LOVE ME, LOVE ME NOT
“These are beyond their prime,” Lola said with a frown. Lola being my boss at Flowers4U, the best flower shop in the city according to the customers who kept us in business. “Do what you want with them but do not use them in anything that is for sale.”
I examined the flowers, red and white and still pretty, though, as Lola had said, past their prime. “I’ll bring them home with me.” Which she knew I’d say because it was what I always said when she decided flowers were past their prime. “They’ve still got some life in them and my apartment could use a bit of cheering up.”
“Humph,” Lola said in the faux grumpy voice she uses sometimes. “That place could use a few windows is what it could use.” Referring to my two rooms and a bath on the second floor of an ancient apartment building overlooking a tiny yard featuring grass with flowers around the edge. But the only way I could see that lovely piece of nature was to stand on my tiptoes and stare out my single, tiny, living room window. So flowers in vases scattered throughout my apartment, even those past their best days, were a welcome addition to my at-home life. I brought home all the blooms from Flowers4U that would otherwise be tossed.
I kept them alive as long as possible in vases and jars filled with water and all the best nutrients Flowers4U had on their shelves, complements of Lola who loved flowers and wanted to know they’d lived as long as possible. I’d care for the flowers and remember my grandfather’s farm and the flowers he grew for my grandma. Red flowers were her favorite. Red like the ones I was looking at now.
When there was no life left in the drooping petals that were past their prime, I’d toss them into the can for composting that was beside the dumpster that was beside the gate that led from that tiny spot of natural beauty to the great beyond, otherwise known as the bustling center of our small city.
I loved the city. I’d moved there from that beloved farm so I could visit museums and art galleries and restaurants featuring food from everywhere on Earth. I couldn’t do that in the country. So I chose the city and missed the flower garden and my grandparents but they were happy for me as long as I visited occasionally.
So now in my city apartment, I considered those red flowers that would eventually be so far gone that even I would have to say goodbye to them. But I never knew what happened to them after they were tossed and had never been curious until now. I presumed they went to the landfill along with the rest of the apartment building trash. Of course they did. Where else could they go? Where else could any trash go?
Of course, before that happened, I played my flower game. In fact, even before finding the perfect vase from among my many garage sale finds and filling it with water and nutrients that would revive the aging blooms, I held the flowers in one hand and counted the petals with one finger of the other hand.
“Love me, love me not,” I’d say as I touched each petal and when I reached the last petal on that particular blossom, I’d know whether or not I was loved. Of course the fact that I had no current boyfriend made the game irrelevant and the additional fact that I had an armful of blossoms and so ended up with about the same number of ‘love me’ and ‘love me not’ petals didn’t make the game any less fun.
Lola says I’m an introvert and that’s why I play the flower game. I see myself as a quiet person who didn’t happen to know any more people since moving to the city than I’d known before living there. I had a total of one friend. Lola.
So my game with flowers was an exercise in imagination that brought that ‘harrump’ from her every time she caught me at it, saying I should count men instead of petals and why hadn’t I found the right one yet? Lola was big on me finding the right man. She said it was major life event. I wasn’t in any hurry and was happy with my flowers.
Until they died and I threw them away.
Except that one time, when the red and white petals grew limp and I knew the time had come to say goodbye to them, for some unknown reason, curiosity caught at me and I wanted to know exactly what happened to them next. When did the trash guys come and bring my lovely flowers to their final resting place? Did they bury them in the earth as I deemed proper or were they thrown carelessly on top of other peoples’ left-over dinner?
I decided to find out. I had a lot of time on my hands and two days off when they finally reached the end of their lives. So I took them to that trash can and dropped them in and went back upstairs and found a book to read and a tall chair with a lot of pillows on it to sit on so I could be high enough to see through that tiny window because I didn’t know when the trash was picked up but I hoped it would be while I was watching so I could run down to the yard before they left and ask them what they did with old flowers.
I never found out, mainly because my dead flowers didn’t stay with the kitchen trash very long. In fact, it was afternoon of the morning I’d tossed them into the trash can that a movement caught my attention. You know how it happens. You’re reading a book and are in the middle of the most exciting scene of the whole book when there’s a flutter in the corner of your eye. Something that can’t be ignored no matter how much you try to pretend it’s not happening. Then you remind yourself that the reason you’re sitting where you are – on a really tall stool stolen from your kitchen so you can actually see out the tiny window – is because you wanted to know when the trash was picked up.
Which was happening at that exact moment. Except there was no trash truck. No noisy behemoth chugging down the alley. No workers shouting orders and gossip to each other as they turned a dirty piece of city into a clean piece.
