What the Flowers Saw

Amber Lee

  

     He now barely remembered a life before his work in the garden, the pathetic patch of greenery desperately holding on to life in the middle of this concrete wasteland and its skyscraper stalactites. If it weren’t for the crowds, gates, and cars, he might have imagined himself to be the first man all over again, the Creator’s second attempt at the grand humanity experiment after the previous people had wiped themselves out. But no, he was just one man among many, maybe lower on society’s ladder than most. If viewed from the sky, he would be a single dot in the frantic seas on the tiny streets, running in and out of tiny buildings.

     Some might think his job was a noble one. Here he was, toiling and straining day after day to tend to the shrubs, flowers, and trees to keep them bright and green for the people to enjoy. He remembered having felt that way once upon a time; he’d been fresh off a plane from France and happy to be in the excitement of America, to have gotten a job he loved so soon. True, this job didn’t pay the highest salary, and it wasn’t the most prestigious amongst its category. He was a glorified dirt-pusher, a plant-tender, but at the very least he was something in this city. This thought kept him afloat amidst the flood of his mundane concerns and existential worries. 

     And then his little world was shattered by a simple phone call. He could still hear that conversation as he kneeled amidst the begonias and the soil, remembering every little detail of the words exchanged.

     “…Ah, wh-what? No… she can’t be! No, it could not have been…h-her…you are sure?” He’d felt the tears in his eyes spilling over then, yet he prayed that this was all some cruel joke.

     “She’s my sister! You think I wouldn’t have known who was lying there? I was the one who found her, for God’s sake!” 

     The caller’s voice held such fury and sorrow that he felt like he’d been blown back from the phone. Then her tone softened, and he brought his ear closer to the receiver in time to hear her next words. 

     “I’m…I’m sorry, Francois. You didn’t mean anything by it, I’m just…she’s gone. It’s a lot to deal with right now, and I can’t believe any of this is happening.”

     “Y-you are not alone, Yvette,” he couldn’t stop the sob from entering his voice, “neither can I…”

     Yvette had covered his flight back to France, and he’d gone to the funeral. What a lonely day that had been. Aside from Yvette, nobody seemed to care that he attended. It was understandable; none of his lover’s family had really wanted him to have anything to do with her. The whole flight back to America, he’d cried enough for a lifetime.

     He shook his cloudy gaze away from his tan garden gloves and started back to work. There was still much to do today, and dwelling on his lover’s long-past murder would not put any checkmarks on his to-do list. Life moved on, for good or ill, and he still needed money to eat and continue living. Though his existence had lost its sparkle and joy had fled from his lonely heart, he somehow still felt tethered to the world. No matter how he’d tried to deny it in his first few months of mourning, he knew this limbo of sorrow was his fate. The pain would never cease, only dull with time like the rest of his senses.

     As he tended to the plants that had just started blooming again after a harsh season, he felt jealous of how they seemed to come back so strongly after withering away. It was wrong to be angry about the ways of nature, but it felt insulting to see the colorful blossoms gazing up into his face. In spite of their decay only months ago, they had returned to taunt him with what he could not have. Their vibrant stems and leaves were as green as his lost lover’s eyes.

     For a flash of a second, he was tempted to yank them out of the ground and cut their lives short the way hers had been. But his anger passed, and guilt replaced it. Not only would he be fired if he were to destroy the flowers like that, but he would also feel heartsick for the rest of the day. Despite it all, he loved the plants. They were what kept him clinging to each new day, empty as the days were.

     It was poetic, in a way. He’d kept the city garden flourishing for as long as he’d been employed here, and now it was the garden’s turn to keep him alive. But despite its best efforts, it wasn’t doing a very good job.

     The day passed by as it always did, with his tasks tiring his limbs and his lunch only barely leaving a taste on his tongue. The skies above were gray and cold as he finally found himself traveling up the walkway to his humble home. Once, the little brownstone had felt warmer, welcoming, like a cheerful friend waiting for him to visit again. Its interior had been brightened by the talks he would share with his lover over a webcam, with her laughing at how he fumbled with the software that was so strange to him and second nature to her. These days, the rooms he’d once adored were achingly, painfully silent. He stared up at the ticking clock on the kitchen wall as his soup steamed on the table in front of him.

