replaced,
having come across on the Mayflower and not knowing the difference between hot and cold
air anymore. One more thing to add to my already long list of 'things that Natalie
needs to buy when she wins the lotto'.
With a fond pat for Sidney, ever faithful companion (no, wait that's Tonto) then
leaving the required tin of tuna and a bowl of milk, I gathered my bag, purse, coat and
other acoutrements and made my way out into the apartment building hallway. Two steps
past my door I was pulled up short by the simple fact that I had closed the door on my
scarf which had now tightened noose-like around my throat. Looking around to make sure
I was unseen, I reached behind me and giving a vicious jerk, freed myself from my
apartment door. Belatedly, I noticed that I had shredded what was once a perfectly good
silk scarf in my haste. No, this wasn't the first time I'd been in too much of a hurry
and slammed the door on my own tail as it were. Oh, well, add it to the list.
With that, I summoned up my determination that the rest of my day would go
better and hurried to the stairway. The way my day had started I was not about to tempt
fate with what could be a very long elevator ride. I should have known better. Down
three flights of steep stairs in a dimly lit and freezing stairwell only to find a
locked door at the bottom of my descent. No matter that it was against every fire code
in existence, some genius had locked the door anyway. Back up three flights of steep
stairs and back to face the elevator I had hoped to avoid.
*It was cold outside my door.
*So many people by the score.
*Rushing around so senseelessly
*They don't notice there's people like me.
*Write lightly, yours truly, dear diary.
My luck was holding...and so was the elevator. I stood there no less than 15
minutes waiting for my ride in a box; when it finally arrived there was almost no room
for me. More than capable of being a little pushy when I need to be, I forced my way
into the car with a trick I learned from Carol a long time ago. Sneeze. One sneeze and
the world parts for you like Charlton and the Red Sea. No one wants to chance unknown
germs from a stranger.
I emerged unscathed and uncrushed from the elevator and marched merrily out to
the parking building. With my luck I fully expected to see that someone had stolen my
car. No, that would be good fortune; that thing had been giving me grief for months
now. If the insurance on the beast had been sufficient to purchase a new one I would
have left the keys in it myself.
It was still there. I don't care how picturesque a snowfall can be, there is
nothing satisfying in beholding a car covered in eight inches of snow and ice. Everyone
should have white cars in winter; no one would ever know the difference until the spring
thaw. Sighing I threw my bags in the front seat, retrieved my trusty ice scraper and
began the impossible task of uncovering enough windshield to see through. After fifteen
or twenty minutes of hard work, when I could feel the sweat starting uncomfortably on
the back of my neck, I decided whatever I had cleared off was enough. To hell with it.
Climbing behind the wheel of my chariot, I glanced at my watch. Nearly one hour
late for work. The day could only get better from here on in. How I would have laughed
if I'd only known. But, let's not get things out of order.
Fighting frostbite I peeled my soggy gloves off and fumbled to insert the key
into the ignition. Dropping the keys no less than three times onto the floorboards, I
finally managed to slip the correct one into the slot and flipped it. Nothing. Not a
hum, not a thud, not a whirr. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I knew that meant only one
thing; a battery so dead that the only thing left to do with it was autopsy it and I
didn't have the time, much as I might have enjoyed the experience.
Fine, I thought to myself, I'll just get a cab. Heaven must have heard my
words, because as I slipped out of the driver's seat, a deluge of icy rain fell from the
sky, pelting me painfully as I ran for the lobby of the apartment building. Once there
I joined at least six other people qued up for the pay telephone ordering cabs. I heard
one woman on line mutter about a one hour wait and my heart sank right into my shoes.
Maybe it was ordained that I not go into work today and God had forgotten to tell me.
As I was trying to decide whether to trudge back upstairs and try to make other
arrangements or go outside and chance the local transit system I looked through the
plate glass window lobby front and saw my saviour cruising up to the front steps of the
building. Allright, so Carol is no one's idea of an angel, especially in that immense
and aged Buick that she drives, but she certainly appeared to be one to me. The deep
resonant call of the beast could be heard in the lobby as she leaned on the horn, and
scooping up my belongings, I ran for it.
Carol was sufficiently solicitous as I related my morning to her, so far. When
I asked how she had known to come rescue me, she just grinned and said, 'you drive a
Ford.' Fine, enough said.
