By Stephen A. Massa
Susan stood at the south-facing window, absorbing the sunlight streaming through the panes. She longed to feel the fresh air, but the cool draft penetrating the glass made her wish for much warmer climes.
Her neighbors, stationary as much as she was, were similar in size and stature, if not in color. At the far end of the row, Julia differed from the rest, her purple and pink hues contrasting sharply with the yellows and whites of her peers.
Susan was there the longest, not for lack of interest, but of cost. She was tall, almost twice as large as her neighbors, and gathered much interest. When choosing amongst them, however, her beauty lost out to frugality.
Laughter permeated the floral section of the market and Susan wished she was able to turn to know from where it was coming. Two young children, no more than kindergartners, were playing a noisy game of hide-and-seek, much to the chagrin and exasperation of their embattled mothers. Bumping into the shelf where Susan, Julia, and the rest found themselves, the children paid no heed.
The mothers, trying to reel in the unruly children, were utterly overmatched and overwhelmed. The blonde one, the one Susan called Willow because of her willowy physique, tried to grab her offspring, who evaded his mother’s hand as a running back evades a tackle. The redhead, whom Susan appropriately called Ginger, missed her own progeny as well.
The two children, running around the center display across from Susan, Julia, and their cousins, almost ran headlong into each other but Ginger’s child avoided the collision with Willow’s. His hip, though, did not avoid collision with the shelf.
Julia was the first to fall, her ceramic pot smashing on the floor, spilling her medium all over the ground, her magenta petals inadvertently ground into the floor by little feet. One by one, as if they were a tropical version of dominoes, they fell to the ground, meeting the same grisly fate as Julia. The boys seemed to take extreme delight in destroying the pretty perennials.
Susan was the last to fall and, if not for the quick hands of Willow, would have met her demise under the rampant stamping of these impetuous children. Willow, with a quickness unbeknownst to her until now, caught Susan, intact, in the palm of her hand.
Willow gently placed Susan on the sturdier center console and surveyed the damage. It was floral carnage in the worst way. Ginger reprimanded her progeny sternly while Willow consoled her sobbing one gently, using softer tones and even softer touch.
Ginger looked at Willow and mouthed Sorry as she took her child by the arm and marched him out the door. Willow, miffed, saw the floral manager come marching down the aisle.
“I’m sorry, Mommy,” Willow’s son said in between sobs.
The manager walked up to Willow and crouched down to where they were. “First off, is he alright?” he asked, genuinely concerned.
“He will be,” Willow replied. “I’m sorry,” she continued, “I – I’ll pay for all these,” she stammered.
“Yeah, well, that’s going to be an expensive bill,” he replied, pointing at his name tag, which read, of course, Bill.
She couldn’t help but smile, the seriousness and absurdity combining in her head as if she were in some surrealist comedy.
“I’m sorry,” she hesitated and glanced at his badge again. “Bill…”
Willow’s child had stopped sobbing and looked at Bill quizzically. “How are you doing…” Bill stopped, searching for a name.
“Charlie, his name is Charlie,” Willow quickly responded.
“Well, how are you doing, Charlie?” Bill asked caringly.
“F…f…fine,” Charlie replied, taking in the situation. In his extremely limited experience in dealing with strangers that both he and his mother did not know, he wasn’t sure if he was going to scold him or offer him ice cream. Charlie was most assuredly hoping for the latter.
“Would you like some ice cream?” Bill asked Charlie, and then turned to Willow, realizing his mistake. “Would that be all right?” he surreptitiously whispered to Willow. She nodded yes.
“Come on,” he said and pointed the way to the ice cream counter. “Someone is coming to clean this up. Oh, and it’s actually gelato, not ice cream.” Bill shrugged.
“I don’t think he’ll notice the difference,” she laughed as Charlie chanted “Ice cream! Ice cream! Ice Cream” on the short walk.
“Anything you want, Charlie,” he said to the little boy and nodded to the teenager behind the counter. “On the house for these two, Ashley,” he said to the girl.
Susan observed this exchange, and if she were able, she would smile. But she could sense, as only plants can. She stood alone on the shelf now, as the mess created by the rambunctious children, the remains of her friends, were swept away into a bin by the teenage boy as if they were yesterday’s leftovers. Their stems were broken, their dirt, the very thing that helped give them life, strewn about the floor, their petals crushed and ground into the tile. Susan was sad.
They approached the center console, where Willow had placed Susan among the less exotic plants, the ivies, snake plants, and philodendron. Susan was uneasy being among these ordinary, hardy plants. Susan was more comfortable with her fellow orchids, or even the bromeliads, the most famous of which was the pineapple. Susan was on edge as the child approached.
“No, you don’t have to pay for them, we’ll consider it breakage,” Bill said to Willow as Charlie looked at Susan, who trembled in a way only orchids can. Charlie would have thought a breeze rustled her leaves and flowers.
Willow noticed Charlie admiring Susan. “I’m sorry,” Charlie said, looking at Bill, feeling ashamed.
“That’s ok, Charlie. Just no more roughhousing in the store, ok?”
Charlie nodded quickly. “Mommy?” Charlie asked, looking up at her, smiling.
“What is it, Charlie?”
“Can we get her?” he asked, pointing at Susan.
“The orchid?” Willow asked, astonished.
Charlie nodded vigorously. “I really like her and I promise to take care of her the best I can!”
Willow thought about it and saw Bill grinning. “OK, Charlie, but only if you promise to take excellent care of the orchid!”
Willow took Susan to the service desk, where Bill was glad to ring them up. “Now, Charlie, you promise to take good care of that plant, OK?” Bill said to Charlie.
“I promise!” he replied confidently.
Out in the car, Willow strapped Charlie into his car seat, having placed the plant carefully on the driver’s seat. After that important task was done, she took the orchid and gave it to Charlie. “Your responsibility begins now, young man,” she said as Charlie held the plant tightly with both hands. Willow got in her seat and buckled up.
She started to drive away when Charlie asked her a question. “Can I name the orchid, Mommy?”
“I don’t see why not,” she replied. “What are you going to name it?”
“She,” Charlie corrected her. “It’s a she, and I’m going to call her Susan.”
©2022 Stephen A. Massa
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