The flowers leaned against the side of the vase. Their colors slowly fading under the intense uniform lighting from the ceiling. The dull hum of the machines provided a perfect soundtrack for death. I imagined that’s what he thought. Lying on the bed, next to the flowers. Their fight to survive in the inch of water the vase held, mirrored by his now shortened breaths and waning consciousness.
I looked back at the flowers. I didn’t care about the flowers, didn’t care if they died. He didn’t care about the flowers either, though the death of anything had to scare him. It was so odd seeing him next to flowers. I didn’t have many memories of him with flowers, but I searched my mind to make sure they wouldn’t be replaced by this one.
We were at a flower shop picking out bouquets for our dates to the school dance. Fooling around and arranging awful combinations. He had put a huge green stem in the middle of his flowers. I don’t know if the flower had fallen off or if thick green stems are attractive to some but we both found it hilarious. I opted for a more flashy Bird-of-paradise for my centerpiece. The florist gave us an annoyed look as she wrapped our terrible choices together, trying to make masterpieces out of them.
When our dates saw us they were unimpressed, confused as to why we had put the effort in an obvious failure. We were teenage boys, it was all we knew. His date quickly handed the flowers back to him once we were in the car. He laid them down on his lap and laughed at her, promising the rest of the night would be better than this horrible bouquet. About halfway through the ride, he realized that the water at the bottom had been seeping out and had soaked both him and his date.
The bleach white walls offered no place for my eyes to rest. I scanned the room for something to look at. The flowers sat there, a little more dead than the last time I’d looked at them. I briefly wondered where they’d come from before remembering that I didn’t care.
“You up?” I asked
His body seemed to twitch ever so slightly but I couldn’t tell if it was my imagination giving him life.
“Hey, man…” I started and then let the machine hum take over.
There wasn’t a response. My eyes drifted back to the flowers. Those terrible flowers.
It was the school carnival and all the kids in our class had to tend to booths. I had set myself up at the music and stage booth. Basically having to hit play on a playlist, make small announcements, and lead games on stage that nobody wanted to play or hear being played. He manned the “jail” booth. A place where younger kids could pay small fees to have their friends be caught and spend a few minutes in a classroom.
Near the halfway point of the carnival, the “jail” closed, to make sure kids ate food and had time to have fun instead of being locked up. He quickly was put to work at the flower booth. Going from chasing down children to lock them up to chasing down some of the same kids trying to give them flowers. Most — if not all — of the flower deliverers were girls and watching him wander around with fairy wings strapped to his back and an armful of roses was more absurd than the idea of locking kids up at a carnival. The kids, still fearing being locked up by him were terrified and were running away from him. He couldn’t deliver any roses.
There was a new beeping sound faintly coming from another room. I wondered if someone else was in trouble. It stopped. I started staring at the flowers again.
His hand moved, he motioned me toward the bed.
“Hey, how are you doing man?” I offered, knowing immediately it was a dumb question. “Um, been able to eat anything?” Better, I thought.
“Yea, some stuff,” I couldn’t tell if he didn’t want to talk about it or couldn’t remember.
“Nice…” Wow, it was never like this for us. We could always talk. My eyes left his and found the flowers. Somehow this was more comfortable.
The ball sailed over the wall into a neighbor’s backyard. We didn’t want the embarrassment of ringing the doorbell and admitting our mistake but there was also a dog sleeping in the yard. We devised a plan. He would hop the fence since he was bigger, creep his way to the back of the yard, grab the ball, toss it to me, and then jump the fence on the other side. It was perfect, in our child minds.
It started just fine. He went up and over the wall. Then crept slowly toward the ball. Quietly, he picked the ball up and in one motion tossed it toward me. It flew in the air and fell just short of my outstretched hands. The ball hit the top of the wall, making a loud sound before bouncing to me. I gathered it as the dog woke up. Cornered by the now awake dog he sprinted along the far wall looking for a spot to jump up. The dog kept barking. He ran straight through the neighbor’s flower patch, sending dirt and petals every which direction. Then finally, he hopped the wall. The garden was torn up, his shoe prints easily visible. “Blame it on the dog!” he yelled.
The flowers were looking back at me.
“I hate these flowers,” I said. It looked like he wanted to smile.
“Yea? Me too.”
“I knew it. Hey, I’m sorry but I got to go. I think someone else is coming in a few minutes. Stay strong man.” I grabbed my bag, swung it around my back and in the process knocked the flowers clear off the bed-side table. They flew in the air, seemed to hang there for a second before crashing to the ground.
And then, we cried.