|Parks' Floral Fancies
Author: Kneecap PM
A summer afternoon wasted in a flower shop. Until, that is, Layton saw the creepy, crabby man behind the counter. Now he is summer, and always will be.Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor/Drama - Words: 2,071 - Reviews: 17 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 6 - Published: 03-23-09 - id: 2650503
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
AN: This is only going to be a short story, so maybe 2-3 chapters. D'accord? D'accord. It's a mish-mash of crap, frankly, and yes, as always, I am an impatient wench and couldn't wait until I'd finished writing the whole story before I posted it. I'll get it done. Shh.
And after all, she couldn't have chosen a nicer afternoon to waste. High, high above my head kites wheel and cry out to one another; streaking like valkyries across the purple sky. Telegraph posts stretch black wires in looping lines far and away into the distance. Such a lovely afternoon, overflowing with the endless promise of summer holidays, and here I am, walking down the road with Mum, to a flower shop, to buy some lilies.
I check my purple 'groovy chick' watch – a slightly embarrassing Christmas present from Mum, but something, really, every teenage boy should have – it's 5:36 p.m.
'Mum, really, what the hell? Why can't you go on your own?' I hiss, catching the indulgent look of a passing pensioner.
'You're coming.' She smiles.
I make as if to walk away from her and her hand shoots out, sticking to my forearm like well-chewed gum. Maybe, just maybe she's as embarrassed to be seen in a flower shop as I am. Perhaps, if she's going down, she intends to take me with her…
We're rounding the corner of a dozy street, an area that I don't visit often on account of it being an old person's paradise: all around…charity shops. Oxfam. Salvation Army. Help the Aged. I can feel my throat instinctively tighten at the imagined scent of mothballs. But no, at the far end of town the air is clean, steeped in the sweet reek of lemon beebrush. Laburnums sway in the cooling breeze like Chinese lanterns and everything hangs in a stuffy silence for a moment. I can feel a bead of sweat roll down my neck as my pale t-shirt flutters slightly. Faint stirrings of air drift up my shorts and a curious, but not unwelcome feeling of being violated seeps into my consciousness.
My sandals are glued to my feet. Nice.
Despite my whining, I have to admit this little corner of town is extremely pretty. I should really come down here more often, if for no other reason than to admire high summer. There's a pinkish tint to almost every brick and I can smell vintaged care seeping from each building. There's something cosy and permanent about this scented corner, and I secretly want to live here. Secretly.
'Layton?' Mum calls out from the other side of the road. I don't even know why they have Pelican crossings here; it's not like anything but a horse and cart is ever going to use this road.
'I was waiting for the lights,' I reply. Lies. As my sandal lazily slaps the paving stone on the other side of the road, I get a close up view of the shop. Being short-sighted in every sense of the word and having left my glasses at home – for reasons of posterity – it soon becomes pretty clear that this shop is the odd one out. Clutching onto the edge of the boulevard like a clay ulcer, the only rosy glow it's ever going to emit is if someone was violently sick all over it. Judging by some of the more dubious stains on the feldgrau brickwork, I hesitate to rule that out. The front windows of the shop are shabby, the glass and frame both warped, and due to the barricade of dark green leaves inside – some ringed with dun circles – it's impossible to see through. It doesn't help that there's some kind of green blind drawn behind the windowsill, encapsulating the flowers in eternal sunshine, and isolating the cavity within from daylight. 'Parks's Floral Fancies' runs in dribbled paint at the head of the shop, and on the green door, covering up most of the door's own window, is a faded cream sign with the word 'Open' spelt out in red.
Mum pushes the door open slowly, creakingly. The only surprise is that there isn't some creepy wind chime jangling away and a man in a rocking chair cradling a shotgun. Indoors it's so dark I can barely make out Mum's bumblebee print dress, glaringly white though it is. I step inside and straight away a humid gush of air envelops me, making me pause to acquaint myself with what feels like the inside of a womb.
Mum does not have such a chance. 'Fuck me, what is this?'
'Mum!' I stare at her in shock. I'd get a backhand for that.
She turns around, eyes drawn to me, the figure framed in the door by the fading light outside. 'Oh, sorry, Layton. I forgot you could hear me. Come on.' She almost ploughs into what I think is a table in the middle of the store as the door clicks shut behind me.
The only avenue for light to enter the shop is from the window on the door. The windows at the front and side of the shop – it being semi-detached – are all screened off by green shades, leaving only the flowers on the windowsill in the sun. I lift up a corner of one of the blinds and almost every free inch of space on the ledge is taken up by flowers of all shapes and sizes; some with red petals, some with black leaves, but all mixing together to create an inimitable cloud of musky aromas. I can taste it.
I can just about make out the table Mum almost ran into, with two other tables flanking it, leaving walking paths in between each. Bedecking every free grain of the table are pots of fungi. Fungi. Red, white, purple, yellow: they gleam dully, and I swear some of them are pulsing. Some have caps that look like the whole mushroom is turning inside out, while some are so swollen with God only knows what, they look like they're about to burst. One particularly stick-like fungus is pneumonia blue. And some, frankly, are shaped like penises. Penii? What is the plural for that word?
