Two Chrysanthemums

by | Oct 16, 2020 | Dean Cleaning One | 9 comments

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.

 

9 Comments

  1. Gay Degani

    This is lovely and sad. I love the the glass swan and use of flowers as the objects of memory. The ending is devastating. Well done.

  2. Chelsea Stickle

    I love how everything is tangled and comes together in this story. The flowers, their meaning, the swan bowl. The bowl sounds beautiful and I understand why the narrator wanted it from the estate sale. I’m glad she held onto it.

    Fun fact: I almost did a story that featured chrysanthemums.

  3. David O'Connor

    Some great details, I love the flowers being named (could it go much longer?). Feels polished and the prose is super-clear. Well-done! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Tommy Dean

    Love the starting image of these flowers, the way tension rises from the cutting of them. The object giving way to the voice of the mother. How these flowers have now become a story event!

    “Her mother had acquired, by way of boredom when she was young and temporarily hobbled by a broken leg, the spiritual meanings of flowers.” This is an exquisite line of exposition! Just the information we needed to know about her in an active, but subtle way! We know so much about this character in one line!

    “Clearly visible through the wings, she followed the curvature of her life line to where it wrapped around the base of her thumb.” Love the way you make this object into a metaphor! Lovely! I also love the way you’re playing up the opposites of these two objects…they are both fragile, but one gets cut and the other preserved in her hands, carefully! These kinds of dichotomies are great for creating tension in subtle ways!

    Love the way you create an arc out of the segments, how we continue the theme of the flowers, but how the images/metaphor shifts from beginning to end! So much interesting stuff happening because of the way you used these objects!

  5. Kella

    Constance, this is such a subtle, beautiful foray into the life cycles all around us. I’m a suck for flowers and the symbolism inherent with each bloom. There’s a gorgeous meditation on mortality in this sentence that really moved me: “Her mother spoke softly of Miss Schneider, her age and osteoporosis, and they talked about how flowers bloom and die.” Your loving description of the objects in this piece stand out as well: “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.” The swan’s neck is so graceful AND so fragile.

    I also enjoyed the sensory description of the flowers as I think we sometimes gloss over the exact smells each flower holds: “Breathing in their earthy aroma, the mums’ slender petals tickled her nose.” I was thinking just the other day how the last-gasp blooms of my dahlias smell peppery, spicy even. I think these type of surprising sensory details in your prose are especially keen.

    The mortality of Sarah’s mother, in the end, was a twist. The metaphor of losing one petal at a time starkly beautiful. Thank you for sharing and for letting me read this! Have a wonderful Saturday, ~Kella

  6. Clementine Burnley

    Oh my. I love where this piece goes.

    Gorgeous sensory details here:
    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.

    Great work.
    Do you know this poem? It’s one of the best things I read last year.

    My life’s stem was cut

    My life’s stem was cut,
    But quickly, lovingly
    I was lifted up,
    I heard the rush of the tap
    And I was set in water
    In the blue vase, beautiful
    In lip and curve,
    And here I am
    Opening one petal
    As the tea cools.
    I wait while the sun moves
    And the bees finish their dancing,
    I know I am dying
    But why not keep flowering
    As long as I can
    From my cut stem?

    Taken from Inside the Wave by Helen Dunmore, published by Bloodaxe Books .

  7. Christina Rosso-Schneider

    I love how you use flowers to reflect the cycle of life. It works so perfectly!

    My favorite sentence: “Her mother spoke softly of Miss Schneider, her age and osteoporosis, and they talked about how flowers bloom and die.”

  8. Meg Tuite

    Hi Constance,
    So much to love in this! The flowers that have attributes. And the Swan bowl! I can’t just imagine it through your words. And the cut flowers and petals as Mom slowly succumbs to her illness. Heartbreaking and visceral! LOVE!!

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