In May the cement garden had erupted with plants: flowering, leafy, or baby edibles. On Xmas eve it had been cold and nearly barren, decorated only with orphan Christmas trees, a few sagging wreaths, and runnels of pine needles like effluvia from a long-extinct volcano.
Now I was assaulted with color, smells, and the voices of gardeners drawn to fill their carts with flats and pots. I wondered if I would recognize the woman employee who had struggled with me to wrestle one of the last few pine trees out of its icy footing and through the bailer and onto the trunk of my car last Xmas eve. I wanted her to know how she had transformed the lives of grieving people through the gifts of her spontaneous hug and a white poinsettia.
The bulky parkas of winter were absent. The staff wore green T-shirts with the store name lettered on. I saw several at the end of the row, but they were all guys. Diverted, I asked one of them where to find low-growing perennials that loved the shade. He said there really weren't any but to try annuals. He showed me many, each not quite right, until we came upon one with variegated green and pink leaves. They were perfect and I could afford one flat, even at pre-Memorial Day prices. I like to get the pet cemetery planted early in the season.
Out of money but drugged with sight and scents of burgeoning flora, I pushed my cart to the farthest end, to imagine being able to afford the miniature rose bushes, the calla lilies, the oceans of marigolds in yellow and orange. I turned the corner and there she was, the woman who had given me hugs and flowers. "I wrote a story about you," I said.
"Me?" She turned sideways as she squatted among the flats she was stacking on the bottom shelf of a display table. She squinted as she looked at me, either from the bright sun or from the confusion I was causing her.
"Yes," I answered. "You sold me a Xmas tree on Xmas eve and gave ma a hug and a poinsettia."
She laughed while frowning. "I don't remember doing it, but that sounds like me. I'm the hugger."
"I'll print you a copy and bring it by sometime." I told her. "What's your name?"
"Janice," she said, the frown and squint gone, replaced by her big smile. I remembered that smile. Warmed by it, I repeated, "Janice. I'll bring it by sometime."
Sometime became a long time as spring and summer were driven slowly and rapidly past me, according to the ups and downs of my daughter's surgery and lengthy recovery. One day in early September she wanted fruit, "And not that fruit you bring home from Krogers. It's always rotten."
This called for a yuppie shop, so I went back to the store with the garden, printed story in hand. As I dipped into the edge of the garden I saw three t-shirted employees, one of them Janice. Marching straight into their huddle I said to her, "You now have a 3-minute break during which you can read my story." Nonplussed, no clue who I was, she took it slowly from my hand.
I spun my cart around and went into the shop and began hunting for unspoiled fruit. There was plenty of it and not all at yuppie prices, so I began filling my cart. Suddenly, at bananas, I was accosted by the arms of a weeping Janice. Tears streaming, she said, "Thank you," and reached out. "That was so beautiful I had to cry. Oh, thank you." We hugged, naturally, and she pulled back to continue wiping her eyes. It was not a one-kleenex cry, and her mopping was barely effective. "Is it OK if I show it to the owners of the store?"
"Of course," I said. "It's yours. You can show it to anyone you like."
"Thanks. I'm the flower lady," she added, with a gleam in her eye. Then she vanished. I continued shopping. In the bread aisle a short woman with unusual teeth blew past me, saying she had read and liked my story. She must be one of the owners. "Thank you," I said, beginning to worry about my sardonic mentions of her shop. But she seemed unoffended and so when she repeated her compliment, I simply smiled and repeated, "Thank you." Story delivery was bringing a lot more response than I had anticipated.
I made my way around the store and when I got back to bananas, Janice re-materialized, this time with an armload of flowers wrapped in pink tissue and tied with a red string. Now I was the one taken aback. She placed them in my arms so carefully that I expected them to weigh as much as a baby. Mimicking her cradling, I gently held them and looked inside the tissue. "What are they?" I gasped, now being the one overwhelmed.
She told me. Roses and baby's breath I knew. There were carnations with few petals having borders of contrasting colors. The others had unusual names, ones I knew I would not remember. "Oh, thank you," I said and we maneuvered around the flowers for yet another hug. "Thank you." I could not think of other words. I saw myself on the floor of a skating rink, bowing to my fans who tossed so many bouquets that elves on skates had to whiz around me to collect them. I was an opera star taking the first enormous bouquet. I was a child in my first play being rewarded by my grandparents.
Still in that mode I paid for the fresh fruit and left, no longer minding the sloping rays of the sun that had earlier been telling me, "The dark days are coming. You will be depressed." "Phooey!" I told them. "If you have had a flower lady in your life, you know that love can burst out in any moment. Begone, harbingers! Your words have lost their power to depress." I slid into the car carefully, placing the flowers on the front passenger floor. They seemed to be matching the smile that could not leave my face.
They rest, ten days later, still blooming except the exhausted roses who are nodding off. The purple orchid-like ones stand firm. "Beauty," they tell me, "is always with us. When we begin running low on it, we make more of ourselves.
"Yes," I answer, "and more of the rest of us." Flower ladies can happen any time, any where.9/00
NB: To see the first story in this series, go to
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