Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Fiction #69: Lara Stokes

Posy

The lady says, “Son, is the manager here? Someone I can talk to?”

Robbie sighs, goes to the back, makes a show of it, yells “Dammit, Carl!” and returns resigned, poised.

“There are absolutely no peonies for you. Not one. The manager said so.”

“Well can you order some?”

She was in once before, ‘just browsing.’

“They are out of season. They’ll be very expensive.”

“Fine,” she says, “I’ll take two.”

“Dozen?”

“Flowers,” she snaps, her voice nasal and gritty. 

“Two flowers?” He has a wedding to prep.

“A pink and a red one.”

“You want me to order two single flowers for you?”

“The customer is always right.” She has a displeased mouth, a beakish nose. She has a birdlike quality he can’t quite name.

“You’re right.” He smiles perhaps too widely.

“I don’t like to be sassed, son. I’d like to speak to whoever’s in charge here.”

“I’m the owner,” he says. She squints at him, head tilted. A cockatoo, he thinks, that’s it. 

“You’re a child.”

“I am not.”

“You can’t be more than seventeen.”

“Well, I am. I’m twenty-six. I own this store. It’s called Robbie’s Flowers. I am Robbie.” He pauses, then, “I am not going to order two single peonies, of two different colors, no less, because it is the middle of December, I don’t like you, and I don’t want to.”

She is stunned. Her eyebrows stand haughtily, like sharp painted feathers.

“Well! You can expect a very unhappy review from me on the Yelp, young man!” She is positively molting. She flutters off, a trail of rage behind her. Robbie smiles, then returns to the back to unpack the rest of the peonies.

He has a rule, you see, a purpose. He sells for the deserving. For a reason: to spread beauty. There is such a thirst for beauty in the world. He will not sell flowers to prissy cockatoo bitches. He will not sell to men who want to pay in cash and leave their work numbers, or worse, ask to have the flowers delivered to a hotel room. Flowers must be a pure gesture. A comfort. An offering. A declaration. Flowers are a privilege. They are very powerful, each with their own meaning. He likes to send messages with them, almost enjoying the fact that the recipients are ignorant of them.

Most importantly, Robbie doesn’t sell flowers to that guy, the one with the plastic glasses, and plaid shirts and the Blundstones. He does not sell flowers to this man and this man does not buy flowers from Robbie. He buys them at the fruit market across the street, where hornets buzz over melting raspberries and sweaty mangoes. These are the vermin who deign to pollenate the daisies, dyed hot pink, or on rare occasion some half decent cut tulips. He buys this garbage, lingers, sniffs the mangoes, decides that yes, this crappy bouquet of mixed chrysanthemums is the perfect way to express his lust, pays, then turns, faces Robbie’s window, smiles, waves, raises his flowers in triumph, and walks around the corner to the little white house. He doesn’t know chrysanthemums mean friendship.

This is who Moira is fucking.


*

Moira hates chrysanthemums, anything dyed. Anything that smells like grass, not flowers. She is very specific about her flower smells. She used to be, anyways. Perhaps her palate has become less discerning overall. Robbie knows what she likes. He used to make her gorgeous, delicate floral confections – white crepe roses (innocence), sprigs of honeysuckle (happiness), blue hyacinth (constancy), a single languid calla lily (beauty). A bunch of purple lilacs (first love). Each tied with a twine bow, a tiny scroll attached, tiny poems scribbled onto floral wrapping paper –

Your mouth watches me
and under its gaze
I am melting…


These tapered off. It happens.

“We’ve grown apart,” Moira said on the phone to her sister, three months ago. He was coming up the stairs, lightly, as he did, and paused. She hadn’t locked the door, and it had crept open.

“We want different things,” she said but Robbie knew it was really because she wanted an idiot in Blundstones to play out all of her lumberjack fantasies.

“He’s so sweet, Jenny, you know that. But – and I know I’m such a bitch for saying this – Robbie…he’s just… weak.” He’d flinched as he heard his name.

“Like, not just emotionally. Like, physically. I need a man to throw me down.” Oh she’d been thrown down. “Like, physically, I just feel… big. I feel like I will break him. Our hands are the same size.” His breath, oddly, had slowed to almost nothing. “I swear I love him. If I ever loved him.” Jesus. “I just – it was never a forever thing. And I just really need to work on me, you know. Work on being alone.” A pause, then, giggling, a hushed “Yes, I totally did.” Pause. “So hot. SO HOT.  I’m so bad, right? It was like doing Wolverine, like, before he got scary.” He let himself slump onto the landing floor and sat there for a while, thinking hard. He waited for “Jenny, I’ve got to go!” then stood up, and pushed the door open.

