Madness Among the Flowers

Submitted into Contest #86 in response to: Write a story where flowers play a central role.... view prompt

76 comments

American Coming of Age High School

“So what do you do when your personal values clash with those of your family, your friends, your loved ones, your society?”

The classroom went silent. 

Expected

I gave the prerequisite wait time—counting the slow seconds needed for my high school seniors to digest my salient query. Their pensive expressions belied the fact that they were just digesting lunch. 

How can anyone teach a class immediately after lunch? They just want to go to sleep. I want to go to sleep. 

“Think about it. You have a different worldview, different ethics, different principles. Your particular morality doesn’t align. What do you do?” I reframed the question and paused again. “Anyone?”

Silence reigned. 

“Well, there are only three options,” I reluctantly continued my tiresome monologue. “And Hamlet considers all of them, both philosophically and literally.” 

“You could, like . . . move?” a small voice came from the back. 

“Hard to move when you are the Prince of Denmark,” I said, smiling. “For you guys? Sure. Move anywhere you wish. Vermont. Texas. You live where you are most happy. For Hamlet? Not so much.”

“You could kill yourself,” a female voice offered, oddly confident in her response. 

“True. That is an option,” I conceded. “It’s not a great option, but Hamlet does consider death by suicide in several of his seven soliloquies.”  

“You can go insane,” an unconfident voice chimed in.

“Hamlet definitely tries that. Or pretends to. Or he really is,” I add. “Like most things in Hamlet and in life, the line between sanity and madness is paper thin.” 

“He should just laugh it all off,” joked a louder voice. “I mean, life sucks.”

“Life does indeed suck,” I agreed. “It definitely sucks at times. And you make a good point. Developing an exquisite sense of humor to cope with the absurdities of life is a viable option. Absurdism is a happier take than nihilism . . . “ 

The bell rang, effectively ending the discussion just as it got going. I yelled something about homework which the students summarily ignored. 

In the empty classroom, I sat at my desk and sighed. I picked up a pile of horrible essays to grade with as much enthusiasm as my students showed discussing Act II of Hamlet.   

I heard her weeping before I saw her. Sophie Selander. Probably the smartest student I’d had in years. After my glowing recommendation letter, she was all set for college. Duke, her family’s alma mater, had quickly accepted her early decision application. 

“Sophie, is that you?” 

She entered, her hands covering her face, her dark hair spilling over her trembling shoulders. 

“Can I talk to you?” she whispered.

“Of course,” I said, glad to be rid of grading essays for a while. I handed her a box of tissues. I pulled up two chairs. Sophie collapsed into one of them. 

“T-Thank you.”

“What’s going on, Sophie?” 

A torrent of words burst forth. Not surprisingly, Sophie’s distress involved a boy. And his promises. Broken promises. And a box of Clearblue Digital Pregnancy Tests. 

After she said all that she needed to, she openly wept. We were quiet together. 

“You’ll have to talk to your parents,” I said calmly.

“You don’t understand—they’ll kill me!” 

“They won’t.” 

I’d met the Selanders, as I had taught Sophie’s two older brothers. They were one of the nicest families in town. 

“I can’t talk to my parents,” she said in a quivering voice, tears threatening again. 

“You’ll have to talk to guidance,” I said softly. “You’re eighteen. They can explain all of your possible options.” 

“I want the baby,” she said equally as soft. “We’re Catholic.” 

“Then keep the baby,” I smiled. “But you’ll need support.”

“I don’t want to be a d-disappointment,” she said, head bowed. 

“Let me tell you about someone else who didn’t want to be a disappointment, but she had a lot to say.”

“Who? Was Jenny Ostenkowski talking about me in class? I hate her.”

“Don’t worry about Jenny Ostenkowski. No one listens to her mouth anyway,” I said, and we both laughed. “I want to tell you about Ophelia.”

“Hamlet’s girlfriend? I don’t really know the play. I haven’t really been listening…” she apologized. 

