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July 15, 2024

The Yellow Roses

By Chas Wallace

He walked into the flower shop, his train of thought momentarily disrupted by the fresh scents and wonderful colors of all the flowers.

"Hello Mr. Miller," the boy behind the counter said. He was smiling and clearly pleased to see him.

It brought a smile to his face that served to keep any sadness that was lingering around him at bay. "And how are you today Jason," he replied. "I do hope you've had a bit more luck with your Java."

"Oh yes, Mr Miller," Jason replied enthusiastically. "The book you lent me is really quite good."

"Excellent, I knew you would take to it."

"Is it still OK if I come over this weekend? I could sure use your help debugging some new code I put in on my website." The boy asked in a manner that foretold the answer he knew would come.

"Of course Jason," he replied easily with a smile playing across his face. "You and I have done some amazing work together don't you think?" The sentence was ended with a conspiratorial wink.

"Absolutely," Jason replied. His enthusiasm was infectious. "Now, what can I do for you this time."

"Jason," he replied looking him in the eyes, "I would like you to fetch me three yellow roses."

"Just three?"

"Just three."

"You got it!" Off Jason went. He quite liked Mr. Miller but would have been just a little embarrassed to admit it to any of his friends. It was hard for him to put into words even, but when he was with him he could feel that he was in the presence of compassion, and honor. Those words seemed foreign in this day, but they were very much at home with Mr. Miller. Jason was convinced that in his past Mr. Miller had been someone important, but he had never been able to get the old man to divulge even the slightest hint about his past. All he knew was that he was kind in a way that he had never experienced before, that and he knew how to code. Oh my, yes, did he ever! He had walked in one day a couple of months ago and saw him pouring over some code he had printed out. Mr. Miller had no more than glanced at it for the briefest second and commented on exactly what the problem was and with his warm smile finished with, "I hope I wasn't meddling, son." That was the beginning of their friendship.

Mr. Miller watched the boy go to get the flowers and was taken back many years. He saw a boy, very similar in appearance and demeanor. This boy had grown up in controlling environment. It was a place where the boy could never measure up. Punishment had been dealt out, for the slightest variance from an unachievable standard. The sadness returned, enveloping him again, threatening to overwhelm him, as he remembered the injustice and suffering that had been endured by that boy. So much sprang from him, and what he had endured, and how he had reacted to it.

Jason returned with the flowers, and a smile returned to his face upon seeing the boy and the three beautiful flowers. "Jason," he started, "Those are absolute perfection. You picked out the best for me, didn't you?" Jason smiled as he wrapped up the flowers, pleased that the service he was giving Mr. Miller was appreciated.

He finished wrapping and handed the flowers to Mr. Miller.

"Thank you Jason, you're a good man," he said with a smile. Money was exchanged and he left. Jason watched him go, smiling. Mr. Miller walked back to his car, pleased that Jason had been there and that he had been able to offer some small kindness and encouragement.

He got into the car and began the short drive to his next stop. The smile from the exchange with Jason faded as he thought again about that boy oh so long ago. He had met a beautiful girl and just couldn't help marrying her. There she was and there he was and it really did seem like the right thing to do at the time. How old was he then? Not old enough, that's for sure. While there had been much happiness to be sure, what he saw at times like this was the pain he had inflicted upon her, and the children.

Hurting another person was something he took great pains not to do. He supposed it was because he had seen all too well the effects such acts, intentional and otherwise, could have on a person. It therefore pained him almost more than he could bear when he looked back and reflected on what he had done to those he was supposed to love most. That none of it was intentional did nothing to ease his pain. A snippet from an Oscar Wilde poem wafted through his head, "Yet each man kills the thing he loves, by each let this be heard, some do it with a bitter look, some with a flattering word." It matched his mood as he wondered if life itself was flawed, or just him.

He pulled the car into an empty slot and got out, a smile naturally coming to his face as he walked towards the Cheese Shop. He walked in the door, "Margaret, how's my best girl today."

