Say It With Flowers
Several heads turned in the direction of the young man arriving at St Wilfred’s Church wearing a purple jacket with embroidered gold edges and a cricket club badge.
“I don’t think Admiral Welland and his missus approve of your dress code,” Tom Stratton said to his brother Ned, the newly bereaved husband joining the funeral service.
“Couldn’t find anything else dark,” Ned said.
The small group of family and friends sat attentively in the small country church as the father of the deceased eulogised her many scholarly and daughterly attributes, before remonstrating angrily with a god who’d allowed Sarah to be taken at thirty years of age. He purposefully discounted his son-in-law as he expounded on how Sarah’s career had been cut short by inappropriate circumstances and had then had to fight a terrible illness single-handed until succumbing to the inevitable.
“Looks like you didn’t exist,” Tom whispered to Ned.
“I was the inappropriate circumstance,” mumbled Ned.
“He can’t hide his dislike for you even now. It’s not as if you gave her the disease. She inherited it from his bloody awful wife,” Tom retorted.
Ned just shook his head as they stood to sing a hymn now that the ex-Admiral had completed his diatribe. The phone in his pocket chose that moment to vibrate, and Ned tried his best to hide the light under his jacket as he read the message: “Don’t forget your PJs tonight. On second thoughts do forget them. Love Gloria.”
In his confusion, Ned hit video call and Gloria’s jolly “Hi there!” added a lighter refrain to the sombre funeral hymn. Ned whispered “On the way,” before quickly smuggling the phone back into his pocket—not quite quickly enough to avoid the eyes of the Admiral and his entourage, who shot him a withering look of utter contempt.
“Sorry Tom—I have to leave—something urgent has come up.”
“What the hell, Ned, you can’t be serious? We’re just about to head for the cemetery, then there’s the get-together at the Royal Oak. You’re the chief mourner, for goodness’ sake.”
“Doesn’t seem to me like I’m the chief anything,” said Ned before easing his way along the row of seats. Several inquisitive faces watched him slip out of the side door while Tom stood with mouth agape.
“Poor Ned, it must be hard on him,” whispered Dulcie Friar kindly.
“What? Oh, yes,” stammered Tom.
“Where the hell is Ned?” the Admiral demanded of Tom as the mourners gathered around the gaping hole in the ground.
“I guess he just couldn’t take it anymore,” Tom replied.
The admiral’s expletive-charged reply left those within earshot in no doubt as to his opinion of his son-in-law.
It was Gloria’s 21st, and the party was starting to warm up in her posh Sevenoaks apartment. “Hey Glor, is it true you’ve found a sugar daddy?” asked Wanda.
“No, it’s not true,” answered Gloria, casting a hostile glance at her best friend Joanne, whom she suspected of spilling the beans. “He’s only a few years older than me, if you must know.”
“We hear he’s well-off and well-hung,” giggled Maisie.
“I have to wonder where you got that information, Maisie, seeing as how I haven’t told anyone about Edward’s anatomy,” Gloria snapped.
“Don’t take any notice Glor. You know Maisie has a thing about size, especially after her last beau. What was it you called him, Wanda? Dickless Dave, wasn’t it? Anyway, joking aside, where is this new hunk you promised to introduce to us?” Joanne sipped a vodka martini through a pink straw almost as pretentious as herself.
“He’s on the way—look, I’ve just called him,” answered Gloria, holding the phone to show Joanne the brief clip.
“Funny background music, isn’t it? Abide With Me—must have Gothic tastes. Tell me in confidence Glor, is he married?” Joanne whispered, sidling close to Gloria.
“Of course not,” Gloria said aloud as several pairs of ears tuned in to the private conversation. “We’re hoping to tie the knot before the end of the year.”
“I wonder if he knows that,” Maisie whispered to Wanda.
“Dammit!” Ned cursed as he hurried to his car behind the church. He’d messed up the dates. What a dilemma, he hadn’t even bought a present, and those supercilious friends she’d told him about would be there with all sorts of goodies.
That was when his eye caught the large white box on the back seat of his car. Pushing the blue ribbon off the box, he lifted the lid to find an exquisite floral tribute in the shape of a heart. Tom must have bought it for him, knowing how forgetful he was. He’d be coming to pick it up. It must have cost a packet, he thought, examining the pure white lilies entwined amongst various ferns and laurel. They didn’t really look like funeral flowers, and he didn’t see any card. Ned’s mind drifted in the direction of Gloria waiting for her birthday present. That was it—Gloria loved flowers. He’d just have to apologise to Tom. In any case, he was going to tell him about Gloria eventually. The flowers would do, and he could promise some kind of secret surprise for later.
Ned drove quickly away from the church, breaking a few speed limits in his haste to reach Sevenoaks.
Gloria and Ned had met at an Information Technology convention in London three months previously. They enjoyed one another’s company at the bar and eventually in the bedroom. Gloria had made it plain that she was looking for a permanent relationship with someone just like Ned, a little older, good-looking, well-heeled—and then there was the Jag. Ned, besotted with the attentions of a beautiful young woman, had lied his way through the weekend and the following weekends concerning his marital status and position in the firm. He expected to be free in the not-too-distant future, given that Sarah’s uterine cancer had now progressed to stage four. At first, he’d thought about playing the sympathy card with Gloria, but after a few conversations he realised that she was probably not the type to sympathise, and besides, she already had several suitors waiting in the wings.
