FLOWERS FOR A LADY
The eastern sky was red, and I was alone in my truck driving north on I-95 just south of Savannah.
It was an innocent call last week, out of the blue, to see if she was doing all right. I was just checking in like I usually did every month or so. It surprised her. She stumbled on her words. Then blurted out that she was getting married. A week from Saturday. “He’s a nice, loving man.”
No advance notice, or one of those announcements, or one of those polite invitations that people send out and expect people will trash.
At my martial arts class the evening of the call, I sparred with a guy that was twenty years younger, four inches taller, and fifty pounds heavier. I wanted a fight. Size didn’t matter. The bigger the better. Fuck it. But when the guy pelted me with his long legs, thighs the size of my waist, I lost my temper and wanted to break the son of a bitch’s jaw. I started attacking recklessly. I tried a round house and he spun and nailed me in the stomach with a back kick like a damn Clydesdale. I thought he’d broken my ribs when I slid in for a sidekick and he flicked me, just flicked me, with a roundhouse using the top of that giant size fifteen foot of his.
“I hope this won’t cause you any anguish, Michael,” Mary Catherine had said. I lay in the floor staring at the ceiling gasping for breath, thinking, “Of course not, honey. I’m happy for you. Thrilled as can be. Just busting for joy. Best wishes. Congratulations.”
“Do you want me to call an ambulance, Michael?”
“No. I’m all right. I’ll be all right. Just give me a minute.”
“You want me to call your wife to come get you?”
“Hell, no. Don’t call her. I said give me a minute. I can drive. Just let me get my breath, goddamnit.”
I wrapped my ribs. Pain meant I was alive, right?
Around Macon, I had been driving the interstate for three and a half hours without stopping. My neck muscles popped like hot grease in a skillet. A barbed wire fist burred between my shoulder blades. The shard glass pain in my ribs had eased, but I had them wrapped, which constricted my breathing. As long as my arm didn’t start tingling. Well, maybe that would be a fine way to go. The old ticker explode an artery, black out and a way we go crashing through the guard rail and into a tidal creek and drown for good measure.
The florist shop was easy to find north of Atlanta. It was just like Paw described it when he paid a visit to Shyra, my natural mother, a year or so ago. He never told her who he was. I still wonder if she really did not recognize him. They visited about gardening for almost a half hour. Wouldn’t that have been weird. They both knew who the other was and neither said a word. They just visited about weed killer and tomato plants as if they had met that day.
I was adopted six weeks after birth. Forty-three years later, I tracked my natural father down. My Dad who adopted me and my Step-dad (the only fathers I had known), died within ten months of each other. Their dying was like the ground collapsing under my feet. I just kept sinking. I decided to search for my natural parents and had to go through a state agency. Even though I’m closest to my mom, I started the search with my natural mother. She opted not to disclose her personal information, scared at what her family would think now. But, she did relay that there were no significant health risks on her side of the family. That was sort of a relief. Six months later, I used extra money I’d made writing an appeal for another lawyer and requested the agency contact my natural father for personal information. Getting to know my natural father (“Paw”) has been another process of getting to know myself.
I probably have no business getting flowers for Mary Catherine’s wedding. I probably have no business sneaking up on my natural mother unannounced, undisclosed. I should respect them both. I should respect Cat’s new life and not disrupt it. I should respect Shyra’s wishes for privacy and not disrupt her life, too. No, I’m an educated man, raised right by my momma, who I love. I will not cause anyone any anguish. I will do this right. I know how to be discrete and gracious and diplomatic. My intentions are pure. I’ll be on my best behavior, and nobody will get hurt.
The bell rang when I opened the door. No customers were in the shop. Shyra was behind the counter. She was much as Paw described her.
As a trial lawyer, I was used to stressful situations. It wasn’t as weird as I had expected. I didn’t sense I was two seconds behind reality. I breathed normally, wasn’t sweating or blushing. I felt calm. A smile came to me. I was glad to see her, even if she had no clue as to whom I was.
Immediately I knew I favored my father in the face. I’d seen photographs of him as a younger man. Shyra was a pretty woman. Tall and slim. Dressed neatly. Hair colored a sandy red. Paw said she used to have long straight jet black hair. She had high cheek bones. Sharp facial features. The most striking thing about her was her glassy cool green eyes. They mesmerized me. I’d never seen eyes like them, not even in my own children. I’d inherited my father’s brown eyes.