'Where's your red, Natalie?' she'd asked me.
'My red what?' I replied stupidly.
'It's Valentine's Day, silly. You're supposed to wear something red.' Carol
just continued to smile at me indulgently. I had never noticed before just how annoying
a really chipper morning person can be. They should all be lined up and shot.
'Yeah, well, it looks like you're wearing enough for both of us.' That was a
mild understatement. Everything Carol had on was red, from the heels of her red pumps
to her plaid skirt and vest to her cupid earrings.
'Here,' she said to me, reaching up to the collar of her coat and removing a
large red enameled heart pin and slipping it onto my lapel without missing a beat in her
driving. 'Now you're in the mood.'
Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Once upon a time, I had tried
to explain the current mode of celebrating Valentine's Day in the 20th century to Nick.
He hadn't gotten it. And, so neither had I. No flowers, no candy, not even a card.
Obviously, St. Valentine had lost something in the translataion from 13th century to
now. I didn't expect that anything would have changed Nick's mind and so I had nothing
to look forward to. Why did I agree to work today of all days?!
*They don't know what they're playing.
*They've no way of knowing what the game is.
*Still they carry on doing what they can
*Outside me, yours truly, dear diary.
Somehow Carol and I arrived at work only slightly more than an hour late and
since everyone seemed to be having the same trouble with the weather our tardiness was
not remarked upon and we made our way quietly into the morgue. As I opened the door, my
stomach flipped once, neatly, as I beheld the transformation of my office.
Not content with turning the place into a miniature North Pole at Christmas,
Carol was hellbent on giving Hallmark a run for their money on this holiday as well.
There were red and pink cupids flying from the ceiling, sparkling tinsel heart garlands
swaying from corner to corner and pink and white streamers festooning every nook and
cranny. I found cupids on my desk, hearts pasted on the front of every file drawer and
a sticker with a love sick rabbit saying 'Somebunny Loves You' on my in basket.
'Happy Valentine's, kiddo! This is one time of year I just love being a
'Carebear'. How could she look at me and say that with a straight face. I felt like
coughing a hairball that would make Sidney proud.
'Jeez, Carol. I think I'm allergic to pink. I want to be, anyway.' I wanted
to ask her just when she'd had the time to 'decorate' the morgue to this degree, but I
really didn't want to know. The reality was frightening enough. 'Ugh.' I shuddered.
Just before I sat down in my chair something made me take a closer look and it's
a very good thing that I did. Placed in the very center of the seat cushion was a
medium sized box in gaudy Valentine paper and an even gaudier ribbon. The name tag
simply read 'Open Me.' Carol looked as confused as I did, so there seemed to be nothing
left to do but obey the command. Inside, was a brand new, 1500 watt, super heavy-duty
blow dryer, with curl diffuser. Stunned, I glanced at Carol to see her shaking her
head. Not guilty. So who had left me this oh, so timely gift? I scrabbled in the
bottom of the box and came up empty handed. No card. Nick? No, couldn't be. First
off, he didn't seem to have the slightest clue about Valentine's and secondly, the
morgue had been locked until I had unlocked the door this morning. And there was no
skylight. Nope, not Nick. Not one to look a gift dryer in the...whatever, I stashed
the box under my desk and smiled up at Carol. Perhaps the day was going to improve
afterall. Think again.
Well, it was time to get to work and so I started to work on the staggering pile
of autopsies that I needed to sign, aver and avow that the deceased in question was
really, really dead. Shoving the dish of candy hearts bearing annoying platitudes
aside, I began searching my desk for a pen. Finding one, I began the task of signing my
name to each and every report in at least six places. On the third signature the pen in
my hand began to sputter and then gave out. I rummaged for another, made it through a
few more signings and then had to toss that pen into the trash as well. They just don't
make things like they used to. Forced at length to searching the bottom of my purse for
a writing utensil and finding nothing but some loose change, a bent lipstick sample that
wasn't even my color and a lint covered sourball, I pushed my chair back in disgust and
went next door to pilage someone else's desk.
