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There probably isn’t a soul in this town that doesn’t remember or hasn’t heard of Ms. Potts’ flower shop. It’s the abandoned shop downtown, sandwiched between an artisan soap store and a boutique that sells overpriced clothes for teenagers. There’s a smell now. Well, that’s a little inaccurate. There was always a smell. It used to be flowers, but now it smells like something akin to rot and loneliness and something wet and dry at the same time. 

People used to come for miles to buy Ms. Potts’ flowers. I remember being young, maybe five or six, and going with my mother when she needed an arrangement for a party she was hosting. I was overwhelmed by the colors and the smells and the leaves that hung low. I tried not to step on them, but I’m sure I did. My mother sat and talked with her for a while, and I wandered up and down the aisles trying to pronounce the funny Latin words. When we left, my mother commented that Ms. Potts was a “strange woman,” but I didn’t really know what that meant. 

Later on, as I grew up and heard more stories about the flower shop, I realized that most people thought Ms. Potts was “strange.” She was a little green, I suppose. Not a neon green, but she had a certain hue to her skin – almost like she was going to be sick, all the time. She never seemed to leave the shop, either. I think she had an apartment upstairs, but it seemed like she was always flitting around the aisles, watering and measuring and talking to the flowers all hours of the night and day. She catered to a variety of events: funerals, parties, prom nights, romantic bouquets, weddings. If there was an event that needed flowers, people called Ms. Potts, and she never seemed to disappoint. Perhaps it was the amount of time she spent with the flowers, but she always seemed to know exactly how to please her clientele. 

The oddest part about her flowers wasn’t their beauty, however, it was their longevity. Her flowers, despite being freshly cut, would last for weeks, sometimes upwards of a month, maintaining their color and posture much longer than anyone had ever seen. Some of the women in town would pester her for her secrets, wanting to know what she used for fertilizer or if she put chemicals in the water to keep them fresh and vibrant beyond their expiration dates, but she would never tell. She would shyly grin and promise that it wasn’t anything special, but everyone knew there was something magical about Ms. Potts. From her green hue to the fact that she seemed rooted in her shop, there was something that no one understood about her - no one except me, that is, and I didn’t learn her secrets until I was well into my twenties. 

She made the arrangements for my wedding, and they were stunning. Each rose and orchid looked like something out of a magazine, with exaggerated colors and thick, green stems that stood upright in their vases. The entire venue smelled like a field of flowers – it even rubbed off on the guests. They commented that the smell clung to their clothes for days afterwards, even after washing them. I still look back at that album from time to time, knowing that despite my dress and my hair and the intricate colors I had chosen, I wasn’t the centerpiece – the flowers had stolen the show, as they always did when it came to Ms. Potts. The pictures couldn’t do them justice. 

It was a beautiful wedding – one of the prettiest the town had seen. My husband at the time, David, looked handsome in his suit. My dress had cost a fortune, but it hugged me in the right places and cascaded behind me like a white waterfall. It was a spring wedding, so the sky was a crystal shade of blue that only comes around a few times a year, and it made everyone look fresh. When I look at those pictures now, some forty or so years later, I study them differently. I look at David’s eyes, trying to find the hidden darkness that I missed in those years before he proposed. I look into my own face, so smooth and rosy, the innocence twinkling in my smile. I see the pictures of my mother with her proud gaze, and the pictures of his parents looking as though they had never seen such a pretty bride. The flowers in every picture looked immaculate, almost fake.

After the wedding and the reception, when the decorations were packed away and the buzz of the evening had worn off, David and I drove into the mountains for our honeymoon. It was a long drive, spanning five or six hours, and we didn’t talk much. I told my mother later, after the divorce, that once the veil of the wedding had been lifted, it was like I could see everything I had missed all those years before. I stared out of the window of the car, watching the scenery, and my gut twisted, and my heart started to race, and I knew I had made the biggest mistake of my life. At the time, I attributed it to a late onset of “cold feet,” but, in hindsight, I think it was my instinct kicking in after being muted for so long.

We arrived at our cabin, and David started bringing in our bags, smiling and joking about the weather while I busied myself exploring. We went to a fancy restaurant, where David drank himself into a stupor. He told the waiter, loudly, that it was the first night of our honeymoon and sloppily joked that he was going to get me pregnant before we ended the week. I remember my face getting hot, and he pointed out my blush with a wink. I drove us back to the cabin while he rambled about the overpriced food and the under-poured drinks, complaining that we had wasted our money. There was a glint in his eyes, a rage, that I hadn’t seen before that night, but I came to know it well. 