She was bundling a mix of flowers as I approached the counter.
“Hello,” I said.
“Good afternoon. Can I help you?”
I scanned photographs taped around the counter of Shyra and her husband, I presumed. He was a stocky man about her height. Photographs of the two of them in beautiful gardens and in front of Naval station gates where he must have been stationed when he was in the Marines.
“Yes ma’am. I need to buy some flowers for a friend who’s getting married. I don’t have any idea what to get her. She lives in Savannah. So I need to have them delivered down there. I was looking for something colorful. An assortment.”
“That’s no problem.” She stepped from behind the counter. “Come over here and I’ll show you the kind of arrangements we can fix up for you.”
She had long legs. Paw was tall but I inherited the long leg trait from Shyra. I saw much of my daughter in her. I wanted to show her her granddaughter. Just slip her a photograph and walk away, not cause a disturbance. Just leave her a memento. But maybe she would feel it like a splinter under her fingernail.
I looked at a page of a number of colorful arrangements and decided on one that Shyra liked the best.
“Okay. Who’s this going to?”
“Mary Catherine Wyatt-Cuff. I don’t know her new married name. Better just leave it Mary Catherine Wyatt then.” I thought about Cat’s strong long legs in that black Chanel dress I bought her. The fluid graceful way she walked. A lady. Her long slim fingers. The way she sat in her jeans with her knees tucked under her chin while we talked. Cozy. I wanted her to know that I wasn’t experiencing that much anguish and I really meant her all the best and all the happiness in the world.
“All right. Address?”
I gave Shyra the address.
“Do you have a message that you’d like put on the card?” Shyra said.
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
Shyra rattled off the beginnings of some old standards.
“I was thinking of something a little different from the normal.”
“That sounds like a good idea. Is this your sister, close relative getting married?”
I blushed. I didn’t say anything for a moment. “Well, no. No, it’s an old friend.”
“That’s nice. She must mean a lot to you.”
“Yes. Yes she does . . .”
Shyra looked down at the form. “So what message would you like to put on the card?”
I was sweating. I combed through my hair with my fingers. “Ah. ‘Thanks . . .’ No. Not that. ‘Thrilled for you. Will always be in my heart . . .’” I coughed. Cleared my throat. Combed through my hair again. “You know what. Forget it. Forget it. I can’t really think.”
Shyra looked up. Stood erect. Pursed her lips. Squinted. “You want me to write something for you?”
“Sure. What makes her so special that we’re sending her these wonderful one of a kind flowers just for her?”
“Sentiment. What’s the sentiment?”
“Oh. Ah . . . Well . . .”
Shyra looked at the ring on my left hand and then smiled and patted my hand. “How many kids?”
“Got a picture?”
“You want to see them?”
“If you’ve got one.”
“I pulled out my wallet and the photos of the children.”
She smiled. “They’re beautiful. You can tell your daughter belongs to you, definitely. And the older boy. Oh, he’s handsome. Looks like somebody . . . This one though, the blond one. Oh, you can tell he’s a charmer. Looks like a stinker. I don’t know about him.”
“He looks like his mom. Blond and blue eyed.” I wanted to tell her that my daughter looked like her. It was all I could do not to. My throat started tightening.
“Nice family. Keep them close. They grow up too fast. Too, too fast.”
“You have any children?” I knew. Paw told me. I didn’t need to ask.
“Two. Boy and a girl. Four grandchildren.”
She handed the photo back to me. I almost insisted she keep it. But, I put it back in my wallet.
“You still want to send the flowers?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
She smiled and tore up the form. The shreds fell into the garbage can like flower petals.
“Can I get the same arrangement and send them to somebody else, even though they’re not getting married?”
“Sure. Who to and where?”
I gave her my mother’s name and address. I didn’t tell her it was my mother.
“What message do we have for the card?”
“Thanks for everything. You have been my greatest gift.”
“That’s a nice message. Who’s this from?”
“Just put M.M.”
“Okay. M. M.” She looked up and smiled. “All right.”
I paid in cash.
“You’re welcome. I hope she enjoys the flowers. Come back.”