Returning moments later, victorious and feeling slightly larcenous, I plopped
back down at my desk and reached for the top file. Resting atop the stack was a small
box, elegantly wrapped and beribboned. No card. Well, it was on my desk so I guessed
that made it mine. Peeling the ribbon off and then the paper, I revealed a matched
fountain pen and pencil set engraved with the initials N.L. The tools were sleek and
smooth and bore the name of a well reputed and by no means inexpensive manufacturer. I
didn't think the company marketed anything that wasn't 14k gold. The metal of the pen
was cool in my fingers but pleasant and I returned to signing my life away with a
flourish. Again, there had been no card; another mystery.
I sent Carol off, I swear she was skipping, up to the precint to deliver a
couple of reports to the day watch commander. Almost humming myself, I waded through
the stack of files and was just finishing when Carol came back into the office bearing a
large bouquet of red roses and wearing a lopsided grin. She did a little pirouet in
front of my desk and dropped a florist's card in front of me. It read 'To Carol from
Your Secret Admirer'.
'Isn't it the most romantic thing, Nat?' Six feet of sentimental Assistant
Coroner is a frightening site on the best of days.
'Look what I found on my desk.' I showed off my new writing tools as I scanned
her face closely for signs of guilt. Either Carol was improving her acting or she was
innocent. The jury would deliberate further as she still looked to be the only suspect.
Nick was certainly out of the running, not only by benefit of being clueless but
because it was broad daylight outside.
'Pretty. But, I really love flowers, don't you?' She had her face buried in the
blooms up to her ears, inhaling deeply.
Yeah, I do. Don't rub it in.
The day progressed, lunch time came and went. It seemed that every desk in the
precint had flowers on it, everyone we encountered in the halls wore beatific smiles of
rapture. It was really beginning to depress me. Yes, I had received two lovely,
practical, utilitarian gifts. The romance of the floral offering called out to me,
unrequited. Nick had never been one for roses anyway. On the few occasions he'd given
me flowers they had always been wildflowers and sent 'with affection'. I wanted steak
and caviar not ground round and chopped liver.
Soon, too soon it was time to go home. Another Valentine's Day was over,
another wish left unfulfilled. No phone call from Nick, no flowers, nothing. I was
ready for the day to end.
*It's over. Wil tommorrow be the same?
*I know that they're really not to blame.
*If they weren't so blind then surely they'd see
*There's a much better way for them to be
*Inside me, yours truly, dear diary.
I had, wrongly it turns out, assumed that Carol would agree to give me a lift
home. You know what happens when we assume? However, she informed me that her secret
admirer, who turned out to be that new guy in Records and was no secret to anyone who'd
been paying attention to the two of them, was meeting her at the neighborhood bistro for
candelight and who knows what else. Natalie Lambert, lonely Coroner was on her own. No
sweetheart, no Valentine, no secret admirer. Nick? Oh, yeah, he was such a secret
admirer that even he didn't know it.
As if my thinking of Nick had conjured something in Carol's evil and ever
fertile mind, she suggested out of the clear blue sky that I call Nick for a ride home.
I didn't think that was a wise idea at all. I've never been fond of having salt rubbed
in my open wounds and that was what it felt like. I loved him so much it hurt, God what
a useless cliche. But, it was true and the fact that he hadn't given me a single
thought on this day of all days was a striking pain in my heart. I had hoped against
hope that some little bird had managed to explain to him just how important this silly
little holiday was to aging spinster coroners and their fragile egos. Not to be.
Damnit, I won't cry. I just refuse to cry. Carol would be upset to think that
not everyone has happy endings. She was still looking at me in that slightly pitying
way. 'Call him,' she said to me. I shook my head, definitely in the negative. 'Go on,
Nat, call him. It's only for a ride home. Don't be so proud.'
Was that it? Was I too proud? Too stubborn and proud to ask for a simple ride
home from the man I loved and allow him to give me that simple gift of his company? It
was something he could give me without even knowing it and something I could accept
without feeling that he'd been forced into it. I agreed. After all, I had to get home
somehow. Maybe I could convince Nick that tonight would be a good movie night and
between the good old fashioned romance of a classic black and white and a bowl of
popcorn with enough butter to clog an artery I could forget what day it was and just be
happy to be with him.
He answered my call on the first ring, as if he'd been waiting for it. Nick
rarely picked up incoming calls, prefering to let the machine do the screening for him.
