Flowers Are Free
The little bird
Who could not decide
Which color to wear
So she put on them all
And sailed into the sky
Like a prism
Wings in the buttery air
Met the mockingbirds at last
To sing with them
But when the matron mockingbird
Saw this fashion misfit
all the mockingbirds did too
of dark and confident laugher:
a trademark of the enthroned.
she began to pluck herself
As they watched with beaks open
at the delicious spectacle
And when finally at last
She was bare before them
with nothing left to fear
She began to sing
And as she sang
Her colors flew into the air
Unencumbered by form
And made even the mockingbirds
With the beauty of it.
although they turn and face the sun
petals unfurled, illuminated faces
radiant, putting on their best show
they flicker in the late spring breeze
slender, perfect green stalks
flex without muscle
taut without airbrush.
It almost looks as if they call
'take my picture,
the sun is behind you,
the pose is perfect'.
Soon, their petals loosen,
the wind catches, strips
layers one by one until naked.
But there is no sadness, nor
fear of losing youth, just
papery seed pods posting
hope to the wider world,
perfect copies on the wind.
Flowers are free.
Aside from the goatee he was in every other respect quite ordinary looking. His hair was thinning and going to grey, though not as grey as his beard. His brow was creased with years of furrowing, and his neck was seeding to wattle. Under the great coat he wore a tan sport coat, but no tie; with nearly matching slacks and a pair of brown loafers.
The wagon`s main body was tiered and painted green. Each of the three tiers holding a single row of grey buckets, every bucket brimming with long stemmed roses; white in the lowest row, yellow in the middle one, red in the topmost. He inspected the flowers bucket by bucket, plucking the odd damaged one, and when he`d finished, dumped the castoffs into the nearest litter bin.
As he worked, four men, all in their early twenties took a table outside the café on the other side of the street, idly watching him as they waited to order.
Once he`d disposed of the rejects the flower man stripped off his coat, though not his fingerless mittens, retrieved a large whiteboard that was clipped to the front of the cart, and with a black marker printed the words;
In large letters on it.
Once he`d managed to get the sign to rest against the carts wheel; it had fallen over at the first two attempts, he retrieved a folding deck chair that was hanging from between the barrows handles. A chair so vividly striped it put you in mind of the gaily coloured (if you`ll pardon the pun) flag of LGBTQ community, snapped it open and sat down.
Then he did something you only ever see on T.V. He slapped both thighs in annoyance, stood back up, rummaged in a leather bag that was hanging from the barrows right handle, pulled out that mornings Examiner, sat back down, smoothed out the paper, and began to read.
At ten o clock on an early May Thursday morning the pedestrianized street had only a smattering of people on it, and it was a woman who looked to be in her forties, trailing a single axle shopping trolley, it`s canvas body a sickly pink, who was the first person to stop at the flower cart.
“Free Roses?” the four young men seated outside the café heard her ask, her puzzlement obvious in her tone.
The flower man looked up from his paper and said nothing, only smiled.
“What does it mean, free?” she asked, her tone switching from confusion to suspicion.
The man folded his newspaper carefully, stood, dropped the paper on the seat, and tilted his head to one side, giving her a confused look of his own. He gestured to the sign and shrugged.
The woman`s frown turned to a scowl, “What`s wrong with you, cat got your tongue?” her tone now edging towards hectoring.
The man held up his right index finger in the universal sign of, just a moment, reached into the left pocket of his jacket, removed a laminated white card and handed it to her.
“Oh,” she said, her face flushing with embarrassment when she saw what was printed on it, “I didn’t know, I`m sorry.”
He gave her a `no problem` shrug, and smiled as she handed the card back.
“So is this for charity?” she asked, “Like a donation thing, for the deaf and dumb?”
He gave the barest of frowns, shook his head, gesturing once more to the sign, pointing at the word free.
“But why are they free?” she persisted, obviously confused.
He held up his index finger again, pulled a small white board that was lying flat on the first tier, wrote quickly on it, then turned it so she could read what he`d written.
The woman scratched at her chin, “I dunno,” she said, shaking her head as she opened her handbag, hunting out her purse. She snapped it open, studied its contents, scratched her chin again, thought a moment, then clicked it shut, dropping it back into her handbag. “I`m sorry,” she said, “I don’t have anything to spare.” And grabbing the handle of her trolley almost trotted away, head down as if afraid anyone she knew might see her.
The flower man raised a hand as if he meant to call her back, but no sound issued from his mouth. He watched her until she rounded the corner, shrugged and took his seat once more, realised he was sitting on his paper, leaned to one side so he could retrieve it without getting up and nearly spilled onto the pavement, which elicited much sniggering from the four outside the café.
