A Small Floral Offering

I first noticed it several weeks ago during Stephen’s and my morning walk: a low stone bench with a plastic bucket of bouquets composed of flowers from the garden; and next to the bucket, a small pile of yellowed news pages. A handwritten sign taped onto the bucket read: “Bouquets. Please leave a bucket if you can.”
Of course, I marveled at this generous offering, my eyes taking a sweep of the front garden, with its profusion of roses, lavender, sage, agapanthus, yarrow and primrose growing in jumbles. It looked like a garden well fed, though not necessarily well tended. Perhaps because of the jumbles, I assumed it was the garden of an older couple, a pair who loved their garden and the flowers it produced, but lacking the stamina to stay on top of maintenance. I’m a writer, so I tend to concoct stories about moments that capture my attention. In this case, I imagined a bird-like woman and short old man, his back bent toward the ground, the man doing the cutting and his wife forming the sweet bouquets, full of pleasure at offering their bounty during the pandemic.
I never took a bouquet for myself, but one afternoon, Stephen and I were heading for our car when a neighbor walked by cradling a small bouquet.
“Lovely flowers,” I called to her, imagining she had gotten them from the bench we passed each day.
“I got them up on Marin. I walk past there every morning,” the neighbor replied. Then we both exclaimed about the sweet scene and the generosity of the gardeners.
Several days after that, the bench was bare. No bucket. No flowers. No yellowing newspapers. What I had begun to take for granted, suddenly felt a loss large enough to make my stomach feel hollow. I stopped, and within seconds the garden had transmogrified into a tangle of neglected plants and shrubs, a morass of leaves and stems and branches so dense it blocked the light.
I felt angry at the couple for withdrawing their generosity and disappointing me, for setting up an expectation they couldn’t sustain. As I continued walking, however, I calmed down, and reasoned that at their age, the bouquets must have proved too much, that they had regaled all who had passed by for several weeks, and there was nothing, absolutely to rebuke. My anger was ungenerous of me.
And I remained hopeful, even though as the days passed, it seemed that the bouquets would not reappear. Then one morning, there they were again, a half dozen bouquets leaning to one side in the red-plastic bucket, a pile of brown paper squares by the side. At the sight I felt an eruption of joy within me, and I stopped to take in the sweet–and sorely missed–scene.
Then I heard a rustling. “Oh, I’m so glad to see the bouquets again,” I yelled through the dense foliage. “I was afraid they’d never come back.”
“It’s a lotta work,” a sweet Asian voice replied. Then the voice’s owner peaked out at me. “Yes, it’s very much work.”
The woman was indeed tiny, but she wasn’t old—far from it. And she quickly disappeared, back into the thick of her garden.
“Well, I appreciate your work. And you’re making many people happy,” I replied. Then as I walked on, I thought, This is the pandemic. It created the opportunity for this tiny free florist “shop” in the first place, and then, because Covid is lasting so long, it allows it to disappear, then reappear. And while I appreciated the bouquets before, I now have a deeper appreciation of them. And a face to attach to this appreciation. Looks like Covid offered me a second chance as well.

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