Monday, April 9, 2012

Preview: The Man Who Sold Flowers

I'm feeling extremely ambitious and proactive this fine Monday morning, so I've decided this will be my theme song for the week:

Hope those who celebrate are enjoying their Easter and Passover festivities (and that those who don't are at least getting some vacation time.)  I've still got two more days off, and I'm taking advantage of the chance to make some headway on a story that's been haunting my head since late last year.

Here's a free preview of my short story The Man Who Sold Flowers.  You can read the rest in my book Inaugural Games, which I'm selling on for ONE MEASLY DOLLAR.  This story was an anomaly for me.  While it typically takes me several weeks to crank out a short story, this one flew out of me in just under four days.  The second the idea for it popped into my head, I knew exactly where I wanted it to go.  Enjoy!


           The old man came to work every night at nine o’clock.  From Tuesday to Saturday, he single-handedly manned the flower stand during the evening and all through the night, until he was relieved in the half-light of dawn by whoever was working the day shift.  Then, while the earliest of commuters were drinking their espresso at the bar, and the ancient veins of Rome came alive with buzzing scooters, he walked home.  No one seemed to know anything about him--if he was married, if he had children, from what country he’d come, or how old he was.  No one even knew his name.

            The flower stand was on Porta Portese, not far from the restaurants and wine bars in Trastevere and the strip of nightclubs in Testacio.  It sat in the far corner of a long, rectangular piazza where children played and adults walked their dogs during the day.  At night, a few of the city’s forgotten people slept on the park benches, and the shop stood as a lone candle in the quiet dark.  It was a bit out of the way, but all of the locals knew where it was if they happened to need flowers, at any hour of the day, for whatever reason.

            The first thing the old man did when he got to work was take in the potted flowers which were displayed outside during the day.  Nothing had ever been stolen in all the time he’d worked there, but it was best not to take chances.  Besides, no one stopped by a place like this in the middle of the night to buy materials for an amateur landscaping project.  After that, he sat down at his desk in the octagonal office and loaded fresh spools of ribbon and twine into the dispenser.  He then cut twenty strips of each, and laid them on the side next to the rolls of colored tissue paper.  Next, he opened the cash box, and verified that he had enough fives, tens, and change to last him through the night.  Placing the key in his pocket, he bent down and reached under the desk for the bulky spray can filled with a mixture of water, plant food and pesticide.  He walked around the stand, giving the flowers their final drink of the day.  After coming full circle, he replaced the can and swept up the stems, leaves, and petals that littered the office floor.
            His routine complete, he sat down on the lawn chair just outside the office, turned on the radio, and rolled a cigarette.  He always left the radio on all night.  Sometimes he’d bring a book or newspaper along to pass the time, but music was absolutely mandatory.  He didn’t mind the solitude of the job, but passing an entire shift without hearing another voice was unbearable.  Generally he despised Italian radio--five minutes of generic pop music followed by half an hour of mindless chatter.  Sometimes the DJ’s continued to run their mouths well into a song, which in the old man’s opinion was an unpardonable sin.  But lately he’d discovered a station that was quite good.  They rarely played anything younger than the 1950’s, and ran the gamut from Italian to French to German to American.

            He sat there smoking, watching the cars pass on the road.  It was a Wednesday night, and most people were already home.  A woman’s voice came drifting over the airwaves through the crackles and pops of the phonograph age.  He’d heard the song before, but couldn’t remember when.

                                    There's a lighthouse down by the rocky shore
                                    Shinin’ its light to sea
                                    Oh there’s a man in that lighthouse, baby
                                    One day he’s gonna marry me

            He smiled to himself, out there in the dark.  That’s just what I am, he thought.  A lighthouse keeper, guiding the ships of love from port to port.

            His first customer came at ten o’clock.  He was a young man in his early 20’s, soft-spoken and neatly dressed.


            “Buona sera,” said the old man.

            “Cinque rossi.”  He’d come knowing exactly what he wanted.  The old man recognized him.  He’d been by a few times before.  He was a good kid, but unlucky in love.

            “Si.”  He disappeared into the hut, and returned a minute later with the four red roses and a single white, neatly wrapped in white tissue, garnished with Baby’s Breath, and tied with a gold ribbon.

            The kid smiled and handed him his money.  “Grazie,” he said.  “Arrivederci.”

            The old man nodded.  “Buona fortuna.”

            He laughed and walked away.  The old man sat down and smiled as he watched him leave.  The roses he’d given him would be the killing stroke in winning the attention of the girl he was going to meet that night.  They’d embark on a passionate affair that would last for three months, at which point she would leave without warning or explanation.  He would be devastated.  In desperation he would meet with her closest friend and pour his heart out to her.  They would get drunk, and end up sleeping together.   Unbeknownst to both of them, it would be the beginning of one of the most satisfying relationships of their lives.  For the next seven years, they would be two halves of one person, each fulfilling the other’s needs, emotional, physical, and intellectual, the rope of their lives wound together in perfect trust and respect.  When it would become clear that their time together had run its course, they would part ways without a trace of anger or bitterness.

            The old man began to roll himself another cigarette.

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