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Flower Beds / Dan Russell




I stopped by to see Mary yesterday. It had been two weeks. I sat at her feet. It was quiet. I asked her if she remembered the night I proposed and how we sat at the edge of Peterson’s dock and watched the sun go down. 


It was warm that night. She wore a gingham dress. She took her shoes off and dangled her toes down in the water. I held her hand and told her how much I loved her and how I wanted to spend my life with her. She ran her fingers through my hair and tucked the loose strands behind my ear. 


“I should’ve brought flowers,” I said. 

“I don’t need flowers,” Mary said. I kissed her, and we watched the sunset.


---

The night before our wedding, I picked a bunch of wildflowers, tied them with a pink bow, and laid them on her doorstep. I wrote a note telling her how much I loved her and how I would bring her flowers for as long as we lived. I knocked on her door and ran away. 

The next day she carried that bunch of flowers down the aisle and later kept them in a vase until all the petals dried and fell to the tabletop. 

I told her I would pick some more, but she said no. She told me I never needed to bring her any more flowers and that none could ever match the beauty of that bouquet. I assured her that as long as I lived, I wouldn’t. 

Birthdays, anniversaries, and Valentine’s Day passed each year, and I honored her wishes even though I saw all the other ladies in my office receiving flowers and gushing about how much their husbands loved them. I loved Mary just as much, but I had made a promise. 


---

When Mary got sick, I sat with her in the hospital, held her hand, and took charge of all the flowers people sent to wish her better. I arranged them around the room so she could see them. She smiled and rubbed my hand with her thumb and told me they didn’t compare to her bouquet. I told her she was silly. I rubbed her forehead. I fed her ice chips and made sure she was comfortable. She smiled and closed her eyes. When she awoke, I asked if she’d slept well and she told me she had had the most beautiful dream. 

“What was it about?” I said.

She told me she had been away and when she returned home, I had made her favorite meal and had it waiting for her. She said I had run a bath, placed candles around the tub, and put on her favorite record. She said when she got out of the tub, she found our bed covered in rose petals and I was standing beside it asking her to come to me.

“Beautiful,” I said. “What happened next? Did we make love on the rose petals in our bed?”

“No,” she said. “I woke up and realized it was all a dream.”

“Would you like that? Rose petals on our bed?”

“It was so long ago. We were young then.”

“We are still young in our minds.”

“Maybe,” she said.

“We are,” I said. 

Mary closed her eyes and drifted away.


---


At the funeral, there were more flowers than I could keep. Hundreds of flowers. Beautiful flowers. Helen told me to take some of the more beautiful arrangements home. 

“Your mother was not a fan of flowers,” I said. “It wouldn’t feel right.”

“Just take a few, Daddy. The roses. Take the roses.”

Helen has her mother’s eyes. What could I say? So, I took the flowers, and they lay on the counter for a week. I didn’t tend to them and they fell off the stems and onto the counter. They were beautiful flowers -- too beautiful to watch wither and die. So I plucked the rest of the petals, put them in a Wal-Mart sack, and tied it tight so none could get out. 

It rained for a few days after. I doddled around the house and tried to get used to being alone. When the weather cleared, I decided to go see Mary. 

I drove through the wrought-iron gates and parked the car on the side of one of the narrow gravel lanes. I walked through the rows of headstones and I found her beneath the live oak in the back corner of the cemetery, the spot we’d picked years before. I’d brought a blanket, so I unrolled it near her headstone and sat down. I talked to her for hours. When it was nearly dark, I folded the blanket into a rectangle. I walked off a square, opened the sack of rose petals, and spread them on the ground. When I finished, I knelt down and whispered, “I didn’t buy them. I promise.”

I lay down and tucked the blanket beneath my head. I thought about our life together. I thought about how much I still loved Mary, how much I missed her, and how I still wanted so badly to make her dreams come true.



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DAN RUSSELL is a writer. His work has appeared in The Arkansas Review, Cowboy Jamboree, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, The Tributary, Close to the Bone, and You Might Need to Hear This. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Concordia University-St. Paul.

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