Dorothy in the Poppies
My name is Dottie and I’m in love with two people. I never expected to be. I’ve been in love before, plenty of times. I fall easily and quickly, like my elderly friend Gladys. We both get up off the ground as if nothing has happened. If anyone asks if we’re okay, we wave them away like children. We examine our injuries in private and forget about them.
I’m in love with two people who are in love with each other. That’s what they say at least. I don’t know if it’s true, but there seems to be genuine affection there.
Burt is a gambler, but hasn’t been at it long enough to lose everything. He loses large amounts, for certain, but knows when to pull back, regroup, and wait for another opportunity for the big score.
“It’s only a matter of time. It’s all a matter of percentages. People give up when they should stick with it. Even a broken clock is dead on twice a day.”
That’s not how I remember that expression, but the few times Burt’s revealed his private thoughts to me were enough. I’m smitten.
He’s lucky. As much as he’s lost there have been enough wins to keep his wife in flowers. That and he must make a stupendous salary. The luck will wear out I’m sure, as all luck must, but for now he’s the sad, brave man in my life that I adore from afar. We speak several times a month, but it isn’t personal. I’m his florist. He makes all his orders over the phone.
His wife Alice is lucky too. She’s pregnant again. Last month he bought her flowers to celebrate the good news.
I would have been devastated if I wasn’t so happy for Alice. She’s been through so much with him and still keeps a positive attitude. She’s very focused on what makes her happy. For all Burt’s gambling she doesn’t let it get in the way of the things she wants. It’s hard not to love her for that alone.
I found out about Burt’s gambling two years ago, when he bought the most expensive arrangement I’ve ever put together that wasn’t for a funeral. It was large, fragrant, and vibrant. The card said,
“Sometimes, you see, my horse comes in.”
He must be worried about the pregnancy. Alice too. She is much more candid than he is with me. At times, we feel like friends. She comes down to the shop and she tells me always how much she loves my hair. Once, last year, she pushed a heavy strand of it behind my ear and told me how much she wished her skin was as smooth as mine. I’m a bit younger, but Alice is still beautiful to me.
She turned thirty nine this year, six dozen roses ago. That’s why I think they both must be worried about the baby. She had their first child, Kyle, over fifteen years ago. He left for boarding school last year and they both behave as if that part of their lives is over and they’ll never have to see him again as a child. Their work is done. He’ll return with a wife and be financially independent.
When Alice became pregnant with Kyle I was just taking over my dad’s business. Burt couldn’t afford roses as often as he can now. That’s all he gets now, but the rest of the arrangement is up to me. I’ve made a dozen roses look a hundred different ways. Back when Alice was first pregnant though he came to see me in person, like Alice does now. He bought daisies. He wanted to do more. I told him that the cards are just as important as the flowers. Because they are. Even when he was in my shop he asked that I write the message out for him.
“If you think it’s that important. My handwriting is impossible.”
“Only a few people ever let the flowers dry and keep them, but most everyone holds onto the card.”
“Oh, I see.”
The card for her most recent birthday said simply, “Hardly a day passes.”
That was my favorite.
Burt’s messages are cryptic, but I’ve learned so much about him and Alice in these short phrases. Burt lives his life with her sometimes in fewer syllables than a haiku, but there is an ocean of feeling there within. I know it. The reason I know they’re pregnant, for example, isn’t because of the usual,
“And now the baby makes three”
I’ve had to write so many times in my career. When he called in his last order he wanted the card to say,
“I will happily do it again.”
He asked me to somehow stress the word will. I wrote over it a second time with a broader tip on my pen.
I love my Rotring ArtPen almost as much as I love Burt and Alice. I’m kidding of course, but every time I turn Burt’s words to his wife into calligraphy I obsess a little more over both of them. In the last few years I’ve started writing two cards for his arrangements. One I send to Alice, the other I keep for myself.
Since Burt orders over the phone now Alice doesn’t know I’ve made the connection. She doesn’t realize that I know them both so intimately. When she comes it’s to send kitschy arrangements to her lover Jim.
I wonder if the baby is Burt’s or if it will even matter once it’s born. Alice will never run away with Jim, even though I’m sure he would with her. Who wouldn’t? Jim doesn’t buy flowers from me. There are only 2 of us in town and Lionel simply owns a franchise shop. His flowers are good, but never great, and his arrangements are predictably dull. The same ones you could get anywhere at any of those places.
My father opened the shop I run now, Goldleaf. He was a second generation florist himself. I worked for him as a teenager and when he died soon after my high school graduation he left the store to me. Instead of college, I took over the business. I regret nothing.
I don’t know really what Alice sees in Jim. He must be very cute. She often includes in her messages to him though that he is the other. Not to be rude, but as a reminder of the kind of arrangement she has with him. She was shy at first with me, but now she’ll tell me anything. The same day Burt was calling to arrange her pregnancy roses Alice was sending Jim white carnations with the message,
“It’s not important Jim. I love you both. It’s mine.”
She had me stress the word mine for her. This time I left space and used the lightest tip of my ArtPen for emphasis. I understood what she was trying to tell Jim. He was standing strong and wanting to know who the father of her baby was. If I’d made the word mine more forceful it would have only pushed the issue. By making it quietly trail off I felt it conveyed Alice’s request to back off.
“I love that Dottie. You’re my confidant.”
She doesn’t mean it when she says those things, but still, I swoon.
I haven’t stopped dating. I go out with lovely people at least once a month, it’s just that my fascination with Burt and Alice makes the friendly banter I share with my dates seem like a tedious piece of theater. I’ll be out enjoying a particularly good steak with a stranger and an arrangement will come to me. Sometimes I have to come up with an absurd excuse to end the evening early so I can return home and sketch out my ideas.
My Burt is a quiet man, reserved even, but he expresses his fondness for my arrangements.
“I should be sending you flowers Dottie,” he told me once last year.
He didn’t mean it. Alice always makes me feel like an artist.
She must know. She must realize that all those arrangements I made for him, I made for her. But I would never assert myself like that. I would never do that to Burt. I long for them both, but when my arrangements bring them together I know I’m doing something for the greater good.
It’s heartbreaking sometimes, but I’m in love with two people. This is what I have to do.