“Hi Rihanna, I’m home!” Bill called out, closing the front door behind him and dropping his keys into a Jerusalemite ceramic bowl on the sideboard. He checked the time on his wrist watch, showing exactly five thirty-five. “I got you some flowers!”
“How long did it take you to get home?” The distant, tired voice of his wife, although familiar to Bill, retained the power to make him sigh to himself, betraying a hope for something different.
“35 minutes exactly, from door-to-door!” Bill picked up several envelopes from the floor, casually scanning them before casting aside onto a coffee table. Slipping his cycle helmet off, he removed his sunglasses and headphones, dropping them onto the red, leather chesterfield sofa as he passed. He walked through the apartment living room, towards the bedrooms. “I don’t think I can actually better that time, not without shaving my legs and racing head down. How’s your day?”
“Oh, you know, ‘same old same old’, exhaustion, a prevailing sense of apathy. I had to rest in bed again all day today.” Rihanna smiled weakly at her husband as he entered the bedroom. He smiled back, his features softening sympathetically.
“I had a strange day today.” Bill said, approaching the bed, sitting down and laying a bunch of orange-red zinnias on the folded sheet.
“Are these for me?” Rhianna read the gift tag.
My twinkle star
“Thank you darling,” she said, “you are so kind and patient with me.”
“Well, it’s not a question of patience … ” His words trailed off, hoping to avoid the familiar debate about the feelings he had for his wife. At least for now, this is how Bill coped with the situation, his wife depressed and with no clear understanding as to why.
“You said you had a strange day? Well, my day was pretty mundane. I know I’d swap yours for mine. Tell me all about your day.” Rihanna pulled herself up, propping herself up against pillows.
“Do you think those pills you bought online are helping at all?” Bill immediately regretted how he’d phrased the question. “I wonder,” he said, quickly changing tact, “if a visit to the GP might be worth another shot. Didn’t she suggest some therapy?”
“Well, I feel like I ought to give the herbal remedy a try first. You-know, they weren’t cheap.” Rihanna said.
“It might be worth following up, perhaps at least register onto a waiting list. People say it takes an age to see a therapist on the NHS.”
“Mhm … ” Rihanna said, sounding unconvinced. “The therapist she suggested is private and I’d have to pay £100 for each session.”
“Christ! He must be good, for that money.” Bill said.
“She,” Rihanna corrected, “is a specialist in a particular form of regression therapy.”
“Oh, okay. Worth a shot do you think?”
“Maybe, I don’t know. Dad said he’d help out with paying.”
“That’s generous of him, although I suppose he feels some degree of responsibility.” Bill looked around the bedroom, mindful his wife might rise to his last sentence. Glances moved from dirty clothes on the floor to unfolded, clean clothes stacked in a washing basket, waiting to be put away. Everything appeared exactly the same as when he had left in the morning. “What’s actually in those pills?”
“Artemisia, and some herbs found only in Madagascar.” Rihanna leaned over, and retrieved a small packet from the bedside table and scrutinised the minimal information printed on the back. “I think I will move up to two pills per day, starting from tomorrow.” She returned the packet to the bedside table. “Anyway, what happened to you today, which made it seem strange?”
“Well …” Bill gazed into the middle-distance, trying to shake off sceptical thoughts about Madagascan herbal pills. “An incident happened on the way into work.”
“An incident?” Rihanna’s eyebrows shifted upwards.
“Yes, cycling into work, I thought about the small grocery store on Woodstock Lane. Because it’s on my route, I stop off there sometimes. I got to thinking how hard the last few months must have been for them, with the economy taking the huge nosedive, as it has.”
“I’m sure it must have been very tough for them,” Rihanna said.
“That’s right,” Bill said, “That’s what I thought, a small independent, family-run shop, mum, dad, daughter, son, some sort of set-up like that. Anyway, I stopped by and selected a bouquet of flowers from a bucket outside the shop. Inside, I picked up some milk and a cinnamon roll and went to pay the shop assistant. I asked how she was. She barely acknowledged my enquiry.”
“How’s that relevant? Perhaps she’d not long been up and wasn’t fully awake.” Rihanna stroked the top of her husband’s hand.
“Well, maybe. So, I held the flowers out towards her and told her they were for her.”
