24 roses

This morning I went to the flower shop and got 24 medium stemmed roses. I put them in a bucket in the passenger seat of the pickup and drove to County Health. I went in the door and told the receptionist that I had a delivery. “Who for?” “A rose for everyone in this place.” She didn’t smile; there was an invisible wall between us. Surely she is used to both shenanigans and sappy charity. She allowed that she would receive one, and chose white, then directed me upstairs with the names of two ladies to request.

Upstairs the staff was delighted, choosing roses that matched their sweaters, and they were stirred at the mystery: “Who sent these?” I am a poor liar, so I said sometimes that I didn’t know, or that I was only the delivery person, or that I could not say. Some of the people in the waiting room waited for the catch. I had to mention that they were free, and try not to sound like a naive, condescending bitch. “Also, they have little plastic water vials so they won’t wilt while you wait.” Sometimes the ice broke when I asked not whether a person would like a rose, but: “Which color would you like?” Fortunately I had four white, eight red, six pink, and six yellow with orange tinge, so the selection was attractive.

I wonder about the people who did not want a rose. It seemed they did not want to stoop to something. What was the obstacle? Being a receiver? Pleasure? Unbusinesslike conduct? Interaction with a stranger? “I have errands to run all day,” said a woman who would not look up from her phone, and continued to list her obligations, her voice tapering off in a thread of stress. When I went back downstairs, the receptionist with the white rose had perked up a bit, and the tech next to her stretched her arms in the air and said, “Right here! I’ll take one!” A patient on her way out had just given flowers to anther person, and felt it was karma. I suspect the wizened guy in suspenders and a wiry beard was going to re-gift his scarlet rose to a ladyfriend, and the old guy in the ballcap and dirty shirt freely admitted that he intended to butter up the doc. “That’s right, you want to be on her good side,” I said, laughing.

The bucket was almost empty and the clinic was sated. The last two roses took a long time to give away, walking down the sunny streets and unsuccessfully offering them to a young woman, a cop, a couple of cyclists, and a paper supply salesman. Finally a nursing home clerk and her primary care specialist, as she referred to him, claimed them. I tossed the empty bucket in the truck bed and drove back to the apartment.

Empty-handed, I felt less of a Hallmark do-gooder glow than an infection of curiosity, more questions than conclusions. What were these people’s lives? What were their ailments? To whom would they go home, if they were lucky enough to have a home? How long would the last rose last? Regarding the choice: why each yes, why each no? Was anyone left out, and would someone share? Would anyone do the ol’ pay-it-forward? Can the joy of a surprise flower be measured? Can it grow on a person even if begrudgingly accepted? Possibilities hover in the air around each gift of thorns, single fern fronds, quarter ounces of life-preserving water, and faint smell buried in the whorls of a rose. I may never know, but two dozen points of color are moving about this city, accompanying two dozen anonymous people, and I like to think that the roses will hear and that they will know.

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