"Oh Ben," the middle aged woman behind the counter replied, "Does your wife know you talk to the ladies like that!" Her face had lit up as he walked in. She too was clearly very pleased to see him.

"Well now Margaret, I was hoping we could keep this our little secret." The smile on his face and the way he winked at her made her laugh out loud.

"Oh you're just terrible! The next time I see your wife I'm just going to have to tell her what a shameless flirt you are!"

"You think she doesn't know?" They both laughed. They talked for a minute, catching up on each other's doings since they last met.

"What can I do for you today Ben? Other than let you charm me and brighten my day."

He laughed, completely at ease with someone he considered a friend. How long had he known Margaret? Close to a decade anyhow. "Margaret I need two things from you." She nodded waiting expectantly for his request. "I need you to get me a pound of Asiago grated up coarsely, and I need you and Charlie to come over to dinner next weekend." The cheese was for tonight, the request for dinner was something he had just felt. It had been a while since they had come over and this would be a good thing.

"You're making something special tonight, aren't you?"

His reply was that same infectious smile of his and a slight nod of his head.

Margaret nodded her head in return and went to fill Ben's order thinking what a lucky woman his Evelyn was.

The next and final stop before he went home was the Farmers Market. It was near enough to walk to and he certainly knew he could use the exercise so walk he did. Besides that, the late autumn air was still warm enough to enjoy if you didn't dawdle around too much. He glanced at his watch. The timing was working out well, but then that was no surprise. He was always on time, that's just the way he was.

As he walked his mind drifted back to the last thought he had before he had chatted with Margaret. Was it his childhood, or was it him? Or did it really matter? All he knew was that his entire life he had walked the low road. Yes, if you were to ask he suspected most people would feel this way to one degree or another. The thought from an old friend whispered in his mind, "I may not be able to beat you, but I know I can tie you." A rueful laugh escaped his lips. No, he figured he was probably a disappointment to some extent to all who knew him. His parents, his family, and certainly to himself. Something was in him that prevented him from ever walking away from it all, though, and quit trying.

The Farmers Market was bustling which wasn't that unusual but for this time of day on a weekday afternoon, there were a bit more than usual. He mentally reviewed what he would need for the meal tonight and went to pick out the freshest peas, and carrots, and broccoli he could find. He was at the butcher counter to pick up a little Pancetta, when he saw her.

She had a shopping basket in one hand and a screaming little boy in the other. He really was making quite the disturbance, too. The line to the counter was still several deep and everyone was casting sidelong glances at the mother for not being able to control her son and trying to wish her to just give up and leave. He shook his head sadly and walked over to the little boy and making what he hoped was a funny face reached out and touched the boy right on the nose.

The crying stopped immediately. Everyone around gave him a thankful look for the moment of respite, including the mother.

"I don't want to seem presumptuous," he started, "but the lad and I seem to have hit it off a bit. I'd be happy to hold him while you get your business done at the counter."

She looked at him questioningly, sizing him up to see if she thought she could trust him. He passed the test because the next thing she was doing was handing the little boy to him and saying, "Oh yes! Thank you so much. Usually Tom is very well behaved, but he missed his nap today and what a fuss he's been making."

A number was called for the next person to serve and a man held it up and pointed to the lady Ben was talking to. The crowd opened up. She smiled a bit self-consciously and walked to the counter. The mood of the entire crowd had changed from rushed and vying to get in and out, to something much kinder.

He was actually having fun with the boy, he loved little children after all. The boy was happy just to have some one-on-one attention. The woman was back in a few minutes, and the eyes of many in the crowd were on the two.

"Thank you again! I don't think I even caught your name?"

"Ben," he replied smiling warmly, "And you're welcome."

"You are a good man, Ben," she said. "Thank you again."

Still smiling, he thought to himself, you wouldn't say that if you knew me. "Yes well you see, it's the whole damsel in distress thing. I can never quite help myself."

