Flower



Adam saw the man selling flowers by the freeway onramp and decided he was going to buy one for Lucy. He’d noticed people selling flowers there before, but never thought he’d actually be a customer.

“Over here!” Adam shouted at the flower salesman. The man walked up to Adam’s window. He was wearing a dirty brown blazer.

Adam studied the flowers clenched in the man’s fist. Most of them were ordinary red roses. The one exception was a purple flower with yellow splotches and wide droopy petals.

“I’ll take that one,” Adam said, pointing.

The thing was, Adam was in a bit of trouble with Lucy. A couple of days ago, they were supposed to visit Lucy’s grandmother. Except on the morning of the appointment, Adam was passed out on his friend’s couch, sleeping off a mix of alcohol and prescription tranquilizers.

* * *

Lucy studied the flower with suspicion. “What am I supposed to do with this?” She glared down at Adam, who was kneeling awkwardly in front of her.  “Will you stand up?”

“We should put it in water,” Adam said.  “Unless you don’t want it.”

Lucy squinted. “I guess I can find something that’ll work.” She walked into the kitchen and filled up a tall glass. She was about to drop the flower in, when, possessed by a sudden urge, she brought the flower to her nose instead.

“Oh my god,” she said. “It smells amazing.”

“It does?” Adam walked up.

“Here, smell it.” She held it out for Adam.

“Yeah,” Adam said. “It does smell pretty good.”

Lucy returned the flower to her own nose and inhaled deeply. “Oh my god. You don’t understand. I’m really into smells.” She inhaled again. “What kind of flower is this, anyway?”

“I have no idea. It’s really weird looking, huh?”

Lucy started to put the flower in water, but Adam stopped her.

“Wait a second,” he said. He brought the flower over to the trash can. “This’ll help it drink.” He used a pair of scissors to cut off the tip of the stem.

The tip fell into the trash.

* * *

A couple days later, Lucy was alone in her apartment. Her eyes drifted from her paperback to the small orange bong sitting on her coffee table. She picked up the bong and took a long hit.

The next place she found herself was the kitchen. She leaned over the flower and inhaled deeply. Now that she was high, the fragrance seemed even more intense. It was absurd how good it smelled. She couldn’t handle it. It made her angry because it was so fleeting. It seemed like she should be able to do something else with the flower. Smells usually promised something more. She studied the purple and yellow petals.

* * *

“What happened to the flower?” Adam said. It was the next day, and he had stopped by to fix a problem with Lucy’s computer.

One of the petals was missing. Another was torn in half.

“What?” Lucy was lying on a beanbag chair, tapping out a rhythm on the carpet with her hands.

“The petals on the flower. They’re all fucked up.”

Lucy sat up, suddenly serious. “No, they’re not.”

“Yeah, they are,” Adam said. “You wanna see? Come over here.”

Lucy buried herself back in the beanbag. She fanned her arms up and down, as if she were making a snow angel.

“You’re so far away,” she said.

“God, are you stoned or something?”

“Noooo.”

“Yeah, you are.” Adam picked up the flower. “You don’t have to keep this thing on account of me. It looks like its already dying.”

He turned around, and Lucy was suddenly behind him. “Don’t throw it way!” she said, grabbing the flower. Water splashed out of the glass.

“Jesus,” Adam said. “I wasn’t going to.”

Lucy put the flower in the back of a cupboard and shut it.

“You know,” Adam said. “Flowers tend to like their sunlight.”

She just looked at him with sleepy eyes.

“I think I’m gonna try and fix your computer now,” Adam said and walked into the next room. He sat down at the desk and was about to start working, when he heard the far off sound of the kitchen cabinet being opened.

“She’s crazy,” he muttered. He got up and tip toed back through the living room and into the kitchen. Lucy’s back was turned. He couldn’t see what she was doing.

Then she turned and saw him. She was chewing something.

“Are you eating the flower?” Adam said.

She started laughing, almost choking on what was in her mouth. “No!” she said.

“You’re eating the flower!” he said. “What is this? Reefer Madness?”

She was laughing so hard it looked painful. “Stop!” she said. “Stop!”

“You’re so weird.”

Lucy finally got a hold of herself. “You already knew that.”

Adam started to walk away.

“Wait,” she said, grabbing his arm and pulling him back. “I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry? Go ahead and eat the flower. Whatever.”

Lucy got a sly look. “You should try some.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want eat a flower! What do you mean, why?”

“Here.” She pressed a petal against his mouth, but he refused to take it. “Please?” she said. She lowered her lip, looking as sad as possible.

* * *

Twenty minutes later, Adam was back at work on Lucy’s computer. Lucy sat on the bed, doodling something in a notebook. Her eyes were intense, focused on her drawing.

Suddenly, her head snapped up. She looked around, as if remembering where she was.

