“Not quite right,” I say inspecting the tiny bell-like flowers that hang along a green stem. The sweet floral fragrance hitting directly into my nostrils. Tied in bunches with one perfect ribbon made of thin twine rope. Lilies of the valley the florist had called them. The flowers I wanted were much different though, and they did not loop down like tear drops. They were lovely really, but they lacked something that I could not explain. Besides, these were not the flowers I was looking for.
“Hmm okay,” the florist ponders briefly. Unmistakably irritated by my lack of knowledge in the flower department. Yet he remained respectful and patient with me. Even after I had been completely impudent towards him. A young slender man, or rather, a boy no older than sixteen, hovered above me. Eren he said his name was. His lean posture was nothing compared to my hunched shriveled body. With dark black hair, that was swept just above his eyebrows, which seemed that it had not been brushed that day. Trying to compensate for the fact, he had not acknowledged my presence when I had first arrived. After ten minutes of wandering around the shop, he had finally approached me. Eyes red while sniffling his nose with an evident forced smile. Certainly, doing something illicit beforehand. Slouched body and hands in his pockets. Bored stiff at the sight of me. Clearly not the owner of the small shop, just a mere worker.
My first thought was how unprofessional it was to ignore a customer, and then have the decency to show his face like this. Even considered walking out, but it was getting late in the evening, and this was the last flower shop I had found. So, after complaining about the lack of professionalism and motivation, he now stood tall. Answering all my questions profoundly I decided to give him another chance. Narrowing down the flowers I was trying to find. Of course, I did not know the name of it, just some small details of its features. After repeating that I wanted small pink flowers that spread throughout a stem, his eyes lit up. He leaves me momentarily only to return with a potted plant.
“They’re sort of delicate to grow so we store them separately,” he says while displaying the plant.
“Yes, I think this might be it,” I say ecstatically. This was the fourth flower shop I had been to on this side of town, and I had finally found them. The most beautiful and substantial flowers, as my wife had said. One day she brought home this flower and was so eager about it and its meaning. She mentions she was all the way across town when she decides to stop at a charming little flower shop. I had never seen her so happy about a flower before.
“It’s a symbol John, of new beginnings,” she had quoted the woman who sold her the flowers. Suddenly the store bell jingles and in walks a couple embracing each other. Eren inadvertently sighs and gives me a small bow while retreating to help the young couple. They were in high spirits because of their recent engagement.
“Congratulations,” I chime in.
“Thank you so much,” the woman acknowledges me, “are you married?”
“Yes, forty years, it’s her birthday and I want to surprise her,” I say motioning to the pot. Admiration spreads across her face as she places a hand on her heart. “Aww orchids are the perfect gift,” my face falls at the name.
Orchids, no these were not it at all. Then I recall my wife’s words, “they remind me of orchids but they’re not they’re called…” and then blank because I cannot for the life of me remember what she said. Though not a surprise I never remember the things she tells me. Disappointment panned on my face, I now stood there with complete irritation radiating off me. The couple continue their business confused at my sudden change of mood. Now I was going to be late I had promised her eight and it was currently a quarter till seven. I still needed to stop by the bakery across the street for a cake and I had no time to go to another flower shop. Out of the places I had visited earlier none had the flowers I was looking for. Yes, I could have settled for some simple roses or tulips. But all those flowers lack something that I could not figure out what.
Plus, I had promised her I was going to buy her favorite flowers and cake to celebrate her birthday. I look at the orchid, thinking this will suffice and she would have to forgive me for getting her the wrong ones. Eren asks if I was ready to check out after leaving the couple to explore the flowers he offers. I gloomily say yes, and he proceeds to the register.
Suddenly, I notice it a wooden cabinet with swinging doors just behind the register, hidden behind small beads that dangle from the roof. There inside sits a small pink tree along with some incenses and a frame I cannot catch what it is. Yes, those were it, much smaller than the bouquet my wife had brought home. My shaky finger points towards it, “that’s it.” Eren follows my fingers and instantly scowls, “it’s not for sell.”
“Surely you have more somewhere around here, or where did you get that?” I nudge.
“I grew it, it’s mine,” he snaps.
“What kind of flower shop has flowers but doesn’t sell them?!” I lash out, the agitation of the day finally catching up to me.
“We don’t grow those anymore and that one is mine and it's not for sell,” he says point-blank visibly upset.
“Why don’t you?” I press. I know my wife will be angry when she finds out I have been nagging this young man for some flowers that are meant for her. I did not care because they were important, and they meant something.
“Well because its flowers only bloom for a short time,” he pauses, “and then they die.”
He almost chokes up at the last part, tears forming in his eyes. Then that’s when I see it, his eyes reflect my own broken and bitter ones. Sad and red with tears not yet spilling. When he begins to sniffle, I realize something, I was wrong about him doing illicit things, he had been crying prior to me entering the store. Only collecting himself after he saw me. I feel my face turn red not from anger but from embarrassment. I have been badgering and judging him since I got here not knowing the hardships he is going through. I had no right to give other people a hard time just because I am a bitter man. I give in and agree to pay for the orchids.
After entering some numbers on the register, he goes to scan it but stops midway. He stares intently at it with a calculating look. Thinking he is not going to sell me even this I begin to get angry again, “what?”
