More Than Flowers

 More than Flowers

He was as lonely as a midnight sky at noon.  To call him ‘cantankerous,’ was being kind.  Waggling a crooked, nicotine stained finger in the faces of children using the sidewalk
that bordered his Snap Dragons and Marigolds, was just his way.  Promptly at six thirty every evening, he stood guard, armed with his black rubber hose, water soaking the black soil until the foul smell of goat manure could be detected in the air.  Children assumed that he, with his dirty finger nails, was the one emitting the stench of funky dung.  They held their noses, visibly mocking him, as they filed past his yard.

He was the scary tale that children spoke about around a campfire at night, holding flashlights beneath their chins, contorting their faces till their lips curled in just the right grimaces, mimicking his permanent scowl.  They would watch his house from behind the bushes across the street after the sun set, when all the windows were blackened. They imagined him eating dog food out of a can, scooping it out with his clawed fingers, licking each one clean.

His routines were fodder for their fertile imaginations.  The old man, his shoulders curled so forward, appeared round as a wine barrel, while his back stooped forward; it appeared that he was toppling head-first as he made his way up the street. His hooded eyes darted back and forth, warily, before disappearing through the doors of the market.

Re-entering daylight with two packages wrapped in butcher paper, tied with string and a brown paper bag tucked under his other arm, he shuffled head first down the street, muttering to someone who wasn’t there. The children followed at a safe distance, elbowing one another daring one of them to throw rocks at him; no one dared, they imitated his walk, shuffling behind him, headlong, until he reached the front gate of his yard again.  He disappeared behind his front door and the children ran away.

The old man headed to the old ice box, placing his wrapped packages on the near empty shelf.  He removed a small can of cream and put his steam kettle on to boil.  He took his used tea bag from the morning, placing it in his long-dead wife's tea cup.  It was the only cup he would use, bone china, with the images of a Japanese garden embossed on it.  The tea pot began to whistle and he poured into the cup, ceremoniously dipping the tea bag up and down into the water until it seemed sufficiently dark enough to drink.  He spooned a little sugar from the matching sugar bowl and poured a tad of cream from the can; stirring it twice, awkwardly making his way to the divan.

He sat there, in his same well-worn spot, with his cup on the little round end table.  He opened the new small tin of butter biscuits, removing as always, two, before closing tight the lid.  He dunked one biscuit into the tea, allowing it to crumble on his tongue. Raising his tea cup to the ceiling, he said out loud, " to you, my darling Lizzy.".  He sat there in utter silence, thinking of his Lizzy, who used chatter to him about current events while he listened to the clicking of her knitting needles.  He could hear her still, talking about extending the flower beds to the side of the house.  She had plans to add Pansies and perhaps Tulip bulbs that would bloom in the spring.  Lizzy loved the old house, coveting a swing set for two, where they could sit with their evening tea and admire their flower gardens.  He missed the sweet sound of her voice.  He missed all the plans she made, like adding the arbor for the vines to climb.  His Lizzy was a doer more than a talker; bent over beside him in the yard, her big sunhat obscuring her huge green eyes, her curly grey hair in wisps around her neck.  She would rake the grass with gusto, teasing her husband by saying, “Ted, do to try and keep up!”

He sighed deeply, stretching out flat on the sofa, laying his head on the cushion Lizzy had needle pointed one winter.  Closing his eyes, he dreamt of her, as he so often did; he drifted off to the sound of her musical voice, soft and soothing, his breathing calm and steady.

Years ago, when he and Lizzy were first married, they tried for seven long years to have a child, but none ever came.  Neither ever complained or made a commotion about it, however one day Lizzy simply stated, “it is clearly not the Lords will, but I will always have you, my Ted, and that is enough.”  Ted felt somehow that Lizzy had been denied something precious; she would have made a perfect, nurturing mother, but secretly he had a sense of relief that he would never have to vie for her attentions.  She was his life, his Lizzy.

Ted was an introvert, always amazed that he had captured the interest as one so lovely and full of life as Lizzy.   She was loved by everyone who met her, stopping by to chat at the sidewalk when they saw her out pruning her flowers.  He would often see her trailing one lady or the other over to their yards when they requested her gardening advice.  She had a way of making him feel as though he was free to think audibly, often surprising himself when he would speak his thoughts. Lizzy would always stop what she was doing and turn her full attention to him when he spoke, as though what he had to say was terribly important.  She made him feel loved in ways he couldn’t comprehend.     

