No One Ever Gave Me Flowers§
by Russell Dyer
published: may 03, 2007; revised: may 03, 2007; readers in past month: 120
He sat in his chair at work, looking out of his window, not thinking of anything in particular: he was just day dreaming. His thoughts were rambling aimlessly as he vaguely perceived passers-by. His eyes followed each person who passed, considering their movements, but not their story. He wasn’t aware of them or his disassociation from his surroundings, from time. It was stange to find him sitting like this. He wasn’t what one would call a daydreamer. In fact, he usually was too impatient to sit idle, too concerned with his schedules—endless schedules, always planning, always looking ahead to the next day, to the next week’s meeting, to monthly goals. Yes, goal oriented. That’s what one could say to best describe Carsten. He believed in setting goals, in planning his day and his life with respect for those goals. There wasn’t time to be wasted, in his opinion. There was always plenty to do and not enough time to do everything. Time needed to be controlled.
“Carsten, Carsten,” a muffled voice came through the thick tinted glass window directly in front of him, accompanied with three-round bursts of a man’s well manicured finger nail, the sound penetrating the inner side of the pane. It took the voice and the finger nail several attempts for Carsten’s consciousness to bring visual substance to the blur of colors spread across the entire floor-to-ceiling window. He woke to an embarrassed sense of self and to the grinning face of his cousin, Hugh. After a quick moment of recovery, Carsten was again himself, but did not smile back at this passing sentry in the form of his forever cousin.
Hugh made a gesture with a crooked finger to indicate that he was coming around the building and would soon be arriving along side Carsten. This was immediately followed by another gesture involving the same index finger, but pointing up to indicate that Hugh would join him in a moment and that he should wait. It seemed that despite Carsten’s current listless state, his history of always being on-the-go masked him. As he waited for Hugh to maneuver his way through the maze that delineates his daily and continuos life, Carsten pondered if the index finger was so named owing to the fact that most people typically use it to indicate something. He drifted on this subject for a moment and wondered if the index finger was naturally and universally the finger of choice for indicating. He then put forth his hand lazily with his index finger extended and considered that it was a physically comfortable choice.
“What are you pointing at?” Hugh asked from his right as he came closer and looked from Carsten’s face to the street outside for an indication. Whereas, Carsten like a fool merely considered his index finger and thought of nothing, of the abyss.
“Huh? Oh, nothing,” Carsten responded and then crushed his fingers together as if he were crumpling a small passing note in his hand, and were pausing before tossing it into the waste paper basket. He spun around smoothly in his swivel chair and leaned back and asked Hugh, “What are you doing here?”
To this, sensing Carsten was his usual controlling self again, Hugh pulled back slightly and stiffened in a moderate, defensive stance and said, “I was just passing by and saw you sitting there doing nothing and thought I’d drop in.” Carsten nodded—not in an interested way, but at least no longer numb or contemplative. “Well, would you like to get some lunch?” Hugh made this offer and then glanced at his watch to confirm that his suggestion was being presented within a reasonable time of day by what he knew to be Carsten’s standards. He wasn’t much of a planner by comparison to Carsten. However, his habits were routine enough that his body sensed when it was time to eat, which was every two hours for him. He wasn’t an overeater or overweight. He would just eat small portions at each sitting. At the end of the day, he would probably eat about as much as any other man his age and size and position in life. It’s just that he enjoyed food and the social experience of eating with others. As such, he sought not only to savor the camaraderie of dining throughout the day, but also to celebrate it as many times as possible in a given day.
Carsten guffawed at the lunch offer and then glanced over at his day planner on his desk and said, “Sure. Let’s go now. My treat.” He then jumped up to leave.
“What! This is quite a day,” Hugh proclaimed. “First I happen upon you intensely day dreaming. No. I’m going to call it goofing off. And now you agree to a spontaneous offer of lunch with your favorite cousin.” Carsten shifted his eyes in disapproval at Hugh as he passed him at this point. “And you enhance the festivities by stating in advance that you will pay for lunch. Bravo!”
As Carsten took his suit jacket off the back of his client chair he said emphatically, “You’re not my favorite cousin,” and then walked off.
Chasing behind him, Hugh called out, “Of course, I am.”
