A Time to Love


Valentine’s Day is always the same problem for Cupid.

“Why do you always have to work on Valentine’s Day?” Mrs. Cupid asks.

Cupid liked to trace it back to Santa Clause. For a long time, people were content to celebrate their love and devotion on Valentine’s Day without a mascot. They celebrated their love every day and Cupid only needed to be present for a few special events throughout a person’s life. But then that fat old man got his own holiday and everyone started to think about why Valentine’s Day didn’t have a human personification of its own. And now they expected him to work every single Valentine’s Day. Visiting every couple. For eternity.

But this isn’t what she’s asking and he knows it.

“Because I do. Because millions of people expect me to be there today and I have a responsibility to do this,” he says.

He tries to keep his patience. He tries to keep his tone even and to keep his hands from shaking. He tries not to shout at her when she has actual grievances. He knows that he fails at it.

“There you go again, hiding behind your responsibility,” she says. “You always ruin Valentine’s Day for me.”

“I’m not hiding behind anything,” he says. “I really have to do this.”

And then he leaves to get ready for work. It’s the same every year.


The truth is that he knows he ruins her Valentine’s Day. He’s known it since he first met her. There was no one there to shoot the two of them with an arrow when they first met, so they’d fallen in love the old fashioned way: slowly and with lots of mistakes. But he loves her. It’s because he loves her that he knows that it isn’t easy to love a Love God. Cupid’s gift is in letting other people fall in love. That doesn’t mean he knows anything about love himself.

Sometimes he thinks that if he really loves her then he should hit her with one of his arrows so that she can fall happily in love with someone else. He just can’t bring himself to do it.


Today he will witness:

  • 35 million boxes of chocolates given as gifts. Most of them won’t start an argument.
  • 8 billion sugar hearts.
  • 224 million roses. Cupid always takes his allergy medicine before he leaves for work.
  • 3,000 awkward first dates. The Valentine’s Day blind dates are his least favorite part of the day. Two people who are so desperate not to be alone on Valentine’s Day that they’ll take almost any invitation they can find. Most of them won’t be hit with one of his arrows.
  • 125 house fires started by candlelight dinners.
  • 220,000 marriage proposals.
  • 6,000 weddings.
  • 11,000 babies conceived.
  • 12,000 babies with the unfortunate luck to be born on this particular holiday.
  • 12 million couples out for their first night out without the kids since forever.
  • 8 million people out for a date who would rather be out with someone else tonight.
  • 500,000 people out for a date with that someone else.
  • 5 million fights.
  • 2 million people storming out to find a hotel room alone or visit their mothers.
  • 1 million breakups.
  • 4,100 divorces initiated.


He steps out of the bathroom dressed in his work clothing.

The little white wings aren’t so bad, though they’re in need of repair after a year in storage. He’s only barely managed to wrestle the quiver over them without permanently damaging the wings this time. He buckles the leather straps over his pale chest, his physique managed by a lifetime of candy hearts and extra desserts. Santa pulls off the jolly, jiggling belly better than Cupid, but then again he has those heavy robes to cover it. Cupid’s belly hangs out over a large diaper fastened with a safety pin the size of his forearm. His bare legs stick out from it like hairy pixie sticks.

He stands in front of the mirror for a moment, desperately looking anywhere but at himself while he dabs on some of Mrs. Cupid’s blush. He catches his reflection and stops, taking in the thinning curls that he wishes he could chop off, the gray hairs on his chest, and he lets out a great sigh.

He’s ready for work.


Santa has it easy. The timezones and bed times of all of those little girls and boys work in his favor. But not for Cupid. Because love happens at all times of day he has to zigzag his way around the globe a hundred times over. Romantic breakfasts, surprises at the office, early dinners, late dinners, even later dinners that turn into coffee and dessert, he tries to be at as many of them as he can. He comes home exhausted on his stubby, artificial wings.

There will be no romantic candlelight dinner when he gets home. No trail of rose petals will lead him to the bedroom. And there will be no argument over a romantic comedy and a bag of burnt popcorn. The house will be dark for him. Mrs. Cupid will already be asleep and he’ll shrug out of his wings as quietly as possible before going to bed. She’ll have left a pillow and blanket for him on the couch. He’ll explain that he didn’t want to wake her up, but they’ll both know the truth.

He’ll make it up to her tomorrow, he promises, even though he already knows that it’s too late for that.