He spent the week going to the liquor store nightly, drinking heavily before climbing into bed and sloppily attempting to have sex despite his obvious physical malfunctions. Our plans to go hiking and explore the mountains never came to fruition. His hangovers kept him in bed late into the afternoons, at which point he would angrily wake up and take off to buy more whiskey or scotch or brandy to polish off at night. Somehow, almost miraculously, he did manage to get me pregnant that week. It was only the first in a long line of pregnancies during our five-year marriage that never resulted in a baby. 

When we returned home, settling into our new lives as a married couple, I assumed the drinking would stop. I naively chalked it up to celebrating our newlywed status. However, I came to find out that while David adamantly claimed he loved me most of all, it was really the liquor that had stolen his heart long before he ever met me. 

The day I found out about our first pregnancy, I eagerly waited for him to come home from work. I had the positive tests in a line on the coffee table, and I had stopped by to see Ms. Potts to get a bouquet for the occasion. David stumbled in much later than I had anticipated, his breath ripe with whiskey. He wasn’t happy, he was enraged. He yelled at me, reminding me that we weren’t ready to have children, that we only just gotten married, that our finances weren’t in order. I cried on the couch as he stomped and paced, his spit hitting my face with each accusation that I had gotten pregnant on purpose. He threatened to take me to an abortion clinic out of town as he threw the tests against the wall behind my head. 

It was the first night he hit me. I interrupted his angry rambling and pacing to remind him that it takes two people to get pregnant, and he instantly threw his hand across my face. I clutched my burning cheek, fresh tears starting to pour from my eyes, and he grabbed his coat from the chair and headed out, slamming the door behind him. I went to the mirror and saw the red handprint starting to raise against my skin, and I crumpled to the floor in a mess of tears and exasperation. 

I didn’t work at the time. I had quit my job shortly before the wedding per David’s request. He wanted a housewife, and he made enough money to afford me the luxury of that title. After his first slap the night I announced my pregnancy, he never stopped hitting me. I miscarried after he kicked me in the stomach, which he called a “divine intervention.” It was a “divine intervention” that I experienced over and over again. I lost count of the number of babies I miscarried during our marriage. I had stopped telling him I was pregnant after the first three or four, hoping to alleviate the beatings, but they kept coming, regardless. 

I spent the first four years of our marriage as a glorified punching bag. He would almost always apologize the next morning, offering to help me clean the busted lips or bringing ice into the bathroom for my swollen jaw. Sometimes he would stop by Ms. Potts’ shop and surprise me with an intricate and expensive bouquet, coupled with an apology and a promise to never hit me again. There were months I almost believed him. Sometimes I would even heal up enough to slip into town and visit my mother, where I would lie to her about the joys of being married and the “fun” I had as a housewife. She was proud of me. I had married into a wealthy family, ensuring I would have a future filled with luxuries and security – something she never had. I was too scared to shatter the façade, and, in a way, I was too embarrassed to admit that I had married a monster – a handsome, wealthy monster. 

On our four-year anniversary, I went to see Ms. Potts to buy a bouquet, and she noticed a yellow handprint bruise on my arm. Her eyes met mine, and I froze. 

“Did he do that?” she asked sternly, grabbing my arm so I couldn’t turn away. 

“Ms. Potts, I just need to get some flowers for the dinner table tonight. I’m cooking a roast – it’s his favorite meal. Please, don’t ask me any questions,” I said shakily. 

“You come see me next time. I mean it,” was all she said before handing me the bouquet and turning her head at my money. I left it on the counter and ran out of the shop before she could stop me again. 

I didn’t heed her advice. I continued to take the beatings for another year. I liked to think that, by then, I had grown tougher, my skin thicker, but it didn’t matter – it hurt all the same. I never feared for my life, however. David would punch and slap and kick and pull my hair relentlessly, but he had a limit. He never knocked me unconscious or broke anything above a rib. I always knew that, no matter how angry or drunk he was, David wouldn’t kill me – until the night he found my journals.