Carsten tilted his head back a bit so that his voice would more easily carry behind him without having to turn around and declared, “No, you’re not.”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous,” Hugh scolded, to which Carsten did not respond again. Hugh walked briskly to try to catch up with him. However, he was quickly slowed by salutations from Cartsten’s co-workers. They all like him. Carsten always walked with determination and didn’t feel the need to smile and nod hello at everyone he passed in his office and in the lobby as Hugh did. Carsten felt such niceties were pointless. Hugh, however, felt that they were enjoyable in that they several times a day spawned five-minute conversations with delightful people, some of which were beautiful women—for him, incidentally, all women were beautiful—and occasionally these salutes lead to lunch, a quick bite, coffee, or maybe an aperitif.
Joining Carsten two minutes later outside standing in the sunlight by his office entrance and looking impatient (but not really as he knew Hugh’s routine quite well), Hugh resumed the thread and asked, “Who then? Who then is your favorite cousin?”
“Sebastian! Sebastian the last bastion of temperance?” Hugh asked throwing up his hands. “You award him the designation of your favorite cousin?”
“I can’t believe you pick him over me,” Hugh said with a chuckle and shake of his head. “And you’ve given this much thought and have carefully determined that he’s your favorite cousin and not me?” he repeated and queried.
“Come on. Let’s go,” Carsten said sounding a bit irritated. He didn’t like being questioned or repeating himself. He began taking long strides up the sidewalk.
“Where are you going? I don’t remember discussing a place for lunch,” Hugh said standing still while watching Carsten rapidly walking away from him. Hugh was assuming that he would stop and turn around to discuss the matter. He was mistaken. Carsten didn’t stop. “Do you even know where you’re going,” he yelled in an attempt to push his words uphill, against the noise of the street and the brisk cool breeze working against them.
“Of course, I do. I always know where I’m going,” Carsten yelled back without looking back or otherwise adjusting his head to accommodate the noise factors.
They went to Romano’s, an old restaurant which looks like a British gentlemen’s club with its red mahogany paneled walls, pictures of horses engaged in fox hunting, and collection of old flags. In the lounge section, it offered soft leather wing-backed chairs, cigars, and vintage port. It wasn’t a private club, but the cost of food and drinks and the style of presenting itself narrowed their client list as much as a stuffy membership board might. Since Hugh was only interested in a light lunch—he had plans to meet with a young lady for a very late lunch later that afternoon which specialized in a variety of salads—and since Carsten seemed to be not quite so interested in a full meal on this particular day, they ate in the lounge and had a mix of appetizers and some red wine.
“Have you seen Aunt Beatrice, lately?” Hugh inquired as he worked on combining some prosciuto and buffa cheese together with small slices of tomatoes which were soaked in virgin olive oil and sweet vinegar. Unfortunately, they kept falling off the cracker he tried to use as a base. He was trying to construct something in the order of an uncooked, miniature pizza. After the third time the tomatoes and cheese slid out of the stack, Carsten asked, “Aren’t you supposed to be going to a salad-only place for your mid-afternoon meal today?”
Hugh ignored him until he finally managed to get a bite containing all of the ingredients. He looked quite pleased with himself. He sat leaned over and said, “Yes. Why?” and watched Carsten for a response as he chewed.
“Then why are you piling on the salad items and not focusing your energies on the beef tidbits you insisted that we needed to order?”
As Hugh opened his mouth to reply, the partially eaten cracker he was carefully holding between his finger tips shattered and the pieces along with the enhancements tumbled down his hand and onto his right pant leg. He looked down at his mess in disappointment and disgust. He shook his hand free of the bits of food. Carsten chuckled while Hugh wiped his hands with his cloth napkin. Hugh then snatched up two chunks of beef tips and popped them into his mouth while smugly looking at Carsten who was now laughing at him. He rose and said “Oh, shut up, Carsten.” He then walked off towards the men’s room to clean his pants properly.
Carsten was left alone again to think, to let his mind wander. He seemed to have caught something like a sleeping sickness, but in his case a daydreaming sickness. He sat back in the his chair and heard the squeak of the leather as he adjusted himself. He looked towards the dining room nearby without considering anyone or anything in particular and sighed. His mind quickly wandered to thoughts of open fields of wild flowers. He recalled one Spring when he took a short trip into Sicily and there were yellow daisies (or margaritas as the locals called them) in abundance along the hills leading from the Mediterranean coast to the mountains. They seem to lure would-be daydreamers into the mountains.