“No one is, Sophie. And that’s fine. I just teach it because I think all of life’s answers are contained in that one little play.” 

“Didn’t you say it was Shakespeare’s longest play? It’s really long, Miss.”

“It is kind of long, but it’s great.” 

She lifted her head and offered me a small smile.

“So Ophelia is in the same situation as you. But instead of the Lehnhart boy, Hamlet is the jerk in question.”

“Asshole is more like it.”

“Point taken,” I agreed. “Anyway. Because Ophelia is lower class, she cannot speak her mind to Hamlet’s royal parents. So she says what she needs to with flowers.”

“How?” Sophie asked.  

“Flowers have meanings,” I said. “Clear, unequivocal meanings.”

“Like red roses for true love,” she said, the quiver back in her voice.

“Exactly. First, Ophelia gives her brother fragrant rosemary and colorful pansies, representing remembrance and faithfulness. She wants her brother to help her figure out who killed their father. That should be his priority. Just like the Lehnhart boy should be making you and his child his priority.” 

“Exactly!” she cried. “Jack Lehnhart just ghosted on me.”

“He may not marry you, but he needs to face up to his responsibility.”

“I know, right?”

“Next, Ophelia gives the King fennel and columbines. Fennel represents flattery and columbines symbolize foolish adultery, especially in men. She was incredibly brave, as she basically insulted the King to his face!”

“Using flowers!” Sophie laughed. “What a badass.” 

“Ophelia was a badass. Especially when she handed the Queen a bouquet of rue, saying ‘There's rue for you; and here's some for me. O, you must wear your rue with a difference.’ She was calling Hamlet’s mother a slut for marrying his uncle as soon as Hamlet’s father died,” I said, in my most gossipy voice. “And rue was used to induce abortions 400 years ago . . . so what does that say about our cheating Queen?”

“What a skank,” Sophie said.

“I know, right?” I replied. “And then, Ophelia holds up some daisies in front of the entire court and says, ‘There’s a daisy.’ She gives them to nobody! Daisies mean innocence. She called everyone out!” 

“Shut. up. That is so cool,” she grinned.

“Facts,” I said. “Then finally, with some sweet violets, she approaches the King and Queen and says, ‘I would give you some violets, but they wither'd all when my father died.’”

“What do sweet violets mean?”

“Integrity. She basically called them dishonest and duplicitous. By using flowers, she said exactly what she wanted to.”

“I love her. Ophelia is amazing.”

“Agreed,” I said. “Ophelia is amazing.” 

Sophie looked out the window. She tapped on her iPhone. We were quiet together. 

“I better go home,” she said. She looked at her iPhone again. “Is McPherson’s a good florist?”

“They are. I’ve used them before.”

“I need to pick up some purple hyacinth to apologize to my parents,” she said, “and a shit-ton of columbines for Jack Lehnhart!”




March 23, 2021 00:44

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76 comments

Zilla Babbitt
14:47 Mar 23, 2021

Deidra and Shakespeare are at it again. I really like this one. Ophelia finally getting the Lovegren story she needed. And I got the feeling that this was really creative nonfic. And I love flowers, especially when the writer doesn't hesitate to be specific on the type. Don't just say pretty flowers, say golden hyacinth. I couldn't find any grammar problems, and I was reading closely. I read closely only when I'm really interested in the story :). Sophie does shed her shyness and timidity pretty early in the conversation, from "it's pretty...

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Ruth Porritt
02:44 Jun 02, 2021

Like Zilla, I also got the feeling that you had an experience with a student that was similar to the one that you wrote about. If this story isn't based on a true story, it still works well and I admire your ability to capture the experience of teaching. I have tried to do this in the past, but haven't had success. (I would love to write a fiction book about teachers and the things they talk about behind closed doors. For example, hopes for students, annoyances, fellow teacher crushes, school politics, etc.)

