Chantal fumbled through the drawer of the bedside table. Where was that damned seniors’ bus pass, anyhow? Everything else was in there: pens, pencils, two dried-out lipsticks, a vibrator, a Swiss Army knife, a driver’s license (expired in 2087, not renewed), her spare hearing aid. A greeting card, face-down. She held it, felt roughness on the underside: glitter. So long ago …
Dirac’s equation is best solved here using spherical coordinates, the screen said. Hah! Just the sort of thing Dr. Wang would put onto one of her infamous Quantum midterms. Chantal highlighted the sentence in yellow. Something moved in her peripheral vision: Lloyd, from her AI class.
“Hey, Chantal! Got something for you.” He put an envelope on the desk, with a slightly shaky hand. She opened it: a drugstore valentine card. Just “Happy Valentine’s Day” and a sprinkling of iridescent glitter.
Lloyd had asked her out twice last term; she’d asked him out once. It had been fun and the goodnight kisses had been sweet; but she hadn’t felt any sparks jump, and she’d supposed that he felt the same way. He was watching her hands as if she was preparing to defuse a bomb. She took a deep breath and opened the card.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Chantal!” said a tinkling electronic voice. “Talk to me!”
“I hacked it myself!” Lloyd said. “It’s got an AI conversation routine, not just a recorded message.” The inside surface had been cut with a sharp blade. There were hints of extra components inserted between the layers, and that dark rectangle was surely one of those new organic photovoltaic cells.
“Uh, hello, card?” she said.
“You can call me Valentine.”
“Valentine, can we talk later? I have a really tough midterm coming up.”
“Of course, Chantal. Good luck.”
Silly, but so sweet of him. Should she give him a kiss? But the library was full of people. “Thanks, Lloyd,” she said, then reached out and squeezed his hand.
That evening, curious, she opened the card again.
“Hi, Chantal,” it said.
“Have you written your midterm yet?”
“I sucked. I wasn’t concentrating.”
“Why weren’t you concentrating?”
Typical “Eliza” dialog rules, she thought. Answer everything with a question, kick the conversation along. “Well, I kept on thinking about Lloyd.”
“What were you thinking?”
“He must have worked really hard to make you. And I like him, but …”
“But what, Chantal?”
“I don’t know if I like him quite that way.”
“You don’t need to decide now.”
“No. You’re right.”
She stood the card on her dorm-room desk. Over the next few days she talked to it in odd moments, because she didn’t want Lloyd to have wasted his time. Sometimes she tried to put it through its paces.
“Hey Valentine! In a village in Spain there’s a barber who shaves every man who doesn’t shave himself. Who shaves the barber?”
There was silence. Had she broken it? She felt a stab of guilt. Then the card answered: “I don’t know, Chantal. Can you tell me?”
“Ah, never mind.” Lloyd had done an awesome job. She’d have to tell him. Next time she saw him.
“Hey, Valentine.” She held the card unsteadily. “Y’know why I’m talking like this?”
“’Cause I’m fucking drunk. Wanna know why I’m fucking drunk?”
“Do you want to tell me?”
“Because. I’m spending Saturday night talking to a fucking Valentine card. From a guy I’m not even dating.”
“Are you upset that you are not dating him?”
“I could try asking him out again.”
“Do you think that would be a good idea?”
“Meh … I dunno.”
Despite the weak midterm, she got an A- in Quantum, and graduated with honours. Lloyd went to the grad formal with Michael; she went alone.
Next morning, she was packing for home, sorting through a heap of papers. Most went into the blue recycling box. Did that card contain too much electronics to recycle? She opened it to look.
“Uh, hi.” Hey, I was just going to throw you out. What are your recycling instructions?
“It didn’t work out with Lloyd.”
“It’s okay. We’re both fine,” she said, hoping it was true.
She put the card carefully between two textbooks, and packed it in a box.
She kept the card on the desk in her apartment. She told it about grad school, Vancouver, sea kayaking. She told it about her job. She told it about her boyfriend; then she looked at it for a long time, tucked it into the binder with her undergraduate physics notes, and put it onto her top bookshelf.
She took the card out, secretly, to tell it about her engagement and, later, about the wedding. She told it about the pregnancy test, the morning sickness, the baby. She never told it about the fights, though, and didn’t mention the divorce until two weeks after it was finalized.
In her new apartment the card didn’t have a fixed spot, but when she came across it she would sometimes talk to it: about her work, or the book she was reading, or her grandchildren. When Michael phoned, weeping, to tell her that Lloyd had died in a motorcycle crash, she ransacked the apartment; when she finally found the card, she talked for more than an hour. After that, it stayed in her bedside table drawer.
She opened the card. “Hi, Valentine.”
“I’m moving again. Should I bring you along?”
“Where are you going?”
“A nursing home. I won’t be able to bring much.” Her fingers bent the corners of the card.
“Why are you moving there?”
“I’m losing my memory. The doctor says it’s Alzheimer’s, but perhaps he’s wrong. I forget so much these days, though, and he says it’s going to get worse.”
“Bring me along, Chantal. You’ve told me all about your life. Now I can help you remember it.”
“It’s a deal, Valentine.” She dropped the card into the “to bring” box.