Those were fond memories. He felt happy there, even though he was there without a plan or a schedule. It was a true vacation. He had adhered to the vacation convention of relaxing and going with the flow. This was not something at which he was particularly good. When he took time off from work for a trip, he would plan all of the details of the trip: hotels, restaurants, tours, museums, etc. Even when he was supposed to be on vacation, his life was under some sort of plan. Worst of all, he would bring work with him. He would bring a file to review, documents to read, a report he was working on. Plus, his mind was always filled with ideas about an upcoming work related presentation he was rehearsing.
For that one unexpected vacation in Sicily, though, he didn’t bring anything with him. He was going to a business meeting in Palermo. When he arrived, he was told that it was canceled. So all of his work related papers that he brought with him were useless to him—there was no need to review for a meeting which was canceled. He had nothing to do for two days. He looked into rescheduling his flight back home, but it would have cost an extra couple of thousand dollars for the ticket change on such short notice. He phoned his boss (Mr. Warren) back in the United States and he said for him to stay and enjoy himself. He was handed an all expense paid, true vacation.
So, he stayed and did nothing of substance. He walked around Palermo the first day, but didn’t take any tours. The morning of the second day he took a train into a small village to the west of Palermo: he went to a town called Cinisi. He roamed the town and watched the locals playing cards, negotiating over vegatables sold from the back of a truck. He had an espresso and watched the men discussing soccer in a caf´. He caught a ride on the back of a farmer’s cart, pulled by an old mule, into the mountains. The farmer gave him a small loaf of bread and some cheese, as well as some rich green olives that were soaked in sweet red vinegar. He had never tasted olives so good—never before, not ever again. Using an old plastic cup that farmer gave him, he drank water from a small acquaduct system used to channel water evenly to the olive groves on the mountain side. With these provisions (for which the farm would not accept payment) he had lunch alone on a slope of the mountain, lying amongst the margaritas and meditating on the small cluster of homes far below near the coast. This was a vacation. This was contentment. This was happiness. ‘Sadly,’ he thought sitting there in Romano’s lounge, ‘I’ve only felt that way once in my life.’
“Why were you singing that dreadful song?” a voice asked. Carsten looked up to find Bartholomew, a friend of his standing over him while holding a drink in his left hand, and clutching one of the wings of his chair with his other hand.
“What song? What are you talking about?”
“The song you were sing. What’s it called?” Bartholomew gestured with a stirring of his right hand. “Something about not sending you flowers any more.”
“What? I was singing?” Carsten asked in disbelief.
“Yes. You were.” Bartholomew informed him, “Not very well, mind you.”
“Huh. I didn’t realize that I was.”
“Who doesn’t send you flowers any more?” Bartholomew took up the question suggested by the lyric.
“Um, no one. I think I heard the song earlier today and it must be rolling around my head,” Carsten explained; he lied. He looked away and thought for a moment and said softly, “No one has ever sent me flowers.”
“No one! You mean no woman has ever sent you flowers?” Now it was Bartholomew that was incredulous, but only jokingly.
“No. Of course, not. Women don’t send men flowers,” Carsten stated as a matter of fact rather than as a defense or an excuse. After hestitating, Carsten asked, “Why, has a woman ever sent you flowers?” He was wondering if he had been slighted over the course of his life on this point, as well.
“No, don’t be silly,” Bartholomew said with a chuckle and then wandered off as quietly and as easily as he had come into Carsten’s space. He watched Bartholomew go and wondered if maybe he had missed out on something from life. He felt sad that despite the many flowers that he had given to women, none had ever thought to give him any. Certainly, this was not the way of his culture: men give women they love flowers, not the other way around. Besides, what did he care that he never received flowers? He could buy his own flowers. Not receiving them as a gesture of love, of romance signified nothing for a guy.
