NYU Black Renaissance Noire Spring 2015 - Page 56

AUTUMN Working in Stella’s Stems each day is like unfurling a map, pointing at a spot on it and buying a ticket there. Even if a sour reason or mood is behind the chimes I hear when a customer enters Stella’s, a few minutes inside clear it up. No one shops silently or begrudgingly for flowers. I hear life stories of widowers who still decorate their coffee tables with the flower they selected for their wife’s corsage at prom. The kids buy carnations in bulk, to sell around the schools and raise money for their dances, trips and team uniforms. It’s funny to be called “Ma’am” so often, at just near 40. And, we are honest. “Sell quick,” we will reveal to customers, kids or otherwise. “This batch wilts.” Stella often mumbles, with pushpins and baby’s breath dangling from her teeth: “God don’t like ugly, and he ain’t too crazy about pretty…Gaudiness offends the dead.” She mumbles it now. We work. But the arrangement is gaudy. The flowers are not. Lilies. White. I do not tell her. Gaudiness offends the dead. Backtalk offends Stella. “Three dozen sprays of white lilies, stone and granite vases, bespoke style, bronze Chinese centers.” The customer has changed the order several times. We are sensitive. “Work, girl…come on,” Stella hisses to me. Her heavy, fake golden, clip-on ball earrings glare. She adds a few sprigs of milkthistle so at least the soul won’t starve, she says. She cinches and holds down the flowers gently, like toddlers she will spank, lightly and playfully. She squints in and slides a few lines of baby breath from between her teeth, to lay them down now. She must catch a tiny slither or hole to place a baby’s breath within, between a half-dozen lilies she secures with a green rubber band… “Them ghetto beauty supply stores good for something child: green rubber bands keep me in business.” She laughs. She works. I’ve often picked through a carton of black, red, yellow and green rubber bands for Stella. To give her the green ones. And, as I did today, I’ve helped Tony wash down the vases with soapy, slippery white rags and polish them with Murphy’s Oil Soap, for their eye-catching shine to distract from a coffin’s. And now, I’m between them both. They could be my parents. They are not. We work. The customer has changed her order several times, but supposedly this is the final. We rush. “We will have it done before the wake, yes, viewing starts at 5:00 p.m. today, we know, oh no Stella never misses an order.” I was so kind to her. Who is ever kind to me? 54 Brides are among my most enthusiastic and engaging. They come in with gown fabric cradled between their glistening ring fingers, snips of color from the bridesmaids’ gowns, shards of the streamers they buy in bulk from the discount stores, the eye shadow they just have to wear that day. Expressions supplant words, when in an instant there is a perfect match or else a tacky combination. None of them want to actually look budget-conscious. I remember when and why I was that particular. If not for me and Stella and Tony, our primary gardener, many gals would never make up their minds on the flowers in order to actually make it to standing grooms at the altar. We have gentle ways of nudging them along (“special” appointments at our busiest times on the weekends, or near closing, or right before the lunch hour when we post our re-opening time). The threat of losing full attention makes them equivocate much less. Along with my thighs, my shoulders strengthen as well; the mourning relatives and friends are the most difficult customers, never quite satisfied. Their grief is formidable excuse. We must be just as patient as the doctors who broke the news. We handle their arrangements as if we are hospice with a body. On the late nights Marlon has to drive to retrieve me, back to our subdivision just past the Horseshoe Casino, a funeral is usually the task. Stella and I will concentrate on each and every stem, petal, blade and patch of floral moss in the giant bouquets. Those clients always return later, sometimes soon and sometimes in months, to point out our names promised to an obituary. They take a fistful of Stella’s cards and promise to pass them out. They apologize for their complaints. They wear sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats. And whenever they are repeat customers, they come back more trusting. BRN-SPRING-2015.indb 54 3/29/15 11:41 AM