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The Flower Man

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The Flower Man by Grace L Sutherland

Jean’s slender fingers worked deftly entwining pink and white rosebuds for a bride’s bouquet. Her glasses, perched jauntily mid-way down her nose, allowed her to hide her frequent glances at the man in the corner.

He came toward the counter, his big frame quickly filling her vision.

“Morning, Miss Peters. Nice to see fine weather again, isn’t it?”

“Indeed it is, Mr Mavers. Going up to the cemetery today?” Foolish question. Every week he came to select flowers before his visit there.

“Yes. It’s our anniversary. Four years….” he hesitated. “… or two….”

Goodness, had she known him that long? She remembered the first day he had come into her shop. In dirty overalls and work boots, face and hair still dusty from the building site, he had looked so out of place among the carnations and daffodils that she had had to swallow a giggle. Yet when he spoke, there was a softness, almost a naivete about him.

“Um, I’ve never done this before,” he mumbled, “but I met this real nice lady today, and I’d like to get her some flowers. Do you think she’d like red roses?” Jean smiled, explaining that, as the symbol of true love, red roses were probably a little “heavy” for a one-day old relationship. She steered him instead to a pretty spring bouquet, thinking how sweet it was that a man should actually ask what a lady would like, rather than going through the great macho act of pretending to know all about it.

After that she saw him every week. Their conversations were never long, and he never progressed to using her first name, yet slowly he and his “real nice lady” became part of her life. He sometimes mentioned the shows they had seen, or the restaurants where they had dined. He had a good taste which she would never have expected that first day. He was polite, gentle, and always asked her advice about what flowers his lady would like this week. Jean even began to feel a slight twinge of envy toward the object of his affections.

Then one day he came in, a twinkle in his eyes. “It’s our anniversary – two years since we met. I’m going to ask her to marry me! Do you think the red roses would be appropriate now?”

Jean laughed. “Yes, Mr Mavers, very appropriate!” She handed him the most beautiful bunch she could find.

She didn’t see him for two weeks after that, then he came through the door on crutches.
“Goodness, what happened to you?” Jean asked cheerily.

“An accident,” he replied. “I’ll need a different kind of bouquet today. Flowers suitable for….” he swallowed hard. “Suitable for a grave.”

Jean’s questioning look was enough to burst open the floodgates. He slumped into her chair and sobbed out the story, his broad shoulders heaving between phrases. He had taken his lady to the lookout to propose. She said yes, and they began to drive down the hill, he with one hand on the steering wheel and the other around his lady. They had not thought seat belts necessary for such a short drive. At the first bend, a tyre blew out, the car crashed into the bushes and his lady was thrown out and slammed against a tree. She died instantly, while he escaped with a broken leg and lacerations.

“I killed her, Miss Peters,” he sobbed over and over. “I killed my beautiful Elizabeth.”

She wanted to wrap him up in love, to shield this big strong man who sat so vulnerable before her. Instead, she simply placed one hand on his shoulder and stood silently till he regained his composure. Then she selected a bouquet almost identical to the one which she had sold him that first day.

“No charge today,” she said softly, handing it to him.

Again, she had seen him every week, faithfully buying flowers for his beloved’s grave. Now it was two years since her death, and here he was again, filling the little flower shop with his warm and comfortable presence.
“Miss Peters,” his voice interrupted her reverie. “I’d like a second bunch of flowers today. There’s a new lady I’d like to get to know. Would you pick something really special for me, please.”

Well, it’s about time, she thought, again with a slight twinge of envy toward the new lady, whoever she may be. She selected a really beautiful bunch and handed it to him.

He hesitated. For a moment he was again the shy, naïve, grown-up boy who had first stood awkwardly before her.

“Miss Peters…. Jean…” he finally stammered, “I know it seems silly giving you flowers from your own shop, but would you do me the honour of having dinner with me this evening?”

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