The Strangest Love - by Chris Barraclough

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Words arranged carelessly

Submitted: February 18, 2012

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Submitted: February 18, 2012

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The Strangest Love

 

Jeremy Thomas didn’t learn about his brother’s death from his family, or even from the police. Instead, he found out when he opened the BBC News website on Thursday morning at work and was confronted by a smiling photo of his sibling, under the banner ‘Man crushed to death by double-decker bus’.

“Oh, fucksocks!”

He clicked the link, the 2159th person to do so that morning, although he was the only person who actually read the full story. 63% of the others had immediately noticed the related link, ‘Lesbian lovers wed on open-top tour bus’, and browsed to that article instead. The others had either got bored, been interrupted by a colleague or – in one woman’s case – distracted when her cat threw up half a mouse on her rug.

Regardless, they all missed the fact that Robert Thomas had died when he foolishly stopped to tie his shoelaces on a zebra crossing, and even more foolishly expected the driver of the number 78 to actually stop and wait for him.

When Jeremy rang home two hours later, his mum answered with four simple words:

“Funeral’s Saturday. Bring flowers.”

And that he did. He bought the grandest bouquet he could find at the local flower shop, a run-down store called ‘Sun Flowers’ that was hidden underneath the railway bridge. After 23 minutes of deliberation he picked out a bunch of lilies. They hung limp and pathetic over the plastic wrapper. Their flowers may have once been splendours of colour, but now they resembled soggy crinkle-cut crisps. Still, his brother would be too dead to care anyway.

Jeremy took the bouquet to the tall wooden counter in the corner, covered by a carpet of creased paper and colourful string. A woman stood behind with her back to him, a fox-tail of gleaming silver hair draped down the length of her back. She was tending to a small shrubbery.

“Just these, please,” Jeremy said, coughing into his fist. She turned and stared at him with perfectly black eyes, her brow furrowed.

“You want to buy these?” She motioned towards the lilies.

“Um, if that’s all right.”

“Yes, fine.” She took the flowers and stroked their darkening stems with a slender finger, before wrapping them in striped pink-on-puce paper. Jeremy watched her fingers dance and realised that his face was burning, his forehead drenched in sweat.

When it was done, Jeremy paid the florist and she flashed him a wrinkled grin that showed off all ten of her teeth.

“Take care of my darlings.”

“Oh, yes, I will, thank you.”

At the funeral, Jeremy avoided all forms of eye-contact and conversation with his relatives. Only his uncle spoke to him the entire weekend, to say that the better brother had died. Damn shame, so it was. Jeremy agreed. In truth he barely heard the remark, as the whole weekend his mind was buzzing. Even as brother’s body was being sucked into the crematorium furnace, he couldn’t shake the image of the florist, the way she dealt with her ‘darlings.’

The following week, Jeremy returned to Sun Flowers. He browsed the anthuriums and the carnations, before turning his attention to a fearfully expensive cymbidium orchid. The entire time, he stole measured glances towards the corner of the shop, where the florist busied herself with an impressive pair of babylons. Eventually she glanced up and caught him staring, and he snatched up a bouquet of withered roses and took it over.

“Just these, please.”

“Very good.” The hands went to work, blurring amongst the ribbon and paper. “For a lady friend?”

“Yes, uh, no. Uh, that is, just a friend. A man…a man friend.”

“I see.” A wry smile and a sultry wink. “How are the lilies?”

“Divine.”

Jeremy returned to the shop every week, and each time he bought a random bouquet for some made-up event. Christenings, anniversaries, bar mitzvahs; he even sent his uncle some orange blossom to celebrate his vasectomy. When he was near to exhausting his entire list of celebrations and gatherings, Jeremy realised he would have to act.

“Just these, please.” He slid a bouquet of moss rose across the counter. “And also, I was wondering if you would…” His words fell away mid-sentence. For the first time, he noticed it. A ring on her finger - on that finger. How had he not seen it before? So much time spent staring at her hands, watching them dance across the counter right before him. Jeremy looked away, lip trembling, and his eyes fell on the photograph melting into the shadows in the corner. Three women, all stood on the top deck of a London tour bus. One wore black, the other two white.

“If I would?”

“Oh, um, if you would mind using the green ribbon this time? These are for my niece. She just passed her cycling proficiency. She loves green.”

“Not a problem.”

Jeremy left with the flowers - strung together with the biggest green bow he had ever seen - clutched tight to his chest. The petals were brown in the dull haze of the afternoon sunlight, and they fell away one by one, leaving a breadcrumb trail behind him. He didn’t even notice. In fact, he was almost a mile from the shop and halfway across the main road just outside his flat when he finally glanced down.

“Oh,” he thought, “shoelace is untied. Can’t be having that. A chap might have an accident.”

 

www.ChrisBarraclough.co.uk


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