The Flowers

Anna heard the clang and clash of the latch on the gate at the side of their house, and her mom stomping into her brother, Peter’s, bedroom to yell out of the window.

“We don’t want any! Go away now!”

Mom named the old flower seller ‘Dead-Flower-Man’ because, by the time he had reached their house on his old rattling bicycle most of yesterday’s unsold flowers, given to him by the florist in the shopping mall, were limp in his bucket. Those would never perk up, no matter how much water they got.

“William’s an old man, trying to make a living,” Dad had told Mom. “That’s his name. Not ‘Dead-Flower-Man’. It’s William.”

Mom had huffed and folded her arms. Peter and Anna liked Dad’s kind-heartedness, but they enjoyed Mom’s name for the old man more.

William usually only came on the weekends, when Dad was home, and never called to the front gate. Dad would always go outside to greet him, and they chatted about life in general and wrangled over the price of the flowers. He would return with a happy face and the best of the bunch. 

“For you, my love,” he would say, as he presented them to Mom with a flourish. Mom pretended not to care but Anna could see by her crinkly eyes that she was pleased.

Dad hadn’t been home for a good while now, and Anna wondered if that was because of the Tealeaves in His Hair incident, but she didn’t want to ask Mom, and Peter didn’t seem to know much either.

“I have the chief’s flowers!” she heard the old flower-seller call, and she imagined Dad with a headdress of feathers sticking up on his head and around his face, just like a Native American.

When she looked back on events, it seemed to Anna that it all started with the Disappearing Bracelet incident.

Dad had been unpacking his briefcase on the dining room table, as he always did when he brought work home, and the bracelet had shot out with one of the files. Dad’s face went from surprise to dismay, and he tried to grab the bracelet as it slid along the table’s shiny surface and landed on the carpet; its dainty, mother-of-pearl panels linked together on a gold chain, shimmering, iridescent in the firelight.

“Whose is that?” Mom said, as she picked it up and held it to the light.

“Shh,” he said, glancing in Anna’s direction. “It was supposed to be a surprise.”

“For who?” Mom said.

Dad put his hands in his pockets and Anna noticed that, although he had a smile on his face, his lips looked very tight.

“For Anna. Who do you think?” he said.

“For what?” Mom said. “It’s not her birthday.”

“Can I please see it?” Anna said.

Mom handed the bracelet to Dad, and he took Anna’s hand and fastened the clasp around her wrist. The bracelet slipped straight off.

“It’s too big!” Anna said.

“Never mind,” Dad said. “You’ll grow into it. Leave it in your dressing-table drawer until you’re a bit bigger.”

Anna had laid the bracelet on a bed of cotton-wool in the corner of the drawer, and covered it with tissue paper; but the following day it had disappeared.

“It’s a mystery,” Dad said.


“Your father should never have encouraged him,” Mom said, as William clanged even louder on the gate latch. “He only comes here to annoy me with that clanking and rattling.”

“He’s not here, and I don’t want your dead flowers!” she yelled out of the window.

Peter had his hands over his ears to block out the sound of Mom’s bellowing, but William stayed at the gate.

It wasn’t long after the Disappearing Bracelet incident that the Is That All We’re Getting for Our Dinner? incident happened.

They had all been invited by Dad’s colleague for dinner at her home.

“What does she want with all of us going there?” Mom said.

“She’s just being friendly,” said Dad. “She’s new to the firm.”

“It’s just her, then? No kids? No husband?”

“Divorced,” said Dad.

“Humph,” said Mom and raised a haughty chin.

“What’s her name, Dad?” said Anna.

“You’re to be very polite,” he said, “and call her Aunty Betty.”

“We’re starving, Mom,” said Peter as they waited outside Betty’s front door.

“You’ll be getting your dinner soon,” said Dad.

Inside Dad introduced each of them. Mom smiled and bobbed her head, as she always did when she wasn’t feeling comfortable. “Nice to meet you,” she said, but Anna noticed that her eyes didn’t think anything was nice at all.

The table was already laid with a green salad, cold meat, a quiche, hard boiled eggs cut in half, and slices of buttered white bread; with a large Devonshire cream cake in the centre. Anna noticed there were only three plates, with a knife and fork alongside each one.

“Where are we sitting?” she said.

“Oh!” said Betty. “I thought you’d have fed them before you came.”

“Never mind,” said Dad, shuffling “You can sit on the floor and pretend that the pouf is your table.”