‘Still, it would have been nice if one woman,’ he thought, ‘in my nearly fifty years of living, if one woman would have thought to send me flowers.’ Although Carsten had never married, he had had several serious relationships with women during the course of his life. None for much more than a year, some less. None had been so passionate that the woman acted contrary to convention and gave him flowers. None of them. No one. It was a sad thought to be sure, for him. It depressed him, slowly. The cultural explanation of why he had never received flowers wasn’t enough for him—it was enough for why it didn’t happen often, but not why it never occurred. He discarded it as an excuse, as a cover for the fact that no woman had ever been genuinely in love with him. No woman he had been with chose to ignore the norms and wanted to give him flowers as an expression of her love, a love that is not ruled by fashion, but a love that acts according to her heart.
Looking back over his life, by normal standards he would be considered a successful and happy person. For the most part, he was happy with his life. Nevertheless, he longed for what he could only categorize as sincere love. There are many things that motivate people to come together. However, he wished that just once in his life he could find a woman who sincerely loved him. He wanted a woman who would see past all of the superficial aspects of himself, who understood his true self—perhaps better than he himself—and sincerely and truly loved him, just him.
“Daydreaming again, are we?” Hugh observed as he sat down in the leather chair by Carsten.
“Where have you been all this time?” Carsten inquired in an attempt to change the subject.
“I went to clean my trousers in the men’s room. When I was coming back, I spotted Jeff Wilkerson,” Hugh explained. “He’s over there with a few other people,” he stated while pointing casually with three fingers over at a table just inside the dining area. Carsten twisted his head around and saw Wilkerson smile and wave at him. Carsten returned the salute and twisted back around. “We tried to get your attention, but you were lost in thought again. What has been consuming you today, anyway?”
“Nothing really,” Carsten responded, avoiding the question. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel like talking about it, but because he didn’t know what was consuming him.
“Oh, come on. You were thinking about something just now. What was it?”
Carsten sneered and shrugged. He waited and hoped that Hugh would let go of the question. Hugh sat silently and waited for a response. So Carsten calmly confied, “I was just thinking how no one, no woman has ever given me flowers.” Seeing Hugh starting to respond with a smile, he quickly added, “I know it’s silly and that women don’t give men flowers, but I was just thinking it would be nice, just once.” He stopped talking. He realized that it was sounding ridiculous no matter how much he tried to justify himself and he felt that the more that he tried to defend himself, the sillier he appeared. So he waited for Hugh to ridicule him.
“But a woman did give you flowers once before,” Hugh pointed out. “Don’t you remember? It was about…hmmm… I guess five years ago now.”
Carsten stared at him with his eyes squinted and his head resting on his hand. He was trying to remember, but his mind was blank on this point.
“You honestly don’t remember?” Hugh asked in disbelief. Carsten shook his head in innocence. He thought Hugh was confusing him with someone else.
“That young woman, what was her name, um, the one that always had a crush on you.” Hugh was making a finger snapping gesture while Carsten shook his head again to indicate that he had no idea who he might be describing.
“Margarita!” Hugh announced. Carsten’s eyes opened wider and began shifting back and forth searching his memory, rapidly. “Yes, that’s her name: Margarita Gonzazles. Quite a good looking gal, too. She’s the one that just last week—”
Carsten interrupted with a look of astonishment while pointing at Hugh, saying, “Oh my God! You’re right. I remember now. She gave me a bouquet of yellow daisies,” he said and then rubbed his forehead with the finger tips of his right hand.
“Ah, you remember now,” Hugh praised.
“I can’t believe I forgot that,” Carsten said looking concerned.
“Well, you’re getting old, you know. It’s only natural to start forgetting things.”
“Why did she give me flowers? I don’t remember why,” Carsten asked himself mostly.
“She was absurdly crazy about you, that’s why,” Hugh said, thinking that he was pointing out the obvious.
“Yes. Didn’t you know?” Hugh asked thinking it silly that Carsten could have not noticed.
“No. I didn’t know. Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.” Just then the bartender, Phil walked by. Hugh called out to him, “Hey, Phil. You remember Margarita Gonzales, don’t you?”
“Sure,” he said sadly and then slowed in his step until he halted.
“Wasn’t she keen on Carsten?”
“Ha! She was nuts for him,” Phil said and looked at Carsten in disbelief. “You didn’t know?”