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Keya M.
12:29 Mar 23, 2021

Yesssssssss! This story is so unique, and original, but totally goes with the prompt! I think using Ophelia's message from the 1500s and tying that to a modern person was spectacular. Oftentimes, characters like Ophelia are swept aside. They're overshadowed by their actions, and their messages get blocked. I never knew what a powerful character she was. I really enjoy all of your stories with Hamlet elements. Overall, beautiful story, excellent word use, and fantastic Hamlet tie-in.

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Deidra Lovegren
14:38 Mar 23, 2021

I am of the strong belief that Shakespeare was the ultimate feminist writer. Lady Macbeth's villainy is as horrifying as any man's (except maybe Iago...) Thanks for the moral support. Writing about Hamlet is my lodestone. It brings me great joy.

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Keya M.
14:42 Mar 23, 2021

He really did seem to be a feminist! My grandfather was an Indian cinema actor, and when he came to America, he fell in love with Shakespeare. I've studied Shakespeare since I was five years old, and his female characters are a display of power and courage. My favorite particularly is Portia from a Merchant in Venice. It's surprising because most men at that time only saw women as housewives. Shakespeare was a brilliant man, that's for sure.

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Deidra Lovegren
14:46 Mar 23, 2021

Please tell me your grandfather was Aamir Khan. Please please please.

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Keya M.
14:48 Mar 23, 2021

OMG!!!!!!! U know who Aamir Khan is? Eeeeeeeek! Okay, okay, we'll get to that in a sec, but no. My grandfather was acting in the 60s. He knew Aamir Khan's dad actually (he was a producer/director AK's dad) Do you watch Bollywood movies? Because if so, you are officially my BFF.

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Deidra Lovegren
15:56 Mar 23, 2021

3 Idiots is my favorite movie. Ever. I show it to my seniors every year.

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Zilla Babbitt
15:04 Apr 02, 2021

Wow, I'm honestly surprised this didn't get a shortlist at least. Not just because precedent shows the judges love the combination of you+Hamlet, but also because this was incredibly well-written.

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Deidra Lovegren
15:20 Apr 02, 2021

Total luck of the draw, and I suppose I am a one-trick pony -- and the pony is named Hamlet (haha). I'm glad you liked it. Any insight on the exodus of former Reedsy writers? Mainly very young ones with hyperinflated points? Nice to be in the Top Ten :)

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Zilla Babbitt
22:37 Apr 04, 2021

As I told A. G. it's my guess that Reedsy hasn't done away with the points system (as they have been asked to) is because it's a more subtle way to get the underage writers to leave. They don't have the power to determine age if you don't use your Google account, but it's mostly the underage writers ... involved... with the points system. I don't know. The younger writers do add an aura to Reedsy but I think that writing, not obsessing over points, is the way to go.

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Ruth Porritt
02:54 Jun 02, 2021

I appreciate this perspective. For myself, I just want to produce good work that people want to read. (And to be honest, stuff that I want to read.) I agree. :) Everyone wants to read good writing; no one wants to read poorly written material. I also find that Reedsy gives me motivation to finish work on a deadline. Without a deadline, I find it much harder to complete the first draft of a story. Last, I have found Reedsy to be a very welcoming and supportive place. (That's so vital for writers.)

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Courtney C
21:07 Mar 24, 2021

God, your teacher voice really came out lol. Intensely true to life - many a time have I had the wait time, the follow up questions, the intense passion for Shakespeare that my student's don't reciprocate lol. Although by the end of Romeo and Juliet, I like to think that I've gotten through to them. Loved the story, loved your analysis on Ophelia, and the student-teacher relationship seemed so realistic and close. There was so much joy in this story. Just reading this, I'm like 95% sure you're a teacher, and a great one at that. Unless I'...

