Orchids are temperamental — the difficult cousins of the flower world. Helga bought one anyway. The cashier put the pot on the counter and wrapped the plant in plastic. Helga imagined the flower protesting at the treatment, but she kept quiet and counted out the coins from her purse, giving the cashier the exact change.
She walked back to the market square and waited for the number 23. She could have taken the number 15 all the way to the end of her street, but the afternoon driver always insisted on asking Helga about her day. So she took the bus that dropped her by the playground instead, knowing that the children who usually taunted her from the swings would still be in school.
The orchid looked right at home on the mantel in Helga’s living room. The yellow petals drooped longingly across the edge of a photo frame. In the photo a shiny-pated, lanky, pleased-looking man stood with his arm thrown carelessly across a much younger and plumper Helga’s shoulders. The smile on that Helga’s face held a thousand joys at bay, ready to spill from her lips into the heart of her lover.
Helga looked into the photograph as if she could transport herself back to the time it was taken.
They had been happy, she thought, for a little while.
The photo was black and white, but Helga remembered an unlikely blue sky, as if a child had colored it in with a ‘sky blue’ crayon. The sun had been warm on their shoulders and life had stretched ahead of them like a carpet of velvet grass.
An expanse of time and circumstance gaped between the smiling couple in the photograph and the woman standing before her fireplace. The orchid dropped a yellow petal like a teardrop and it came to rest, still and silent, on the dusty mantel.
Helga made tea and sat, sipping from her teacup, listening to the squeals and shouts of the children heading home from school and watched the orchid drop the last of its petals.