By eleven thirty he had finished his paper and given away six flowers, four of which had been to a teenage girl, who`d asked for a yellow one; despite the dire warnings from her friend. “The thorns are probably poisoned,” she`d hissed.
When the girl had asked if she could have one for her mum as well, the flower man had picked out three red blooms, surrounding the yellow one with them, wrapping the stems carefully in waxed paper before handing them over.
When the girl thanked him he bowed to her, not a mere nod of the head but a full courtier bow, left leg stretched out in front, left arm across his waist, right arm thrown back, forehead almost touching his outstretched knee, all he`d needed was a cape.
“Wierdo,” the girls friend snapped as they walked away.
But the audience of four whistled and applauded, so he repeated his bow to them; and this drew a standing ovation.
Once he`d finished his paper he became more proactive, holding a selection of blooms in hand as he offered them to passers-by. Most veered out of his path, as you do a drunk or a madman. Others either didn’t see him or pretended not to; keeping their gazes fixed firmly on their phones. Once he trailed after a young woman, wordlessly imploring her to take the proffered flower until she cried, “Let me alone,” and burst into a run.
Another time a young man threatened, “I`ll kick the living shit out of you,” when he offered one to him, declaring to his sniggering friends and the world in general, “I aint no faggot.” When he feinted as if he were about to throw a punch the flower man flinched and retreated, hands held placatingly out in front of him.
By twelve thirty he had managed to give away only eighteen flowers. He stood by the cart scratching his head, looked at his watch, shrugged, retrieved the cloth, draping it once more over the flowers. He slid the sign under the cart, pulled his bag off the handle, slipping it over one shoulder, refolded the chair, hung it on the handles, and sauntered over to the café.
On the dot of one he drained his coffee cup, stood, wiped the crumbs of the sandwich he`d had for lunch from his jacket, and strolled back over to the waiting cart. Once he`d hung his bag on the handle and stowed the cover back under the barrow, he picked up the whiteboard sign, wiped it clean with his sleeve and wrote;
A man in a business suit stopped, tilted his head to one side; as if viewing the sign from another angle would make more sense of it, then declared in a disbelieving voice, “A hundred euros. For twelve roses?”
The flower man turned and smiled at him, “Ah, but these are no ordinary roses sir,” he said, “These are wild Rosa banksiae Lutea, very rare, very rare indeed. They are found in only one place, high in the Alps. Here sir,” he plucked one from a bucket, holding it out to the businessman, “Breathe deeply, doesn't the scent of the alpine air fairly take your breath away?”
The businessman took the flower, buried his nose in its petals, and took a deep breath. He nodded as he handed the rose back, “Yeah, yeah,” he said, “it does smell different to the bouquets I usually get my wife; but a hundred euros, can’t you do them any cheaper?”
The flower man shook his head sadly, “I`m sorry sir, but these arrived in from Switzerland this morning. I only get one shipment a year, and as the saying goes “When they`re gone, they`re gone.”
The businessman tutted to himself, took out his wallet, riffled through it, then shook his head, “I`m sorry, I don’t have enough on me.”
“Not a problem sir,” the flower man said, pulling out a wireless card terminal, “We take all major credit cards.”
And that was how the rest of the afternoon passed. Someone would stop, comment on the price, and sometimes the flower man would talk them into buying the flowers, sometimes not.
By four fifty all but two of the yellow roses had been sold. The flower man took the buckets in pairs to the nearest drain, emptying the water into it. He stacked the buckets one inside the other on the lowest tier, draped the blue cover over the shelving, fixing it carefully. He retrieved his bag and coat; then, bag slung over one shoulder, coat draped over the opposite forearm, strolled once more over to the café.
He dragged a vacant chair over to his audience of four, sat down and said, “I believe you owe me something Mr Sullivan?”
One of the young men, ginger haired, his face a mess of freckles, grudgingly handed over a fifty euro note, a lot of money for a college student from Kerry; especially one trying to get by on a grant.
The flower man smiled as he tucked it into an inside pocket of his jacket, and in a self-satisfied air said, “As I tried to explain to you last Tuesday gentlemen; you cannot overcharge someone, but you can undercharge them.”
“Yes professor,” they mumbled as he stood, pulling on his coat. It was only when it was fully on that he realised his bag was still slung from his shoulder, and he had to slip his hand out of the sleeve to release it.
“Oh and,” he said as he turned to leave, “Get the cart back to the drama society for me will you, I`m pretty sure they need it for tomorrow night’s performance.”
They mumbled their, “Yes professor`s” again as he picked up the last two roses that he`d set down on the table.
“Now if you`ll excuse me, I know just the lady who loves roses,” he said, saluting them with the two blooms as he turned away.