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Deidra Lovegren
23:27 Mar 24, 2021

Hail, fellow teacher. I teach English in the International Baccalaureate program and get to pick whatever works I choose. So, 1. Hamlet 2. Hamlet 3. Hamlet 4. Macbeth 5. The Tragedy of Julius Caesar And they are too young for King Lear and too smart for Othello. I'd like to fritter away time for Twelfth Night, but these days call for tragedies. My personal goal is to transmit culture (before YouTube eats it all) so I'm teaching Oedipus Rex now since 2500 years of fandom can't be wrong. Tiresias is my favorite badass character of all time. ...

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Courtney C
00:21 Mar 25, 2021

Nice! I've heard of the IB before, seems very cool. Honestly, I'd be picking Macbeth all the way, which a dash of Romeo and Juliet and a splash of Midsummer Night's Dream. I've never actually read Hamlet ... hopefully that doesn't mean I have to hand in my English teacher card lol. Good to see such a cool teacher here too. It gives me hope I can get to that level someday

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Gerald Daniels
17:54 Mar 31, 2021

I think you're quite brave to tackle the brief by drawing on a Shakespearian theme, it works well though, I love it because it's so pure and uncluttered. Super.

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Deidra Lovegren
18:35 Mar 31, 2021

Hooray! Always great to hear any of those plaudits. Thanks for the ego boost :) Onward!

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Phoenix Langston
20:58 Mar 28, 2021

Wow, this was incredible! I love the way you adhered to the prompt while simultaneously putting your own spin on it. The story teaches a lot about flowers and their meanings, as well as "Hamlet." I'm in awe of the way Ophelia spoke her mind with flowers. She has all the strength, confidence, and bravery I lack. An amazing character, for sure! I really felt for Sophie, too, because she wanted to keep the baby but didn't want to be a letdown to her family. I think you showed her personality very well through the dialogue, and I also like how s...

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Deidra Lovegren
21:23 Mar 28, 2021

Phoenix, you sure know how to make someone's day! Thanks for all the delightful commentary. These are definitely inspiring comments . . . much needed, as we all look at the coming week's prompts with pity and fear. (The ancient Greeks would be glad. Me? Oy vey.)

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Phoenix Langston
21:47 Mar 28, 2021

You're welcome! These April Fool's prompts? Ugh. I'm not feeling them, either.

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Deidra Lovegren
17:46 Mar 29, 2021

They are too similar. Maybe the prompts are an April Fool's gag??

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Phoenix Langston
02:17 Mar 30, 2021

Maybe. Either way, I hope next week's are better.

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Kim Kline
19:58 Mar 30, 2021

Absolutely loved this story!

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Deidra Lovegren
23:16 Mar 30, 2021

Ironically, this story was exceptionally fond of you. :)

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Kendall Defoe
03:08 Mar 28, 2021

Verily, I say unto thee that I must think about this story when I teach my college classes. Brilliant take on the prompt, methinks...

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Deidra Lovegren
08:01 Mar 28, 2021

Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't.

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22:27 Mar 27, 2021

You write so well I’ll bet you don’t even know it yourself. It’s always the same with those who are blessed. Those who have a gift and you have a gift. You know how I know? Now I want to go read Hamlet. In my life I never thought I’d say that. I’m glad I found Reedsy because on Reedsy I found you. Bravo Deidra, bravo!!!

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Deidra Lovegren
01:04 Mar 28, 2021

Hamlet needed a good editor. It’s about 40% too long. Probably all one really needs to know are these four lines, a love letter 💌 from Hamlet to Ophelia: Doubt thou the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move, Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt I love. (Lucky girl, to find the love of her life.)

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Courtney C
22:34 Apr 01, 2021

Slightly off topic, but I feel like Poe needed a good editor as well for 'The Raven'. Such a longwinded poem, especially in contrast to how brilliant his stories are.

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Paula Dennison
11:58 Mar 27, 2021

This is a very interesting and excellent story. I like how it's a story in a story. Hamlet's story and Sophia's story. This story was a very clever way to fulfil the criteria for the prompt by using the symbolism of the flowers.