“You did what?” Rihanna sat herself fully upright in bed, wedging another pillow between her back and the headboard. “Bill?”
“She looked at the flowers and then at me. She had a frown on her face, so I just said ‘for you’, again and stretched my arm out a bit further.”
“W-what did she say?”
“She said ‘for me?’, I nodded, she asked me if I was sure, so I nodded again and smiled. She looked really awkward, took the flowers and I left the shop.”
“I’m not surprised she looked awkward Bill.” Rihanna wove her fingers between his. “Randomly buying flowers for a woman, it’s just not done Bill. She probably thought you were propositioning her, she could be married for all you know.”
“I just wanted to help bring some unexpected cheer to her day. That’s all.” Bill’s hopes for some supportive understanding faded. “Can I get you a cup of tea?”
“A glass of wine would be nice.” Rihanna said.
In the kitchen, Bill readied the oven to preheat and began the task of washing up, filling a bowl with crockery and cutlery left over from this morning’s breakfast. He gazed out through the window onto the back garden. Had he done a bad thing with the flowers? He couldn’t work it out. He’d wanted to do a ‘good thing’. Isn’t giving flowers as a gift a good thing, under any circumstances?
“So, you bought two bouquets today?” Rihanna shuffled around the kitchen, putting her hand out, touching onto any sturdy structure, the back of a chair, the table top and kitchen units, maintaining her fragile sense of balance. Placing the bouquet upon a work surface, she untied the bow, withdrew a pair of scissors from the cutlery draw and began snipping a short length off the end of each stem. “Where will I find a vase?”
“Wait.” Bill reached inside a cupboard and retrieved a glass vase. “Here.” He placed it down next to where Rihanna was working and returned to the washing up. “No, I only bought one bouquet today.”
“What? But the woman in the shop and these, for me …”
“Well, that’s the thing,” Bill rolled up the sleeves on his shirt, “after leaving the shop, I had to mess around unlocking my bike, putting my helmet back on, setting up my music and headphones. It always takes a few minutes of faffing around.” Bill examined a side plate, checking for cleanliness before placing it on the wooden draining board rack. “Whilst doing that, I noticed the woman came out of the shop with the flowers and casually returned them to the bucket, from where I’d taken them.”
“Bill, can I have some water in this vase, before I start arranging the flowers?” Rihanna, leaned back against a tall cupboard door, while her husband fulfilled her request. “So, then what happened?”
“I went over, picked them out of the bucket and went inside.” Bill noticed his wife’s expression knit together uncomfortably. “It’s okay, all I did, I asked her why she’d put the flowers back in the bucket.”
“She probably thought you were some kind of psycho.” Rihanna pulled off leaves, leaving the flower stems clean of greenery below the waterline of the vase.
“I was calm, not hostile in any way at all.”
“What did she say?”
“She said I’d given her the flowers and belonging to her, she could do whatever she liked with them.” A wet fork covered in bubbles, slipped through Bill’s fingers, chiming as it bounced several times onto the kitchen floor tiles.
“Fair enough.” Said Rihanna.
“She went on to say, if I wanted the flowers back, I’d have to buy them.”
“Buy them a second time?” Rihanna smiled to herself, as she attempted something nearing symmetry in flower arrangement.
“Without saying anything else,” Bill said, “I placed the flowers down on the counter, walked out, got back to my bike and watched as she popped them back into the bucket again, outside the shop.”
“What a palaver!” Rihanna stood back and admired the flowers in the vase.
“It’s not the end of it,” Bill said, “Once I was back on the bike, I cycled back a little bit the way I’d come, to give myself a bit of a run up, then I sped past the shop grabbing the flowers out of the bucket as I did so.”
“Bill! You didn’t!”
“I did and I out-paced the woman when she came out of the shop running after me.”
“Bill! You stole the flowers, you given me stolen flowers!”
“Yes and I’d do it again, although maybe not exactly all the same way. Actually,” Bill looked down at the dish water, where the bubbles had already begun to diminish, “I think it best I never go to that shop ever again.”
“At least not for a decade.” Rihanna said, carefully placing the vase and flowers onto the kitchen table.
©Brinkinfield 2020 All Rights Reserved
Part of the Ekphrasis Project (story inspired by a picture)