Happiness can be fleeting. It wanes as the moon does through the seasons, never in one place for too long. It hops and leaps about like a frog, sharing its goodness with the world for moments at a time. Then, as an impatient child will, it slips away again—off to explore the other corners of this world.
The old woman was very aware of this; she had become more familiar with the fact as she approached the winter of her life. She could still remember a time though, when she was truly happy. It was the kind of happiness that most believed could only exist in greeting card commercials.
But that had been in the spring of her days, when her back was straighter and her hair still blazed with the light of the sun. Now she was weathered and broken with hair the color of milk, wallowing away her time on her porch like an airing rug out as she watches cars drive pass.
Where could everyone be off to in such a hurry, she’d always wonder. She never remembered being so rushed in her youth. She and her husband would go on slow afternoon drives, the radio softly purring as she waved her hand in the cool breeze, catching the gusts as a kite would.
They would take back country roads that led to nowhere, just driving to enjoy the day, stopping at service stations along the road to sip from ice cold bottles of Coke. She would lean against their hood of the old ‘58 Buick and watch as he skipped rocks across the barren road, his sun kissed skin stretching over the muscles of his forearm as he flicked his wrist.
They would stay there until the sun fell over the trees and the dim of dusk set in, nestling against one another. They continued to stay as the melody of night crept up, all the crickets chirping, the croaking of frogs and the calls of the cicadas in the trees and all the rest that made up the swan song for that day. Then they would take their leave, their taillights blazing as they rumbled up the road.
She smiled still to that day, remembering those warm summer nights in that Buick, the way his eyes glowed in the dash lights as he looked at her … the smell of his skin after those long day trips. But memories were all she had of her husband, God rest his soul. It had been nearly five years since he had passed, and never did a day get easier than the last.
Sometimes she’d forget he was gone at all and catch herself as she turned to talk to him, only to find an empty seat. Her body would fill up with that sharp and sudden pain, feeling stupid and alone all at once. All she could do was sigh and turn her eyes back to the road.
She never liked being alone, but now she was forced into this life of seclusion. She had no children to fuss over her, nor grandchildren to sit with her on her porch. She knew she would have been a great grandmother, had God seen fit to provide her the children to cuddle and spoil. She had so many nursery rhymes stored away in her brain and variations of patty cake to clap out.
But none of that was ever in the cards for her. Life doesn’t always go as you plan, she knew, so she tried to make due. She joined a book club and the church choir, but her eyesight began to fail her and her taste for religion dulled. So there she sat on her porch.
She wasn’t totally alone; she had her cats, three of them, and a canary that sang in the mornings. She tried to find happiness there with her pets, the cats snoozing the days away beneath the bird’s cage, always dreaming of flying snacks. She’d watch as they rolled around on the living room floor, tanning their bellies in the sunlight that found its way through the window.
Happiness found her again, and happy she was. She tried to make her life as warm and inviting as any four star hotel, praying that happiness would choose to stay. But happiness, the ever jovial creature it was, could always find a better and warmer bed to lay in. So it left her again and tragedy was more than happy to take its place.
One cat ran off, never to return, and another was hit by the mailman’s truck as he rolled up the driveway. She cried as if she hadn’t cried in years, stowing up all her woe since the day she lowered the love of her life into the ground, saving her tears like pennies in a ceramic pig.
The last of her cats, a fat orange one that answered to Gingerface, got fatter and sadder. He spent the majority of his mornings sleeping beside the fridge and his afternoons staring out at the lawn, as if waiting for the others’ return. The old woman had no solace any longer, the canary’s song no longer lifted her heart.
She found herself spending many hours away from her home, wondering through open air markets and strolling through malls. She would try to start conversations with people she met, but they always seemed to merely nod and smile, never taking her seriously. Nothing brought her joy anymore.
One day she found a small floral boutique with neon flowers in the window. She walked down the fragrant aisles, her hands gliding over the green, sprouting leaves as she went. Maybe flowers would brighten up her days, she thought. In the least, she knew they couldn’t cast them further into the shadows.
She said no to the sunflowers, and shrugged off the violets. She nixed the geraniums and refused the tulips and denied the daffodils. She wondered if she would ever find the right flowers for her, the ones that might deliver peace into her life.
She came across a small vase that had pink flowers sprouting from its fertile floor. The petals looked as delicate as silk, freckled with maroon spots and falling open as if they were beggar’s hands. From the core of each little bud there burst six, yellow stamens that curled and rolled outward.
She read the little card that called them Alstroemerias and found herself drawn to their fragrant petals and the vulnerable way they turned up the underside of their leaves. They seemed to gravitate to her as much as she did to them, appearing as if they bent towards her. Pretty and delicate as they were, she couldn’t resist their charm. She clutched them up and carried them to the counter where she quickly paid the clerk.
She carried them home and found a pleasant spot beside her stuffed chair in the front room, affording them plenty of light to feed from. She turned and scooched the vase around on the table, trying to find their best side before being happy with them. The old woman smiled, finding herself happy once more.
