by Bernard Barnes
The boy picks flowers from the edges of the long driveway that leads from the main road where he catches his bus every morning to the house where he was born. He brings the small bouquet to the vegetable garden next to the house where his mother is pulling up carrots, dropping them into a plastic ice cream bucket. She pushes the Tilly hat up on her sweat-dappled forehead as he holds the flowers out to her. She smiles a glowing mother’s smile and takes the flowers in her green and pink gardening gloves stained with dark, fertile earth.
The boy clips each stem carefully at a slight angle, the way the book said. He has selected each flower carefully from the bushes that surround the house, along the base of the porch and from the borders of the lawn. He arranges them in a lovely bunch and then ties them together with a bright, yellow bow. The ends of the ribbon hang down. Using a pair of scissors, the boy curls each ribbon end into a tight spiral the way teacher showed him in arts and crafts.
He takes the bouquet to his sister’s room, where she is fixing her hair. It’s her birthday. Her friends will be over this afternoon and she is dressed in her prettiest outfit, the new dress with the purple bows and pink polka dots. She takes the flowers from the boy and hugs him. Today is her special day, and besides, she’s really not that horrible and annoying all the time. Not all the time.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and the whole class spends an hour making cards with construction paper, white paste and glitter. Each child’s desk has a red or pink envelope scotch-taped to the side, awaiting cards from class-mates.
The boy waits patiently, keeping the flowers that he picked this morning before school a secret. He waits until recess, when all the other children run outside to play. Left alone, he sneaks to his back-pack and the flowers inside. He carefully drops them into the envelope that hangs from the side of the desk with the name “ANNE” scribed upon it with glitter.
When recess ends, Anne will receive a bouquet of flowers on Valentine’s Day, and will wonder from where they came – and will assume it was probably Jerry McCrawe.
The boy will sit and watch her from across the classroom for years, wondering what she is thinking. He will think about her for the rest of his life and she will never know the truth.
There is a place that specializes in making graduation corsages for a price that isn’t too steep. The boy drops in one afternoon to buy his date a corsage. He chooses one that is blue and violet because those are her favourite colours. They bring out the colour of her eyes.
The boy buys a suit and some beer, then he picks up the corsage. He is ready. The boy and his friends get together during the afternoon to drink. In the laughter, the clouds of smoke and empty bottles, the boy forgets to call his date. He finally reaches her on the phone when they are about to leave for graduation dinner, and she tells him she will meet him there. The boy sits with his friends at a table listening to the principal give his opening speech, keeping one eye on the front doors to the hall. Eventually, his date quietly enters. She looks annoyed but lovely, dressed in blue and violet. He waves at her and she sneaks into the seat next to him. He hands her the corsage. She smiles politely to him and then to everyone else at the table.
He wishes he had remembered to call her earlier.
She wishes she was dead.
The boy’s first date is not starting out very well.
There’s this girl who works at the bar down the street from his apartment. The boy stops in often and he smiles at her when he sees her. She smiles back and they smile at each other. She’s got a tattoo that runs up her arm, and she says that it continues over her shoulder and all the way down her back. The girl makes funny and crude jokes, and she has many insightful things to say about subjects such as “people” and “words.”
He buys her flowers. He spends more money than he can really afford, but how the flowers are gorgeous. He brings them to her at the bar one day.
“Oh,” she says, shrugging her shoulders and rolling her eyes. “It would make me much happier to know these could live a full life. They were living in the ground, happy and growing towards the sun, getting taller and stronger by the day. Then someone came along and cut them down, wrapped them in plastic and foil, froze them and then sold them to you. It’s a nice gesture, I guess, but I just think it’s kinda sad.”
He never gets to see the rest of that tattoo.
Things are getting serious. She said that she loved him just last week, and now she talks about the two of them moving in together. This is big and the boy knows it. He’s never been this serious with a girl who was serious about getting serious, and in his heart he knows that he is finally ready to be serious.
She moves in. She buys him a plant, a lily in a white plastic pot. “Unlike cut flowers which eventually wither and die,” she tells him, “this plant will grow with our relationship. It will be a constant reminder of our love.”
She leaves him five months later.
The lily in the white plastic pot still sits on a table in his apartment. It still grows, along with the boy. Together, the two water themselves and they grow and as they do their pots begin to feel smaller and smaller.
He is so happy with her. She came to him at last from the frenzied chaos of modern life. They had finally found each other. They live in a small flat off the maind rag deahing downtown. They eat, they sleep long hours, they read each other poetry and sometimes they drink and sing. How happy they are to live free and love each other.
Sometimes they fight. The fights always end, but they can sometimes be vicious. Sometimes the fights get really bad and the boy wants to walk away. One day, he does. She is yelling for him not to leave, but he hangs his head and with fists clenched tight he puts on his boots. He slams the door to their home and walks around the block, trying to clear his head.
He loves her so much.
She can make him so angry.
He wants to be with her for the rest of his life.
She doesn’t trust him.
He finds it hard to believe a word she says.
They are meant for each other.
His mind swirls, he’s so confused. He looks down and sees a flower growing in the grass apron beside the concrete walk. It looks pretty. His mind grows calm. He picks the flower and takes it home with him. He doesn’t care if it looked prettier growing in the grass where it was. He doesn’t care that the rest of the world will never be able to walk by that particular block and see the flower growing and perhaps make them happy. He doesn’t care if this flower had preferred to keep living. He cares about his love waiting for him back in the apartment, and the rest of his life with her.
He goes home and gives her the flower.
She takes the flower and puts it in a glass of water. It will stay alive for a while longer.