The flower that doesnt w.., p.1
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       The Flower That Doesn't Wilt, p.1

           Martin Alvarez
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The Flower That Doesn't Wilt


  The Flower That Doesn’t Wilt

  By

  Victor Rose

  Sam was just a man. He was a man who was just living a life. He worked at a job that paid him just enough to get by. Life had been excruciatingly bland for him, apart from the books he read. Only through them was he able to escape his hometown and his everyday routine of waking up at dusk, having a sandwich at the corner deli just before they closed, and roaming the halls through time and fallen civilizations as the graveyard shift security guard at the county museum.

  Then two things happened to change his life completely. The first was when he met a girl, and, in a way, that led to the second.

  He was preparing to go on his fifth date with a girl he met at a diner two months before. She wasn’t sure of her feelings for him, but of his feelings for her, he wasn’t as sure that the sky was blue or that gravity made things fall down and not up. She was the type of girl that men fell for hard and fast- and Sam was no exception.

  On his way to Natali’s house he stopped at a corner market to buy her some flowers. A newspaper caught his eye near the checkstand: “Big Ol’ Bucks Lottery Winner Yet To Come Forward!” the headline screamed out. Chuckling to himself, Sam remembered the lotto ticket he purchased a few days ago and removed it from his wallet as the cashier rang up the bouquet of purple and pink daisies with a bit of babies breath. He handed it to the man behind the counter to check. “You never know, right?”

  The large, bald man who everyone knew as Boston laughed as he scanned the ticket. “Yeh, but Idon’ think any o’ us regular folks…” He stopped talking and looked from the ticket, to Sam, to the ticket, and back to Sam again.

  “What? Is something wrong?” The young man asked as he held his wallet ready to pay.

  “’Smore like the opposite. Idon’ think anythin’ is ever gonna be wrong for you again.” Boston slid the ticket back across the counter. “You won, Kid. Idon’ frickin’ believe it, but you won.”

  “What!” Sam grabbed the ticket up and searched for a printout of the winning numbers to compare them. After a quick comparison of papers with shaking hands, a scream blasted the sudden concrete silence that had encased them in the shop. “I won! I won! Wait ‘til I tell-“

  Natali! In the excitement, he had almost forgotten about their date. He fled from the shop and ran as fast as he could all the way to Natali’s doorstep.

  At the shop, Boston made a note to charge the kid for the flowers he ran out with. “He’ll be back. Just got to frickin’ excited is all. Who wouldn’t?”

  On the front porch of her house, Natali was sitting patiently in a yellow dress like a sunflower waiting for the clouds to pass.

  Her date came running up the street, his brown suit ruffled and no longer iron-straight, his face sweaty, and hair disheveled. “Natali! Natali, guess what!”

  “Sam! Is everything alright?”

  “Yes. In fact, everything is better than alright! Oh, here, these are for you.” Smiling and out of breath, Sam handed over the flowers which were now wilted and missing petals with crushed stems. Natali turned them over in her hand, inspecting them, then inspected Sam the same way in her mind. They were both a mess.

  “Sam, I have something to tell you.”

  “So do I! Natali, you’re never going to believe this. Come on, I’ll tell you on our date.”

  Natali looked at the ground and brushed a strand of dark brown hair behind her ear before speaking. “There isn’t going to be another date.”

  Sam felt his heart sink down to his knees, which were now wobbly. “What?”

  “This isn’t going anywhere.” Her eyes met his now. “Your head is always in the clouds, Sam. You talk about strange things you read about in strange books. You talk about what-ifs and one-days that have nothing to do with the real world. I’ve listened to you figure how the lives of characters would play out after a book ends or what you think should have happened, but I’ve never heard you mention what you plan to do in your own life. How you plan to settle down one day and buy a house or find a better job has never crossed your mind.”

  Sam was dizzy as if a professional boxer had just punched him on his forehead and followed it up with a blow to the gut. “I like my job. And I love reading, I can’t help that. Who cares about the ‘real world’ and buying cars and houses? Not me, those aren’t what makes a person truly happy. Those are just things. What makes a person happy are times, memories with someone else. Besides, people in books are far more interesting than people in real life. I talk about them and their worlds because it’s fun to get away.”

  Get away. He suddenly remembered why he ran here and was renewed with energy. “Wait, now let me tell you my thing!” Sam lit up and stood straight again like a wilted flower after a burst of sunlight and water.

  “Sam.”

  “No, listen. I won the lottery! Two hundred thirty-eight million dollars. Well, after the government gets their unfair share it’ll be around a hundred million, but that’s still a lot. I’m going to put half in a bank account to grow, and with the other half I’m going to do what I’ve always dreamed of- travel the world.”

  He took Natali’s hand in his. It was cool in his warm, sweaty hands. “I’m going on an endless adventure, and I want you to come with me. Just imagine it. First up, the green hills and gray castles of Ireland. Then, the Eiffel Tower in France. The Great Pyramids in Egypt, scuba diving along the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. Or we could even come up with checklists like ‘stick a piece of gum on every famous tower and giant statue.’ Our passports would look like scrapbooks, it would be great! We could see all the tourist attractions, but after that, in the in-betweens and all-arounds, down the small unknown streets of the towns under stars and streetlights… We could fall in love.”

  Natali pulled her hand away. She looked at Sam and the flowers once more. “That all sounds lovely, and I would like to see the world, but…” She looked at the ground again and Sam finished her thought for her.