“Hey babe.” She smiled, all innocence, all sweetness.

He said nothing, just crossed the room until he stood in front of her on the sofa. He took off her glasses as she looked up at him, smiling, surprised as he dropped to his knees, slid his hands roughly up her skirt and pulled off her underwear.

“Well hello there.” Her voice was low, coy. He flipped her around, This is for saying I’m just a florist and this is for all the rent you owe me and this and this and this is for that awful ‘If’. This, because you loved me and you know it. He imagined her gasps, ‘Yes’, as apology. After, when his rage had melted some, when she was spent and smiling in his arms he removed himself.

“That… you…” She reached for him, pulled him towards her. He stepped back, picked up her skirt from the floor and wiped himself. She opened her mouth in protest and he cut her off -

“I really need to work on being alone now. You need to move out.” He walked away to shower.

He remembers Moira sleeping, curled fetal, her back to the outside of the bed, trusting the safety of the room. Towards the end she opened, bloomed across the whole bed, limbs like vines easing him out of her way. She used to love his softness. He used to hold her face in his hands and this was her favorite thing, she felt so safe like this. His fingers used to creep around the curve of her naked hip, inquisitive and spidery. He used to sit on the edge of the tub, playing Bright Eyes on his guitar while she bathed. Now she needed a goddamned lumberjack.

*

The cockatoo is standing in the doorway. Yellow silk scarf fluttering around her throat, comically, feathers flared as if she knows how much he has dreaded her.  She marches in tight quick steps.

“I’ve been to every flower store on the Danforth.”

“Okay.”

“All of them. Eight of them.”

“There are ten.”

“I stopped at Woodbine.”

“Well there you go.”

“I have been to eight flower shops and they have all had peonies in stock. In a variety of colors.”

“How lucky for you.”

“I know you have them.”

“Well.”

“Well indeed, Mister!”

“Have is a subjective term.”

“Are there peonies for sale in this establishment?”

“Not for you.”

“Do you care about your business at all?” “I’m covered, thanks.” “Covered?”

“I have an exclusive contract with some pretty big wedding studios, so I’m pretty set. Walk-in demands are just not a priority.”

“I made a review for you on the –”

“Oh, I saw. You comma-splice a lot.”

“I just. Want. Flowers.” She takes a deep breath. “Please.”

“There’s nine other places.”

“I want them here. I want you to sell them to me. I want what I want.” For a moment she falters, exhausted. Her feathers fall. “I just need two. A pink and a red.”

It is in this moment that Moira’s conquest walks in, all eight feet of him. He smiles pleasantly when Robbie catches his eye, and stands behind the lady patiently.

Robbie pauses. He glances back at the lady and again at the dude, who is now picking up the miniature potted ferns that Robbie split just yesterday, scrap metal pots of different sizes, hammered by hand into intricate Aztec designs. He is checking their prices, each one, and setting them back down haphazardly. He is screwing with Robbie’s specific arrangement.

“Those aren’t for sale,” Robbie calls out, and the dude looks up, examines the one in his hand very closely, then matches Robbie’s gaze and sets it down, out of order.

“Says $14.99,” he says.

“It’s a mistake.” Robbie holds up a hand to the woman. “Hold on.” He crosses the room and grabs the pots, his arms full and his face full of ferns. One slips from his grip, and the dude reaches for it before it is lost. He settles it back on the crook of Robbie’s arm, and steps back.

“Don’t help me.” Robbie drops the pots on the back counter and begins peeling the price tags off.

“Hello! My flowers!” chirps the cockatoo. Robbie looks back to the woman, who blinks, says nothing, but stands still, watching him.

Robbie turns and makes for the back room, where he quickly pulls out a pink peony and a red one, lays them on an elaborate bed of greenery and baby’s breath. He adds a glittery twig, six layers of gauzy white tissue and a layer of paper thin burlap, tied it up in the polka dot cellophane with a flourish of pink velvet ribbon. He quickly hands it to the lady who looks at him, wide eyes now full of tears. “Oh,” she says softly. “These are very fine.” She reaches for her purse. He remembers now - compassion.

“No,” he says “They are a gift. Now go away.”

She nods blankly, turns to leave and then back to him, saying gently, “My sister loved your shop.”  Robbie nods awkwardly, ashamed, gestures for the door, and rather suddenly, it feels, he is alone with this intruder.

“Hello,” says the dude.