Just then Wilkerson walked up and greeted Carsten and shook hands with him and asked how he had been. Carsten claimed to have been fine.
“Jeff, you remember Margarita Gonzales?” Hugh asked. Carsten rolled his eyes at the prospect that Hugh was going to survey the entire room.
“Oh, yeah,” Wilkerson responded, ending with a sigh and a shake of his head.
“Who was the great love of her life?” Hugh asked.
“Oh, she was gaga for Carsten,” he chuckled and looked down at Carsten. “How come you two never got together?”
“He says he didn’t know that she liked him. Can you believe it?” Hugh informed Wilkerson.
“What! How could you not know?” Carsten shrugged in response.
“Why, she did so many things to show you how much she was ape for you.”
“Remember, she sent him flowers once?”
“Yeah, a bouquet of yellow daisies.”
“Then there were cards at Christmas times.”
“Oh, the Christmas cards!”
Carsten wondered how they knew she sent him Christmas cards. He remembered the cards, but thought nothing of them at the time, nothing to indicate that she was romantically attracted to him. To him, she was a causal friend.
“I received cards from many people and she must have sent many people Christmas cards. I remember her Christmas cards. How was I to know her cards for me had special meaning?”
“Hello, moron!” Wilkerson said, “She handmade them for you and wrote poems inside herself.”
“Really? I thought she did that for everyone.” To this there was a general uproar of disbelief. Next, several observations were made of his general daftness, as well as finding fault as a result in the university that he attended when he was young. From here they began to recount tales of foolish moments in his life which didn’t include Margaritta. At this point he ceased to listen to them. They were enjoying themselves and didn’t need his participation to continue on this theme. Instead he began to ponder Margarita while intuitively smiling and nodding to their comments on cue.
He remembered when she gave him the flowers. They weren’t tied to an event like his birthday or a holiday. He seemed to remember that he was feeling glum at the time about being passed over for a promotion at his work and she gave them to her to cheer him. ‘I remember now,’ he thought. ‘I didn’t tell her about feeling down, but she somehow found out.’ He smiled remembering how sweet she looked when she gave him the flowers. How she had played them down as simple flowers and for him not to read too much into them. He thanked her for them and appreciated them, but her apologies for giving him flowers had prevented him from realizing the true meaning behind them. He remembered now, he observed only now how beautiful she looked holding that bouquet of yellow daisies.
Margarita was an attractive woman under any conditions. She had thick, but shiny chestnut colored straight hair, which was usually kept moderately long. Her hair had marvelous body to it, he remembered. She would toss part of it over to one side and it would stay in place for quite a while without further adjustment. The front at the peak would have that twist curving up a few inches like a borealis swirl of excitement that was difficult for a man to resist and impossible to capture. She had brown eyes, hazzle brown eyes that always glistened, especially when she saw Carsten. Her smile could win just about any one over—man or woman. She always washed her hair with herbal shampoos and hardly ever used perfume. As a result, she had a memorable smell of cleanness and freshness. ‘Yes, there was an aroma of purity about her,’ Carsten recalled.
Although she considered herself an artist, she worked at the university bookstore to be able to pay her bills. She could tell you anything you might want to know about English Victorian writers. She knew all of Jane Austen’s works in great detail and at a moment’s notice she could spout literary criticisms of her own on any of Austen’s novels. ‘Yes, she had a calm, precise, and elegant way of speaking, much like a Jane Austen novel,’ Carsten assessed as he pondered her.
His cousin and friends seemed to have moved onto other topics of discussion, leaving him and Margarita alone for the time being. He no longer needed to nod to their comments and could look away to think more deeply on the woman who, according to popular opinion it seems, saw him as the love of her life.
Her art work was done with pen and ink or watercolors outlined in ink. Carsten seemed to remember that they were generally fresh in their tone, although one might not consider them overly cheery. Some contained flowers or other pleasant images in their theme. Others, though, had as their main focus a single woman looking out a window in contemplation, a less rustic than an Andrew Wyeth portrait. He was remembering a few pictures she had painted which depicted a woman in deep thought, looking content but lonely. He thought to himself, ‘Were those of herself? Were they of herself thinking of me?’ He tried to recall more details of the pictures he had seen in her home. She kept the ones that she liked and sold the rest. She managed to sell her art, but never made enough off them to live fully.
