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.
me ALONE," I requested with a slight hint of violence in my voice.
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.
Police! A RAPIST! Help! FLOWER-KILLER!" the wacko yelled.
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
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
please," I asked in the best baritone I could manage.
the guy said, ignoring my request for the Irish Cream, "they are for ...boyfriend.
"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
he said sourly. "You are GAY..."
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
"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
"I love you...
Why won't you marry me?" she asked.
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
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..."
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
"When are you
going to marry me?" she asked.
"I'll marry you
when I've something more to give you than ...just flowers..."
c. 2002 by R. D. Flavin
An earlier version of this story appeared in the online The Manhattanite,
to Flavin's Fictions