Sarah cut two burgundy-colored chrysanthemums. She heard her mother’s alto voice say, “the flower of happiness, love, and longevity.” Her mother had acquired, by way of boredom when she was young and temporarily hobbled by a broken leg, the spiritual meanings of flowers. Asters: patience. Black-eyed Susan: encouragement and motivation. Orchids: beauty and strength. Crocus: hope.
The list went on, but Sarah’s memory stopped with these five. They had been her mother’s favorite flowers, and so, they were hers. Content that she had cut the perfect specimens for the swan bowl, she went inside.
She took the clear glass swan from her cupboard and held it in the cupped palms of her hands: a perfect fit. Clearly visible through the wings, she followed the curvature of her life line to where it wrapped around the base of her thumb.
The cool glass soothed her. The bend of its S-shaped neck pleased her. She traced the delicate arc with a finger before filling the indention in the swan’s back. Waves rippled in the agitated water as she placed the bowl on the table.
Breathing in their earthy aroma, the mums’ slender petals tickled her nose. She cut the stems to right under the flowers’ bases and placed them in the now calm water.
The bowl had belonged to a neighbor who had died twenty years ago.
Miss Schneider had fallen in her backyard on the coldest night of that year. Her niece found her the next day. Sarah’s mother had been reading to her on their sofa. They looked up when the ambulance arrived. Her mother spoke softly of Miss Schneider, her age and osteoporosis, and they talked about how flowers bloom and die.
When they carried Miss Schneider’s black-bagged body on a stretcher to the ambulance, her mother had said, “Miss Schneider was like an orchid, a long-lasting flower on a gently sloping stem.”
Three months after Miss Schneider’s death, when the crocus had just burst through the softening dirt of spring, Sarah and her mother went across the street to the estate sell Miss Schneider’s family held before selling the house.
“That’s it,” Sarah called out the minute she had seen the swan flower bowl. “It looks like it’s gliding across water.”
“It’s lovely, but why this bowl?” her mother had asked.
“It will always remind me of the May Day construction paper flowers and basket we made for Miss Schneider, and how she invited us in for tea when we delivered them. Remember, she had a single black-eyed Susan in this bowl on her kitchen table? She was so happy and kind.”
“Like a chrysanthemum,” her mother had said.
Over the course of the summer, Sarah had watched her mother lose one petal at a time to cancer. She, too, was a chrysanthemum, full of happiness and love. Sarah envisioned the petals resting on the back of a swan, gliding over peaceful waters.