For years Ted had worked at the post office, sorting through the mail, filling the waiting post office boxes quickly and efficiently.  It was a quiet solitary job, which he liked, but he was as excited as a child to leave the office at 5:00 o’clock, rushing home to his wife.  On pay day, he would stop at the General Store and pick up something special for Lizzy, her favorite hand lotion, lavender scented sachets to place in her dresser drawers or a bouquet of Posies, tied with a red ribbon.  Lizzy would almost coo at the surprises Ted would gift her with and in return she would cook him his favorite meal of Corned Beef Hash, finished with her prized Rice Pudding.

When Ted finally retired from the post office, he felt he had been given wings.  He and Lizzy spent all their days together working the flower beds, enjoying picnic lunches under the noon sun, ending their days with a little television and spirited conversation.  They would climb into their beds at night, sighing with contentment, holding hands in their sleep.

One morning, Lizzy didn’t wake up.   She just lay there cold beside him.  Horrified, Ted wailed in agony, screams into her still chest.  In one lost heartbeat, his wife was gone from him.  His grief made him bitter, living in the echoes of her voice and their routines.   He spoke to her as though she was still in the room, except she wasn’t.  He tended her flowers as though she had just planted them, except she hadn’t.  Winters paralyzed him with longing for her.  He became old and stooped far beyond his years.  He avoided meeting the gazes of those who passed him when he had to tend to business or shopping.  People avoided the man with the furrowed, scowl.  

One night, Ted had laid in his bed and looked up.  He said, “Lord, you know I’m not a praying man, but if I ask one thing, just this one thing, when it is my time, please send Lizzy to get me.”  With that little prayer he fell asleep.  

He began to rouse on the sofa, in his half wakefulness, he could hear Lizzy’s voice say, “Come on Ted, do try to keep up!”  He sat up startled and looked at the wall clock in surprise.

It was six thirty on the dot when the children watched him from the bushes, trying not to giggle out loud; he was dragging his black rubber hose behind him, the water trickled from the spout, down onto his pants: standing near the walk, his mouth hanging agape, he was looking downwards.  The Snap Dragons and Marigolds had all been uprooted, strewn about his lawn, dead, wilted, pulled out by the roots.  Gaping holes where they had once been planted looked up at him like screaming mouths.  Sinking slowly to his knees, dropping the hose beside him; tears streamed down his cheeks, in huge droplets on the grass.  He laid down on the lawn for a long time, clutching his chest till no more tears came; he just laid there on the grass among his uprooted flowers.

The children watched him a very long time, until they realized he wasn’t getting up.  They backed up ever so slowly, then ran home as fast as they could.

The next day they heard that the old man had died in his yard, that a passerby saw him lying there motionless and called an ambulance.  Gossip around town was that the old man had pulled out all his flowers in a rage and had a heart attack.  The children never walked by that house again, crossing the street in order to avoid it.  They never made mention of the old man with the permanent scowl, for the rest of their lives; but the stone that sat in their hearts reminded them that they had killed him, as surely as if they had whipped him to death with his own hose.

Brenda-Lee Ranta

Brenda-Lee Ranta composed her first poem at the age of seven. Throughout her life, she used prose as a means of logging her experiences in a life which has been under 'constant construction.'

Amazing to her, is that at the age of 58, CTU Publishing Group published her first book, "Myriad of Perceptions," to be followed by "Allegories - a thirst for connection." It was for her, a life changing experience, taking her from journal writing to giving her words a life beyond herself. Her two books also were awarded five-star reviews from Readers Favorites.

Since 2016, she has been a contributor to seven poetry Anthologies published by CTU Publishing. In the summer of 2017, she was honored to be the Creative Director for the Anthology, "I Have a Name," which is a compilation of poetry submissions from poets around the world, on the silent disorders, prevalent in present day society, a subject very dear to her.
She was also the Creative Director on the newly released (June 18, 2018) Anthology, "Essential Existentialism ~ the meaning of life, Creative Talents Unleashed; which is a compilation of prose from various poets on the purpose of our existence.

The release, "A Soul Passenger - When Love Collides," is Ms. Ranta's first novel, a compelling book, based on autobiographical events in what she has termed, "her mystical life." She invites her readers to share in this journey, which was filled with turbulence, struggle and profound happiness, found through an abiding love. She is very humbled to have received two "five star reviews" from Reader's Favorite, on this, her first novel.

In 2017, Ms. Ranta was also nominated for the 'Pushcart Prize,' for which she was very honored.

In October 2018, the release of Ms. Ranta's fourth book, Heart Sounds ~ Murmurings, was released by CTU Publishing Group, which is a collection of her daily writing, epiphanies and prose pieces on her experiences in her journey to inner growth and healing.

Ms. Ranta resides in Timmins, Ontario, Canada, sharing with her journey with her soul mate, who is also a published poet/musician and lyricist.

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