(Short Story Hour is inspired by a recent Metro trip I experienced. It is a work of fiction including the fact that in the actual bouquet there were buttercups not peonies. Enjoy!)
White flowers. This week it’s white flowers. Last week was yellow and the week before blue. The bouquet, he guessed that was the right term, was always monochromatic but never the same flowers. He could occasionally make out what one or two of the flowers were; a rose here, a daisy there. Most of the time the flowers were foreign to him, a bit exotic or just not something you’d see at a grocery store florist (his sole experience with flowers). The flowers didn't seem unusual to her, like it was normal for her to have them. He could tell she enjoyed them.
The woman got on the train at the same stop, at the same time, at the same door every Sunday. She sat on a bench facing the rest of the car rather than facing in the direction the train was going. He was never able to sit that way; it made him nauseous. She dressed nicely, as if she was coming from or going to work. Her look was professional but also quirky. She wore a lot of black and gray but always a color or bold pattern somewhere. Today it was purple polka dot tights. He noticed her for the first time five weeks ago. The flowers, purple that week, had caught his eye. The colors ranged from lavender to lilac to mauve and violet. One flower looked almost black. She had been wearing all black that day and the flowers were a dramatic contrast to her look. She sat on the bench facing the train, facing him, closest to the front of the car. He thought her seat choice was bold too, like she wanted people to notice the flowers but not the flower carrier. She looked out the window for most of the trip. She got off the train at Clarendon, glancing his way for a split second before disappearing into the crowd.
Since that day he looked for her. His Sunday trip to visit his parents in the Virginia suburbs was more interesting if he had someone to look forward to seeing. He was also a creature of habit when it came to the Metro. He rode in the same car and sat in the same seat every Sunday. As the train pulled up to Metro Center he looked for her on the platform. He always saw the flowers first; the color jumped from the darkness of the train station.
The white flowers today stood out even more than past bouquets. They looked clean and fresh in stark contrast to the griminess of the Metro. Where did the flowers come from? They never “matched” so he couldn’t quite figure out their origin. Did she work at a florist and bring home odds and ends that didn’t make it into arrangements? Did she "steal" the flowers off tables or from arrangements in public spaces? That last idea was harder to believe since the flowers were all in the same color family. Maybe she worked at a hotel or some other venue for weddings or fancy parties. He hoped it wasn’t a funeral home or something equally morbid. That would make for an interesting conversation if they ever spoke to one another. Or maybe she had brunch with someone every Sunday and he/she brought flowers. He wondered where she went with her flowers once she got off the train. Did she keep them for herself or give them away? Did she keep them at home or take them to work? How long did cut flowers last?
He could see a hydrangea and one rose but he couldn’t tell what the other three flowers were. They looked like a rose but he didn’t think they were roses. He thought his mother had some similar flowers in her garden. He’d ask her for help on this one. His mother always knew the random flowers he described to her.
He wanted to talk to the woman but wasn’t sure it would go over so well. He didn’t want her to think he was a creeper or worse. He was a normal guy not some weirdo Metro rider. It was bound to happen since he rode the same train every week; he was going to see someone else on a similar schedule and wonder about them. That's how cities worked or so he believed. Rather than approach her, though, he observed and hoped he wasn’t too obvious.
The arrangement was white today. It absolutely floored her when she first saw it. The flowers were so beautiful, stark, and pristine against the marble desk. They were too much for a quiet Sunday afternoon at a museum. She was used to the beautiful museum setting and the leftover flowers being part of the scenery but something about these white flowers didn’t belong. Maybe it was that her favorite flower, the peony, had been hidden throughout the arrangement. At first she thought it was a white buttercup since they were in season in the later winter but upon further inspection, they were definitely peonies. They weren’t even in season right now. She could only guess how much those had cost. She couldn’t tell what type of peony it was; it looked like a Lady Orchid but she thought those were always pink. She’d look it up at when she got home.
She finished her shift at the information desk and picked her flowers from the arrangement. The guards insisted the volunteers take the flowers home; they were required to throw them away at the end of the day and it seemed sad and wasteful. She didn’t like to take too many; the other docents and volunteers deserved flowers too. She usually took five or six flowers depending on the arrangement. She likes to imagine what the wedding looked like based on the one remaining arrangement. Last night's must have been expensive, tasteful, and lovely. There was a leftover program that looked like it involved antique lace. Weddings were common at the museum but she had never experienced them five weeks in a row. That must be a record. She loved this “perk” of working at the museum; it made everyone’s day. Today’s arrangement was her favorite so far. The flowers were simple: hydrangea, roses, peonies, and stock. It was the simplicity that gave it such beauty.
She signed out and said goodbye to the guards. She was right on time to make her normal train. Then she’d see him. She looked forward to seeing him every Sunday. It was comforting not creepy. It was that feeling that occurs when familiar things or people appeared. She liked those moments best in her life. They made her feel connected in a city that often felt very disconnected.
She noticed him the first time she brought home flowers. He sat mid-way back facing in the direction the train was going. Maybe he was one of those people who had to sit facing that direction or else he’d get sick. She’d like to ask him but hadn’t decided how to go about it. She noticed him looking at the flowers that first time. He was intrigued by them; she could tell. Those first flowers had been purple and had photographed beautifully. She photographed all of the bouquets she brought home. She planned to include those in her upcoming portfolio review. Her flowers series was her favorite. She was tentatively calling it “Metro Flowers.”
He definitely watched her back. She never felt threatened by him; he wasn’t creepy or weird. She could tell. The flowers threw people off; they always stared at her. Maybe he was trying to to figure out where she got them. She suspected that’s what most people did when they saw her with the flowers. She guessed no one ever thought “museum wedding.” The mystery of the flowers made her happy.
Where was he going? He got on the train before her so she didn’t know where he got on the train and her stop was before his so she didn't know where his journey ended. Was he coming home work or going to it? People worked all the time in this town so either was a possibility. Maybe he was visiting someone. The train arrived on time. It was a gamble these days whether Metro would work. She saw a familiar green scarf about mid-way back facing the front of the train. Her favorite seat was available. The scent from the flowers made her think of places other than a Metro car. She settled into her seat and covertly watched. Maybe next weekend she’d talk to him.
This week: It's almost time for Record Store Day! I have a mid-week post planned focusing on fandom and then it's on to the Big Show - RSD. This year I'm taking the show on the road to Richmond to visit record stores and check out the GWAR Bar. Get ready for shenanigans and records - coming at you next weekend!