Sometimes, in reflective moments, he wondered if he was being a fool to chase after a spoilt young girl, no matter how beautiful. However, the devil’s advocate within counselled otherwise, especially when he reflected on his troubled relationship with Sarah and her family. Sarah—a cold fish with horrible parents who looked down on their son-in-law as beneath their social standing. Even though he’d married her as soon as she’d announced her pregnancy (after promising faithfully that she was on the pill), their attitude towards him never wavered. If he brought the topic up with Sarah, she would invariably tell him how much her parents meant to her and how small-minded he was. It didn’t take long to find out that Sarah was possessive in the extreme. Any mention of female colleagues would bring a string of completely unfounded and ludicrous accusations with banishment periods from the marital bed. Ned sometimes put her tantrums and hostility down to the loss of their child who’d died of complications during the birth.
It was two years after that when the first signs of uterine cancer started, and with it the Admiral’s not too subtle accusation, backed up by his wife Eloise, that the pregnancy (and, by inference, Ned) had caused his wonderful daughter’s deterioration. It was not until later that Ned learned from a chance remark by the oncologist’s nurse that Sarah had inherited her mother’s Lynch Syndrome—a set of faulty genes causing a higher than average risk of cancer. He demanded an explanation from the doctor who explained he had been asked not to reveal the source of the cancer and was bound to respect his patient’s request.
Ned had been furious, and confronted Sarah with the news that she was unable to deny. “I feel like leaving you here and now. You and your parents have laid a guilt trip on me since day one. You knew about the gene and yet still messed up with the birth pills. Then, when the baby died, I had to listen to your father going on about sowing bad seed and you actually agreeing with him.”
“I never said anything,” Sarah said defensively.
“That’s right, but your silence spoke for you. I’ll stay with you ’til the end, even if just to watch you suffer. Then I’ll be free of you and your loathsome family—free to find happiness with someone who loves me.”
Sarah’s response left an indelible mark on Ned’s mind. Raising herself up from her sickbed and staring hard into his eyes, in an ice cold and deliberate tone she said, “You don’t fool me, Ned Stratton. I know you very well—can’t keep your eyes off the young girls and can’t keep your cock in your pants. I’m sure you have a filly lined up ready and waiting but you’ll never get rid of me—I’ll haunt you from the grave.”
That was enough for Ned. He rented a flat in Canterbury, unknown to everyone except Gloria, and divided his time between the two homes.
Ned arrived at Sevenoaks, apologising for his lamentable but unavoidable delay due to having to stay behind at the office to seal a vital overseas deal.
“Never mind, darling, you’ve made it and that’s the most important thing,” Gloria cooed, linking her arm in Ned’s as she paraded him through the large foyer.
“Can I put this somewhere?” Ned asked, indicating the large box tucked under his free arm.
“Oh my—just look at these!” Gloria exclaimed, lifting the lid from the box and placing it on a table already festooned with gifts. The open box drew several gasps of genuine admiration at the exquisite floral arrangement. “Thank you, darling, they’re fantastic. We’ll eat now, and then read all the cards.”
“Oh, erm—” Ned stuttered.
“What is it, darling?”
“Nothing, my love—I’ll tell you later,” Ned said, realising that in his haste he’d forgotten to write a card, and wondering how to pretend that it must have been lost somehow.
A couple of hours later, after a buffet meal provided by a local catering firm, the party adjourned to the sitting room to view Gloria’s presents.
“Of course, the flowers are not your main present. That will come later,” whispered Ned, self-confidence restored with help from some Jack Daniels. He even contemplated using the occasion to reveal the other side of his life after everyone had gone and the bed still warm.
Gloria giggled and slid a hand behind her back to give her ‘main present’ an affectionate squeeze.
“My little brother James wants to read out the cards,” Gloria announced. “He wants to practice his oratory skills for his test at the drama school.”
A polite applause rippled around the room as twelve-year-old James coughed and posed with great aplomb to read out the first card. It was from Gloria’s boss, who’d bought her an expensive electronic bedside alarm clock. They all laughed at the implicit message, knowing Gloria’s tardiness at getting out of bed and into the office on time.
James flipped the lid from the floral box, and Ned prepared to utter his shock and surprise that no card could be found when, to his astonishment, James extracted a small white card with black embroidered edges from somewhere amongst the flowers. The young boy read with poise and clarity.
“My darling Sarah, our time together on this earth was all too brief but I know we’ll meet again in another time and place where painful partings no longer exist. Yours forever in this world and the next, your loving husband, Ned.”
An eerie silence descended as all eyes swivelled between Ned and Gloria.
Ned was still in a foul mood when he called on Tom the following day. He told his brother about Gloria, the flat in Canterbury, and the mix-up with the dates that had caused his sudden departure from the funeral.
“Talk about dark horses—I suppose I can’t blame you in the circumstances. Gloria, eh? Well, I hope you’ve found the right one this time,” Tom said, taking a couple of beers from the fridge.
“Thanks to you, there will be no more Gloria.”
“No need to look shocked. I know you meant well, covering for me by buying the flowers. Trouble is, I didn’t see them in the car until I left for Gloria’s place. You can imagine how embarrassed I felt when her young brother read out that card you put in. When did you become a bloody poet anyway?”
By this time Tom had sat down with his beer. “Flowers—car—card—poem—I haven’t a clue what the hell you’re going on about, Ned. You told me last week that it was a ‘no flowers by request’ funeral.”
© 2019 Brian E Guyll
Born just six months before WWII ended, Brian was fostered to his paternal grandparents in the North when he was barely six months old.