Just Flowers
By R. D. Flavin

     It was just a bunch of flowers I'd bought for my girlfriend, but this WACKO who was yelling at me, acted like I was some environmental supervillian.  I felt everyone on the subway-train staring, which didn't exactly promote a warm sense of community involvement within me.  It was embarrassing.  Well, I hadn't been hassled by The Homelessly Insane for over a year and I guess it was time. 
     "Please,...leave me ALONE," I requested with a slight hint of violence in my voice. 
     "Oh, BIG-MAN FLOWER-KILLER! I'm so scared!" the wacko screamed at me. 
     I didn't answer.  After a certain number of years in The City, most recognize the futility of trying to reason with The Reality-Challenged.  And, if insanity is the poor-man's whiskey, this guy was stinking drunk! 
     "What did those pretty, LITTLE flowers ever do to you, BIG-MAN?" the wacko continued. 
     The small, mixed bouquet was to (hopefully) smooth things out at home.  After a weekend of laying around the apartment drinking beer and watching videos, Karen was a little upset that I'd not helped out with laundry, washed any dishes, or all the other domestic duties girlfriends expect from boyfriends in the 90's.  It wasn't that I had any kind of statement to make with my lazy behavior -- sometime a man's just got to sit around the apartment (in his underwear, of course), and do nothing.  And, it follows, afterwards he buys flowers, apologizes, and says lots of vague, unclear things, like: "...I can't really see this happening again..." 
     "You're a FLOWER-ABUSER, ya' know that?" the wacko asked.  I got a bad feeling -- there were too many places to go with The Door To Abuse left open. 
     "Isn't it ENOUGH that flowers are beautiful?  Do you have to own everything you find attractive?  You're a RAPIST!  A sick, twisted enemy of natural beauty!  Someone should call a cop and have you arrested..." 
     With that, the wacko began yelling for the police, much to the further annoyance of all the other passengers on the train.  The nut-case possessed a fair vocal range and his cries went all over the scale, from high-pitched pleas to deep, low pronouncements. 
     "Help!  Police!  A RAPIST!  Help!  FLOWER-KILLER!" the wacko yelled. 
     This senseless ranting went on for two stops before the cops showed up and 
pulled him from the train.  As he left, struggling and cursing, the wacko jerked to a halt and flashed everyone in the offended train-car the classic, two-fingered "peace" sign.  And, predictably, most everyone responded with the standard, one-fingered suggestion of what the wacko should do with himself. 
     As the train began moving again, a passenger next to me remarked, "I hope she's worth it..." 
     Right.  Karen had stuck with me through many thin and some thick times, but 
lately I'd been feeling restless.  Not that I wanted to stray, pick up a nice college-girl and have an evening of blonde-moments; no, just the opposite.  I was thinking it was time to get ...married.  But, to Karen? 
     I completed my train-ride without further incident and disembarked with a slight bounce in my step, pretending nothing had happened.  They were all still staring, but I couldn't blame them.  For most it was free entertainment, and for the cynical rest, they probably figured I had it coming because of something I'd done in either this or some other life time.  Whatever.  Flowers firmly in hand, I left the train-station. 
     The neighborhood I live in, is composed of many Polish and Russian immigrants, which is usually a good thing.  A large Catholic school nearby prompts a fairly common police presence, so the streets are safe.  The abundance of green-grocers, bakeries, and butchers always makes shopping an adventure.  And, living in a neighborhood that has two liquor stores per block means one doesn't have to stumble far for that next bottle.  All in all, there are worse places to live. 
     Every now and then, Karen enjoys some Bailey's Irish Cream, and I thought a 
bottle might complement the flowers, and to further guarantee the success of my 
apologies.  Well, that was the plan, at least. 
     Frequenting the closest liquor store was usually a delightful experience, as it must be a tradition among the Poles to place an attractive woman behind the counter.  Now, these women most assuredly can hold their own in their native tongue, but when speaking English to a customer, they come across as being three quarters short of being able to make change for a dollar.  Nice, but entirely too giggly for my tastes.  But, sometimes it's fun to flirt. 