It annoyed me when he did that; it made me feel as if I was intruding, to have the
effontery to call him. Sure, he'd said, he'd be happy? to pick me up and take me
anywhere I'd like to go. Something sounded odd. Nick was rarely happy to do anything,
it seemed, and I missed that, the old days when Schanke could say something totally off
the wall and send Nick into, what passed for him as fits of hysteria. I missed the easy
comaraderie we'd enjoyed in the past. Nick was so keyed up and preocuppied all the time.
Recently, he'd been worse than ever, hardly speaking to me unless I spoke to him first.
Well, I suppose we all have our trying times to work things out. Nick was no
Anyway, phone call made, ride arranged, I shrugged into my coat complete with
heart pin and started to gather up all the goodies that the Valentine's Day fairy had
left me. I had a sneaking suspicion it was Carol but I didn't have the heart to
confront her, she was having such a good time with it all. And it was nice to be
remembered by someone. If only Nick had been the one to be so thoughtful and perceptive
to arrange each timely and appropriate present.
Slipping the exquisite silk scarf around my neck, I luxuriated in the feel of
the fabric against my skin. I'd have given anything for Nick to have been the one to
pick this out, just for me.
Grabbing up my medical bag by one handle, I instantly knew that it was a
mistake. Worn by time and exposure to the elements, the frail leather handle had just
been waiting for the most inoportune moment to give up the ghost. Now when I was in a
rush with my arms full seemed as good a time as any. Trying to catch the bag in
midswing before it popped open was futile. Bright and shiny instruments and assorted
other flotsam bounced merrily and loudly on the tile floor of the morgue. Swearing
quietly yet eloquently, I began crawling around on my hands and knees, chasing rolling
vials. Carol dropped down to the floor to help me and for a few minutes we must have
looked like a three stooges act minus one.
Reaching under an exam table my fingers encountered not the box of sutures I was
pursuing but the smooth surface of glossy wrapping paper. Peering under the table, I
was surprised to find a large box gaily wrapped in Valentine paper sporting a large red
bow. Another gift? Nudging Carol and pointing at the package I was rewarded by a
shoulder shrugging who-knows expression.
'Must be for you again, Nat. Open it and see.'
Thinking to myself, yes, we'll see indeed, I tossed the box up on the gurney and
ripped it open. No time for suspense and delicacy, now. Inside was the most beautiful
piece of leather work I had ever seen. Imported, no doubt, and appearing to be made
from some exotic animal hide, the medical bag, for that's what it surely was, could only
have been intended for me. As I lifted the bag gently from the nest of tissue my eye
was transfixed by the gleaming name plate. 'Natalie Lambert, M.D.' It was mine all
right. Beautiful yet practical as the rest of my mystery gifts had been.
I picked up the engraved pen and pencil set and dropped it into my brand new,
customized and obviously very expensive medical bag. Ostrich yet. Jeez. Carol must
have gotten the entire night shift to put up the money for the bag; she couldn't have
afforded it alone. Just touching the leather of the bag made me feel a little bit
Bidding Carol goodnight and winking lecherously at her in encouragement for her
assignation, I walked out of the morgue, through the still busy hallways of the building
and out onto the front steps. Dusk was just settling over the city. Evening lights
were beginning to wink on all up and down the streets and I exited the station just in
time to see the sun dip down in a final blaze of crimson glory.
Nick was nowhere to be seen. I searched in vain for the ragtop caddy. It was
hard to miss, but it just wasn't in sight. Ok, ok, my day is turning for the worse
again. No ride home. I figured I'd give him five more minutes and then I'd start
hoofing it to the nearest cab stand. All thoughts of a pleasant evening flew
immediately out my head. Stood up, I was and getting irritated at the thought. Oh,
well, what did you expect? A black limousine at the curb waiting for you?
There was a car at the curb, illegally parked, but it was certainly no limo.
Sleek, dangerous looking and fire-engine red, a sportscar of some exotic kind was at the
curb in front of me. Boy, oh boy, is someone going to get a big parking ticket for this
one. That cheered me up a bit and I smiled to myself as I started scanning the street
looking for a cab.
'Nat!' I spun around at the sound of my name and there he was, better late than
'You're late.' I sounded uncharitable even to myself.
'Sorry, Nat, I...well, sorry.'
He was smiling that puppy dog smile at me. You know, the one that I never can
resist, the one that makes me forgive all the times he's done whatever he's done. I
wasn't really in the mood to be charmed. I was tired and disappointed and it was all
his fault. That's not fair, but I wasn't in the mood to be fair, either.
