She doesn’t like him. From the second he walks into the shop she pretty much wants him out. He strolls around, his heels clicking on the concrete floor, and she expects him to stop by the ready-made bouquets, pick up one of the expensive ones, pay and go. But he surprises her, picking out specific bunches and asking her if she has any Agapanthus, which she goes to get for him from the cooler.
While she arranges the flowers, he observes her silently. Usually at this point people break into small talk; they tell her about an anniversary, or a birthday, and often Achinoam will find herself on the priest-end of a confession – they look to her bouquets to redeem them, to obtain forgiveness and atonement. In some cases she’ll fetch a tiny hamsa from a glass jar beneath the counter, and secure it, with a drop from her glue gun, to the edge of the wrapping paper, somewhere hidden. “So it can do what it’s supposed to, discreetly,”she smiles. And her customers are grateful.
But he remains quiet. When she’s done, she asks “Where to?” and he replies “My wife,” and gives her an address. She slides a card with the shop’s logo across the counter, for him to write a note, and sees a shadow roll over his face; a hairline fracture in the armor of self-confidence. Finally he scribbles Love, Elli, and shoves the card back in her direction.
This happens again the following week, then the next, and the one after that. On the fifth week Elli calls. “Listen, I’m traveling for work in a few hours and I won’t make it in. Will you send Racheli a bouquet? You know the drill: seasonal, no kitsch.”
“Gladly,” she says, “and what should I write?”
“Write? Oh. I don’t know. Write … write something.”
“Love, Elli?” Achinoam suggests.
“No, something more … something about how I miss her .... Listen, I have to finish something here and run to the airport. Do me a huge favor and write something nice, would you?”
So Achinoam picks out flowers, arranges them and wraps them, ties on a pretty ribbon and pulls out a card. She imagines his plane taking off and writes: As the wheels of the plane fold beneath me, I’m folding the thought of you into my heart. Back soon. She sends the bouquet.
On the sixth week Elli’s back in the shop. “Listen,” he says, “I’m going to be traveling a lot over the next few months. I want to put in a standing order, OK? I don’t want to screw this up. It’s important to me.”
“Sure,” she smiles. It’s not easy to make a living selling flowers, and his bouquets always add up to at least 300-400 shekels.
“Every Thursday?” she asks.
“Yes,” he replies, “but listen, I also need you to write the notes. That bit you wrote? About the plane’s wheels? She loved it.”
“I can’t write your notes for you – no way. That was a one-time thing. You can email me and I’ll print them out for you. Or, if you’d like, I can write something basic, say ‘with love.’”
“No,” he says. “I need more. And I can’t – it’s something I just can’t do. I need your help – she’s feeling neglected. Come on, you’d be doing a mitzvah.”
“I’ll collect my mitzvahs elsewhere.”
“She adores your arrangements. It has to be you. I’ll pay.”
“Of course you’ll pay.”
“Not just for the flowers – for the notes. I’ll pay for the notes.”
Achinoam chuckles incredulously. Who does this guy think he is?
“Two hundred shekels a note,” Elli says.
“You’ve got some nerve,”Achinoam replies, setting down her pruning shears on the counter between them.
“Four hundred.” she says.
For the first time since she’s known him, she sees a hint of a smile. “Three hundred,” he says, “and they better be good.”
He’s already at the door when Achinoam calls after him, “But you have to give me something.”
“Information – where you are, what you’re doing.”
“Oh, that. Sure. I’ll have my secretary send you my schedule.”
On Thursday morning she gets an email from his secretary. He’s in London. Meetings, meetings, meetings; names of companies and people; a dinner invitation with an endless list of names, a note next to each. Running around like crazy, Achinoam writes, I think about you and remember to breathe. She sends Racheli a bouquet that’s big but airy; white and purple, with fragrant lilies to perfume Racheli’s air and lift her spirits.
The following week he’s in Tokyo. Achinoam Googles his hotel and finds a virtual tour of the expensive suites. She strolls around the rooms of the designer suite on the 37th floor. She stops at the terrace to take in the view, and sees hundreds of buildings dwarf before her, their windows sparkling in multicolored lights. Behind each of those windows is an entire life; people with loves and furies, hopes and disappointments. One window, then another and another. She writes Racheli of a long chain of windows, stretching all the way from Tokyo to Haifa, to Racheli’s window above the bay. Her sentences are short and simple. Love, she signs, and feels a tingling spread through her belly.
New York, Hong Kong, Copenhagen, London again. Achinoam writes to Racheli from all over the world. On Sunday, she closes shop early to clean. Dressed in rubber boots and an old sweater, she heaves buckets out of the cooler, dumps them, scrubs them clean. In her notebook she makes lists of what she needs to order. Between the flowers and the supplies she jots down ideas – words of longing, little jokes. When her work is done she decides to pick up a bottle of wine and order in, treat herself to a night of easy living.
At the wine store she sees Elli, standing with a woman in a blue dress, holding a bottle of wine. “We’re going to be late,” he says. “Let’s get the Special Reserve and go.” When Elli spots Achinoam a look of panic flashes across his face, but she’s too close to be denied an introduction. “Sweetheart,” he says, “this is Achinoam, from the flower shop.” “Ah!” Racheli’s face lights up. Her frame is slight, too slight, but her face is soft and round. “They’re amazing, your bouquets! Thank you!” Thin brown bangs fall across her forehead, and pretty creases deepen around her eyes when her cheeks rise up in a smile. She offers a manicured hand, and Achinoam is embarrassed by the coarseness of her own. She fights the urge to bend and kiss Racheli’s hand. “We really have to run,” says Elli, ever the frequent flyer, and places an urging hand on the small of his wife’s back. They walk away, but just before they turn the corner and disappear, Racheli turns her head and smiles once more.
On Thursday, Achinoam writes from Moscow. Can’t sleep. If only I could, I’d fill all of Red Square with flowers and drift off to sleep in it, with you. She pours herself a glass of the Special Reserve, the most expensive wine she’s ever bought. Later, she falls asleep and dreams of a red castle, and of Racheli’s neck, miles of softness, into which Achinoam presses her lips and whispers; a river of words, surging in the impossibly loud silence of things unspoken, of bouquets she’ll never send and notes she’ll never write.
Mika Almog is an Israeli writer, screenwriter and satirist. Her personal column, "Mika Almog," and satire column, "Bona Bona," appear weekly in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz Magazine. Almog writes in Hebrew and English.
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