In Memory Of My Father, Ernest J. Orgar Sr.
The little boy heard the door slam and his father’s heavy footsteps thud through the living room into the kitchen.
“What you mean my supper ain’t ready? Fool! You know I like a hot dinner when I get home!” The boy shuddered up in his bedroom as he heard a pan clatter to the floor, a heavy, meaty thump, and a cry from his mother. Then more footsteps and the door slamming again as his enraged father stormed out.
The boy snuck down the stairs, took his coat off the hook, and slipped outdoors. He walked next door to the flower shop. The night was dark, and the store windows glowed warmly with Christmas decorations and silk flower arrangements. He walked in, inhaling the comforting Christmas smells of fresh pine and eucalyptus. Christmas music played softly from a radio on the ribbon shelf.
The shop was almost ready to close for the day. The sales clerks nodded and smiled at him as they vacuumed the rug, added up sales receipts, and straightened the silk arrangements on shelves. The boy came in often; they knew him well.
The boy walked to the greenhouse entryway, quietly drinking in the greenhouse chock full of thousands of red, white, and pink poinsettias. He took comfort in the humid warmth and damp, earthy smell of clean moist soil. He looked up and could faintly see stars gleaming through the panes of greenhouse glass that wasn’t covered with crisp white snow.
He turned and peeked into the workroom. Floral designers chatted as they worked on holiday arrangements for last minute deliveries.
The owner, Ernie, spied his little neighbor and waved. The boy waved back, then went to the show room to look in the flower cooler. The floor of the cooler was filled with green buckets of colorful carnations. Ernie came out and stood behind him.
“How ya doin’?” Ernie asked.
“OK…” The little boy drew his breath in sharply. “Wow-hey-look at that flower!” He pointed his stubby finger against the glass. A single red-and-white striped carnation was all that was left in one of the buckets. “It’s striped! Just like a candy cane! A candy cane carnation!” He looked up at Ernie and asked, “Could I buy it for my Mom?”
“You sure can.” Ernie opened the cooler door and took the carnation out. “It’s one dollar.”
The boy went to the counter and, tongue between his teeth, pulled out some stray coins from his coat pocket, leftover from his school lunch money. Ernie counted the coins for him. “Twenty-five…fifty…sixty…sixty five…seventy five…”
The boy’s eyes widened. “That’s all I have!” He tried not to cry in front of Ernie.
Ernie rolled his eyes. “Oh, hey, know what? I was so busy in the back of the greenhouse all day, I forgot! The ladies told me carnations were on sale today. They’re only seventy-five cents!”
“So I have enough?” the little boy asked, hope lighting his brown eyes.
“You made it,” Ernie smiled. “Let me wrap it for you. Flowers don’t like cold, just like us.” He took the carnation with him into the workroom and came back out a few minutes later. The carnation, some greens, and a sprig of baby’s breath were stuck in a water tube, the whole thing wrapped in a clear cellophane wrapper.
“Thanks, Ernie!” the little boy breathed, as he took the package.
“You and your Mom have a nice Christmas,” Ernie said as the little boy turned and left.
The little boy ran home and walked in quietly. His Mom was just setting a hamburger and a glass of milk on the table. Her eyes were swollen, and there was a big red mark on her cheek.
“There you are,” she said, her breath hitching as she tried to smile. “Were you at the flower shop again?”
He nodded and handed her the candy cane carnation. “For Christmas,” he whispered.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. But her smile was real this time as she bent down, held him tight and whispered in his ear, “We’re gonna be OK.”