Flowers do scream when you pick them. I’m crying now as sharp silver scissors snap my stem and spill sugar. My raw cut end stings and sucks at dry air, goes thirsty. I’m dropped into a bucket next to a brash pink peony. She’s standing straight and pretty, garnished with leaves green like a promise.
‘Do you think we’ll end up at a wedding?’ she says, without bothering with a greeting.
I slake my thirst in part, siphoning off some of the shallow pool of water in the bottom of the bucket before I answer.
‘Maybe we’ll end up in a house,’ I say.
‘Maybe we’ll be on a windowsill.’
‘Maybe we’ll be bought as a birthday present.’
‘Maybe we’ll be bought as an anniversary present.’
We think about that, at length. You want to be used for something, really. Perform a function. We might only be flowers, but we have standards.
‘We passed Step One, anyway,’ she says.
‘The big one is next,’ I answer. ‘Step Two.’
Lots of flowers don’t get past Step One, they grow too fast or slowly their stem too thin or fat, petals swell large and obese or fail to thrive. You have to stay medium and within average guidelines to pass Step One, be just like everyone else, to reach your destiny. That’s what it’s all about, having a destiny and fulfilling it. I slope against the bucket’s plastic rim, tired and thirsty. The water is warm now, thick and gluey and useless. I should’ve drunk all of it before when it was cold, I won’t be fulfilling my destiny or anyone else’s if I don’t get fresh water. There’ll be no Step Two for me.
‘Maybe – MAYBE – on Step Two we’ll be taken on a date. Dinner and dancing!’ The peony wriggles, as if she waltzes.
I try to match her but when she stops I can’t, my stem still bending soft and swaying for ages.
Fizz, pop! Water is poured in the bucket and a white disc thrown to join it. Bubbles stream from the aspirin, make me shiver and breathe. I drink fast and frantic, suck and slurp, but get lifted in the air, the pink peony left behind.
I’m crushed by cellophane, tiny holes pin pricked through flimsy plastic. Other flowers stifle me now, tepid yellows and sad purples. We are bound by pink ribbon, princess sweet. Someone swears, says something about it not being appropriate. The pink ribbon is stripped away in a whistle. We’re carried upside down by our stems in an adolescent fist, banged against a school socked leg as one foot stomps in front of the other, pavement and path, road and gutter. The cellophane cuts us, sharp creases stabbing at stems. It hurts more now than when I was picked.
The footsteps stop suddenly but we’re still dangled upside down. Through the cellophane, I see rows of flowers just like us lined up and leaning against dull gun grey railings amongst twinkling tea lights, teddy bears squatting open legged in “the money shot”, framed photographs, tear marked watermarked cards promising “R.I.P.”. Hard hands shove us in between a bunch of daffodils from Holland and wild daisies clutched from the park.
Step Two, I think. Is it? My destiny!
I pause. The vague yellows and mourning purples wait too. The pink peony didn’t belong here, no wonder she was left behind in the bucket. I bet she’s in a pretty posy now, all gay and girly. Well, good for her but this, what we do, is serious business, our Step Two.
Blank faces peer at us for hours. We wait for the smiles, the skin around eyes crinkling with pleasure or compassion but I can’t tell the sick from the sad. Flapping gums say how awful it all is. The whirr and flash of cameras, the coo of isn’t it terrible, he was so young. Seventy one is no age. The sun is high up in the sky now, burning and wilting us. The unhappy yellow next to me turns tragic, its petals bleaching into washed out lemon. The mourning purple sleeps, I think. My petals loosen and curl at the corners, useless like broken fingers. I feel cold, despite the heat.
I still wait for my Step Two, though; it’s my destiny.