One Wilted Flower

I remember the day he walked in distinctly.

It was the fourth of February, a hazy and cold morning filled with fog and cars quietly rolling through rain puddles. What had already felt like a drowsy day was worsened when I came down with a sinus headache. I took some Tylenol and eagerly awaited the end of my shift. I worked at Butterfly Blooms, a name too peppy for its looks. The cheap store had worn white paint and leak stains on the ceiling. The flowers there seemed stale and dying in my opinion, but it might’ve been the grainy white light that made them seem more for a doctor’s office than a flower shop.

I clicked my pen on and off in a rhythm, watching the rain coated passerbys through the wide windows. Many acknowledged me briefly before bringing their eyes downward again and keeping their pace along the faded sidewalk.

As quickly as I had glanced downward at my pen and back up, there was a man staring at me through the window. It wasn’t in a horror movie staring way, more of an old man confused on what he’s looking at way.

I sat up a bit and waved at the man still staring in the window. He acknowledged me and gave a delayed wave. He had fuzzy white hair that poked out from the hood of his green rain coat. His round, delicate glasses were clouded with raindrops as he finally opened the door and came in.

“Hello there and welcome to Butterfly Blooms!” I chimed, already raising my voice in case he was hard of hearing. He gave a wry chuckle, like there was something he knew that I didn’t. I continued on with my forced peppy chatter and hoped wouldnt have to last long.

“Anything in particular your looking for? We’ve got lots of roses for Valentines day.”

“No, I know exactly what I want, but thank you.” he said in a polite tone. He turned down the aisle of flowers. I watched him suspiciously as he made his way past our best and brightest bouquets to the very corner of our store to the point where I couldn’t see him.

I leaned forward, setting my pen down on the counter as I did so. His back was to me and he was moving an old Butterfly Blooms sign. Behind it was where we hid baskets of wilted flowers that we donate to the children’s hospital at the end of the day.

“Excuse me, sir,” I ventured, my voice a mixture of concern and confusion. “Is there something I can help you with?”

He glanced up at me, his eyes twinkling with a mixture of mischief and nostalgia. “Ah, yes,” he replied, his voice soft and raspy. “I’m just looking for a particular flower.”

I couldn’t help but be intrigued by his cryptic words. “What kind of flower are you looking for?” I asked, stepping closer.

He smiled wistfully, his gaze drifting back to the bin of discarded blossoms. “A forgotten one,” he murmured.

I frowned, and before I could inquire further, he reached into the bin and plucked out a single wilted rose. It was withered and faded, its once vibrant petals now limp and lifeless.

“This,” he said, holding out the sad bloom towards me. “This is the one.”

I couldn’t hide my confusion any longer. “But sir, that flower is dying. Do you want some of our roses over there?” I pointed out the vibrant, lively bouquets towards the front of the store.

The man simply shook his head gently. “No thank you. This is the one.”

That flower should’ve been free, but he seemed eager to buy it so I charged him 5 cents and watched as he wandered out of the store.

The next morning at 9:00 he returned and bought another wilted, dying bloom with a smile. I was able to contain my confusion until he came back the next day. And the next. And the day after that. He came to Butterfly Blooms every day for a week straight, buying the same wimpy, weak flowers. The employees and I at Butterfly Blooms came to know the man as Mr. Taft.

At one point I tried to make it easier and picked out a wilted flower for him to be ready when he came in. He simply denied me with a curteous smile, insisting he pick.

After he had been coming for two weeks, I built up the courage to ask him why.

“Mr. Taft, why do you always buy flowers like these?” I asked softly, motioning towards the feeble white bloom of today.

Mr. Taft looked up from his wallet where he was fishing for a nickel and grinned sadly, the wrinkles around his eyes stretching.

“Well.. lets say I was given a job.” he said, handing over the nickel.

“How so?” I pryed, placing the nickel in the register with a clink.

He folded his wallet and cleared his throat. “My wife. She loved flowers. Even ones—eh, past their prime.” he motioned towards the dying rose, a bittersweet smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “So when she died, she made me promise to come here everyday and buy her a dying flower to decorate her grave with. I think she.. knew I would need something to do.”

I felt a heavy pressure on my chest as I closed the cash register. “That’s.. beautiful.” was all I could manage to say without crying.

Mr. Taft tried to smile, but the corner of his mouth tugged down and I could see tears glinting in his eyes. He heaved a heavy breath. “Would you walk with me to visit her today?”

“Of course.” I said, smiling softly as I placed my arm in the crook of his.

So it became a daily tradition, seeing Mr. Taft and letting him buy his flower. And on occasion, we would walk up to the hill where Mrs. Taft lay.

It was the middle of May when 9:00 am rolled around and Mr. Taft had not yet come. We immediately knew something was wrong.

Mr. Taft had passed away in his sleep, peacefully and all alone in the comfort of his home.

So now, before heading home every day, I pick out two wilted flowers and toss in a dime.

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