condolences

Flash FictionI can’t say much about this story without spoiling it, so I’m not going to say anything.

Instead, I’m just going to invite you into it. I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know what you think in the comments. I’d very much like to hear your thoughts on this one.

condolences

“For you,” he said.

The color caught her eye first. Deep, rich pinks fanned out along the petals, outlined in white. The color gave the appearance of veins, the way it spider-crawled along the delicate flesh. At the middle was a burst of red mingled with gold. The center looked like a tiny angel, wings extended to the sides to hold it aloft. An angel surrounded by beauty.

“It’s an orchid,” he said. “A Phalaenopsis.”

She smiled. “It’s lovely.”

He nodded agreement. “I thought you might appreciate it. Do you have a vase? I’d like to get it in some water so you can enjoy it for as long as possible.”

She opened the door wider and invited him in. He was older. Probably 25 years her senior. She didn’t know him well at all, but he seemed nice enough. His smile made the corners of his eyes wrinkle, and she took that as a very good sign.

She led him to the kitchen where she retrieved a simple glass vase from the cabinet beside the fridge. He took it from her hand, his fingers gently caressing hers as they made the exchange. There was nothing sexual or sensual about it. It was a comforting gesture, and she appreciated it more than she let him know.

“I didn’t think I’d want to see another flower ever again,” she said.

He frowned. “Oh, no. I’ve reminded you of unpleasant days.”

She shook her head. “No, no. It’s okay. I mean, all the arrangements. There were so many flowers. Most of them were fake, though, and none was as lovely as this. What did you call it?”

“A Phalaenopsis orchid.”

“Well, it’s far prettier than any of the others. All those plastic flowers and sympathy bouquets. Those things are so fucking depressing.”

She heard the word coming out of her mouth, but didn’t quite catch it. Immediately, her eyes went wide. She wondered if she’d offended him. He looked just old enough to believe a proper young lady shouldn’t use such language.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have used that word.”

He chuckled. “It’s only a word. In my experience, they’re not worth getting upset over. Besides, you’ve been through an ordeal. If the occasional verbal indulgence brings peace, swear all you want.” He smiled conspiratorially. “All you fucking want.”

She laughed at that. She laughed hard. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so light, and all of this over a flower.

“Are these hard to grow?” she asked as he slipped the vase under the facet, turning on the water.

“Nothing is really all that difficult to grow,” he said. “This flower wants to grow. It wants to bloom. This is what it was meant for. The challenge is to avoid getting in its way. One has to know the ideal conditions and then replicate them. Phals can’t be overly watered. They don’t care for direct sunlight. Extreme temperatures are also detrimental. And, of course, I believe firmly in fertilizer of the highest quality.”

He sat the vase on the counter top and took a small pair of garden sheers from his coat pocket. He snipped one-fourth an inch from the bottom of the stem and gently lowered it into the vase.

“There,” he said. “I would suggest keeping it away from the windows. It won’t last forever, but perhaps it will give you a few days of beauty.”

She felt the tears in the corners of her eyes before he saw them. They slipped the bonds of her eyes and made twin trails down her cheeks. She didn’t know why she was crying. Perhaps it was just his kindness. Such a simple act, but he seemed to understand the abiding nature of her pain and the emptiness she would feel for some time. She wondered who he had lost. A wife, perhaps. Maybe that was why he waited to bring her this gift. To comfort her. Maybe he knew it would mean more now.

“Thank you,” she said.

✦          ✦          ✦

He was genuinely moved by her tears. After all, she was young. He knew it had been hard, these last few months. He’d been watching from a distance. She put up a strong front, but he could see it–the pain she wore like a heavy shawl, its weight pressing down on her shoulders all hours of the day.

The flower was a gift, something beautiful he wanted to share with her. But it was more for him than her. He wanted this moment. When she saw her crying, he felt he’d played his part to completion.

✦          ✦          ✦

He wrapped her in his arms, hugging her tight. So many people had offered condolences, but that hug beat every cheap word, every Hallmark sentiment, every stupid Bible verse someone had quote. She leaned into him, weirdly comfortable with the affection from someone who was, in so many ways, a stranger.

He kissed her forehead. It reminded her of what her father might have done if he’d still been alive. She was grateful for it, that magical, unexpected moment.

Then, without a word he patted her on the shoulder and made his way to the door. There he paused.

“If you ever need to talk,” he said.

“Thank you,” she said again.

As he made his way across her lawn, she realized she couldn’t even remember his name. Embarrassed to call out to him, she made a mental note to ask a neighbor. She knew she knew it, but it was caught somewhere in her subconscious. Just out of reach.

No matter. Even if she couldn’t remember his name, she would never forget his kindness. She sat down at her kitchen table and sighed at the sight of the orchid. It was truly beautiful. The pain was still there, the sense of loss, but in that moment she felt only one thing. In a word, gratitude.

✦          ✦          ✦

As he made his way across her yard back toward his house, he smiled.

She wasn’t as far removed from her dead husband as she thought. Not now. In a way, he was right there on the kitchen table. For a few precious days, he would grace her life once more. And then the flower would wilt and, none the wiser, she would most likely throw it out. She would never know how close she’d been.

And that was why he’d done it. It was an act of poetry, bringing the entire affair full circle. He really had outdone himself.

Fertilizer of the highest quality, James Kinter thought with a chortle. Indeed.

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About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

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