     Most neighborhood liquor stores stock in the vicinity of 100 brands and types of vodka.  Different proofs, flavors, funny labels and funnier bottles -- vodka is 
undoubtedly the drink of choice for the locals.  When I buy vodka, I often request the cheapest, most boring vodka they carry.  At first I asked for the vodka by milliliters, to remind them of the difference between the American "half-pint, pint, and fifth" system, as opposed to the European distinction of 200ml, 375ml, and 1000ml (a liter).  This approach, unfortunately, was difficult to continue, especially if the store was crowded, so I soon reverted to the safer "point-and-grunt." 
     For a while, perhaps a few weeks, I would ask for "Angel-Tears" when I wanted the cheapest vodka.  "Why you call it that?" a pretty woman in her mid-to-late thirties asked me one day. 
     "Because if I drink this bottle ...really fast," I answered, and then let my eyes drift upwards as if to The Heavens, "...I can hear the Angels cry." 
     I'm not sure why this seemed funny.  At times I think it was much more sad than funny, but I kept up the line for a while.  I'd walk in after work, smile at her, and cup one hand behind my ear, and sometimes add, "...I can't hear them."  She would giggle, sell me the cheap vodka, and wish me a pleasant evening.  It was something at least...  In The City, folks often don't speak to another, except at the top of their lungs.  This continued exchange with the Poles brought me a tiny semblance of neighborliness. 
     My wide smile instantly vanished as I entered the liquor store and noticed the 
attractive woman wasn't working.  In her place was a large, pug-faced Pole who 
looked like he'd been raised on raw kielbasa and cold sauerkraut.  So much for 
casual conversation, I reasoned.  The guy had the look about him of someone who was used to opening a warm bottle of beer with his teeth, drinking it in one gulp, and smashing the empty bottle alongside someone's head.  Anyone's head. 
     "Some Bailey's, please," I asked in the best baritone I could manage. 
     "The flowers," the guy said, ignoring my request for the Irish Cream, "they are for ...boyfriend. Right?" 
     "No," I corrected.  "These flowers are for my "GIRLFRIEND..."  Though I tried to keep my voice level and calm, as I said "GIRLFRIEND," I added a little throw-away condescension. 
     "Boyfriend...," he said sourly.  "You are GAY..." 
     This suddenly turned into one of those moments when a liberal curses voting for gun-control in the last three elections.  The nerve of this asshole!  I was a regular customer and hadn't provoked the guy in the least. 
     "Well, of course I've tried it...," I lied, "but I hate show-tunes and had to go back to women and rock n' roll..." 
     "You are GAY...," he repeated, apparently unmoved by my wit. 
     Slowly backing away from the counter and toward the door, I said, "Okay, forget the Bailey's...  She shouldn't drink on a Monday night, anyway." 
     He began to laugh.  It sounded like a hair-clogged drain, but I'd guess that was just the way he laughed.  It was scary. 
     "I JOKE...," he said without smiling. 
     "Yes, you are," I said as I reached the door, opened it, and took to the sidewalk with a certain urgency.  I was fairly certain THE TWILIGHT ZONE had been canceled some time ago, but perhaps someone had decided to produce new episodes and didn't bother telling me.  It would be a while before I went back to that particular liquor store...  But, at least in this neighborhood, I wouldn't have to walk much farther to find another. 
     The two-block walk to my apartment took just long enough to sort things out, stop the rage that wanted to build within me, and begin to think about Karen some more.  I always got home about a half hour before she did and took the time to relax and drink.  This day, however, I wanted to relax and think.  Marriage? 
     We've lived together for five years and had been coffee-buddies for two years 
before that.  No dummy, Karen; we'd often chat for hours about books, religion, 
