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Gladiolus, lathyrus, gypsophila, and sprengeri.
Petals and leaves alike were sheared from their stalks, each subject pruned to an impeccable degree symmetry, before being bound to their neighbors in allotments of complimentary color. Specimens that might have otherwise never shared the same residence were now becoming tasteful integrations of foreign foliage; bent helplessly to the will of the florist who thrust their fates into glass containers, and wove wreaths of their short-lived existences.
Roma’s calloused fingertips bore the scars of countless arrangements which preceded her current project, unavoidably struck in the thorned death throes of protestant blossoms, as if the stubborn brambles blamed her for their abrupt demise. A neglected pair of latex-reinforced gloves collected dust in cluttered front desk drawer, where she deemed them to remain upon determining that the thick material only made her fingers clumsier.
She’d grown numb to the sting by now, anyways.
Sword ferns found their way into the diverse mix as well, taking up the circumference of her growing bundle. Roma had chosen a pastel scheme of pink and purple hues for this particular arrangement, and she considered the inclusion of a few carnations at first, although she opted for chrysanthemums in the end; this one needed bigger blooms to offset the surrounding smaller buds.
Ultimately, the bouquet took up an eye catching position at the shop’s street-facing display window, stems c***ed just enough to tilt their faces invitingly towards passing pedestrians.
Roma stepped outside to observe her work from a more considerate perspective, taking inventory of every neatly lined row, before promptly returning to adjust an offending pedestal. Once her OCD ceased to itch at her nerves, she took leave from scrutinizing her display’s presentation and retreated to her damp work table. The rough wood was still darkened in the sodden aftermath of a recently spilled vase; for all her perfectionism, the early hours weren't kind on her befuddled orientation.
She awoke at precisely four o’clock each morning to begin her work at the Yellow Ginger, emerging from her upstairs apartment approximately twenty minutes later to don her regularly unwashed work apron. Routinely, she would then proceed to tow the ensuing day’s unbought flowers to the wooden racks outside, which lined the sidewalk on either side of her front door, each proudly boasting their drastically slashed prices with subtle urgency.
Accordingly, the steadily drooping batch that now sported a milestone age of two days old would be hauled from the street to her upstairs bedroom, where she would tend to them herself for the following week. She couldn't bear to cast them away; perhaps she simply hated the waste, or perhaps the attachment was akin to that which an artist deserved to feel towards their hard work, but each day, Roma’s living quarters were met with yet another insurgence of floral adornments. Those, of course, were to subsequently replace those of the previous week to the day, which would in turn be hefted in bags to the alley out back.
Their fragrant ghosts would haunt her at night, and continue to permeate every garment she owned with the scent of their muddled death.
By five-thirty, the morning cycle would be complete, and she would receive a fresh delivery to replenish the newly emptied front windows and indoor display benches. Glass doored refrigerators hummed along the length of the entire left hand wall, encasing the more expensive and time-consuming of her projects, as to keep them preserved for the longest of all; she took great enmity in discarding those exhibitions the most.
Roma sold live subjects as well, though primarily orchids and small decorative shrubs, which she kept in a sunlit corner at the front lines of the Yellow Ginger. She watered them with religious regularity, lest they lose vigor in the face malnutrition.
This shop was her pride; by her own earnings and an iron will of committance, at the age of twenty-five, she opened the Yellow Ginger and made her debut into the floristry industry. As in the case of most entrepreneurs, business was slow at first, but she managed now to survive well enough off of regulars and word of mouth.
One such repeat customer was an elderly, taciturn man by the name of Robson Stewart, who stopped by every other day to sniff at the daffodils in the window, precisely as the shop opened at seven o’clock, before wordlessly plucking a bundle of purple hyacinth from their idle repose and paying in cash at the register. He was the only person she knew to buy hyacinth, but she ordered a small allotment of them each week nonetheless.
His mystery intrigued her, but she didn’t ask questions; she knew his name only because he’d once dropped his wallet under the front desk. He was probably silent for a reason after all, she'd decided.
So, Roma normally wouldn't have allowed herself to get nosey in the first place. However, for the past few years, she noted that Mr. Stewart would break his pattern only on April third, when he would buy a more elaborate bouquet from one of the refrigerators instead. She had been reluctant to make the suggestion to him at those times, but this year, she resolved, he wouldn't be forced to buy a generic arrangement.
She started with the hyacinth.
Next came the difficult part; she had no idea what these flowers personally meant to him, so she didn't want to make hasty assumptions that might ruin their overall theme. Roma didn't want to have to resort to filling up the extra space with foliage either, which would become tacky if overdone. She knew little of the acclaimed ‘Language of Flowers’, but she remembered enough of it from college to put together a general message.
In the end, after scouring her stock for potential suitors, her work table became littered with yellow zinnia trimmings, scraps of white poppy, sprigs of heather, and the featured hyacinth that would be the star of the show.
Once the Yellow Ginger had closed for the day, her serious work could finally begin. Heather was woven throughout the larger congregation of hyacinth that served as the base, while the zinnia and poppy were predominantly arrayed at the perimeter. She scattered ivy and curly willow throughout the main arrangement to serve as fillers, and then only slight modifications remained.
Roma was proud of the final product; though the greater span of its countenance followed no clear color scheme, none of its counterparts conflicted with one another. Yellows stood out like stars against a purple twilight, smudged with the wisps of snowy clouds, and dappled by the intermittent suggestions of soft lavender peeking in and out from between the leaves. She stood, neck stiff from several hours of immobile concentration, and nodded in approval of her work. This would do.
Careful to disturb its organization, she tactfully maneuvered the bouquet to a cleared spot in the foremost of her refrigerators, positioning it upon the most flaunting of her pedestals, and dubbing it the lowest of reasonable prices. She tugged tenderly at its blossoms in contentment, fanning the leaves in an alluring manner that beckoned attention.
As per her anticipation, he stepped through the front door at exactly five-past-seven, and, as per her anticipation, he shuffled wearily over to the wall of refrigerators that patiently awaited his arrival.
His eyes skimmed the selection before him, lingering considerably at the multi-colored beauty which had perked up in the morning light. His pace stuttered, and he frowned in deep thought, as a much more somber expression took root amidst his corrugated features. For a moment, Roma wondered if she had chosen wrong after all, but the brief display of emotion dissipated just as quickly as it had come.
Mr. Stewart cleared his throat, nodding to himself, almost as if in appreciation, before the glass door was quietly opened and the vase was taken gently from its shelf. He said nothing as he paid, but offered her a rare smile and a tilt of his hat as he left.
Roma watched him go, wondering why she felt a twinge of sadness at the withdrawn slope of his turned back, and returned to tending to her flowers.
White poppy, consolation.
Yellow zinnia, remembrance.
Lavender heather, solitude.
Purple hyacinth, I’m sorry.