A SHORT STORY BY STINA PAGLIERO
The doorbell to the flower shop clinks. The day has just begun. Three funeral orders are in progress. The woman ushers herself in and stops at the magnolias. Her eyes glaze over, staring into the shop space. She inhales. The scissors meet the lily’s flower stem he is cutting. There’s buckets of fresh flowers everywhere. A stack of blue and white porcelain urns sit in the background. A jungle of random plants surround her, the ones that need lots of sunlight and ones that don’t. He’s standing behind a large old wooden counter with a worn-in cutting board and lots of tissue paper.
She doesn’t have much time. Clears her throat. Excuse me. He doesn’t look up, but she can tell he’s heard. She shifts her weight. Dressed all in black. Hands folded over her Birkin bag. Poised and ready to ask for what someone else wants. Jeff is waiting in the car. It was his last wish after all and she’s here to fulfill even that one. She steps forward. I’d like to know how much. He looks up to follow her eyes to the specific bucket. Her eyes are looking at him. He doesn’t blink and is about to go back to cutting the stem when she firmly says it. For the shop.
His gaze stops mid way and he looks back up at her. He’s never seen her in here. The shop is not for sale, he says blankly. Not because it isn’t for sale, but because this is not part of the script of the day. People come in and ask for a particular kind of flower. If he sees them before they walk in and depending on their entrance, he asks if they need help. If it’s a busy day, he acknowledges them and carries on, waiting for curiosity to interrupt. He has been doing this for decades. Every day the same routine and transition. Always him and the flowers and the customers. And not once, not once has anyone ever said this.
My client is prepared to make a considerable offer. She stands in the same position, not changing her eyes from his gaze. Is this what it’s like when death is coming for you and you’ve been unconscious the whole time? The soft music plays on in the shop. Erik Satie today. His parents work in finance. They moved here to open a flower shop and then struck it big in the stock market. How do you say “ I inherited millions and if money was no object, I would be a performance artist. So here I am. The flowers are my puppets now, you are my audience, and I am the ventriloquist”.
The doorbell clinks again. It’s the delivery guy with today’s shipment. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of flowers. Maybe .003% will sell from the cemetery. The money isn’t what it’s about. He’s always felt safe here. The cemetery being across the street and all.
It’s not that you could say she is cold. But they spent all of their life together. She knew nothing else. So in many ways, he is still here and no one else really is. Except somewhere she knows he’s not. After they met, his favorite thing was to come to this flower shop. Owning it is what he wanted. It all happened so fast. She had come here before they were together. Several times. Late for a meeting. Needed to pick something up for a dinner party. The man and woman working in the shop always obliged to help. Even when she couldn’t afford them, the flowers were an escape. Jeff noticed this right away when they met. Your apartment has no photos and no tupperware. But always these flowers. How do we want to be preserved? How do we want to preserve? Oh these, I picked these up on the way home. They never brought it up again.
They didn’t have to. Each time the doorbell rang, his hands contained .1% of the most expensive flowers in the whole city. She knew because they only sold them there. And if you were someone who wanted flowers and to just viscerally feel like you were escaping your circumstances just for a moment, you knew where to find the best ones in the city. They never discussed what happened after to the flowers he brought. Where they went.. No the ending was never considered. It wasn’t romantic. Save a petal in a book so it stays forever. There was only the routine anticipation of what flowers would come with him, their subtle symbolism not lost on her. They found a way to communicate through life itself. She never gave a thought to life without flowers or life without him. Why would she. And so when his life was taken, there was only one thing to do.
So here she was, asking this man behind the counter to buy his business for which she had no prior knowledge of simply other than for the fact that it was the last big bouquet her husband wanted to give her forever. Death after all is the thing for which we place the most significance in visualizing.
The man behind the counter stayed silent in thought. His parents were still young. Death did not run in his family so he couldn’t quite say if this feeling in the left part of chest was grief or sadness he witnessed so often here. Because of the cemetery and all. He thought he might have felt it when he was eleven. He had broken one of his mother’s most expensive porcelain vases. No it wasn’t that. Plus he had meticulously glued the pieces back together. Not that his mother had even noticed. That wasn’t what it was about. Every year since then, they had exchanged a collection of them. Each opened by the house’s wait staff, lined up on the shelf and dusted daily. But that feeling was in his stomach now that he thought of it.
It was a simple question.
That’s not your concern.
It was so eloquently put. A presentation of everlasting devotion to revisit. Surely there must be another way to grieve. There must be more time. Buy an immortelle. It requires less water than a business. What could he have possibly wished her to have with this shop? Couldn’t she have taken the bid up with his parents or the family estate? Why him? He wants to scream. Something is building inside him. Of course he has a right to say no. He always has. It is his. But something tugs somewhere deep.
Great the team will be in touch to draw up the contract.
The doorbell clinks. We leave the same way we came.
Stina Pagliero is an American product builder and writer who relocated from Brooklyn to live and work in Copenhagen. Currently she oversee the digital product experience at a flavor company called Empirical and teach a course in Product Management for people looking to up-skill or transition careers at General Assembly. This has taken her all over the world—from the US to the Middle East to Europe.
Outside Empirical and GA, you can find her: spending time with loved ones, outside in nature, working on her book of short stories, or learning a new skill or in an art museum.
Growing up, Stina read every and any book she could get her hands on in libraries, shops or family homes. She never adapted to the form being taught. She encourages everyone to tell their own stories and keep finding new ways to relate to themselves and the world through reading. To those reading this now, never stop turning the pages.
WE LOVE TO CONNECT PEOPLE
WRITER Stina Pagliero
ILLUSTRATION Jim Brunnestom
PHOTO Jakub Jezny