“How are you feeling?” she said.

“Fine. Why do you keep asking me that?”

“Because…” she said, “you should be fucked up by now.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The flower…” She stood up, swaying slightly. “I want more.” She staggered across the room and then stopped to lean against the doorframe. She shut her eyes as if trying to reassert control of herself.

“What the hell is going on?” Adam said. He stood up to go help her. Or at least he tried.

Somewhere between deciding to stand and actually standing, between his legs being bent, and his legs becoming straight, he lost track of what he was doing and where he was. He had to redetermine basic facts. He was in a room, he knew that. Was it his room? It appeared to be his, but the walls were bending slightly, everything was breathing. He saw Lucy, standing there in a dress that seemed to him very much like a wedding dress, and she was down the end of a long hall, but the hall was just his room elongated.

“You’re so far away,” he said.

“Isn’t it crazy?” she said.

Adam tried to walk. He put one foot in front of the other, and his feet had become white somehow, too white, as in not even skin-colored. Lucy was moving somewhere near him, and he wanted to touch her, to hug her, but somehow he also wanted to vomit at the very thought, somehow he knew that it would be too intense.

Then he was on the floor, and he was rolling around, and he wasn’t sure what room it was again. Again, he had to redetermine basic facts. The walls were yellow, so it must be the living room. But weren’t the walls yellow in every room of the house? He thought that they were, but it was never something he’d considered before.

He felt a pressure on his back, and he could kind of tell, but not really tell for sure, that Lucy was lying across him, forming what he knew was an X from above—as in the letter ‘X’. They formed an X! He knew that for sure, and it was monumentally important that he did. What other letters could they make? A ‘Y’ he didn’t think was possible with two people.

The room was heaving, and the floor was full of speed bumps, but the bumps seemed to be rapidly flattening out. He was on his knees and he began to feel that maybe he knew where he was again, but he didn’t trust himself. Flowers, he thought. Flowers, flowers, flowers. He ate a flower. That was important in a way that he couldn’t quite come to terms with yet.

* * *

“Isn’t it amazing?” Lucy said.

The two of them were lying on Lucy’s bed, huddled together.

“I don’t know,” Adam said. “It was pretty intense for a while. But now it’s good. I feel cozy.”

“I love it all,” she said, sitting up. “Come on, let’s do some more.”

“Jesus,” he said. “Okay.”

* * *

“The petals are almost gone.” Lucy examined what was left of the sad little flower. “We should try the stem.”

“We should save some seeds,” Adam said.

“What?” She was already chewing on a piece of the stem. “Ech! It’s bitter.”

Adam took a piece from her. “I said, we should save some of the seeds.”

“I heard you,” she said.

“So we can plant more flowers.” He eyed the stem before putting it in his mouth. “We could sell this stuff.” He started to chew. “Damn, this does taste bad.”

“Let’s look it up.”

They went online, but they didn’t know what to search for. The only thing knew was the flower’s appearance, or what they remembered of it, anyway. Searches for “strange yellow purple flower” turned up poor results. It didn’t help that soon the room was beginning to swell again.

“Does the room bend for you too?” Adam said.

“Bend?” Lucy said. “No. I get icicles.”

“Icicles?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Let’s dance,” Lucy said, standing up. She wavered once she was on her feet. “Actually, let’s not.” She sat back down.

The stem it seemed, was just as potent as the petals.

They were in and out of different places for days, though they never left the apartment. One minute they’d be rolling on the floor together, the best of friends, and the next minute they’d be crouching on opposite sides of the room, overcome by paranoia. None of it made very much sense, but they convinced themselves that they were having fun. And they were.

In a moment when the walls were at relatively right angles, Adam made his way over to what was left of the flower and salvaged the seeds. He told Lucy he was saving them, and she watched him put them in the silverware drawer, in the side compartment—the one for stranger utensils like can-openers. He didn’t know why, but he was convinced that this was a safe place for the seeds to go.

“Later we’ll plant them,” he declared, making his way across the room one step at a time. “Later…” He collapsed into a pile on the ground.

Periodically, they would wake up in different spots around the apartment. Every once in a while, Adam’s cell phone would ring, and he would cringe and cover his ears. The sound was piercing, but mostly it bothered him because it hinted at commitments elsewhere, because it suggested that somewhere far away, outside the apartment, clocks were still running, and important things were still happening, with or without Adam.

At one point, Adam and Lucy tried to have sex, at least that’s what Adam was under the impression they were going to do, but somehow they got sidetracked over the issue of taking off their socks, and sooner or later, they were in the kitchen instead, trying to remember how to make oatmeal.

More time passed, and gradually things came back under the throbbing control of reality.  Adam stumbled over to the flower. It wasn’t fair to even call it a flower any more. All that was left was an inch of green stem.