Nope, there was just one person – a man – and he was only interested in the can full of kitchen waste and my dead flowers. I left my stool and pressed my nose against the window to see better as he carefully inspected the contents of the can and carefully, almost reverently, pulled my dead flowers out, along with a few other things that might have been green and growing at one time, and dropped them to the ground beside the trash can as he rummaged further to see if there was more to be salvaged. To be saved.
Why save dead flowers and other dead green stuff? I had to know so I dropped my book to the floor after carefully marking my place so I could later find out how the author resolved the unresolvable crisis in the book, and then I ran down to the ground level two stairs at a time.
And found a nice-looking guy walking across the lawn carrying green stuff and my flowers in his arms. And smiling happily.
“Why are you smiling about dead flowers and even deader green stuff?” I stood in front of him with my hands on my hips and my feet apart in what anyone would recognize as a confrontational gesture.
Startled, he stopped. His mouth dropped open. He considered my confrontational stance, head to toe and back again. And then he smiled. Again. “Because they are wonderful.”
“Dead flowers are wonderful?” I stuck my head towards him and knitted my brows in my most threatening expression.
“Absolutely and they are exactly what I need.”
“You need dead green stuff and dead flowers?”
“Yep.” Then he just stood there and let me try to figure out what he was talking about, knowing I couldn’t and enjoying my confusion. Until he possibly felt sorry for me and explained. “As compost.”
“Compost? Really? In the city? I doubt it.” I worked at a florist so I knew about cities and green growing things and flowers and stuff like that.
He took a few steps around me and continued on to a corner of the yard where he dropped his armload of dead stuff on a pile. Then he picked up a pitchfork just like the one my grandfather still uses on his farm a few hundred miles beyond the city and turned the pile until my lovely dead flowers and all that other dead green stuff disappeared in a pile of rich, black, beautiful dirt.
Rich, black, beautiful dirt. Just like the dirt on my grandfather’s farm that was made from organic waste. Except my grandfather’s waste was country waste. This was city waste. Flowers from a florist. But it did the same thing. Served the same purpose. Turned dead stuff into dirt to feed and sustain new living, greenery and as many lovely, beautiful flowers as any gardener could wish for.
“I apologize,” I said in a very small voice as I came beside him and examined the lovely, beautiful black dirt he was in the process of making.
“No apology needed,” he grunted as he stopped long enough to point in the direction of a second pitchfork. “But help would be appreciated.” He wiped his forehead because it was a hot day and he was working. Like on a farm but in the middle of the city. “Not necessary, of course, but if you’re in the mood for exercise and don’t mind getting dirty, there’s a lot of dirt that needs to be turned.”
Was I in the mood? Was I ever! Pictures of my grandfather floated through my mind as I actually ran to that pitchfork and grabbed it and found a place on the other side of the dirt and proceeded to do what I’d done as a kid and loved doing it. That day, too, I loved every second that I worked, every splotch of dirt on my arms and expensive jeans, and every ray of sunshine that warmed me both inside and out, and every smile that I found myself sharing with the stranger who made his own dirt just like my grandfather.
“I’m Peter and you’ve done this before.” As I tossed still another pitchfork of dirt exactly the right way to aerate it.
“Yep, lots of times on the farm and I’m Carin.”
“Hi, Carin, and it’s nice to meet another city farmer.”
“I always thought farms were for the country.”
“There are lots of farms in cities. You just have to look in the right places.”
I examined the tiny yard behind our apartment building that I’d always admired and never paid much attention to because it was, after all, the city and, therefore, not worthy of the notice of a real farmer. “Guess I’ve been a snob. Sorry about that.”
“No apology needed. Just strong arms and a willing body.”
I giggled and soon learned that there were lots of city people who took off their work clothes when they got home evenings and put on farmer duds and went to work digging in dirt that they’d pretty much created themselves out of old flowers and weeds and kitchen trash that they then turned into tiny gardens and mini-farms stuck between tall buildings and on rooftops and around playgrounds and everywhere they could dump some of that dirt and plant seeds and then get to work.
I decided they were faux farmers and called them that — but not out loud. Peter didn’t label them at all but he philosophized about them. “Some people like the earth. And dirt. And flowers. So if they prefer being surrounded by dirt after work, that’s okay.” He grinned the grin I’d come to know well because it blossomed so easily when he was working out of doors. “People like me.”
We just stood there and stared at each other like idiots. I’d never thought about what kind of person I was before but suddenly I did as the sun beat down hot and heavy and the scent of flowers hung on the air in that tiny garden between two apartment buildings with the rich scent of black dirt adding a pungency to the day.