  “But not with me.”

  “I’m sorry, Sam.”

  He looked at her and felt helpless. How could he gain everything he had ever dreamed of, the key to the world, only to lose the one he wished to share it with just minutes apart? It didn’t seem real. “Don’t be,” he told her, “but I’m twenty-five now, and I may not return until I’m seventy-five. It would be terrible for you to change your mind after it’s too late, as I’ll most likely be unreachable. I may lose my phone while walking along the Great Wall of China, or forget it’s in my pocket as I dive off of La Quebrada in Mexico. But in fifty years I might return and see you then.”

  “Goodbye, Sam.” Natali handed back the crushed flowers before she turned and went inside.

  And that was that. In the following weeks Sam got his money and set his first flight for Dublin, Ireland. He lost himself amid castles of generations lost to ruin and pubs that weren’t much younger. It was as if he was home, and in a way, he was. Not Ireland itself but the entire world was now his home to wander through like a mansion with endless rooms. And he had the key to every door. It had been the perfect start for what was to follow; his new way of life.

  Tokyo, Japan was next. As he wandered through spiritual gardens where time seemed to have slept for thousands of years, he thought that he wouldn’t mind returning for a visit once he left this life, and even picked out a tree that he would like to nap under for a hundred or a thousand millenniums.

  The Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica followed, and then Switzerland, France, Egypt, and Spain.

  And so it went. Days turned to months and years turned to memories.

  He was rarely ever by himself, with all of the people he would meet- locals, guide
s, bartenders, priests, etc.- but he never could shake the feeling of being alone. It would come on especially strong whenever he saw a yellow flower in a window garden or in a field at the foot of a mountain.

  There were times when he had someone to travel with, either for a few months, a year or two, or even just to one place, and he knew he was being used as a free plane ticket but he needed company. It usually ended the same way. He would wake up one day in a half empty bed or tent to find a note about going home and settling down, and suddenly he was twenty-five again, off to see the world alone.

  And see the world he did. Borderlines blurred as he filled his passport with stamps from every country. He made friends old and young, every color in all walks of life on every inch of the planet, until he had no more friends to make, no more places to visit, and no one left to see but one, and one day, two weeks after his seventy-fifth birthday…

  “Sam? Is… Is that you?”

  Sam, who was no longer a young, glowing twenty-five year old full of expectations for life, but an old man, gray with the dust and cobwebs spun throughout him like veins by the spiders of time gone by, wondered who could recognize him so many years later. He put down the cantaloupe that he was inspecting before turning around. There passed a silence that seemed to hold within it words unsaid for fifty years like the whisper of air escaping an Egyptian tomb that was opened after countless moons had slid across the sky.

  “Natali?”

  “How have you been, Sam? It’s been ages, hasn’t it?”

  “Fifty years.” Sam felt far away, as if he were watching himself on a screen in a silent theatre.

  “Just like you said.” Natali brushed a strand of white hair behind her ear. “I feel like I’m seeing a ghost. I really didn’t think I would ever see you again, no one did. Some of us even thought you were dead.”

  Sam laughed. At the moment, only he understood the morbidly humorous connotation laced within his response of “Not yet. Well, at least not all the way.” He laughed some more and, not knowing why, Natali laughed with him.

  Her laugh rang in his mind. It was like listening to a favorite song from his youth; it hadn’t aged with her and it took him back immediately.

  “Are you busy this evening?” Natali looked at the ground as she spoke.

  “No, no,” He picked up the fruit again, “I was just picking some cantaloupes to make a water later like I learned in Mexico.”

  Natali studied his eyes now. “Oh, I bet it’s delicious.” Something within them was different, but she knew she was staring at the same eager, young man from half a century ago.

  “It sure is! I quickly learned how to make it better than the locals, even won an award for it at a fair. Say, would you like to come over for a glass this evening, if you aren’t too busy?” Immediately after he asked, Sam felt something in his gut and his knees, a vulnerability from decades ago that made him feel as if he would never enjoy another glass of cantaloupe water again if she said no. That he may as well add two heaping cups of salt to every pitcher because it would never be sweet to his tongue or refreshing to his lips ever again.

  “I would love to.” For a moment, just a microscopic, almost invisible moment that flashed in the air between them like a dim spark in bright daylight, a strangeness was tangible as she said the words that were meant to be used an age ago but were instead tucked away on a bookshelf only to now have the dust blown off of them in a gray cloud and muttered awkwardly as if for the first time in her life.

  Sam smiled. “Great, let me give you the address.” He pulled out his wallet to search for a piece of paper to write on. “As soon as I find something I’ll write it down for you. It’s not far from here, I live with my niece about two blocks-“ As he searched his wallet an old photobooth picture fell out and landed face-up on the green tiled floor. It was worn and slightly faded by the sunlight of countless sunrises, sunsets, and fingerprints of friends made in Kenyan tribes, Chinese monasteries, in French cafes, and at British bus stops.

  Natali picked it up and stared at it in amazement. She turned it over and read the words scribbled in pen on the back. “Denver County fair. Summer 2018.” She handed it back to Sam, who looked like a child waiting to be scolded.

  He took it and handed her the paper. “Well, here’s the address. How’s seven pm?”

  “Sounds fine.”

  “Alright, see you then.”

 
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