On the first sun-filled day in July, I left the sanction of my small city apartment to head towards the florist on the corner of Essex and Seventh Avenue. It was late afternoon and from the moment I stepped out onto the bustling concrete walkway, I could feel the sweat beading on my skin, the heat of the sun making the air all around so thick. Quickly, my feet seemed to find their pace that would carry my body those fifteen or so blocks but my mind felt far away.
Since the distant days of high school, Sunday’s had always been the day to get fresh flowers for the apartment-- a sort of cleanse of the stagnancy or stress of the week. Seeing as I haven’t left the apartment in nearly three weeks, I was well overdue for a cleansing of stagnant and grief- stricken build up.
I will get two bunches, for extra precaution, I told myself as I continued to trudge down the noise- filled streets of the city.
Given the tightness that I had already felt creeping over my chest as my feet drove me farther and farther from my apartment, I felt relieved to see the shop empty save for an elder man standing in the doorway with a beautiful bunch of bellflowers. Weaving in through the door, the air was even thicker in the small quarters of the shop, but I felt none of it as I beheld the array of flowers on every surface of the room. Just as I remembered, I thought, a soft smile creeping over my lips as the entangled scents of wildflowers filled my lungs that seemed to give the dull shops interior life.
Ten, fifteen and then twenty minutes had passed as I slowly made my way through the flowers that lined the shop. Three bunches had now made their way into my arms as I figured I would leave one outside my neighbor Lucy’s door-- an overdue thank you for helping me get through the past three weeks.
Deep in the third aisle of the small shop, my back towards the door, I felt the first cool breeze of the entire summer gently touch my skin. I am surprised I did not think more of it. I learned very quickly however, that the cool breeze would act as the only warning I would received before his voice sounded from behind me.
One single word fell from his lips: my name.
Though I willed my body not to react, I was glad my back had been towards him or else he would have seen the widening of my eyes. My breath caught in my throat. His voice sounded restricted and though I had not heard it for a few weeks, it was far too familiar to ever forget.
Knowing what was to come, I didn’t want to turn around. I wanted to materialize anywhere but in that god forsaken third aisle of the florist. But I refused to allow him to limit me to such. I was better now, truthfully. No matter how painful it would be to endure this, what this was, I would do it.
So, with a plastered on level- face, I turned on my heels to face him. Could it be him? I wondered. He looked far too different for it to really be him.
His curly brown hair was much shorter now and his face looked worn in its darken color. It only became clear that it was him by his golden eyes, the ones that always seemed to glow in the sunlight. I wonder how they looked in the weeks of rain we just endured.
“Hi.” My voice was quiet, slightly coarse from disuse, and though I tried to smile, it was no use at all. My chest ached just looking at him standing there at the end of the aisle.
With the two small bunches of flowers gripped tightly in his hands, it wasn’t strange for him to be here, though it felt so foreign and tense now. For months, we, together, had come to the florist on the corner of Essex and Seventh Avenue to pick of two bunches of flowers-- one for our apartment and one for his mothers. For months, the Sunday trip to the florist was everything to me, and now…
And now, I wanted to leave. I hated him for making me want to leave the only place that had pulled me out of my stagnant apartment in three weeks.
His eyes felt glued to me from the moment I turned around. “How’ve you been?”
Adjusting the flowers in my arms, the small shop seemed to grow much warmer. It felt all wrong that this is how we had become. We were strangers.
“I’ve been alright,” I said evenly. I willed myself to keep my eyes on his, to match each of his moves, but the pain that was building in my chest was making it harder for me to breath.
He nodded ever so slightly. “Good,” he hushed. “I’m glad.”
I hated how standing there, before him, felt so foreign. How, after the months they had spent being nothing short of best friends, of lovers, could standing five feet apart feel so uncomfortable?
The silence made it all the worse, as if our unspoken words, our utter lack of words, densified the air. Is the air so thick because we can’t speak or can we not speak because of the air? I wondered.
The bravest thing I had done in three weeks was formulating my next words. “I should go.” My voice was light and even, no contempt or joy in any of the words. But, they were honest. I needed to leave. “Enjoy your Sunday,” I spoke finally, taking a long look into those golden eyes before I turned softly on my heels.
“You too,” he said in a hush. I hated the way my chest grew tighter with each word he said. I hated how he ruined this trip for me. But mostly, I hated that this was reality, that we would never go back to those glorious months of love and of lightness. Why do the most beautiful things get the most screwed up?
And so I turned and I began walking around the aisle’s end. But I hadn’t made it very far before I heard his voice again.
Spoken just once more: my name.
Though I could tell his voice was very quiet, it felt magnified off the linoleum floors of the shop and the flower lined walls.
Before I could think, I turned slowly around again to face him. He now stood in the center of the aisle, just three feet from when I was.
I hated that I couldn’t read his face anymore. How could so much change in just three weeks? That was a hairline of time and yet I felt I barely knew this person standing before me. I hated that we were strangers now.
His eyes were shinning in the mix of dim shop light and the sun that streaked through the windows. “I tried calling,” his voice said quietly. “After everything happened.”
My body grew tense as I sifted through his words.
“I’ve called everyday.” I hate you for ruining this for me. “Did you know that?”
I only shook my head. “My phone was turned off,” I said plainly. “I don’t have it anymore.”
He nodded, swallowing down whatever he really wanted to say. “I… just wanted you to know that I did,” he said. “Everyday.”
I am the one to nod now. I don’t know what words I could possibly say. The flowers already feel dead in my arms.
“I was hoping we could talk.”
I hate you for saying all of this, I thought. For saying all of this far, far too late.
I shook my head, but a soft smile, one I thought would lessen any impact of my words, eased on my lips. “I think it’s a little late for that,” I said coolly. No anger, a little pain, but no anger could be found in those words. I simply refused to be angry any longer.
He nodded. “Oh.”
I nod, too. “Yes.”
And so we stood, him in the middle and me and the end of the third aisle in that old florist on the corner of Essex and Seventh Avenue, a haven at one time but now a mere casualty. I tried to take it all in, as if my fate hung written in the thick summer air for me to see. The walls lined with the most vibrant and beautiful flowers, the mixing aromas that filled the air, the quiet sound of the woman reading a book behind the counter. But most of all, I took him in, with his tousled and short hair, his dark skin and golden eyes, his thin lips and beautiful nose. I took it all in.
Because when I spoke to him that last time, I knew it would be the very last time. And when I left the florist, I knew I would have to leave it behind to. If I ever wanted to regain the part of myself I had lost during those stagnant three weeks in the small city apartment, and those months preceding, I needed to let these things go now.
“Have a nice rest of your Sunday,” I said to him, and I turned and I didn’t glance back as I paid for the bunches of flowers in my arms that now felt dead heavy and wilted. Even so, they were the most beautiful bunches I had ever seen.