“We’re almost out,” he said. “Maybe we should save it.”

“Nonsense,” Lucy said, appearing beside him.  She grabbed the stem and popped it in her mouth.

“Hey!” Adam said. But he wasn’t that upset because he had an idea.  He picked up the glass of water the flower had been sitting in and drank from it.

The water tasted awful, but he drank it all, and Lucy watched.

“Lucky!” she said. “I bet that’s really strong.”

It was.

Adam blacked out soon afterward.

When he woke up, he was under one of the windows in the living room, and sunlight was pouring in. He felt like he was on fire, like his skin was actually ablaze, but it wasn’t painful at all, in fact it was pleasant. He lay like that for a while.

Lucy kicked him lightly in the side.

“Get up,” she said.

“What?” He rolled over, annoyed.

“Does your head hurt? My head is fucking throbbing.”

Adam opened his eyes and looked up at her. Her hair hung down like black tentacles. Her face was red and splotchy. She had a zit on her cheek.

“What?” he said.

“I said, does your head hurt?”

Adam thought about his head, then wished he hadn’t. It hurt, yes. It definitely did.

“Oh fuck…”  He wanted to go back to sleep. Too late now. He hurt. He wanted her to leave.

She shook him. “Adam,” she said. “What are we going to do?”

He was kneeling on the carpet. The bathroom. He had to make it to the bathroom.

On the ground near the toilet he saw it. His cellphone. It was sitting there. He picked it up. Sixteen messages.

“Jesus,” he said.

He wasn’t sure how many days had gone by. He wasn’t sure if he’d missed work.

He emerged from the bathroom. He felt like shit. Lucy wasn’t around. He had to walk all the way to the living room to find her. She was on the beanbag chair.

“I want to die,” he said.

“Come sit with me,” she said.

He hated her. “Don’t you feel bad?”

“I’m okay,” she said.

He looked at her. She looked back. The room was messy. A blanket sat on the floor in an annoying pile. He hated that blanket the way it lay there. He wanted to take it and burn it. He wanted to take it and whip Lucy with it.

“Come sit down,” she said. She looked too comfortable.

“You ate the seeds,” he said.

She didn’t respond.

“You ate the seeds, didn’t you?”

She looked down at the floor.

Adam started to cry.

* * *

“Stop!” she shouted. “There he is!”

They were driving around, looking for the flower salesman.

“But that’s a different guy,” Adam said.

“So? Pull up.”

They had to park two blocks away. They walked around a corner, under a freeway overpass, and up to the man selling flowers. He had a thick black mustache and a Dodgers cap.

The man held out some roses. “You wanna buy?”

“We’re looking for a special flower,” Adam said. “It’s purple and yellow.”

“Purpura,” Lucy said. “Amarillo.”

“I’ve got roses,” the man said, offering one to Adam. “You buy. You give to your girlfriend.” He nodded at Lucy.

“Sorry,” Adam said, “but I’m only looking for a certain kind of flower.”

“You want a rose,” the man said.

“No,” Adam said. “No, I don’t.” Adam started to make vague hand gestures. “Do you know someone else who sells flowers around here?”

“Yes, I sell flowers.”

“I know, but there’s other people who sell flowers.” Adam was getting frustrated.  “Do you know them? Do you guys all know each other?”

“I don’t understand,” the man said. “I’m sorry.”

* * *

Lucy was trying to watch television, trying to focus on something else beside her headache. She was conscious of Adam sitting beside her, sulking. “I thought you had to go to work,” she said, giving him a nasty look.

“I’ve already missed a bunch of days,” he said. “What does it matter?”

They sat in silence. On television, a man with a ridiculously dark tan was deciding which of two big-breasted female dates he was going to eliminate. He was making quite a speech about it.

“When do they pick up the trash?” Adam said.

“Huh?”  Lucy kept her eyes on the television.  “I think, Tuesday. Why?”

Adam stood up.  “I guess I’d better go to work,” he said, walking toward the front door.

Lucy watched him. Something wasn’t right.

“I thought you weren’t going?” she said.

“I changed my mind.”

The front door opened and shut.

Lucy sat alone in the room for several seconds. Then she stood up and sprinted outside.

She found him in the front yard, going through the trash barrel. “I knew it!” she said.

He saw her and started digging faster, digging with all his energy to try and find that one small, precious piece of stem he’d cut off and thrown away. He knew it had to be somewhere near the top.

“No, you don’t!” she said. She ran up and tried to push him out of the way, but he pushed back. She fell backwards onto the lawn. He stuck his hand back into the trash, groping through piles of paper plates and half-eaten muffins, groping until he finally felt it, finally found the stem and closed his hand tightly around it.

“I got it!” he shouted, dancing away from Lucy. “I got it!”