'Where are all the flowers? Why are there no lights? Why…mushrooms? Is that a penis?! Oh…no, no it isn't.' Mum flashes me what I assume was an apologetic look. 'Hello? Is there a shopkeeper here? Hello?'
We amble slowly down the aisles and eventually reach the counter, which, of course, is vacant.
'Mum, I think I'm suffocating, can I wait outside?'
Her head jack-knifes around. 'No.' She raps her fingernails on the counter. 'Hello? Is anyone here?'
'Oh fuck this sh– '
'How may I help you?' The voice is withered and disintegrating, like old paper drifting apart fibre by fibre. The owner appears behind the counter so quickly that it's almost impossible to believe he wasn't hiding behind there just waiting for the opportunity to jump us all along.
'Ahh!' I give a start. 'Was that really necessary?'
The voice, a man, clears his throat loudly. 'Yes.'
Shocked silence pervades…
'So anyway: do you sell Canna lilies? I've been meaning to – oh you do? Do you have any Yellow King Humbert? I could do with a couple, and can you please turn on a light? It's so hard to see anything…' Mum trails off.
The man, whose features I can barely make out in the murk, mutters something about 'some round the back' and disappears. I wait a moment, to make sure he's gone.
'Seriously Mum, what is he? Why are there mushrooms in here? Did you deliberately choose the weirdest place you could find? Where are the flowers?'
'Shh! We don't know him; don't be so judgmental. He keeps the flowers round the back, he said, though that does defeat the point in owning a shop…maybe he does everything backasswards? But yes! He seems like a…man. Anyway, that's not the point. Shut up! He's coming ba– hey there again!' she finishes suspiciously. The man flicks a switch somewhere and a little desk lamp shines over all of us. I can see! The Canna lilies in question slouch suggestively on the somewhat earth-stained counter; their dazzling blend of yellow petals and red dashes of scarlet fan out in inversely conical flowers from the stems. But more importantly, I can see the man. The man.
There's something ageless about his face. He's definitely nowhere near my age, and I'm pretty sure I could be his son at the very least, but everything about him is so…captivating. There's a strange little mole, barely visible, just beneath his chin and a pattern of freckles spread out like a rash across his nose. Freckles? At his age? If I didn't know better, I'd say they were liver spots, but thankfully I do. His nose is slightly crooked, but if it were a hat, it'd be worn at a jaunty angle. There're traces of dirt under his frayed fingernails and in pretty much every nook and cranny of his tatty t-shirt and jeans.
His eyes though…. They're like crabs, the way they scuttle back and forth across the room. My Mum. Me. My face. My eyes.
'…don't know what I'd do without you; you're a lifesaver,' Mum rattles on.
'That's quite alright,' the man says, still scuttling all over my face. 'Maybe this young man would like to carry one of the pots?'
Patronage is not lost on me, and I'd like to think my words come across as flinty. 'Yeah,' I say, shoving my hands forward to receive the outstretched lily. I showed him.
In the most clichéd way imaginable, our hands somehow manage to brush against one another in the transferral of the plant, and maybe my blush puts the lily to shame. Maybe. His fingers seem pretty happy to carry on lingering over mine, and somewhere, behind the manic crabs, in his thin-lipped face, he smiles.
Of course, it only actually lasts for about ten milliseconds, but it feels like fifteen thousand million times that number in my head. I fumble with the blooming plant and almost, almost drop it, and catch the crabs scuttling away behind the counter, ready to pinch me if I so much as dare to take a risk with flora again in their presence.
Taking the hint, Mum and I awkwardly manoeuvre our way past the tables, and to the front door of the shop, which he holds open for us, making sure he's still standing well inside, in his fortress of darkness and phallic mushrooms. Walking past him, Mum having gone into the light first, I "accidentally" bump into him with my hip, apologising profusely before whispering in a harsh breath 'I'm Layton Barker.'
'Lloyd Parks,' he whispers back with a tint of joviality in his voice. The door clicks shut behind me and I turn to see his callused fingers turn the shop sign 'Closed'. Weak sunlight slides off of my watch face: it's 5:44 p.m.
'Well you took a shine to him, didn't you, Layton?' Mum states, rather than asks. I turn to look at her in the now dusky sunlight, her long hair pulled back tightly in a low ponytail, and her preternaturally high eyebrows for once slightly dipped. Her face is empty of the laughter that regularly haunts it.
'Yeah, he was ok.'
She gives the tiniest of nods, and we cross the road, beginning the tricky walk home, heavy-laden with bright lilies. Hardly anything beyond a monosyllable is uttered, and Mum's dress is creased and stained with dirt by the time we reach home, sweating like pigs.
The telegraph posts wind endlessly away in the sky above: monorails of wire. All the kites have drifted elsewhere now and the bruised sky fades to grey. I kick a gravelly pebble off the front doorstep and wonder, not for the first time, why this feels so inherently wrong.