I’m half in love with the man who comes with the flowers. Every Wednesday afternoon he’s here, when the coffee cups are cleared and we’re waiting in limbo for five o’clock and the changeover and the evening folk. He wears grubby fleeces that my ma would sniff at, sometimes a baseball cap; but it’s okay, it’s turned the right way. He doesn’t speak much. Actually I was scared he was English or something, but then one day I took the tulips off him (they were white tulips, they lasted longer than a week so I took a few home when nobody was looking). When our hands brushed he looked up and said, all Glaswegian like, Will I just get the payment at the bar? like he’d not been here a million times before and like maybe he just wanted something to say. I looked back and smiled and I was still smiling when I realised I should reply and so said Aye.
It’s his last day today. I’m hiding in back of house because I don’t want to see him and be sad. J is texting me asking if I want to come over to his tonight cos he has a waterbed now and a new Xbox game, like I care about either of those things. Go on, speak to him. My manager’s taking glee in my discomfort as always but it’s only cos she loves me. Just ask him for his number. She brushes my hair through to make it shiny.
I’ve never asked a boy for his number in my life. Like, I’ve never needed to. It’s never occurred to me. Guys watch me like I’m something on the screen and they can’t draw their eyes away. Creeps are everywhere, you just have to pick the good ones. They’re always nice at first but then it’s boring. I never think of what comes next, just what’s on offer the now. All those WhatsApp notifications and the dirty pictures they send me—like a girl wants to look at a thing like that, mushrooming in darkness and ugliness. My manager calls it Ego.
There’s never enough time to sort through the messages, to sift out the good ones. I could have a man for every night of the week if I wanted. But who would?
I don’t even know his name. I used to have this daydream where we’d be walking around B&Q together—you know the outdoor garden bit—and every now and then he’d stop to tell me what things were called. He knew the names of all the flowers and shrubs and sometimes the trees. He’d say words like cascades and ovals and crescents, gesturing to the jungle of stuff around us. I didn’t care about the names but I liked that he wasn’t quiet or awkward like other boys and that he would just talk and talk so I could listen. We’d go for hot chocolates afterwards and maybe he’d meet my granny who would like him a lot cos he always says Thanks and Take Care. He’d bring her tulips, white ones, like the ones he gave me.
He’s leaving out the door now with the other girl from the florist whose fleece matches his. They’re carrying the boxes of last week’s flowers, with the shrivelled tips and the silver gravel and that weird green thing they call oasis. The bell for the kitchen is ringing but I wait till he’s all the way out the door.
Take Care, I whisper, hating myself. I enter the kitchen and my manager pulls me aside.
What is it?
I flip open the card and there’s a clipart picture of Robert Burns roses in a vase. The name of the florist, an email, a number.
Never too late, she says, brushing past me with the confidence I want.
/ Maria Sledmere
(fff prompts: vase)