or whatever seemed playfully challenging at the time.  Admittedly, I've more time invested in her than any other woman I've ever been involved with.  And, usually to my chagrin, she reminds me of that fact on a regular basis.  But, marriage?  To Karen? 
     Her soft, long hair is the color of a ripe autumn: luxurious strands of shimmering gold, touches of red, shades of warm brown, and wisps of straw.  Her eyes reflect her mood, or perhaps mine, for they seem green, then brown, and at other times some delightful blend of both.  When she's amused, she'll sometimes let out the tiniest of squeaks, though more often a full-chuckle emerges from some happy-place within, the sound of which has been known to startle household pets.  A fine woman, my Karen... 
     As I put the key in the door to the apartment, I could hear some pop tune by the obsequious Sting being played much too loudly on our stereo.  When I was growing up, my Mother would occasionally put on Bobby Darin's "Mack, The Knife" when she wanted to piss my Father off and make him jealous.  After Karen read an interview with Sting in which he claimed to be able to have intercourse for several hours without a climax, I'd noticed her musical selections concentrated on Sting, the solo-artist, and not Sting, when he sang with The Police.  I never did understand the whole seven-hour thing -- sounds like failure to me. 
     She was sitting on the couch in her underwear, drinking cheap chianti, and 
listening to a pretty-boy crooner.  The remnants of a furious chips- and-dip session littered the coffee-table with crumbs and droppings.  The latest issues of PEOPLE, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, and VANITY FAIR lay well-thumbed-through at her feet.  I was ...surprised. 
     "Is everything okay?" I asked.  "Did you go to work today?" 
     "Yup and nope," she answered, way-deep in a chianti-buzz. 
     I leaned over and kissed her, bringing the flowers from behind my back at the 
same time.  "For you...," I said, after the kiss. 
     "Presents!" she shouted. 
     "No," I said, "just flowers..."  My voice took an unexpected moist turn, as I thought of the bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream which was supposed to be there as well. 
     "I love you...  Why won't you marry me?" she asked. 
     Stunned, and beginning to shake, I picked up her glass of wine and tossed it back in a quick gulp.  "Because you sit around the house in your underwear, getting drunk, and I wonder how that's going to look when our children bring friends home to visit..." 
     "But, don't I look GOOD in my underwear?" she asked, standing up and moving close to me. 
     No argument.  What could I say?  I was most confident she was more attractive in her underwear, than I am in mine.  Well, her's have pretty patterns and colors, ...and mine are just plain shorts.  DAMN, she looked good! 
     The flowers got tossed on top of the coffee-table and we embraced, enjoying a quiet moment with no smart-ass remarks.  I let go of the experience with The Homelessly Insane and tried to forget about (at least for the moment) THE TWILIGHT ZONE episode at the liquor store and concentrate on my honey...  She felt so right... 
     "I wanted to bring you more...," I said, almost stuttering.  "I wanted to apologize for how I behaved..." 
     "Stop," she ordered, kissing me hard.  The chianti-buzz seemed to disappear and her strength was back--one wonders if it ever left to begin with.  "It's not ...just flowers!  I love you because you care...  Because you try..." 
     Screaming hysterically wouldn't have helped.  In our five years together I've 
suggested throwing her off a third-floor balcony, given her the telephone to call the police when we've been in the middle of a fight (the police recommended I NEVER behave like that again--never OFFER the telephone), and have seen her rise to violence and shrink to an empty shell.  Seeing her in her underwear, doing a lazy-thing, yet feeling her lips on mine and hearing her make a pledge...  Some 
schools of thinking actually recommend screaming as a way of release...  I kissed 
her. 
     "When are you going to marry me?" she asked. 
     "I'll marry you when I've something more to give you than ...just flowers..." 
     "Start saving...." 
     Right. 

The End. 

c. 2002 by R. D. Flavin 

[Note: An earlier version of this story appeared in the online The Manhattanite
4-11-97.] 

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