Red on Gray

Nobody buys flowers
anymore. When all you see is black and white, colors don’t mean quite as much.
Nobody, except the old man. The old man that comes every Friday dressed in a
frayed old green jacket and patched up but cheerful yellow hat. Colors shining
bright in the gray and grimy city covered always in a heavy layer of smoke,
like an awning that hasn’t been washed in years. Every Friday, the old man
strides with the agility of a person many years younger, to my flower shop on
the corner. Every Friday, I look up from counting up the little salary I make
on the counter and hear the old man jingle the doorbell. And every Friday, the
old man points to the reddest marigolds still fresh with morning dew and says
only three words, “For my wife”.  I wrap up the marigolds with an already
prepared paper wrapping, as he always comes at the same time. I watch him go,
walking upright to his little house on the corner of the street, the one with
the red shingles on the roof. While everyone around him has their head in their
phones or busy with work, the old man carries flowers like he would take home
the Olympic gold medal, and I can’t help but wonder if he likes the colors too.    

    I
wake up one Friday morning and open up the shop. The sun rays just about filter through the curtain shades, but the light has no colors. I water the
flowers, giving strength to each bud, and the stems all lightly sway with the
water, waiting for the home they will never reach. Passerby walk through the
filthy streets all day, as if I don’t exist. I let out a long sigh, already it
is afternoon, and not a single customer walks in, not a single cent to my
earnings. I stare at the flowers, and all of a sudden I wish they would speak,
and tell me everything will be okay, that things will get better. But, not to
worry, I think, the old man should be coming by soon, to pick up the reddest
marigolds.

The hours tick on, and
the wind picks up, blowing the flower heads in moaning as it winds through the
contaminated city. Where is the old man? Any minute he should walk around the
corner in his green jacket standing out from the gray crowd so I would see him.
As time passes, my curiosity gets the best of me, I must find out what happened
to the old man. He always comes at exactly 3:42 each Friday, never a minute
early or late, so this must be a strange occasion. Nobody will enter the shop,
so I leave the door unlocked, only a walk to the corner won’t take long. I
start walking out when I remember something. Just in case, I wrap up the
reddest marigolds and quickly walk to the corner with the red shingles on the
roof.

Hesitantly, I knock on
the door. The door, the finest type of mahogany wood is carved in ornate
designs of lions. My knock, soft at first, becomes clear and more firm the
second time. I begin to panic that leaving the flower shop unattended was not
the best idea. A deafening silence follows my knocks. Finally, pushing the door
open, I step into the house. The first thing I notice is the picture frames.
All over the walls, pictures of the old man and his wife are coated in a thin
film of dust. The old man, smiling, hugs his wife close on a sunny picnic, or
both of them laughing joyfully in elegant clothing at their wedding party,
dining at the long white table. A tear slips out of my eyes and travels slowly
down my cheek, a sliver but colorless tear. Loneliness is the worst feeling,
life should be lived among others. This old man, had what I never had, a life
long companion by his side, through all of life’s adventures. All my days are
spent in the desolate flower shop, with no purpose, but to stare at what has
become of a once beautiful city.  It has been years since I have truly
laughed, my mouth set in a grim expression.

I turn around ready to
be on my way, and glance out of the corner of my eye that the back door was
left ajar. Having come all this way, I might as well continue to find out what
had become of the jolly old man. On my way to the back door, I spot a bundle of
the wrapped marigolds, never opened, on the furnished wood table. I picked up
the bouquet, and read the little note taped to the side. In small lacy cursive, was written, “to my beloved wife, for opening my eyes to all the
colors.” The flowers were already losing their bold red touch, slowly wilting,
as a paint might be diluted by water, or a sunset that gives way to night.
Mystified by the flowers, I wondered aloud what happened that they never made
it to the old man’s wife. Setting down the flowers, I walked through the
slightly open back door into a garden outlined by the winter frost settling on
branches and stems of plants reaching their way out of the earth. Right in the
center of the winter garden, lay two gravestones, one by the other, blending in
with the silvery garden. Taken aback by the startling sight, I considered
running out of the odd and frightening house.

But then a sudden
sadness came over me, as if I owed something to the loyal old man. I walked
towards the tombstones, and bent down to leave the marigolds on the ground in
front of each grave. The reddest of the red marigolds lay there as I steadily
walked away, the flowers back to where they came from at last, the earth. Red
on gray, setting aflame the coming evening.   

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