She laughed and he handed back the now quite happy little boy. They shook hands and he disappeared into the crowd.

The meal preparation had come together perfectly. He had some Oscar Peterson playing in the background and the mood was perfect. She didn't really care for Jazz and that was of course fine. By the time she walked through the door he would have changed the music to something he knew she could appreciate, something easy from the sixties or seventies. For now though, Oscar was playing, "Pennies from Heaven," on the piano and he was just finishing the julienne of the vegetables.

Where his mood had been sad and pensive this afternoon now he was genuinely happy. He held a light anticipation of the evening and meal they would spend together. He glanced at the dining room table. It was set perfectly and the three yellow roses were nicely arranged in a vase as the centerpiece of the table. It brought a smile to his face. Three yellow roses. Yellow was her favorite color and the flowers were a representation of the time they had spent together, markers for the many years that had passed. Tonight was their anniversary.

The last five minutes were a flurry of activity. The pasta, which he had made by hand because it was something they had done for years and years and it really was better, came off and was drained. The alfredo sauce was poured in and mixed and at the very end the vegetables added. Oscar was just finishing up his, "Hymn to Freedom," as he sat the dish on the table and walked over to the stereo, and put on her music. It was an old stereo and he really would like to upgrade it but the rich mellow sound that his old LP's gave from the now ancient tube amplifier really was hard to match.

He stood at the table, a smile on his face. It was perfection. Everything was exactly as he had envisioned it. All the preparation had led to this moment, this perfect moment. Gone were any thoughts of the past that plagued him. This moment was for them, for what they had shared, and the wonderful future they would meet together. He had done it for her, to show his appreciation for all the happiness she had given him. In a brief glimpse of something he could only view but rarely, he saw a glimpse of himself in some mirror held up to him from a vantage point beyond where his mortal eyes could perceive, and he saw a good man, a kind man, a compassionate man. It moved him deeply. He tried to push it aside because it didn't match his image of himself. He saw himself still, as fundamentally flawed. In this brief moment though he could not. A tear came to his eye as he thought, "I have never wanted to hurt anyone."

Then it was gone and he was left with the present moment, the table perfectly set, and the anticipation of what came next.

The door opened and she walked in. He smiled and walked to greet her, giving her a hug and kiss.

"Hi honey," she started, "You wouldn't believe the traffic on the commute home. It was just insane." She went on as she dumped her things on the chair by the door and continued on into the bedroom talking about her day and all that she had to deal with. She changed her clothes and he continued listening about her day. She did not ask and he mentioned nothing about his. He was content to wait until he led her into the dining room. They walked back down the hallway and she turned towards the front door. He stopped and looked towards her expectantly, questioningly.

She stopped and looked at him. "You don't remember do you?" she spoke with just a hint of accusation. "I told you I had a meeting at the church tonight."

He remembered no such thing. He shook his head back and forth softly, the smile slowly fading from his face.

"You should really write these things down." This wasn't spoken at all harshly, but kindly in a slightly chiding tone, just to let him know that he might try a bit harder to keep up with her.

He nodded his head again, this time up and down, a half smile quickly coming to his face again. Being with her made him happy, even if she was reminding him to not forget things. He knew he was far happier in the years he had been with her, than before. "Yes you're right of course," he said agreeing.

She glanced at him askance for a moment and spoke again, "You made dinner didn't you?"

He smiled and nodded, "Yes I did." He started to say more but she spoke first, cutting him off. She was after all in a hurry.

"It smells wonderful. Save some for me in the fridge, I'll have it when I get home."

"I will," he said. They kissed and she was gone. He walked over to the stereo and put on some Samuel Barber, music to match his mood, and went and sat at the dining room table staring at the three yellow roses and how they reminded him of the wonderful years they had shared.

-- Chas Wallace

Article © Chas Wallace. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-09-15
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