Floribunda

A story.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY CHRISTOPHER REID


It was May, when plants grow inches a day and gardeners abandon spouses and kids for shovels and trowels. Tim was plant-shopping at the garden center. His pulse quickened when he saw the yellow floribundas.

He elbowed past customers lining up at checkout until he reached the display table. The floribundas were in two-gallon containers, and there were less than a dozen left. The canes were thick, the leaves dark greena, and the blooms were full and buttery, a deep yellow, not the pale yellow that turns white in Summer heat. He leaned near a newly unfurled bloom and inhaled its light, fruity fragrance. He turned over the tag to check the price. His pulse jumped again. The floribunda was a steal!

Tim felt a hand on his shoulder and turned. A short, balding man with a face like a floodlight was staring at him. The man exuded hypertension and helplessness. Tim’s first thought was that the guy was crazy. The man pointed at one of the floribundas.

“Is this a good rose?” he asked intensely. “It’s for my wife. She died three weeks ago.”

A cone of silence was forming around them. Tim was being sucked into a separate reality that was this man’s life.

The man’s wife was gone and he didn’t know how to fill that bare space in his life.

“She died of cancer,” the man explained. “I took care of her every day.”

Tim didn’t know what to say, so he listened.

“I fixed her meals. I gave her her medicine.”

Tim nodded. The man sounded defensive, almost guilty.

“I was going to plant a rosebush by the front steps for her,” the man said. “Is this a good one?”

The man wasn’t asking a gardening question. He was asking a metaphysical question and Tim was his priest.

“It is,” Tim said, supplying faith the man needed.

The man stared deeply at the plant.

“She liked yellow,” he explained. “It was her favorite color.” Tim waited, but when the man said nothing else, Tim picked up a floribunda for himself and edged away. He found an empty plant wagon and put the floribunda on it. He wheeled over to a table of perennials and added an orange echinacea. His wife liked Shasta daisies, so he got two. But the prize was that yellow floribunda.

Tim wheeled the wagon to checkout. The man who’d cornered him was in line the next register over, his arms wrapped tightly around the yellow floribunda rosebush. He was carrying it like you carry a child into the hospital emergency room.

Tim paid for his plants, loaded them in his car, and drove home. He carried everything to the backyard and appraised his flower beds. The echinacea and Shasta daisies would go in beds opposite the patio to provide color when the heat of Summer settled in.

He picked up his shovel. As he worked, he thought about the encounter at the garden center. It had unnerved him. The man’s wife was gone, and he didn’t know how to fill that bare space in his life. The floribunda would be his standing prayer, his dispensation, his atonement, his wistful hope for a miracle. Floribunda literally means “abundant flowers,” but, still, that was a lot of weight for a rosebush to carry.

Tim planted the Shasta daisies and Echinacea, dragged the hose across the lawn, watered the plants, and tamped it all down one last time. He appraised his work and, like God on the sixth day, declared it good.

Now, where to put the spectacular floribunda?

His eyes traveled to a bare spot near the gate. He measured with his eye. It was perfect. And Spring to Fall, the floribunda would catch the eye of each person passing through the gate.

He positioned the shovel and stepped hard, driving the blade into the ground, lifting the soil out, doing it again and again, and then forked loose the subsoil underneath. All good gardeners know that a $20 plant deserves a $50 hole.

“I brought you lemonade.”

His wife set the drink on a flat stone in the border. She looked at the floribunda.

“That’s beautiful.”

Her greenish-blue eyes grew misty.

“Mom always liked yellow.”

Her mother had died of cancer years ago, early during their marriage. He started to tell her about the man at the garden center, then stopped. He watched her gaze at the yellow floribunda, turning things over in her mind. Then she looked at him.

“I like it.”

He understood. The floribunda would remind her of her mother. It would be a portal through which each could commune with the other, souls touching, regrets rectified.

It would help fill the bare space.


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