And I thought of Peter and how alike we were. City people with dirt beneath our fingernails. We were wet with sweat and covered with home-made dirt and it was glorious and beautiful and exactly what I wanted. A farm in the city and a friend who felt the same. A real friend. My second city friend after Lola.
What could be better? Nothing.
What could happen to ruin it? Nothing.
Except rain. Too much rain. More rain than tiny yards with grass and flowers need, more than they want, more than they can absorb. Unfortunately, that’s what we got. And that rain turned that pile of beautiful black dirt into mud and the dirt that had already been made into a garden into more mud and then still more mud.
Eventually the flower garden that enclosed the tiny green yard I’d come to love disappeared in a carpet of black, gooey mud and Peter and I had to face facts like all farmers do now and then when the weather doesn’t cooperate. We were out of the farming business.
I wondered if I’d also lose a friend because he was a farm type friend and we no longer had a farm. I hoped not but didn’t know for sure.
Lola noticed my glum face at Flowers4U. “Are you intentionally trying to chase customers away or do you just prefer looking like yesterday’s roses?”
“My farm died.”
“Your farm?” Her eyebrows shot up. “You mean your grandfather’s farm?”
“What? Grandpa? No, his farm is fine. It’s my farm that died.”
“You live in the city. Farms are country things.”
“Not this one. Not the one that my apartment overlooks.”
“Your pathetic apartment with no windows? That apartment? It has a farm?”
“Yep. There’s a yard with a flower garden.” I remembered and used the proper tense. “Was a flower garden until the rain came. That kind of a farm. A sort of one.”
“Hmmmm.” She thought for a long time. “So you actually do have a garden. A real not pretend flower garden. Did have one.” I nodded sadly and explained about flowers and compost and Peter all in one long sentence without stopping for breath and she listened intently. “You had flowers. And a garden. And a friend named Peter. Three wonderful things.”
Then, with that harrumph that she’s famous for, she said, “It’s about time you found a friend. We’ve got to do something about this friend before he disappears.” Then she added, “And the flowers too, of course.”
The next day, Monday, when Flowers4U was closed because even florists need time for a personal life, I slept in because there was no garden work to be done and I didn’t feel like wading through mud and Peter was somewhere doing whatever Peter does when he’s not being a city farmer. So why wake up? No reason.
Except there was a knock on my door that couldn’t be ignored no matter how hard I tried. So I staggered to the door, opened it, and ushered Lola into my apartment. “Get up,” she said as she swished through the two rooms to that single high window to look out and see my former garden for herself. “We’ve got work to do.” Stared at the mud. “Lots of work from the look of things.” Then, “That’s a lot of mud out there.”
“It used to be dirt. Before it was mud. Dirt with flowers growing in it. Beautiful flowers.” I pointed a finger at her. “Do you know what dirt is made of? What it is if it isn’t mud? Do you know that you are staring at the pathetic remains of your former flowers?”
She snapped her head in the affirmative. “And that’s why we must do whatever we can to bring that mud back to what it should be – dirt — so it can bring still more flowers to life and so this yard can once again be beautiful.”
I’d revived enough to realize what she’d said, so I asked, “How?”
“With fans that I borrowed from a lot of people I know and with the help of most of those people.”
“Why my customers, of course.” She gave me a look that said I had a lot to learn about life. “The people we’ve gotten to know over the years who we provided with lovely flowers for all that time and, therefore, made friends with.” She sniffed. “Those people. Those wonderful people.”
She was right. Before I knew what was happening, that tiny yard was full of people in rubber boots with shovels and rakes and pitchforks that they must have borrowed from country farmers because there’s no such thing as city pitchforks and a few huge fans that blew that mud that they were tossing every which way until it was dry. Until it was dirt. Black dirt. Beautiful dirt. Former flowers dirt.
Peter was in awe of all those people and of Lola. “You have some pretty powerful friends.” He rubbed some newly dry, black dirt between his fingers and I could just see him planning a brand new flower garden.
But Lola wasn’t done. She then talked with Peter about flowers and gardens and other stuff they had in common and when they finally ran out of things to talk about she provided him with seeds and bulbs for a flower garden beautiful enough to make the entire city bloom. And all the nutrients that were needed for those flowers.
Given enough time for all those seeds and bulbs to become flowers, that small part of the city did bloom and I had to stop counting petals because I didn’t have the time any more. I was busy. With Peter. We are now partners in a tiny garden in the middle of our small city that becomes more lovely every year.
Because we work at it. Like we work at getting to know one another better. Lola says both are rewarding enterprises though I suspect she prefers the getting-to-know each other work because, like I said earlier, she worries about my single state.
Which won’t bother her much longer. Peter and I are planning next spring’s garden to be extra special because it’s where we’re holding our wedding.
Provided it doesn’t rain.