By Mark Fleisher
For a brief time several years ago, I worked in Chicago and when my day ended I took a city bus to a stop a few blocks from the cramped apartment I could barely afford. On my walk home, I passed a flower shop owned by a young woman named Annie. I knew her name because the letters were stenciled in bright red on the store window.
Though my bank account was meager and my wallet almost never carried spare bills, I would stop every two or three days and buy a modest flower – vibrant or pale in color, exotic or common-seeming. Not because I loved or even liked flowers, nor did I know anything about them. Admittedly, I couldn’t tell a tiger lily from a hibiscus even if threatened with physical punishment. No, I’d stint on a necessity to buy a blossom because I was plain and not-so-simple falling in love with Annie.
I was too shy and too poor for any outward expression of feelings. Surely, I believed, any number of suitors would be drawn to her lovely face, shoulder-length chestnut hair, winning smile, and other all-too-obvious features.
Fortunes eventually improved, taking me to a new and better job, but miles away from the flower shop and its beguiling owner. Business took me back to Chicago years later, and for old time’s sake I longed to see Annie again. I thought about taking the bus, but decided that my new stature would let me spring for a $20 cab ride (plus generous tip) from my hotel in the Loop.
My chatty Eritrean driver dropped me at what I was sure was the correct address. But no Annie stenciled onto the storefront window, no flowers in sight, and certainly no sign of the woman I silently loved a few years ago. In its place was what we called back in the day a variety store – kind of a scaled down five and dime – offering an olio of items, many of them unnecessary for daily life.
Maybe I had the wrong address. So I turned up the collar of my overcoat for protection against those Chicago winds and walked to the nearby corner. I found what in my heart I knew I would find – the intersection jibed with my memory. I walked back to the variety store, found the owner, and asked if Annie had relocated to another part of town.
I was rocked by what he told me. Annie had passed away from what incurable condition – what, he didn’t know. She apparently had no family and the fellow from whom she rented the space had found a new tenant in the variety store owner.
Knowing I couldn’t deal with another talkative cab driver, I walked back to the hotel, passing several bars, each tempting me to drop in and down a strong one to warm my body and ease the pain I felt.
Figuring my hotel room a safer choice, I opened the mini-bar and found a bottle of Jack Daniel’s – about the size they serve on airplanes. I drank it straight in one gulp. Bone tired and emotionally wasted, I crawled into the king bed, hoping Mr. Daniel would help put me out. He did.
I awoke at some point in the middle of the night – at least I think I did. Before me stood Annie, clutching a flower in each hand. One blossom was bright orange, the other lemon yellow. “This is a tiger lily,” Annie said, extending the orange flower. “And this is a hibiscus. Now you can tell the difference between them,” she added before her ghostly form began fading into the surrounding ethereal light. “By the way, I liked you a lot.”
I flew home two days later. I passed the time at 38,000 feet, finishing the inflight magazine crossword puzzles, dozing a bit, and exchanging a frequent flyer drink ticket for Jack and Coke. Carol met me at the airport. I kissed her a little harder than usual, hugged her a few seconds longer than normal, and told her how much I’d missed her. I meant it.
On the drive to our place she asked how the trip went.
“Fine,” I said, “just fine.”
A native of Brooklyn, New York, now living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mark Fleisher has published three books of poetry – with some prose and photographs thrown in – Moments of Time; Intersections: Poems from the Crossroads; and Reflections: Soundings from the Deep, in addition to collaborating on a chapbook titled Obituaries of the Living. His work has appeared in numerous online and print anthologies in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and India. After receiving a journalism degree from Ohio University, Fleisher enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served a year in Vietnam as a combat news reporter. He was awarded a Bronze Star among other decorations. Before turning to poetry, Fleisher held reporting and editing positions with newspapers in New York and Washington, D.C.