Flowers by Jeff, 1976 by Cathy Ann Kodra
Carnations, roses, daisies, baby’s breath. We’ve wedged the containers together in the rear of the station wagon, careful not to damage their fragile blooms. I’ll be a mother soon—my due date, June fourteenth. But what I don’t know is that the baby will come on her own terms and in her own time, twenty days late. The spring weather has turned hot and muggy, and when we reload the wagon back at the flower shop, I think, We’re in this together.
Woozy with the fragrance of too many flowers at once, I wait in Jeff’s delivery car, cradling my swelling belly while you deliver a dozen roses to a brick house with white shutters and a classy red front door. I catch a flash of auburn hair and a trim thirty-something figure as you hand over a stunning bouquet of pink and green and white. I am shapeless with this baby, my straight hair an unremarkable brown, my face bare of makeup. You slide behind the wheel, a trickle of sweat rivering down your cheek, and you say, “She was quite a woman.”
I look away and hold on hard to the thought that you fell in love with a book in high school, and that it was the first real love you shared with me. Bless the Beasts and Children. I’d found a copy in the tiny library in our home town and read it, and read it again, trying to find the secret that unlocked a remote corner of your heart. The depth of that story makes me believe there is depth in you, something you are waiting to reveal when the time is right. Something real and lasting in our goodness for each other, in our vows.
My hand wavers between my pregnant belly and a head swimming with dizziness, and I start to argue. . .
We pull into a parking lot, or maybe we stop at an intersection of country roads, because here it gets hazy, but your friend’s car slides alongside the Flowers by Jeff wagon, and the friend leans out his open window in the steamy air and says he has some good stuff. And the next thing I know, you’re saying I can deliver the rest of the flowers, and you’re already climbing into his car. My hand wavers between my pregnant belly and a head swimming with dizziness, and I start to argue but then just nod at the flinty look in your eyes.
You and your friend leave in a spray of gravel and happy anticipation of getting stoned, of getting away. I stare at the list of names and directions from Jeff, the owner of my afternoon. Somehow I find every single person who belongs to these bouquets of love or admiration or apology or duty. I roll down all the windows on the way back to the shop and let my hair fly and snarl in the wind, my lungs filling with unflowered air. When I arrive, I tell Jeff that you felt ill so I dropped you off at home. He gives me the twenty-dollar bill that I’ll later hand to you, and I give him back his keys.
As I settle into our smaller, stifling car, I feel our baby push and curve against my ribs and pelvic bones in a beautiful, uncomfortable water dance. I picture little hands and feet paddling in slow motion all the way home. My head aches from the heat, and I can’t balance my desire for joy with the stark reality of joy. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. You and I will spend this and one more of them together as husband and wife, but the baby and I are in this forever. I place one hand on my stomach, my other hand steady on the steering wheel.