The close atmosphere of the flower shop troubled Max. The metal tubs and vases lined up on floor-to-ceiling racks surrounded him and made him feel too large for the place. He was conscious of his big feet and wide shoulders, of the bright color of his pants, jacket and shirt – chosen because this was a beach town and being loud was the best disguise. In the cafés and restaurants on the seawall maybe, among the tourists, but not here, in this harmonious retreat, amid a luxurious profusion of flowers, most of them he couldn’t name.
Roses, yeah, he knew roses. He hadn’t bought any in a long time. Who would he buy them for?
The mosaic of colors confused him and he had to strain to focus on the woman. She moved quickly in the fragrant clutter and he thought of animals in the jungle. Leopards. He remembered reading somewhere that their spots hid them so perfectly you could be right next to one and not know it was there, ready to take half your face off with one paw swipe.
Max felt sweat coating his neck, tickling, soaking the collar of his shirt under the jacket. The flower smell clogged his nostrils, announcing a headache in the making. Better get on with it.
The woman turned to him.
“What can I do for you, sir?”
“An arrangement, uh, for a funeral?” Max didn’t know the appropriate vocabulary and cursed himself for not preparing better. He didn’t have to make conversation, usually.
Why did he say funeral? It wasn’t an attempt at humor. There wasn’t a funny bone in his body.
It was these flowers. Where else but a funeral parlor had he ever seen so many flowers? The smell reminded him of open caskets, of wreaths with purple ribbons that said in golden script, To Our Dear Departed. The piles of once vibrant vegetation wilted so fast on top of a fresh grave. Too sweet and cloying. And the metal containers looked like the tin vases that he remembered cleaning when his grandmother took him to visit grandpa at the cemetery on the hill.
“There are options,” the woman said. “Depending on your budget.”
She waited for an answer. When it didn’t come, she went to the counter and pulled out a thick register.
“I have pictures here I can show you. Give you an idea of what we can do.” She leafed through the register, humming.
Max knew she pegged him as a cheap mark. Dressed the way he was, no wonder. He looked like he just walked off a cruise ship. Maybe she thought he shoved his wife off the upper deck ten miles offshore. Goodbye darling. It made him smile.
“Does it matter who it’s for?” he said. “Like, which flowers, which color and such?” He was getting the hang of this. He could see it in the woman’s face. She was paying attention now.
“There are no strict rules,” the woman said. “But people tend to choose roses when there’s a strong personal bond, you know.”
“Love,” Max said.
“It’s for my wife’s uncle. I barely knew the guy. What should I get, mums?”
“It isn’t the season, but lilies and greens, fuchsia for a dash of color. You can’t go wrong with that kind of combination.”
“You know what, do as you think is best,” Max said. He sighed. “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“It’s all right. This isn’t something people do on a daily basis.” She pulled a notepad from a drawer and started writing. She stuck her tongue out when she added up the items.
She was a nice, kind, rather pretty woman. Why the hell was she on the list? What did she do? Who did she upset?
Those were the wrong questions, the kind of questions people like Max should never ask. He got an address, a name, a picture. And instructions. The car was where it was supposed to be, with the gun in the glove box. Of course he wanted to believe there was something rotten among all these flowers, something that reeked like the vases he cleaned for his grandmother. Dead smelled the same, in plants and people, or animals, and that was a fact.
Max buried his hands in his pockets to wipe off the sweat. The gun was in his waistband, in the small of his back. It was heavier than usual and unwieldy because of the suppressor. If he leaned on the counter, he could reach for it without her noticing.
It mattered to him. That she wouldn’t know she was going to die.
About the author:
M.E. Proctor worked as a communication professional and freelance journalist. After forays into SciFi, she’s currently working on a series of contemporary detective novels. Her short stories have been published in All Worlds Wayfarer, Bristol Noir, Tilde, Fiction Kitchen Berlin, The Bookends Review, Fiction on the Web, and others. She lives in Livingston, Texas. Twitter: @MEProctor3