‘How could I not have noticed? How could I have not have noticed the real her—not her interested in me, if that exists as they say—but how could I not have seen the real her?’ He remembered her laugh and how it was innocent sounding. He remembered that she liked ice cream, in particular black raspberry flavored ice cream. He remembered going to lunch with her many times over the years, not often, but once every few months to catch up. He could talk to her about anything. ‘She was so comforting to talk with,’ he remembered. ‘She always understood me. She didn’t always agree with me, and when she didn’t, she would tell me. She wasn’t intimidated by me and she was always sincere with me. She was sweet,’ he thought with a warm smile on his face.
He sat contently for a bit more, not really thinking, but remembering her smile, her eyes looking into his. He sighed and then looked around him and found that he was alone with Hugh again. Hugh was sipping a glass of port and watching him and waiting for him to finish his thoughts.
He smiled at Hugh with a look of contentment. He felt good. He had a subconcious plan underway. He was going to call Margarita, meet her and see how things stood between them. If they were as they say, as they seemed now, as he felt, he was going to seek to initiate a long-term relationship with her, perhaps the first true love of his life.
“Well, you seem in good spirits suddenly,” Hugh observed.
“I am. I think I’ll call Margarita and invite her to dinner tonight,” he announced. He figured the inclusion of dinner in his plans would make the announcement more interesting to Hugh.
Hugh looked astonished and slowly stuttered, “Well, but, you can’t.”
“Why not? She hasn’t gone off and gotten engaged since I saw her couple of months ago, has she?” Carsten asked with a chuckle.
“No. She’s gone off and died.” Carsten’s heart cringed. His mouth dropped open. His mind was at a loss. “Didn’t you know?”
After several attempts to speak, “How? When?” was all Carsten managed to utter.
“She died last week. In a car accident.” Hugh paused and waited for Carsten to comment. He didn’t. Hugh added, “I’m sorry. I thought you knew. I didn’t see you at the funeral, but I didn’t think anything of it because I knew you were out of town on business all last week. I’m sorry. I should have realized that you might not have heard since you were out of town. So sorry, Carsten. I really am.”
Carsten said nothing. He pushed his mouth together, pushed his lower lips so much upwards, he looked like he was trying to immitate a steamshovel. Stuck in this way, afraid of loosening his lips for fear of crying, he nodded his head and raised his hand a bit to indicate to Hugh he forgave him, not to worry. Hugh stopped talking and sadly watched his cousin for a couple of minutes. Carsten stood up, reached in his pocket for money for the lunch, but Hugh said for him not to worry about the bill, that he would pay it. Carsten nodded his appreciation and patted Hugh on his shoulder as he passed him walking towards the door. Carsten walked back to work with tears streaming down his eyes, not making eye contact with anyone, but everyone who passed looking at him wondering what was disturbing him. He received more concerned looks at his office from his coworkers, but no one asked him anything. They knew not to speak to him. They had never seen him like this, but they were afraid to bother him. There are times when a man, a seemingly emotionally strong man cries and the world knows to leave him alone and to say nothing. He went to his cubicle and sat in his chair facing his desk, leaning back with his head resting on his right fist. He looked at his day planner laying open on his desk. He could see the list of tasks for the day although he couldn’t read them from the angle at which he was sitting, nor through his watery eyes—the flow of tears had stopped. He could also see his two afternoon appointments. He didn’t care. He reached over and flipped the pages ahead for the rest of the week and saw a few more appointments lay ahead. He stood up over his day planner and ripped out the pages for the rest of the week. He wiped the tears from his eyes and face with his suit jacket sleeve and then went across the office to where the office’s secretary, Helen sat.
“Helen, please cancel my appointments for the rest of the week,” he said to her as he handed her the pages from his day planner. She took them from him with a confused look. She held them like they were precious and couldn’t believe that he had ripped them out of his book. Several people in the office watched them speaking. They seemed equally astonished by what they were seeing. “Also, please tell Mr. Warren that I will be out until at least Monday.”
Helen nodded and asked, “Where are you going?”
He said, “I’m going on vacation” and then left.