“Of course!” said Betty, and she spread a tea-towel over the pouf. “I’ll make them a sandwich.”

Anna looked at Peter. “A sandwich?” she said to Betty. “Is that all we’re getting? Or is that just to keep us going until we get our real dinner?”

“Don’t be cheeky,” said Dad. Mom smiled a real smile.

As Anna munched her sandwich, sitting on the floor, she could see under the table and wondered if Betty had an itchy leg, because Dad’s shiny shoe was moving up and down against it.

“Did you get an itchy bite on your leg, Aunty Betty?” she said, remembering to be polite. “Dad shouldn’t be scratching it for you though, it’ll just get worse. He usually dabs calamine lotion on me when I get one of those. Have you got any calamine lotion, Aunty Betty? Dad will dab it on your leg. Won’t you Dad?”

Mom’s eyes went big and her eyebrows disappeared under her fringe. Aunty Betty looked down at the tablecloth. Anna didn’t think Dad was still annoyed with her about the ‘real dinner’ comment, but he wouldn’t answer her and, instead, she saw he was rubbing the back of his neck and frowning at something in the corner of the room. Anna couldn’t see what it was, though.

On the train going home Anna noticed that Mom and Dad were quieter than usual, and that they weren’t holding hands, as they always did. Mom kept blowing her nose and Dad kept looking out of the window.

Peter fell asleep, and when they reached their station Dad had to carry him off the train. He woke up a bit when Dad put him down to stand on the platform while he helped Anna off the high step, but he kept his eyes closed and started walking. No one was holding his hand and Anna laughed when he bumped into a lamppost. It wasn’t funny, though, because he got a bloody nose; and the only thing Mom had to clean him up with, was her wet handkerchief.


William was no longer rattling at the side gate, and when Anna looked out of the window she could see the back wheel of his bicycle resting against the pillar next to their wall. She thought he must have given up and was preparing to leave.

Anna recalled the morning after the Is That All We’re Getting for Our Dinner? incident. She was sitting at the top of the stairs and could see Mom and Dad in the kitchen. Mom was emptying the old tealeaves from the day before into the big strainer that she kept especially for them. It was Anna’s job to take them out and throw them into the compost bin later on in the day.

“What do you want me to do?” she heard Dad say. “I’ve said I’m sorry. I’ve told you it was only a bit of casual flirting. I’ll end it. Nothing happened between us.”

“Yet!” said Mom. “Nothing happened between you yet!”

“Look,” said Dad. “I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want to lose anything we have together. I’ll do whatever you want to make this go away.”

Anna had a feeling that what they were talking about was a lot worse than her cheeky question about the ‘real dinner’.

“I need you to go away,” Mom said. “I need to not see you for a while.”

“If you want me to wear a sackcloth and put ashes on my head to show my penitence, I’ll do it. Just tell me. I’ll do whatever you want.”

That’s when Mom picked up the big strainer and tipped its contents over his head. Anna pulled her knees closer to her chest as she watched the tealeaves slide along Dad’s hair and gather in a brown lump around the collar of his white shirt.

“”There’s your ashes,” Mom said. “Now go and see if that woman’s got a nice sackcloth for you.” 

That was the day Dad had left. He phoned Mom a lot after that. Every day. Sometimes twice a day. Anna felt sorry for him and wished Mom would let him come home. She did notice, though, that as the days passed Mom’s voice wasn’t as hard as it had been the day he got tealeaves in his hair.


Anna heard the front doorbell chime.  “Who on earth is that?” said Mom, and Anna followed her down the hallway as she went to answer the door.

William was standing on the front step. His wrinkled face shiny with sweat. His arms filled with the largest bouquet of flowers Anna had ever seen. Every one of them bursting with life.

“Sorry about coming to the front door, ma’am,” he said, his eyes darting from Mom to Anna as he proffered the bouquet. “The chief ordered these, and he especially asked me to deliver them.”

Mom didn’t take the flowers from him straight away. She just stood there looking at him with wide eyes, as if she didn’t recognise him. As if she had never seen him in her life before. Then she folded her arms around the flowers, and Anna noticed how they seemed to fill her up. 

“And there’s this too,” said William, handing her a card.

“Thank you, William,” she said in a voice that was almost a whisper.

“The chief’s a good man,” William said as he backed away down the path.

Dad came home that evening and the scent of the flowers filled the house. Anna noticed how Mom hummed a tune as she cooked their dinner, and how close to her Dad stayed as he helped.