Author’s note: This story is my entry in the May Monthly SimLit Short Story Challenge, generously hosted by the lovely LisaBeeSims. Thank you, Lisa! Your efforts are so appreciated.
Readers, please take a look at all the entries, which will be listed on LisaBee’s site at the beginning of June 2021, then vote for your favorite three in both the Veteran and Novice categories.
This month’s theme is May Flowers.
“What are you planting flowers for?” he asked. “They’ll just die anyway.”
It was their first house together. They’d dated a few years before getting married, so she knew him well enough to know that he wasn’t being cruel in saying this. He was not a mean man. But she didn’t know him through and through. She hadn’t yet seen into his spots of pain.
She planted carrots, kale, zucchini, beans–practical crops they could harvest before they died. She developed a fondness for squash blossoms, and one year, she planted peas, and she snuck out early in the morning to let her eyes wander their white blossoms, little slips of satin tucked among the vines.
Life challenged them, as it does all of us, but through the years, they learned not to challenge each other.
They worked together for their life, side by side.
Late at night, while they lay together, he looked up at the ceiling and sometimes told stories. She learned how he blamed himself for his mother’s death, when she died when he was ten. He hadn’t loved her enough. He took her for granted. He always thought there would be tomorrow to listen to her, to thank her.
They never had kids. She wanted a cat or a dog. He wouldn’t agree.
“Their lives are too short.” His family dog died when he was twelve. “I wasn’t ready for that.”
Sometimes, she marveled that he’d taken her into his heart, at all, closed as he was to anything beautiful, tender, temporary.
“You’re so strong,” he said, “and healthy. You’ll last forever.” So maybe that was why he dared to love her.
There were other pains, too, that he’d faced alone, before they met, and new ones that they faced together as husband and wife.
When you know somebody’s pain, something happens. You soften, and maybe they soften, too, and when you spend your lives together in that soft space, delicate, lacy petals open. The garden grows inside both of you.
After the doctor’s appointment, when she found out that even with the best treatments, she would die, anyway, she ordered hundreds of bulbs. They arrived the next week, and she spent the days of her last autumn planting them, knowing she wouldn’t see them bloom.
He looked up from his work at the computer to watch her. He didn’t believe the doctor. She wouldn’t die.
“I want you to get a companion,” she told him. “You shouldn’t live alone. If not another wife, then a dog. A cat. Some living thing to breathe beside you.”
“I’m not getting another anything,” he replied.
In the spring, he woke alone every morning. He still told his stories every night, though her side of the bed was empty; it just felt right to share his pain into the night room, as he’d done throughout their life together.
Tulips, daffodils, and narcissus bloomed. He knew flowers died, but somehow, that didn’t matter, anymore.
His breath caught when he saw them, his heart opened, and that had to mean something.
Five years later, his garden is filled with flowers, and a golden retriever is always by his side.
With each zinnia he plants, each rose he tends, he glimpses something that maybe lasts, at least in his mind’s eye and heart’s breath, after the flower fades.