16 June 2011

part II: flowers {a short story}

Part II of my short story, Flowers.

Read Part I. {Plus, if you read that, you can get a little background on why I decided to write this story, and how this story is a celebration of Bloomsday.  If you don't know what that is, you should really click that link for an explanation.}


But outside, even with all its detractions, has fresh air, not this Subway air of mayonnaise and bread. I’d rather be out there, outside.

Because even with the fumes in the strip mall, there is still something of inspiration in the air. Something of change, but I know that the change coming is nothing but winter. The bland brown leaves, the crackly remnants of summer and life, will cascade to the ground, leaving sticks in the sky. Arthritic fingers reaching out from trees, stark against the gray clouds of winter. Gray: the backdrop to frozen life, to life on hold, to life waiting for the next.

There is change coming, and it's winter.

But then. Then there will be spring.

Life warmed-up, life on fast-forward.

But yes, life still waiting for the next, always waiting for the next.

Why am I thinking of spring now? Why, when just last week, I nearly climbed a tree to get closer to the fall? To autumn, I mean, not the capital F fall, like the Fall of Man.

Just last week, I smelled a bonfire as I took a walk after dinner, and I wanted to bite the air. Take in a mouthful to remember that moment, and here I was spitting that mouthful out. Saying: I do not want this anymore. I want what's next. I want spring.

Spring. Flowers. Daffodils. Tulips. Crocuses (croci? Should it be croci? How do you pluralize that?). Lilies. Redbud and magnolia trees in bloom.

All the pretty flowers.

And here I am, back to flowers, back to thinking of flowers.

I will buy them myself (for myself) when I go to Trader Joe's after work. I will buy them for the simple reason that I want beauty, even ephemeral beauty, in my apartment.

Last spring, I watched this show on PBS about tulips in Holland. It was a Saturday night, and I was tired.

You can make fun of me if you want:

me, learning about flowers from the TV at 8pm on a Saturday, sitting in my pajamas (a race t-shirt from my first race ever, the Grape Stomp, and pink plaid pants that I’d gotten at Target the week before. I’d bought them because I knew I would be happy waking up in those every morning. Happy is an empty word; it is too close to happenstance, as if happy has been mashed with circumstance and only certain circumstances can make us feel…feel…not sad.).

My friend Marin called during the show, and I let her go to voicemail. Let her disappear into technology. Didn’t want to bother engaging, but when I heard the phone ring, I thought: No, I am not forgotten.

But I still didn’t want to bother.

On the flower show, a British narrator—they’re always more reliable when they have an accent, aren’t they?—was telling me about a flower auction house in the Netherlands. As big as 300 football fields, or maybe it is 500.

I do not have a mind for numbers, but I could imagine the vastness. The high ceilings, the exposed pipes, the buzzzzzzz of the lights that take 10 minutes to turn on, the very industrialness of it.

And in this stark environment, in this wasteland of efficiency: in this, there are miles upon miles of flowers. Brought in day after day. Beauty upon beauty. Sweet smell building on deeper notes of creative nature, of how God perfumes the flower to be attractive to all of us, from bees to you and me.

Into this warehouse come flowers upon flowers to be traded like stock on the floor.

On the show, the camera cut to the trading floor. It was the New York Stock Exchange in a garden. A garden party of commerce. Brokers waggled their frantic fingers and shouted with their two lips their tulip bids and adjusted their glasses to squint at beauty: they were buying flowers for the world.

Out of this warehouse, these flowers would go to Chicago and Paris and London and San Francisco. The flowers were cut one morning, brought to this warehouse, bought by a broker, and shipped away.

By the next morning, they would be in a flower shop on 86th and Amsterdam in New York City. By lunchtime, they could be in someone’s apartment, in someone’s hands.
Someone could pass by them and say to themselves: I will buy flowers for myself. Today, on the way home from work, I shall stop in this shop and I will buy flowers for myself.

The PBS flower narrator went on for some moments about how this frenzied energy, this commerce of shouts and shipping schedules, was all for something ephemeral. These were cut flowers being sold in the warehouse: they served no long-lasting purpose.

For a few days, these flowers would bring color. Smiles. Memories of other springs, other flowers, other lovers. For a few days, these flowers would be the center of attention.

And then. Then they’d turn brown on the edges and the petals would drop. They would start to smell not of fresh life—but of decay and slime.

These flowers would be thrown away. And life would go on.

It always does. But that Saturday night watching PBS, I couldn’t take my eyes away from life as it existed in that flower warehouse in Holland.

As I watched the floor, a bounty of beauty that wouldn’t last, I thought I caught a glimpse of him. Him. Oh yes, him.

I knew he wasn’t really there, but I saw him. I see him everywhere, and I don’t know when that will stop. I don’t know when he’ll leave my mind’s eye. I don’t know if I want him to.

I thought I saw him buying a mile-long stretch of tulips. Red. Yellow. White, even.

I saw him in his blue button-down shirt, glasses just starting to slide down his nose, the nose with a bump in it from when he broke it in a hockey game.

I saw him scratch behind his ear with a pencil, which is what he does when he’s thinking hard, especially thinking about math, which he would need to do if he were a tulip broker. He would always need to be weighing the cost and the benefit of a bouquet.

And even though he wasn’t a tulip broker in real life, not back when I knew him (and I doubt he is now), I can say this about him: he weighed the cost and benefit of everything. He scratched behind his ear a lot when I knew him, and I eventually figured out he was weighing the cost of me.

What had started out so promising—it decayed. The petals fell off. The leaves became grayed-out versions of themselves.

Last spring, I thought I saw him on a PBS show about tulips, and now here it is fall, and he’s still wandering his way through my mind as I sit in this Subway. Taking the last bite of my meatball marinara and crumpling the paper. I’m ready to go. Ready to move on.

And later, I will buy flowers for myself.

Just because something is going to die—just because those flowers are in the process of dying already—doesn’t mean I can’t grab beauty when I see it. Doesn’t mean it can’t bring me joy for an ephemeral, moving moment.

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