A couple of years after they’d started dating, Cupid accidentally pricked himself with one of his arrows and came home madly in love with the wrong woman. He couldn’t stop talking about her. Everything was Amy this and Amy that and I wonder if Amy likes chicken salad. He started looking for excuses to fly by her house. It took three days for the effects of the arrow to wear off, during which Mrs. Cupid had locked herself in the bathroom several times and finally started packing. He spent the rest of the year making it up to her that time.

Sometimes he wishes that he had let her go. It would have been easy to do and at least there would have been a simple explanation for why everything fell apart. Something easy to tell the people who would give him those sad, accusing looks when they asked what happened. He’s afraid that everything will fall apart eventually. And he’s even more afraid that it will be his fault when it does.


Cupid’s parents are Venus and Mars: the goddess of love and the god of war. They were passionate in their lust for each other and passionate in their revulsion of each other. Fortunately, that was before Valentine’s Day had been invented. They found plenty of other holidays to ruin for each other, though. His father was away at war all the time and his mother had other ways and, well, other people to entertain her while he was gone. When the two happened to be in the same room it was generally to argue about who had killed the other’s favorite warrior.

Cupid doesn’t have a lot of good relationship role models.


Cupid is very conscientious about taking all of the other holidays off. Even days like Memorial Day and Labor Day, he makes it a point to stay home from work. Mrs. Cupid drags him along to barbecues at some friend or another’s house. Most of them he’s only met at these barbecues. And usually only on the way to the fridge for another beer.

When it’s not a food holiday, they spend most of their time together shopping for cheap sheet sets. Or for cheap electronics. Or for fancy kitchen gadgets.

He makes it a point to take her out to dinner the day before Valentine’s Day. It’s easier to get a table, he says, and they won’t have to fight for the server’s attention. He buys her chocolates and jewelry and flowers as often as possible. He would smother her in jewels if he could afford it. Jewels to tell her that she’s beautiful. Jewels to tell her that she’s priceless. Jewels to say that he’s sorry. Jewels to apologize for his shortcomings. If only jewels could work as the glue to hold them together.


It’s night now and Cupid’s day is almost at an end. He comes upon an old couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Their friends and family have gathered with them to celebrate and the couple look at each other exactly the same as when they were newly weds, fresh in love.

As he watches, Cupid realizes that he’s not alone here. Death is standing beside him. Cupid and Death aren’t exactly friends, but it’s not unusual for the two of them to cross path. After all, acts of love often accompany acts of death.

“No, surely you’re not here for the old couple,” Cupid says to him.

Death shakes his head and holds up one bony finger. Just one of them. He swings his scythe and the man dies.

“It’s a shame, really,” Death says. “Those two were so in love. They just never had much time together. He was drafted right after they married and spent time overseas. Then he got a job that took him away from her often. It’s just been in the last couple of years that they’ve been able to spend their lives together.”

Cupid realizes that there’s nothing left for him to do here but he lingers a moment. As the man’s shade materializes, Cupid is suddenly worried that this might be his last chance to learn something important.

“What was the secret?” he asks the man. “You just, the two of you looked so happy together, even though you couldn’t spend time together. How did you manage it?”

The old man looks at him, confused. “It was never about the times that we weren’t together,” he says. “It was always about the times that we were.”


Cupid is exhausted when he gets home just after the final midnight in the world. For some, Valentine’s Day will continue on into the wee hours of the morning, but they’ll have to go on without his help. His bow and quiver clatter loudly as he stashes them in the hall closet. He shrugs out of the wings and diaper gratefully.

The pillow and blanket are waiting for him on the couch just as he expected. He wraps the blanket around his naked body, turns out the lights, and finds his way to the bedroom.

Mrs. Cupid is sound asleep. He pulls back the covers and lies down beside her, slowly, trying not to rock the bed and wake her up. As he settles in beside her she puts her head on his shoulder and lets out a little sigh.

He’ll make it up to her tomorrow, he promises. And the tomorrow after that. And the one after that. And all of the tomorrows that they have together, for as long as they last. He’ll make it up to her this time because this time he understands what it’s all about. And this time he’ll take the time to do it right.

Dianne Williams lives in Lawrence, Kansas. She grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries and classic science fiction. She once dreamed of being an astronaut. Or maybe a lawyer. Or an artist. She settled for being as many of them as she could all at once through fiction writing.


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