She then began to spend more time in her front room, listening to her old records as she laid out across her couch, her head just below those pink petals. All of her old favorites would ring out in their tinny voices, the melodies of her youth rattling the wall of her small house. The songs reminded her of her husband, but for the first time since he passed the memories didn’t bring on tears.
She began to talk to the flowers, telling them of her beloved husband and the wicked things he would do to get a rise out of her. She would laugh with those little pink buds, pouring little sips of water into their dirt. Gingerface would sit in her lap as she carried on with her new flowers.
The flowers grew and grew, more pink buds popping up out of the soil. She found that she had to transfer some to another vase or risk losing them all. She began to look after them as a mother duck would her ducklings, gently plucking away the dying leaves and cleaning the dirt and grime from the remaining ones.
As the weeks passed her treasured plants continued to grow and spread, as wild as weeds in a field. She found it odd, though, never having flowers take so well to indoor life before. She soon had four vases atop her table, the pink blossoms spilling out from them.
She began to eat all of her meals in the front room, listening to her music and chatting with the silent flowers. More and more, she spoke about her late husband, offering insights into their lives that she once thought she would never utter aloud.
Then a song would begin from her record player and her face would brighten. She would wave her finger back and forth, testing the remaining rhythm in her body. “We would dance so close to this song,” she’d say. The woman would sing along to the music, humming the words that she somehow had forgotten.
She would rack her mind, trying to remember those dratted words. It was simply infuriating to her when this happened. Aging does its worse tricks upon the mind.
The record ended and she still sat there, humming and dredging up her mind, tilling its soil in search of those words. But none came. In the end there was only a lonely woman sitting alone, humming to her flowers, and she felt dumb again.
She sat back, and looked around the room, then down at her old hands that trembled. What was she doing to herself? Did she want to go crazy, another old lady that talked to her cat and argued with the banister as she climbed the stairs?
She wept, for the first time in over a month. Life ceased to have reason for her, and struggle as she might, there was no finding one. She missed him so greatly that the pain of loneliness was becoming a more physical one.
There was a slight brushing against her hand and she looked down to see one of the pink buds lying against her. She stopped her crying and peered at it. It’s stem was not broke or bent, its roots were as secure in the soil as they would need to be, but somehow there it was.
She couldn’t help but feel that it were the flowers’ way of comforting her. She sniffled and smiled weakly. “Simple flowers,” she said. “That is all.” She delicately pinched the flower’s stem and straightened it.
The woman stood, deciding it was time to take a break from the madness that grew in those vases. She lumbered across her floor and into her kitchen. She found Gingerface laying on the floor beside the Frigidaire and she slowly squatted to pat his head.
“Silly, fat cat,” she whispered to it. “There’s no harm in talking to you.” The cat mewed and pushed its little face against her open palm, dragging its snotty nose down her wrist.
It was welcomed attention to the cat after a brief period of neglect. She spent the remainder of that day with him. Gingerface would end his day sleeping at the foot f her bed, dreaming of sautéed alstroemerias.
The old woman woke the following day, though, to an odd but lovely sound. It sounded like far off train whistles that rose and fell with the mood of the room. She slowly got out of bed, inadvertently kicking ginger face to the ground in the process.
She slipped her knobby feet into some slippers and slowly stood. He whole body ached as it did most mornings, yet she continued to move with earnest. The stairs creaked beneath her feet as she made her way to the main floor, the whistles growing in volume and complexity.
There in her front room, the vases of alstroemerias swayed as if caught in a gentle breeze, back and forth. The old woman clasped her hand to her mouth in shock, those little, pink darlings continuing in their song. It couldn’t be real, though … it had to have been a trick of the mind.
She sat there, gazing at her little choir of flowers, tears of joy swirling down her wrinkled cheeks. A miracle, she thought, there were no other explanations for it. She had only wished her husband had been there to see.
And when one song was done they would begin another, always a softer and sweeter song than the last. They were all melodies she recognized, songs she had played for them. For once, the old woman believed her luck had changed; and she was right.
Her life continued on, as happy as it could ever be. Anytime she felt even the slightest bit lonely, she would hear her flowers sing to her from down the hall. She had her little concerts when ever she needed them.
She had always believed life was a journey that we’re meant to take alone. She believed that we come into this world and are quickly coddled and guided, as we are babies then. Then off we go on our merry ways.
Of course there are those that we meet along the road, friends mostly, people that make the stops along the journey worth having. And the luckiest of us meet something more than a friend, someone that’s willing to travel the road with us. And they stay with us for as long as they can.
But we all reach our destinations alone, there‘s no changing that. The old woman reached hers on that chilly night, as lucky as any can be. She went peacefully, surrounded by her flowers as they serenaded her … the melody of her night crept up, and like the crickets and the frogs and the cicadas, they sang the swan song for that day.
And in the end she was lying in her bed, the vases sitting on her bedside tables and Gingerface stretched out between her legs. She was smiling as that last breath slipped from her thin lips. Her flowers sat around her, humming the melodies of her life.