The Perfume of Spring

Submitted into Contest #191 in response to: Start your story with your character(s) going to buy some flowers.... view prompt

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Pulling over on 19th, in the city, wasn't the hard part, it was getting back on, but it was worth it. Not only did The Papadopoulos Brothers have some of the freshest flowers you could find, they were also the only florist on the way. At least, directly on the way. 

“Do you want card with that?” he asked in his thick Greek accent as he wrapped the bouquet of oleander in a plastic veil. 

I shrugged. “How much?”

“No.” He held out an assuring hand. “For you?” Although we’d never met, he gestured at me like an old friend. “For you. Free.” He waved at a small stand of tiny cards. “Pick. Pick card.”

“Alright.” I scanned the small collection of offerings. A white card with a daisy. A dark one with lilac, a sunset behind it. A bright field of sunflowers with an oak tree on the horizon. “That one.” I pointed to a bright blue card with a close up of a nose smelling a daisy during that golden hour of sunset. 

“Very good card,” the florist agreed, as he plucked one from the rack and opened it on the counter. 

I held up a hand. “Also, a bouquet of daisies.”

He shouted in Greek over his shoulder and turned to me with a shake of feigned exasperation. He clicked his pen open, held it to the card, and turned a raised eyebrow up to me. “Note?”

I held my hands out in a moment of loss. “Uh…” Even if I came up with the perfect sentiment, she wouldn’t be able to read it, lying there in her coma. What would I even say?

Oleander’s pink.

Daisies are white.

Allergies are a bitch.

Now say goodnight.

Not exactly a poetic send-off. Although, I knew my mom, and I was pretty sure she’d think it was funny… after I explained it to her, of course. 

I know you’ve been suffering.

So have we.

I hope these flowers

Finally set you free.

Too heavy handed. I rubbed at the side of my head as I searched for the perfect words. After a moment I raised a finger. The florist sighed with impatience as he readied his pen. 

“I love you, mom.”

“Is good,” the florist agreed, in broken English, as he elegantly scrawled the four words. He tucked the card into the bouquet and turned to receive the prepared pot of daisies. He set the daisies next to the bouquet and rang the numbers into the antique cash register. It chimed and rattled. He looked up at me. “Thirty-two, my friend.”

I nodded and handed him two twenty-dollar bills. “Keep the change, buddy.”

He nodded with a grin, “Oh. very good. Thank you. Thank you.” and tucked the cash into the drawer. 

I smiled and thanked him as I grabbed up the bouquet and tucked the pot under my arm. I pushed into the driver’s seat holding both of the arrangements and groaned as I dropped them onto the floor on the passenger’s side. It was still forty minutes to the hospital. A lot of time to think. 

Not even seven months from diagnosis to where she was now; knocking on the door to the next leg of the journey. Maybe something amazing. Maybe nothing. Maybe oblivion. Maybe infinity. No one knew. As far as moms go, she had been pretty great. She wasn’t the Stepford wife, make-you-a-meatloaf type of lady. But, she was cool. She laughed and searched for meaning with you. She wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable. She wasn’t afraid to be honest with you about the realities of the world, even if her’s were maybe a bit askew from what might be what’s really going on. She took good care of us, and we liked taking care of her. 

She would get sick from time to time. My sister would care for her as she delegated tasks to me. Move this. Carry that. I clearly remember a sunny summer morning. My mother was on the mend after a bout of illness. We had finished our morning with mom, tended to our chores, and found ourselves with a free afternoon.

The family dog, Buddy, and I had run off to the southern hills of the surrounding properties to see what kind of adventure was to be had and stumbled into the most striking field of daisies and oleander that I’ve ever seen. I remember it clearly to this day. The sweet scent floated through the pasture on a warm breeze. The field vibrated with the buzz and hum and rattle of life. Bees and crickets and dragonflies swooped, zipped and hopped. 

To the east of the flat a grove of oaks guided a lazy stream south. Buddy ran for the creek and, with a bound, disappeared into the foliage, sending flocks of birds fleeing from the underbrush. “Buddy!” I waved a hand, dismissing his return, as I heard him thunder through the chaparral, bushes rustling and twigs snapping in bunches. I grabbed lazily at the tops of the high weeds as I meandered through the field toward the creek. The grass and flowers gave way to a sandy bank at the opening in the river’s grove. I whistled for Buddy, his bustling growing distant, and took a seat in the sand, toeing the edge of the creek with the heel of my sneakers, and pulling at the tiny flowers sprouting intrepidly through the dry riverbed. 

I had been zoning out, so I hadn’t heard him until he was already on top of me. He soaked me with a splash before tumbling into my chest—hitting me right in the numbers—and throwing me onto my back as he wriggled in my arms and licked at my face. 