'Whatever.' He was still just looking at me and all of a sudden I had to ask.
'Do you know what day this is, Nick?'
'Friday?' As I recall it now, if I'd been paying attention I would have seen
that he was just about to burst at this point. But, he played the scene like a pro;
played me like a 10lb bass on a 5lb line. Carefully.
'Happy Valentine's Day, Nick.'
'Oh, yeah. Happy Valentine's, Nat.'
'You didn't remember, did you? You had no idea what today was, did you? Could
you have at least called me to wish me a happy Valentine's? No, not you, not
I-Can't-Commit-Nick?' Controling my mouth has never been one of my strongest points.
In fact, it's gotten me in more trouble than I care to admit. Sometimes I just don't
know when to quit. This time I should have known.
'Oh, Nat, I can't...' I couldn't belive what happend then. He laughed...and
laughed...and laughed until I felt my face turning red, appropriate for the day, and I
felt my temper about to go over the edge. He stopped laughing then and swept a huge
boquet of red roses from behind his back and presented them to me with a grand flourish.
He put his arms around me then in a fierce bear hug, tight enough to crack a rib. I
could feel his breath ruffling the curls around my ear as he laughed softy at my
discomfiture. It tickled.
'What's so damn funny, Nick? I accuse you of not caring enough about me to even
call me on Valentine's and you laugh?' Something was just not right.
'Didn't you get any presents today, Nat?' Blue eyes twinkle, did you know that?
They twinkle with mischief and I swear the same evil gleam that I saw in Carol's eyes
today, too. 'Were they appropriate gifts, Nat?' He started to chuckle again and this
time he took me along with him. It was absurd, it was impossible, it was collusion!
She was going to pay and pay and pay, for letting me wallow in misery and
self-pity all day when she knew better. 'Carol. That little wench was in on this with
you, wasn't she? I'll...'
'Say, thank you, Carol for being such a good friend?'
'Yeah, right. Do you mean to tell me that all those gifts were from you, Nick?
The hair dryer, the pen set, the bag...?"
'Guilty. And you say that I never pay attention. I know that you can never
find a pen when you need one and that your bag was falling apart...and you've come to
work every night for two weeks with wet hair, so...' How could I have been so wrong?
He did care, enough to notice all those little things in my life.
'And the scarf?' I hadn't really needed the scarf, not until this morning so he
couldn't have known that one in advance.
'It was beautiful and wonderful to touch. Like you.' If I'd had to stand on
the street much longer I would have broken down and cried like an infant, but Nick
sensed that I was near an emotional crisis and changed the subject, thankfully. 'Let's
go home, Nat.'
I still didn't see the caddy anywhere so our mode of transportation was a
mystery to me. Nick pulled something shiny out of his pocket and dangled it in front of
my eyes. 'You drive, ok?'
'Huh, drive what?' Shock does that to me, makes me stupid.
Nick firmly pulled my hand through his arm and led me down the steps to the
long, lazy sportscar resting at the curbside. Now I recognized that little logo on the
front. It was a Ferrari, for crying out loud. Nick had finally bought a new car and it
was high time, but I felt a pang as I realized I was actually going to miss the caddy.
'Your new car, Natalie.' Clutching the keys in one hand and Nick in the other,
I felt my feet leave the ground as he swept me into a fierce and loving embrace. 'I
didn't forget. Happy Valentine's Day, Nat. With love. Forever.'
Then I cried. Like a baby. For a while, I thought that Nick would have to
drive us both home, but I recovered in time to get behind the wheel of that incredible
machine. It was more than fantasy fullfillment, it was reality fullfillment.
Nick remembered, not only remembered the day, but remembered what it meant to
me, to mortals the world over. It meant knowing that someone cared, that you weren't
alone, that your heart was in someone's safekeeping.
Expensive gifts are wonderful, extravagant gestures are breathtaking, but the
hope for an eternity in his arms and the promise of his everlasting love were worth more
than anything I owned or ever hoped to. Nick's simple words, that he remembered, meant
everything to me, as he did. I hope to spend the rest of my life trying to show him the
love he has shown to me, if he will let me. I will ask nothing more of life for I will
have it all.
*Dear diary, what a day it's been.
*Dear diary, it's been just like a dream.