I asked for strong plants,
ones that could last the winter.
In other words, I arrived late in the season,
and was making up for it.
He advised vines:
“They grow on their own,
And require little to no attention.”
I’m not an oversight kind of guy.
These vines and I were made for each other.
Children? Probably not as much.
He orders his helper in the back,
to cut up my newest roommates,
make them look nice for the customer.
We have time to pass,
So I ask him about the shop.
“I’ve been here for forty years or so,
Everyone in the neighborhood knows me.
“I’ve done weddings,
Birthdays. Funerals, too.
Sometimes for the same person.”
So I join him.
But we’re both not sure why.
Then, a pause breaks out between us.
(Who knew the floral industry
Could be so morbidly self-aware?)
The pause lasted an eternity,
as that idiom goes.
He quickly moved on.
His joke was in bad taste.,
he knew it,
and I’m just realizing it.
We lost ourselves for a bit,
We’re both back up for air now.
“Everyone in the neighborhood knows me,”
He repeats, reaffirms.
“It’s generational, word of mouth.
Daughters, sons, friends,
friends’ daughters, sons of friends,
friends of friends.
You know, That sort of thing.”
I nod my head.
I know, That sort of thing.
The helper comes back,
hands him the newly cut vines,
for the customer.
“You have a good day now!”
He delicately smiles. I thank him.
He turns back, I head out,
Into the late afternoon.
And now, I see my vines grow,
Or at least try to make this attempt,
At living on their own,
Like the rest of us.
I remember him: The man,
Who I met that one day,
I never asked for his name.
But he's been in this business,
For forty years or so.
Everyone in the neighborhood knows him,
As he maps out their lives in flowers,
Watching people grow and wither.
Every victory met with red;
Every struggle met with blue.
They are his flowers, And he is their man.
John Surico has words. His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Village Voice, Narratively, and elsewhere. He has lived on islands his entire life.