The Woman With The Flowers
It hadn’t rained in many days. The grass out in the backyard was wilting and the ends fading into a light yellow. Under the feet it made a crackling sound like sparks popping in the fireplace. There were small cracks in the winding road that led into town, and a thin cloud of dust hovered over the house.
He sat in his rocking chair on the front porch that smelled of fresh cedar wood and he leaned forward and backward and listened to the creaking of the wood planks in the otherwise silent August afternoon. The summer air was heavy with the heat and there was no breeze. The grove of poplar trees at the edge of his property sat still, waiting for something to happen.
He too was waiting. Waiting for a movement, an idea, something, somebody. He hadn’t written in many days, since the rain, and now his mind was dry like the grass. His typewriter was sitting on the table inside and it was waiting too.
Across the street, the old woman nobody knew was watching her flowers. They were planted in little purple flowerpots placed all across the yard to the side of her house. The azaleas and tulips and geraniums and many other flowers he didn’t know filled her yard so tightly that he could barely see the dry grass. The old woman wore a yellow straw sunhat and a muddy white blouse and jeans and her bare toes were covered in little bits of dirt and grass and twigs. Her old gray glasses were a bit lopsided on her tall face and her lips formed a small smile as she crouched on the ground watching her flowers.
The woman had been tending to her flowers every day for the past eight years. The man had watched her from across the street but had never spoken to her. Many times he had passed her walking down the street, but she had always lowered her eyes and walked by quickly without speaking a word. She was shy except with the flowers. With the flowers she was open and kind. Once he had even watched her stroking the petal of a red tulip in the middle of her yard. The woman loved her flowers and nothing else.
The sun was high in the sky and it shone down on the porch with a blinding intensity. Everything was bright and yet everything was dull at the same time. The man held his hand above his eyes to shield them from the light and turned his head to look across the road. The woman came out of her house with a blue watering can with a hole in the side. She filled it with a hose and covered the hole with a thumb and began watering her plants. The way she tilted the can was very gentle, as if she were afraid to hurt the flowers. At each flowerpot she kneeled down while she watered and said something that he couldn’t hear. When she was done she stood in the middle of her yard for a while next to the red tulip and turned around and around looking at all of her flowers. She made sure the watering can was empty and went back inside her little brown house.
The man went back inside his house too. He opened the kitchen cabinet and pulled out a glass and filled it with water. Then he drank it quickly because he was thirsty, and when he had finished he filled his glass again and drank that. It was three in the afternoon, and outside the window the trees stood still. Nothing was moving except for the man as he walked into the living room and sat down with a sigh on the couch. He stared at the wall because it was Saturday and there was nothing to do. So he sat in his living room and looked at the peeling wallpaper. After a little while he closed his eyes slowly and fell asleep.
When he woke up it was dark and he was relieved because it was cooler. He turned around and squinted his eyes and looked across the road, but the woman wasn’t out with her flowers. He went into the bedroom and turned on the light. He sat on the edge of his mattress for a moment and then got up again and turned out the light and went to bed.
In the morning they took away the dead body of the woman in a black hearse and the flowers were alone. He knew she was dead before the hearse came, though, because she wasn’t out with the flowers. She was always out with the flowers in the morning.
About a week had passed since she had died. It was Friday. For a few hours he tried to write, but to no avail, so he ate lunch and went outside across the street to her house. He carefully stepped over all the flowerpots and when he reached the middle of the yard he picked up the flowerpot with the red tulip in it. Then he got in his black pickup and drove over to the cemetery on the other side of the hill. When he arrived he got out of his truck with the flowerpot and went to the help desk.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello,” said the middle-aged woman at the desk. “How may I help you?”
When the woman spoke it was as if she breathed the smell of death.
The man supposed that was the effect of working in a cemetery for many years.
“Right,” he said. “I’d like to know when somebody’s funeral is.”
“Would you happen to know that somebody’s name?”
“No, but they took her away in the hearse this past Saturday.”
The woman typed for few seconds at her computer.
“That would be Patricia Laccrew. She was buried without a funeral.”
“In her will she stated that she wished to simply be buried without a funeral.”
“Could I visit her grave then?”
“Yes. Her remains are located at the far end of the cemetery. Walk out the door and turn left. Grave number 174.”
The man walked to the other side of the cemetery. It was a rather large cemetery. After a few minutes he reached her grave. It was a flat slab of drab stone with “Patricia Laccrew” carved into it. There was nothing special about it. In fact, there was something unspecial about it, as if it didn’t matter. It was a gray square among hundreds of other gray squares.
He looked down at his left hand holding the tulip. After a minute, he carefully placed the flowerpot on her grave and stood looking at it for a moment. Then he turned around and walked back to his truck and left.
As he was driving home it began to rain.