The Greenhouse

faded peonies

It began in childhood. For him, sometime between childhood and youth. Ours was a floral affair, a simple affinity for flowers. His choice? Chrysanthemums, the flower of loyalty and devoted love. Mine? There are two: Peonies and Roses.

“It’s important to dust the stems,” he’d say.

Few words are spoken. He is a man with a keen affection for precision and natural things, and a quiet respect for beauty. Finding a wooden stool, he motions for me to sit.

The workbench is orderly. A stack of clay pots are waiting to be filled with soil. He has labelled each basket and bin. A chipped, discarded table holds a sack. Tall plastic buckets stand empty on the gravel floor.

“Flowers prefer clean buckets.”

I nod.

He’s joined a ‘Chrysanthemum Club.’ The blooms we study are for exhibition.

“Only the best will do.”

He lifts a paintbrush from a can and loosens the lid from a rusty Tobacco tin. Inside is chalk- like powder. Soft bristles form squiggles and paths, reminiscent of sand patterns, formed beneath a playful sea. I recall the beach and wonder, Will we return?

Once the brush is loaded, he lifts it from the powder, squats to inspect the underside of a bloom. Carefully, he dusts each part of the flower’s base and stem, checks for symmetry and shape.

A time will come when I ponder his choice, a man on a quest to cultivate such a regal, consuming flower. I crave some form of understanding. How does a man raised among pansies covet such desire for more? It’s much easier to settle.

Few words are spoken between us. Handing over tweezers, he instructs me to rove the bloom for earwigs. Music plays on a portable radio. When Ella sings, silence is broken. A word, a riff, off-key.

We only speak of agreement. Given instruction is simple. Find the rogues tucked within petal beds, their bodies slipped and sleepy. Drop them, writhing and twisting, into a second rusted can filled with ash from his cigar.

Seasons pass. In between breaths, he waits. On the other side of a garden gate, he shifts. Hints of cinnamon and sage. A breeze teases whispers of tobacco and whiskey. Sturdy trees summon my respect.

I can’t recall the sound of his voice, sensing it in the chants of children, loves me, loves me not, loves me. Notes linger in every good bye.

Yet, a bird knows the sun returns. When it rains, I wait by the window never certain of much of anything, anymore. Except for one truth: Our roots are strong.

I’ve been a giver and receiver. With few words and little to offer, Sweet Peas from a garden, sufficed. I’ve placed roses on a coffin. As the receiver, I’ve cradled arrangements left on doorsteps or anonymous bouquets left on the windshield of a car, petals pressed between the pages of a book.

The language of flowers is a nuanced affair of beauty and secrets. It is poetry and road trips, sincerity and hope. It is the silent message, I’m thinking of you. It is two hearts, side by side.

To this day, vases fill with whatever grows in season. Spent petals garnish a side board, too beautiful to toss. Ella sings and out of the blue, everything momentarily collapses and I miss him all over again. A simple, complicated man who showed me life is filled with precious, poetic moments.

A car door slams. Silence is broken. A bird sings. Hope returns with each season of fresh starts and fresh cut peonies, their cloud like heads bowed from the weight of water. Blooms spill over a neighbouring fence. A familiar memory drops in, nudging and tugging at my heart.

I turn, catch the scent of dusty musk filled air. I won’t grow Chrysanthemums, though. Those moments are sacred. They belonged to us.

Hold to beauty.

~ Draft 2

Published by

Anna Watson

~ write like a painter