“Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.”
— Theodore Roethke
Floral Delights, 4:57 PM
It was nearly closing time, and Dennis had just finished restocking the restroom when he heard the chime of the front door opening. He checked his watch, took a deep breath, and went over behind the counter.
“Good evening, sir,” he said to the customer who had come in. The man looked around, seeming a little lost. “Can I help you with anything?”
“Just flowers . . . ” He gestured vaguely at the refrigerated section. “You guys are still open, right?”
“Yes, until 5.” Dennis tried not to place too much emphasis on the time.
The man nodded and wandered over to the wall of irises and chrysanthemums. He stared at them.
Dennis knew this drill, and he pulled out a stool from beneath the counter and sat, prepared for a lengthy wait. He watched the man go from the chrysanthemums to the freesias to the begonias and back, and then to ponder the daffodils.
“Do you have any other yellow flowers?” the man asked. He looked a little sheepish. “I’m not very good at this, sorry.”
“No worries, sir, I’m glad to be of any help,” Dennis said politely. “We have many other flowers that are yellow, including sunflowers, tulips, roses — ”
“Roses, yes,” the man interrupted. “Of course, she . . . Roses. In her favorite color . . .”
Dennis smiled knowingly. “Ah, so this is for a special someone. Birthday or anniversary?”
“Yes,” the man said absently. He pointed at the refrigerated section. “Are they in there?”
A few minutes later, Dennis was wrapping up a set of yellow roses for the man.
“How many would you like?”
The man looked worried. “Does it matter? Besides cost, I mean?”
“Well, some think so. One flower usually means ‘thank you,’ six can mean wanting to be cherished, eleven means you deeply love the person you’re giving them to, and — ”
“Yes, eleven,” the man said, interrupting again. “Sorry. But that’s perfect. Deep love and all that.”
“Eleven, it is.”
He rang up the purchase and wrapped the flowers carefully, taking his time. It was well past closing now, but he felt sympathy for the man and wanted to make sure these flowers would reach their recipient in good order.
“What does yellow mean?” the man asked suddenly, watching Dennis.
“Don’t flower colors mean something too?”
Dennis placed the wrapped flowers in a bag. “Again, some think so. Yellow roses typically represent happiness and joy.”
A smile flitted across the man’s face, and Dennis then realized how sad the man had looked before. “Joy. How appropriate.” He picked up the bundle of flowers. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
And the man left, leaving Dennis maddeningly curious about who the flowers were for. But it was too late to ask. He shook himself and set about closing up the store.
Springbrook Cemetery, 6:34 PM
The sky was already a light blue darkening into orange when Dennis began the trek up the grassy hill. It was indicative of autumn’s gradual approach, as well as the fallen leaves along the path. He lightly kicked a few, watching them flutter away onto the grass.
He had done this journey many times, but he was lost in thought and missed his turn on the path. Backpedaling, he made his way down the correct row of tombstones until he reached near the end.
“Hello, Mother,” Dennis said softly.
The grey stone marking where his departed mother lay buried was weathered but not overly so. The symbols of her name and birth and death dates still looked neatly carved. Dennis took out the wilted rose from its tiny vase nestled against the stone and replaced it with a fresh one. Peach colored, for gratitude.
Dennis stood there for a time, thinking about everything and nothing. The wind pulled gently at his jacket and the shadows grew longer. He was later than usual, but he still stayed as long as he normally did, and so it was very nearly dark when he finally said goodbye, though not for the last time.
Turning away, he then saw a fresh mound of dirt in front of an obviously new tombstone a few yards down. There was an odd splotch of yellow on top. Morbid curiosity got the better of him, and after looking around, he went over to have a look.
It was a bundle of yellow roses. Eleven, to be exact, and very carefully wrapped in a very familiar way. Dennis felt his heart tighten.
On the tombstone, in fresh letters, was written:
And engraved underneath was a tiny rose.
The day when I don’t write a sad ending is the day I turn down sugar. Which will be NEVER.