“It’s her birthday?” The question catches me off guard.
“Yes, I looked for it at other stores, but they don’t sell them anywhere.”
“Because its flowers only bloom for a short time and then they die,” he repeats, “they’re not worth the hassle.”
He places the orchid back down on the counter and turns away briefly. Pulling out the small tree from the cabinet, he handles it with utter care. Gripping the tree tightly with both hands close to his chest as if giving it a hug. With a grief-stricken face he hands it towards me, “take it.” I shake my head because for whatever reason this tree meant a lot more to him than I thought.
“My mother always says it’s rude to decline a gift.”
“I’ll just take the orchid,” insist. He persists with giving me the small tree and after a while I finally accept it. I give him the money but he declines, insisting that it was a gift. I nod while he gives me a small bow and I thank him for his kindness. I leave the shop ready to head to the bakery, when I realize I forgot to ask him the name of the flowers.
At last, after getting the petite cake and driving, I had arrived at the destination, where my wife was already waiting. “Sorry I’m late sweety,” I say while setting our picnic arrangement down, a task I found hard to do for my age. “I found the flowers you loved so much. I tell you they were a hassle to get.” I finish setting up the picnic with the cake and flowers in the middle and two plates on either side. I cut two pieces of cake, one for me and one for her as I say, “Happy Birthday Eileen.” No reply from her and there will be no more replies. I look up, there stood a tall structure that housed the ashes of the deceased. I read the inscription as I had done many times before,
Eileen Mary Price March 20, 1962 – December 10, 2022.
Only three months since I lost my Eileen I was still grieving and would continue to mourn her for the rest of my days. I take a small bite of the cake and sit in silence as I imagine her sitting there enjoying the cake with me. I find that I miss her laugh the most, a sound that at one point I found obnoxious, now I yearn to hear it one last time. I continue to sit there as I tell her about the day I had, even the part about the flower shop. I hear footsteps approaching me, feeling a body position itself a couple of feet away from me. Thinking it might be the groundskeeper ready to kick me out for being here so late I decide to ignore it. When nothing happens, I look towards the person, a familiar young slender man stood there staring sorrowfully at another compartment.
Considering if I should introduce myself, not wanting to intrude in his moment of mourning. I eye Eileen thinking she would want me to acknowledge him. She always had the kinder heart, and I knew she would not want me to leave him alone with his pain.
“Hello,” I wave over to him. Eren jumps slightly as he follows my voice, shock drawn on his face when he sees me.
“Hi,” he bows at me. I motion for him to join me, though I doubt he would because of how I was towards him. To my surprise, after bowing towards the compartment, he approaches me. Sitting down next to me glancing at my wife’s niche, another shock wave crosses his face. “Sorry for your loss,” he says softly.
“You as well,” I say, pointing to where he once stood. He gives me a small nod and I hand him a slice of cake. We sit there in silence, each of us in our own domain of grievance.
“My mother, she passed last spring and those were her favorite,” he breaks the silence as he gestures the small tree that sat in the middle, “she used to grow them, sold them whenever they blossomed. The only person in town who knew how to take care of them properly. They wilted after she was gone. My father didn’t attempt to sprout them claiming they were my mother’s hobby. I managed to keep one tree alive.”
I listen intently, grasping on to every word he said, feeling guilty that I had robbed him of the last thing he had of his mother. He had given me something meaningful to him at a personal cost. A small act that I could never repay him for. He was a kind kid, reminding me of a son I never had.
“My wife brought them home one day and she absolutely loved them. I think your mother was the one who sold it to her.”
He gives me a sad smile, “I bet, it was so easy for her to sell them. She would tell people stories of them and their meaning. A symbol of hope and new beginnings she would say. Her casket was filled with cherry blossoms.”
“Cherry blossoms,” I repeat.
“That’s what they’re called or Sakura in Japanese,” he explains. So, I finally found out the name of them. The flowers that were loved not only by Eileen, but by Eren’s mother as well.
“Can I ask you then why you don’t grow more of the cherry blossoms? That way you could keep your mother’s memory alive.” He taps on the plate as he ponders the question, I had overstepped about something too personal to talk about with a stranger.
“Because no matter how much time and care I put into them, they just don’t blossom like they used to.” As he says those words, I comprehend why all the flowers I had seen before were never good enough. Not because they were not beautiful or well-formed, but because they were missing something. They were not missing anything at all, they were the same as before. The only difference was that the people we loved were no longer here to admire them as well. They worked as a sad reminder of something we lost, something that we held precious to us was gone.
I look at the cherry blossoms he had given me, and I cannot help but think that, while I see my wife’s excitement, all he sees was his mother’s cold corpse. He has lost something at a young age while his life has just begun, now he will live the rest of his life with a dark point of view. Something I could not allow him to do because I owe him that. I have lived a very long life and I let it taint me. But if he lets me, I will leave him a positive outlook on life, rather than a gloomy one. I will help him grieve and I will help him grow the cherry blossoms. So that the happiness and kindness of his mother is not forgotten, and it will continue to grow, and it is passed on to other people. I will teach him that yes life is harsh, but it is also filled with love and beautiful moments.
Yes, the flowers will not bloom as before, and they will wilt tomorrow, but today, today they are beautiful.