     “Guillaumine…I wonder if now, you can visit me,” he said, stinging himself to the core with his bitter words. He punished himself with a scalding mouthful from the soup bowl, but had to take a drink of milk to quench the burning. He laughed.

     “Weak…I’ve become so weak and strange. You wouldn’t want to look at me even if you came here again,” he said to the empty room again. 

     The fit had subsided, the kind that always made him want to hurt himself. They’d been happening more and more recently, but he refused to go to therapy. Why did he deserve help?       

     He’d been an ocean away, blissfully unaware residing in his happy place. And she, the woman who’d held him, made his silly self feel like it was worth something, the one he’d practically worshipped every moment he was with her, was stabbed to death by a jealous classmate over basic envy. Nothing more and nothing less, the police had said. He should have been there, in France, instead of chasing these foolish dreams. He could have, should have taken that knife instead. He would have faded into the darkness smiling, her head on his chest and her words of comfort in his ears. 

     He could hear her voice even now. It called for him to listen.

     He pushed his chair back, the old wooden legs squeaking against the tile. He’d forgotten about the soup, which was fast turning cold.

     “No. I must be…hearing things. Is she…?”

     Her voice came again. It both calmed and intimidated him, like it had so many times before. 

     “Francois, it’s me. I’ve missed you so much. Don’t you want to see me again?”

     He didn’t hesitate, his voice holding faint hope for the first time in forever. “You’re here! I…I cannot…yes, I want to see you! Wait for me!”

     “The bedroom window, Francois…that’s where I am. Come to me.”

     He ran there without a second thought. Maybe she’d be standing there, her arms wide open to embrace him. Maybe this was all a delusion of his failing and sickened brain, but still, his yearning would not be denied. 

     In the darkened room, he found shattered glass on the carpet. The standing lamp had been knocked over, and the window was almost completely destroyed. Vines, countless vines crept like snakes through the new opening, winding their way up the walls and across the floors. And now they moved towards him.

     His heart pounded. His hands slickened with sweat. He swallowed.

     “No…no, this must be a trick.” 

     He dimly thought back to the week he’d planted a vine in memory of her in his pitifully small yard. He’d ordered it especially from France. It was impossible, though. A woman’s soul could not become something else.

     “No tricks. But I’ve changed, Francois, and so have you. Do you think we’re still meant to be?” she said, her voice sounding the same as when they’d last spoken so long ago. Like thorns, glistening with honey.

     He now saw her outside the window. She looked like she always had, with her sharp silhouette and flowing blonde hair. But as he gazed at her, the moonlight revealed that hair to be nothing more than plant silk, like the kind a corn plant might have. Her flesh was the verdant color of the vine he’d so lovingly tended since planting it in his garden. And where there had once been shining green eyes, there was nothing left behind but gaping voids.

     “You took a piece away from me, when you left,” he said, feeling the vines beginning to curl around him. They pulled him towards her.

     “I always meant to return it on a night like this,” she replied. “Tell me. Do you really want to be with me… forever?”

     “Yes!” he said. “None of it matters anymore, without you.”

     She looked into the room at the light illuminating him from back in the hall. “You’d join with me? Even if it meant leaving everything behind?”

     “…Yes. You are here, and nothing will take you away from me again,” he replied, every word final and sound. 

     “Then come with me, and we’ll bloom together.” She opened her arms, and the vines broke the last of the window glass. But he leapt out before they could take him to her, his hands grasping onto her earthen, goddess-like shoulders. He felt her arms wrap around him, along with countless vines and tendrils. He grew numb, and yet he could feel every sensation that had been lost to him before. She was here, and he was again safe, happy, and loved. 

     “I should have had more faith in you,” he said. “I should have known that you would never really leave, Guillaumine…”

     He could hear the smile in her voice, though her rigid epidermis showed no expression. “Not without you, Francois.”

     Strange warmth engulfed him at that phrase. In the comfort of her arms, he closed his eyes for the final time, as the night-blooming flowers blossomed on.

     The city government never did find out what happened to their park’s gardener, but soon they’d hired a new one without much fuss. Neither the landlord nor the police detectives could ever figure out what had happened to the strange French immigrant who’d disappeared from the townhouse complex. However, the pair of flowering vines he’d left behind eventually grew up along the sides of the building and tangled around each other so beautifully, earning the admiration of residents and passersby alike.

     And the neighboring flowers never told anyone about the sights they had seen.