“Ok, boy. Ok.” I grabbed him by the scruff and aggressively rubbed his haunches. I shot up and pushed him playfully. Buddy smiled and tucked his tail in as he shot back and forth across the beach, spraying sand with each stride. He wore himself out and landed in my arms, panting, and lapping lazily at my face. I gripped his haunches into a hug and kissed him on the top of the head. “Who’s a good boy?”

He answered with a slobbery tongue along the side of my face, jumped out of my bearhug and shot into the field, disappearing and reappearing through the outcrops of wildflowers and grasses as he spent the last of his energy. 

I sat there for a while, at the edge of the creek, watching the leaves of the river grove flutter in the breeze. The summer heat flooded through the gully and turned cool as it kissed off of the surface of the water. It caressed my face. I laid back on the sandy bank and closed my eyes as I listened to the afternoon serenade of the insects in the field. Just as I settled into a moment of serenity, Buddy burst from a corner and pounced on my chest. I lurched into a half-sit and caught him by the ears with a gruff shake. “Ooof.” I caught my breath. “Good job, Buddy.” I pushed him off of me as I sat up. He plopped his ass on the bank, wagging his tail back and forth across the sand, and stared up at me with a smile at the corners of his mouth and a flower between his teeth. 

I scrunched my face at him annoyed at first and then smiled as I saw the flower. It was beautiful. Pink and yellow blossoms adorned a tri-toned green stem. 

I reached out to take it. “Aww. Thanks, buddy.”

Buddy released it with a smile, sniffed around in a series of circles and slumped against my side with a shakingly satisfying stretch, before settling into a dozing snore. I laid back on the sand as I stroked his matted fur and sniffed at the flower he’d picked me. We dozed through the afternoon. When dusk started to darken the sky we headed home, but not before I picked a wild bouquet of daisies and oleander. The pink and white petals bursting with the perfume of spring.

When I got home mom was still not feeling well. Dinner was up to me and my sister, and she had already gotten to work peeling potatoes and looking right at home in mother’s red and yellow floral apron. The screen door thumped closed behind me with a creak. “Good timing. Wash up and start snapping the beans.” She turned to me. “Whadda ya got there?”

“They’re for mom.”

She smiled, “She’ll love ‘em,” and turned back to her work. “Why don’t you put them in a vase and bring them up to her. I think she’s still sleeping.”

“Ok.” I went to the cabinet and picked out one of her favorite vases, filled it with water, and clumsily organized the bounty of bloom. I carefully carried them up the stairs and made it the whole way despite Buddy’s attempt to trip me up at every step. 

The room was dark, curtains pulled. The only sound was my mother’s quiet breathing.

Even Buddy tip toed as I crossed the room and set the arrangement on her nightstand. I froze as she stirred, not wanting to wake her. She breathed deep and turned. I gazed at her face. Even when she was sick, she was still as beautiful as an angel. She inhaled deeply and coughed again. Buddy and I slowly backed away and out of the room. She began to cough again as I pulled her bedroom door closed, staring at her through the crack before heading downstairs to help Jane. Turned out that I almost killed her that day.

Jane had run up to check on her before dinner and found her clutching her throat and struggling to breath. The doctor had told us that she would be fine. It had just been a case of severe allergies compounded by her already struggling respiratory system. I had cried and apologized through bleary eyes. She rocked me back and forth. “It’s not your fault, honey.'' She kissed me on the forehead and stroked my face, wiping away the tears. “And they’re the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen.”

As she lay in her hospital bed, tubes sticking out every-which-way, I thought she looked just as beautiful and angelic as ever before. I set the pot and bouquet on her nightstand and held her hand as I leaned over and kissed her forehead. I breathed her scent in deeply. Her smell was still there beneath the overbearing odors of medicine and antiseptic. I quietly dragged a chair to her bedside, careful not to wake her, despite knowing nothing would, and laid my head on her hand. A monitor beeped, reporting an elevation in her heart rate. I laid there, my head on her hand, as she began to cough, and smiled, tears pooling against the bridge of my nose, and running down my cheeks. “I love you, mom.”

March 30, 2023 22:02

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1 comment

Carole Wilbur
16:14 Apr 07, 2023

Truly a powerfully beautiful story. I loved your use of the flashback to explain why you chose the oleander and daisies to take to the hospital. Beautiful imagery surrounding you and Buddy. “And they’re the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen.” The ending: I quietly dragged a chair to her bedside, careful not to wake her, despite knowing nothing would, and laid there, my head on her hand, as she began to cough, and smiled, tears pooling against the bridge of my nose, and running down my cheeks. “I love you, mom.” So evocative of the earli...


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