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Rachel Loughran
14:25 Mar 26, 2021

I loved this! I love to see a modern parallel Shakespeare moment (a slavish addiction to 10 Things I Hate About You in my teens can attest to that) and I love to see some flower symbolism going on too! Flower language is exactly what I thought of when I read the prompts this week as well. This was great!

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Deidra Lovegren
15:52 Mar 26, 2021

Thanks for the shout out. I think we underestimate the power of symbols, especially those of the natural world. Yay for Ophelia :)

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Aisa M
06:36 Mar 26, 2021

Love the analogy :)

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Deidra Lovegren
11:15 Mar 26, 2021

YAY - Thanks for comment :)

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01:29 Mar 26, 2021

I like learning things with my entertainment. And here I learned about Hamlet and the meaning of certain flowers. Loved the dialogue and exchange between Sophie and her teacher. Natural and flowed. Love the characters. Great story.

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21:29 Mar 25, 2021

I love the characters! They have such unique personalities (as well as your story) and I fell in love with them instantly!

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Deidra Lovegren
21:36 Mar 25, 2021

What a great compliment, LJ. :) Thanks for making my day!

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K. Antonio
11:46 Mar 24, 2021

As I was reading, I saw myself as the teacher xD. Loved the perspective you chose and the dialogue was superb.

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Deidra Lovegren
22:28 Mar 25, 2021

Still time to be a teacher. You'd be fantastic, KA. So many students need fantastic storytellers to give them courage and strength to go on :)

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K. Antonio
22:49 Mar 25, 2021

The reason I could see myself, was because I am a teacher. Going into my 7th year of teaching. If writing doesn't work out for me, I still got my students I guess!!

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Holly Fister
23:27 Mar 23, 2021

Very clever and cool to see your teacher perspective! I was wondering when you would mention Hamlet again!

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Deidra Lovegren
23:31 Mar 23, 2021

Oof. I am so boring.

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Holly Fister
23:33 Mar 23, 2021

Nonsense! You sound like a super cool teacher!

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Amanda Fox
23:10 Mar 23, 2021

Here, I've picked you a bouquet of goldenrod and sweet basil.

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Deidra Lovegren
23:12 Mar 23, 2021

So allergies and Italian food?

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Amanda Fox
16:00 Mar 24, 2021

Yes, exactly! From my understanding, goldenrod is encouragement, and sweet basil is good luck.

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Deidra Lovegren
18:32 Mar 24, 2021

Do you have a flower for losing 10 pounds and thickening hair?

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Amanda Fox
23:20 Mar 24, 2021

I’d have made it extinct already if so!

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Valerie June
02:50 Mar 23, 2021

Oh my goodness Deidra, it's Hamlet again! I love it so much when you do that, and I'm sure it'll never get old. The story fits the prompt perfectly, but in such a unique and unexpected way. Using Ophelia's message behind her flowers to talk with Sophie; it couldn't have been put better to explain her situation. Ophelia is such a strong character and her voice needs to be heard more often. I just can't get over how amazing your stories turn out when you weave elements from Hamlet into your stories without making it sound corny. Thank you so ...

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Deidra Lovegren
07:10 Mar 23, 2021

Jose, you are a bright light in this world! Thank you so much for your thoughtful, kind remarks. I wish classic literature was more cherished as so many existential questions are satisfyingly addressed. We definitely read to know we aren’t alone—quite a comfort to know in this isolating digital age. Much appreciated, my friend. All the best.

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Elliot G
12:24 Apr 01, 2021

Wow! I love this story and I stayed hooked throughout the entire thing! I really admire the way you were able to tie in a piece of classical literature with a real life situation, and all of the references to flowers fit the prompt perfectly! Great job:)

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Deidra Lovegren
14:17 Apr 01, 2021

Thanks, Alea :) Always fun to drag Hamlet out and talk about its wonders. Shakespeare literally solved every problem with the human condition in that very long, very weird play.

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Keya M.
23:02 Mar 25, 2021

#StopDownvotingNow Share this with 10 friends!

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