I kept them hidden under the bed beneath a loose floorboard, and, in them, I documented his violence and my hatred for him, my fantasies of leaving, my grief over the babies I had lost. I don’t know how he found them. I was in the kitchen when I felt one hit my back, and I knew instantly what it was. I was practically disfigured by the time he finished. With each blow and kick, he yelled that I could never leave him. He swore that I would never have a baby, promising to knock each one out of me until the day I died. I tried to fight back, but he wasn’t drunk this time, just blind with rage. He threw his weight behind each punch, and I could hear my body giving in, cracking and bruising and opening to his fist. I stayed down on the floor, sobbing, too weak and scared to stand up. He spit on my cheek before leaving, promising another round whenever he got home. 

I couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror. My face was a mess of lumps, sticky with blood. There were clumps of hair on the floor. I knew my arm had been broken by the way it hung from my body. I could feel my ribs moving when I stood up, broken, making it hard to breathe. In a moment of fear, I took off into town, limping along the side of the road. I knew I couldn’t go to my mother – the sight of me would’ve broken her. I didn’t have many friends left, and the ones that remained wouldn’t have answered the door at that hour. So, I went to Ms. Potts’ shop. She was there, tending to the flowers, and I opened the door with my good arm before collapsing onto the floor, landing in a mess of vines and leaves. 

When I came to, I was in the back room of the shop, slumped into a winged-back chair. Ms. Potts was looking me over, a mess of flowers on the table in front of her, clicking her tongue as she held them up and shaking her head at each one. 

“This calls for something a little stronger,” she whispered, grabbing a small pair of gardening scissors and walking closer to me. My eyes were swollen, but I could still make out her tiny frame as she walked back and forth, whispering to herself. 

I thought I was hallucinating when she made the first cut, right above her elbow. I tried to sit up, but she gently pushed me back into the chair, rubbing the skin she had cut off onto the cut under my eye. I expected to see blood, but there was none. The piece she had cut off had turned into a leaf, oozing something like aloe but sweeter. She cut little pieces of herself, each one turning into a different flower or leaf, rubbing them on my bruises and wrapping them around my ribs and gently placing them in my hair. The smell was intoxicating, and I fell asleep as she snipped and cut herself, rubbing the wounds all over my body. 

When I woke up, almost everything was healed. The swelling was gone. I stood up and twisted, but my ribs weren’t moving – they were set in place. I stepped into the shop, and Ms. Potts was busying herself around the aisles, watering and singing to the flowers. She didn’t have a scratch on her. I thought I might’ve dreamed the whole thing, but she assured me it was all very real. 

She pointed me in the direction of her upstairs apartment, making me promise I wouldn’t go back to my husband. She looked different that day, a little less green. I objected at first, but I knew I couldn’t go back. David searched the town looking for me, but no one knew I was staying at the flower shop. I was safe. 

I stayed at the shop for almost a year before filing for divorce. David had left town, but his friends gave me his new address and I sent the papers in the mail. He signed them without a second thought, ending the nightmare of our marriage. Ms. Potts, however, died shortly after. I think she cut too close to her roots, but I’ll never know for sure. She lost her green hue and started to wither, slumping like a dying rose before she collapsed one night in the middle of watering. I called an ambulance, but they assured me that there was nothing they could do – she had died of “old age.” I knew what really happened. I knew that she had pruned herself to the bare bones the night I came in, cutting away her flowers and roots and oozing the herbs from her skin to mend me. I couldn’t save the shop. Without her, every flower turned brown and wilted in its pot. She didn’t have a will, so the shop became the town’s property, but the smell kept any interested buyers away. 

Now it just stands there, empty and rotting. I finally told my mother the truth about David. It broke her heart to know I had kept it a secret, living in torment for so long. I still go to the shop and stand outside, soaking in the smell, knowing it was my fault Ms. Potts died. People still talk about her flowers, but I’ve never shared her secret. I doubt anyone would believe me anyway. I can still see the flowers in the window, gleaming and vibrant and upright. Sometimes I can even replace the rotting smell with the memory of the sweet flowers. I healed almost completely from the night David almost killed me, save a small scar just above my eyebrow. When I run my fingers over it, I can feel the warmth from Ms. Potts’ leaves spread across my face. I like to think that she left a piece of her magic in that scar because she knew she would die after saving me; that she knew the shop would fall into ruin, becoming an abandoned building that no one wanted to repair. I like to think she wanted to give me something to hold onto – something that would last far longer than any bouquet she had ever cut. 

December 13, 2019 07:55

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2 comments

Katy S.
17:11 May 07, 2020

I love the idea, and the execution is beautiful as well!

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Raven T
14:00 Dec 20, 2019

Oh, this was heartbreaking. Splendid work. I love the concept, and the narration is compulsively readable.

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