Figaro's Flowers

“Sir! Hello, sir? Where is the host? I demand a host!”
That exacerbated squawk, that earsplitting pitch, that raging barrage of words that flew like darts at each and every encountered disappointment… There was only one mouth that could produce such things, and it belonged to Guierma, the enemy of a hard-working florist, the spiky thorn forever in his side, the bite of the world itself. Figaro cringed. Señora Guierma Rosa Montoya Delmingo had indeed arrived.
“Waiter. Oh, waiter! Where is the service around here?”
Figaro’s eye dared not venture toward the entrance of the eatery. She might catch it…
“Waiter! Oh, good. I need a table. I am positively starving. Get me a tall orange juice and a plateful of eggs to start. Scrambled, if you would.”
The wiry florist had always believed that potters were peculiar people and his life-nemesis simply confirmed it. No sooner had the generously proportioned woman sat down did the seat cushion sink a sizeable length beneath her, drawing a startled yelp from her lips.
“Oi! What kind of a seat is this?”
The onlooker chuckled from his booth. Why, all things considered, her faulty chair was merely a well-overdue pay for the many times she had lured away his customers. Such a rivalry would not exist if villagers had enough money to pay for both pots and the flowers in them, but alas, no; flowers or pottery, it was always a difficult choice between the two, and this meant only one thing- competition. The thought of this plagued Figaro to the uttermost, sending tremors down his back at the mere sound of the portly woman’s voice.
Her eggs had arrived. Into her mouth they went, in large, sloppy forkfuls, until the whole plateful was devoured and orange-juice drops dotted her lips. She belched loudly and Figaro sunk deeper into his chair, trapped in his unfortunate seating arrangement from the nearest exit. Please, please, please…. Guierma put her glass down and suddenly turned her head. Her pink apple cheeks lit up with an enormous smile.
“Fig! Oh my goodness- it really is you. I thought I saw you when I walked in. Ha, ha, how droll. Oh, Fig, darling, I haven’t seen you in ages!”
He swore a filthy word under his breath and got up. The wince at her voice was permanent, but he worked it off slowly for sake of polite conversation, much like he would a kink in the neck- or heartburn.
“Hi, Guierma. How nice to see you. I’m sorry, but I must leave now. Good-bye.”
His eyes fixed determinedly on the restaurant carpet, Figaro brushed passed his acquaintance. Guierma grabbed his arm and Figaro let out a startled shout.
“Jeez, get off of me!”
“Oh, Fig, don’t be silly!”
“Ma’am, is everything all right?” A concerned waiter had appeared on the scene.
“Yes, perfectly fine!” Guierma chirped, batting her lashes and flashing a broad smile.

