Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Baby's Breath" - a short story

Baby's Breath


Kurt Mitchell

"Don't you touch my flowers... they were given to me... they're mine..."

That those words were spoken softly, pleadingly... that they weren't spoken in English... that they weren't heard above the bluster of wind that scoured the last few leaves from the gentle mound of naked black topsoil, made no difference to the groundskeeper. He saw some nice flowers in the stack, much too nice to go to waste.

"Baby's Breath!" He could always use Baby's Breath!

With thick-fingered hands, nails muddied black with an honest day's work, the groundskeeper knelt by a fresh, unmarked grave and worked through his fingerless gloves gleaning every stem of the tiny white flowers from the top of the discarded, lifeless pile. He stood just as the first flake of pure white snow settled on the back of his grimy hand to die as a tiny droplet of clear clean water. By the time he reached the tractor shed, the drop had evaporated with no one ever knowing it had even been there.

He leaned heavily against the rough wooden door to close it against the wind, and made his way to the potting bench on the far side of the room. He hefted the galvanized aluminum pail high and dropped it down with an authoritative 'thunk' before removing his outer coat and settling in to work on his product. The thick-fingered hands worked quickly... sorting, selecting, grouping, bundling, tying, and stacking. Within twenty minutes his bucket was filled again with assorted bouquets of almost fresh flowers. In one continuous motion he donned his coat, punched his timecard, and in that instant transformed from gravedigger at St. Casimir Polish Catholic Cemetery to "Flower Man"- entrepreneurial scourge of the traffic light at 111th and Pulaski! He never noticed the extra shadow that followed him as he exited the cemetery gate... the extra shadow that walked beside him to the intersection.

"Don't you sell my flowers... they were given to me... they're mine..."

The driver never bought anything at stoplights... you never knew who you were rolling down your window for, who'd spit on you if you didn't have change... but today he'd make an exception. The Mylar balloon with the goofy yellow duck bounced mindlessly against the ceiling of the car... it was going to make his son laugh. He loved saying those words for the past two months... "His son"! Now something for his wife... flowers! Yeah, flowers! Just this once he'd break his rule, besides... he'd seen that guy here everyday... every time he didn't make the light.

"Hey, man! Yeah... give me some flowers. Those ones there... with the Baby's Breath! Here's a ten, you can keep the change!"

"Don't you buy my flowers... they were given to me... they're mine..."

The driver made his purchase before the stoplight changed. He was elated, happy to be going home, happy to be a husband, happy to be a new father. He didn't realize he was also now a chauffeur for a shadow that had entered his car, which now held a bouquet, and peered at him in his rearview mirror from behind a bouncing balloon.

As the sun fell below the Beverly Ridge, the BMW made its way up the modest bungalow's driveway and was put away for the night. A husband brought his armload of gifts into a home warmed with amber light. A meal was had, with cake and ice cream, and a baby boy laughed at his silly yellow duck that bounced at his command all around his highchair... and a wife smiled and kissed her husband as he handed her a bouquet of mostly fresh flowers.

"Don't you give away my flowers... they were given to me... they're mine..."

And the shadow followed as the bouquet was trimmed and arranged in a vase, then placed in the center of the dining room table... except for a single rose and  several sprigs of Baby's Breath that were placed in a crystal bud vase in the nursery. The parents slept peacefully all through the night; the baby never cried... and the shadow left the house.

"You took away my Baby's Breath... and now I've taken yours..."

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