“Why are you here?” Something about that last flourish has strengthened him.

“Flowers.”

“No shit.”

“Excuse me?”

“I know who you are.”

“Ok,” The dude smiles so easily it’s unnerving. “So you know what I want.”

“I do not.”

“I need one of those… things. The things you make.”

“Bouquets.”

“The thing with the lavender and the poppy and whatever.” Robbie stares at him. “For Moira.”

“Wow.” Robbie’s laugh comes hard and fast, like a sneeze. “You’ve got some balls.” He stares at him.

“What’s your name, man?”

“Ridge.” 

“Ha!”

“What?”

“That’s a dumb name.”

“Yeah, well… I know.” He looks at Robbie.  “She doesn’t like the ones I get.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“I mean, most chicks are happy to get flowers, right?”

“Not ugly ones.”

“Chicks?”

“Flowers.”

“Well, whatever. She says my flowers smell like grass. So, I mean, you sell that stuff she likes, right?”

“No.”

“You don’t sell flowers?”

“What I made… those were… specific…”

“But you can make one.”

“Not for you.”

“You’ll need to get used to me, Robbie.”

“Not really.”

“I’m gonna be around.”

“There are nine other flower shops on the Danforth.”

“She likes the ones here.”

“That’s her problem.” (Moira’s lemongrass bath oil, slippery, sweet footprints leading to the bed.)

“Go away.” It is getting dark out. Robbie turns back to the pots on the counter, lines them up neatly.

“It’s a fucking flower shop, man, sell me some flowers.”

(Moira tenderly removing the twine, silently breathing it all in deeply, Moira taking each vase down from the shelf, every time, to find the perfect one.)

(Moira curled fetal again on her side of the bed, weeping, trembling, and finally, sitting up slowly and emptying her drawers into garbage bags.) He feels heavy and done.

“Why.” He asks quietly. “Why should I do this?”

“I want to make her happy.” On closer inspection, Robbie sees the razor burn on Ridge’s neck, badly hidden with a band-aid.

(Moira squealing in the bathtub, clapping as he strums from the doorway, laughing when she knocks over her wine, licking it as it runs down her arms.)

He turns and moves to the back. He lays out a sheet of thin blue paper, handmade with flecks of silver. He looks around, thinking, pulls out some hydrangea (heartlessness). He adds in geranium (folly), the sharp scent stinging up at him, marigold (grief), an obnoxious yellow lily (hatred). Why not. He weaves her a message; all of his hurt, his blame, all the love he has left. (Moira blinking sleepily at him from her pillow, her gold eyes lit up with sunlight.) He pulls some strands of cyclamen from a pot and winds them around the other stems, wrapping them as firmly as he means it. Farewell. He seals it well, plugs the long stems in water tubes. It looks garish, disjointed. He wants to get it all out. He will only do this once. He wants this to hurt her. He wants it to last.

He returns to the front.  Ridge looks up, anxiously, it seems. Robbie hands over the flowers, and a small card.

“This is a one time thing. There’s a woman down the street who does really nice arrangements. Here’s her number.”

“Thanks, man.” Ridge looks surprised. He slips the card into his back pocket.

“Please don’t come here again.” Robbie reaches out to move a wayward bit of grass in the bouquet, then changes his mind. “It’s not cool.”

“Ok.” Ridge reaches for his wallet. “What do I owe you?”

“Nothing.”

“No way,” he says, “I’m not taking anything from you.”

“Just deliver the message.” Robbie looks hard at him.

“Uh. Well,” Ridge pauses, confused. “Look, man. I’m sorry. It just happened.”

“I’m over it.” Robbie swallows hard. “I’m closing now.”

“Ok. Thank you.” Ridge turns to leave, stops, and says quietly “I’m not a bad guy, you know.” He looks at Robbie, shrugs, and leaves, the bell ringing softly behind him.

Robbie follows quickly behind, locks the door and flips the door sign to Closed. He returns to the counter and picks up his price gun, quickly stamps the metal pots and carries them back to their table and arranges them carefully before turning off the lights.

*

Lara Stokes is the nerd behind ‘Across the Bar’, a blog of love letters to dead writers (acrossthebarletters.com). Her plays have appeared in the Toronto Fringe Festival and Paprika Festival, with a new play presently in development with The Steady State Theatre Project. She has been published in The Ottawa Arts Review, BlueTyger Magazine, and Burnt Toast: Newsletter of the Writer's Union of Canada. Lara writes and teaches in Toronto, but she is a small town Northern Ontario gal at heart. 

The photo is by Liz Lott. 

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