“No, I must leave!” Figaro struggled to free his arm, but the potter’s grip was of iron.
“Fig, why don’t you sit with me? Waiter, a tall apple juice, please.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
With a forceful tug, the mighty Fortress Figaro fell to the Plump Ogre of Brutish Strength. Guierma finally loosened her clasp on his skinny limb and the florist reclaimed it hastily, rubbing his wrist and squirming to one side of his chair. Had Figaro not been a grown man, he surely would have cried his two eyes right out.
The next forty-eight minutes were surely the longest of Figaro’s life. By the time the two of them had shared three heaping plates of eggs, listened to Guierma’s voice extensively, and left Diablo’s, Figaro was ready to pummel his knuckles into anything that would not damage his fist in return. His ears rang, his eyes stung, and his throat was hoarse from repeatedly telling her that his name was Figaro, not Fig, yet she still insisted that Fig show her his cart. Reluctantly, he led her to its spot on the cobblestone street. Guierma stopped and stood two centimeters away from the little wooden pushcart, squinting at it and surveying its open front with a carping eye.
“Hmm….You do business in the summer, too, don’t you? You need some terry-root to ward away the moths.”
“I know, but I haven’t had the chance to-”
“Gracious! Your back wheel is rotting away! I know a good wheel-maker in the next village over. If you want, I’ll give you his address so you can just-”
“My wheel is fine!”
“Goodness, are those daisies? You can’t even tell, Fig. They’re all wilted!”
The air fell silent. Somewhere, the faint buzz of a fly could be heard. Figaro swatted at it with a vengeance and crushed it between his grubby fingers. Then, he turned toward Guierma to snap, “Guierma Rosa Montoya Delmingo, I can’t stand the sight of you or the sound of your ridiculous voice! You annoy me to the absolute lowest pit of my stomach and I wish you’d leave this village right this instant and never speak in my presence again!”
Guierma gasped, stuttered a moment for words, and then clamped her mouth shut. A mean look crossed her face. “Well, Figaro, this place clearly has room for only one saleswoman,” she sniffed in a low, haughty voice, narrowing her dark eyes. “We shall see who is to leave this village Pié.” She stomped off. Figaro rubbed his sore forehead with two fingers and slumped into his stool with a long, weary sigh …
“Pottery for sale! Vases, pots, plates, cups, and more! All on sale! They’re going quickly, folks, so get your pottery now!”
Figaro awoke, grumbling. He must have dozed off…
“What on earth?…Guierma.” The florist let out an irritated grunt and jumped up from his stool. He made his way over to the throng of villagers surrounding Guierma’s station and stubbornly pushed his way through the crowd. Finally, his nose was but a few inches from hers.
“Guierma, what is the meaning of this?”
She displayed her teeth in an innocent smile. “The meaning of what, Fig?”
“Your location of vending! I claimed this spot first!” Figaro felt his cheeks flushing an even angrier red as he waved his finger in her chubby face.
“Ha ha ha, my dear Fig, you are mistaken! There are no signs or laws that disallow my presence here. ‘Tis a free road.” She stepped back, arms folded, eyebrows raised. Enraged, Figaro glared back.
“Your business here is through, Guierma,” he growled. “And besides, all you are selling is baked mud.” These last two words he projected quite loudly, producing a murmured gasp from the crowd and a furious scowl from the potter. Figaro stamped back to his cart, leaving a yellow trail of pollen in his wake. Whipping open his cart’s cloth covering, he shouted in a clear voice, “Roses! Lovely, fresh-picked roses!”
A look of daggers shot across the road as the cry intensified, “Pots of all colors, shapes, and sizes! Buy a pretty vase or two! Right here, folks!”
“Flowers! Flowers, of all kinds!” louder still.
Within minutes, the trickle of interested passers-by steadily grew into a flood and Figaro was inundated with customers in a flurry of shouts and gestures.
“Five red ones! Five red ones!”
“Oh, how lovely! Can I have two, please?”
“I need a dozen for my wife. Do you have paper to wrap them in?”
For the next two hours, Figaro busily traded petal-topped stems for shiny silver coins, which he dropped with a satisfying clink into his purse. Hours later, as the sun finally lowered itself under the horizon and traffic slowly thinned on the cobblestone walkway, the clinking of coins in Figaro’s money bag lessened as well. Soon, the heat of the day had almost fully dissipated, but Figaro did not notice. Dizzy with exhaustion and unaware of the passing time, he slumped on the side of his cart and watched absently as the last customer picked a five-petal daisy and strolled off, humming softly. Figaro perked up a bit at the familiar folk tune, but sunk again at the sight of Guierma, plodding over with a devilish grin on her sweaty face.
“Ah, Fig, I’ve come to see how business has been. You know- from a fellow businesswoman.”
“Did you just call me a woman?”
“Oh, Fig! What a shame. Half of your flowers have positively baked in the sun. No wonder business has been slow. ‘Tis a good thing my mud is already baked.”
She cracked an even larger smile and sauntered back, leaving Fig to bury his head in his hands in shame. Admittedly, business had not been terrible, but had the sun not dried some of his precious petals, he surely would have sold them all. Oh why, cruel fate? He plucked the dead flowers from the cart and tossed them over his shoulder. If only the sun had cracked her useless vases, too! If only…The disheartened florist glanced about the village center, prepared to admit defeat and surrender to the enemy, but…it was quiet and empty. The only soul to be spotted was a shopkeeper in a checkered apron, sweeping leaves off of his front steps. Figaro looked about confusedly.
“Where is Guierma?”
The door of Diablo’s Restaurant swung back out. It took Figaro but a moment to surmise that Guierma must have gotten supper- and left her cart. The florist’s mood turned upward as he peered down the row of shops, the wheels in his mind whirring rapidly.
“Ah, the brute must eat to regain its strength. Oh, the irony of a foolish fiend! It is not over yet, potter. To Cicero’s Cheeses!” He pointed his hand toward the narrow corner store and lunged after it.
It was half past eight when Guierma stepped out of the eatery. The sun was now set in the foothills and the cobblestone street was lined with fireflies dancing in jars hung across the store awnings. She looked for Figaro, but he was nowhere to be found, as the spot where his cart once stood was empty, with only a piece of a food wrapper left on the ground next to some battered rose petals. Satisfied, Guierma patted her cart and started to roll it down the road, stopping only once to notice an unfamiliar smell wafting up her nose.

“My goodness. This place does have some peculiar odors. Better soon to get out…” She was in the next village before realizing that perhaps the way villagers held their noses, crinkled their foreheads, and hurried away at the sight of her cart was more than mere coincidence. And, perhaps the package cleverly concealed in the bottom of her cart was something more than a gracious gift. Seething and holding her own nose, the rotund potter was left with but one choice- to utter the name that had caused her such misfortune:

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