I’m going to get it right this year. I’m going to get those bloody flowers spot on. Every March fourth I get them, every March fourth red Calla Lilies and pink carnations. But the colour’s not quite right. The layout’s not quite there. It just isn’t the same. This year I have the pictures to help. I’ve got five florists all over town, I’ll get them all to produce one, see who does the best.
E mailing them was hard, that’s for sure. The computer my Grandson leant me was confusing. The difference between me at that age and the toys they have to play with now. But that’s progress I suppose. The picture came out well. He said he’s scanned it, I don’t know what that means, but there we were, me and her, on our big day all those years ago. The picture was colour, the only one done, but the bouquet, that’s the important thing. The bouquet she had was there, front and bloody centre. I hugged the poor bugger when I saw it. He looked a bit embarrassed, but he’s a good lad and he did well.
So there she was, white dress and curled blonde hair, 1970. I looked awful, like an extra from Get Carter, hair all over the place and a day’s stubble. But she looked like an angel. The smile she had that day, it was as if her soul was grinning from ear to ear, such glee, such beauty. I spent the entire day thinking I didn’t deserve this. There was going to be a comeuppance eventually. You can’t love and be loved without having to pay back something later on. Well that’s today’s job. Making life better, getting those flowers.
He first florist is a washout. The girl got the e mail three days ago but has pulled together a bunch of chrysanthemums. I shake my head and ask her whether she knows what a calla lily is and whether her manager is there. She tells me she is the manager. She looks like she’s ten. I buy the flowers out of pity and hand them to the first woman I see who looks depressed. She looks at me suspiciously for a moment and tries to wave me away. You can’t do anything nice these days without someone thinking you want something. I see a boy who looks like he’s going somewhere. I hold them out and smile, ‘give these to her’ I say. He takes them and says ‘cheers granddad’. Off he goes. May they bring him luck.
The next two stores do better. The girls still have a problem with talking to older people. I’m not retarded. I want to say it but I was told off the last time, so they speak slowly to me and I take the flowers and move on.
The fourth shop is shut. Back in 5 minutes it says. Lazy bugger has wandered off. I wait 10 and then go. The last store, maybe the last store will be it.
I walk in with two bunches of flowers. The owner looks at me funny. ‘I’ve got one of those here’ he says, ‘why have you got those?’
‘Wanted to see who would do the best job’ I tell him and then explain. It’s the wedding anniversary, I wanted to get her the very best bouquet, maybe one that could match what she had back then, maybe to put a smile on her face, a memory of a beautiful day forty years ago.
He takes pity on me. His computer is even fancier than my Grandsons. He pulls up the e mail and has another look at the picture. ‘Well we need to change some things’ he says, ‘the carnations are too big, and we need something smaller.’ He’s a big guy, but he works like a surgeon. Delicate hands.
Out back he goes and brings a vase of fresh flowers from a fridge. They steam as they hit the humid air of the shop. They smell fresh like they were plucked that moment. It brings back my summers to me.
He pulls them apart, plucks petals and brings the stems together. Counting as he goes. The three lilies in the middle he rearranges, turning and pouting as he keeps glancing at the bouquet he’s fashioning, the screen and my hopeful face. A few more minutes and he’s wrapped it in silk. Tight and compact, like her bouquet. It’s beautiful and I start to think about crying.
‘Thankyou’ I say, ‘Oh lord, thankyou’ I reach into my wallet and start to hand over notes. He waves his hands at me. ‘That was fun’ he says. If you’re happy with that leave me the two bouquets you came in with, I’ll cover my costs with them. I gladly hand them over and walk away with a memory clutched tightly in my hands.
I stride back up the hill to home. The sun has come out and February feels like it’s a long way away.
I struggle into the porch, I unlock the door and manage a few steps inside before I hear her call. ‘Hello’, ‘hello?’ I tell her it’s just me and she’s happy, quiet she’s wrapped up in front of the television: cup of tea on the raised table beside her. Three small pill cups lie next to it. The nurse has given her the meds and gone, I’m a little late.
I kick off my shoes and walk over to her, kissing her hair I take a deep breath and draw her in to me. She closes her eyes. I know because she always does. I put the flowers in front of her and step back to see.
She holds them and looks puzzled, then draws them to herself and breathes as deeply as I did. I smile and she looks at me and just for a second she comes back. That same silly girl I fell in love with is there in the chair.
Just for a moment, a beautiful fleeting moment. And I gasp.