New Bouquet, by Eve Francis

I wanted to depict a queer couple dealing with romantic tropes and how they could rewrite them to better suit what they wanted in their relationship.  When I realized that the typical notion of giving flowers tied in really well with similar themes in queer paganism, I went with it and fine tuned it to celebrate Beltane.  It’s a short story, very simple, but is mostly about building relationships and reworking ideas that don’t fit – right down religion, romance, and even bouquets of flowers.

New Bouquet

“I don’t like flowers,” Melissa stated rather firmly.

“Why not?” Caroline asked.

Melissa raised an eyebrow, a smirk on her face.

“I mean,” Caroline spoke again, crossing and uncrossing her legs on the park bench anxiously.  “Not that I was getting you flowers or thinking of doing that.  Not that you don’t deserve them, either.  I just… I mean…We’ve only been together a month.”

“I’ve seen people celebrate less,” Melissa said with a small laugh.  She craned her neck, combing her long red hair over her ears before she bunched her hands inside her purple hoodie to keep them warm.  She looked out at the park, and wearily, Caroline followed her gaze.

The park was across from the farmer’s market, but the booths were closed down now in late afternoon.  High school kids gathered in droves by the bright yellow slide.  Some of the young couples cuddled for warmth, while others smoked and kept their distance.  There were a few children and their parents close by, on the baby-swings near the smaller jungle gym.

A chilled wind came up and Caroline began to wish she had brought more than her green hoodie to keep her warm.  Though it was now spring, snow had fallen a few days ago.  The wood chips in the park were scattered, some still frozen and clinging with frost.  Green grass struggled to come up in patches, next to mud and frozen ground.  In Canada, especially Southern Ontario, this happened a lot.  Caroline often heard her mother refer to the sudden change as Second Winter.  Its presence made the T.  S.  Eliot poem have a lot more weight when he stated that April was the cruellest month.  There was a sudden hope of spring, of blooming plants, only to be frozen again in a blink.

Caroline laughed as she shivered.  That line kind of felt like the perfect metaphor for Melissa and Caroline’s relationship.  They had begun dating at the beginning of the semester, around Halloween.  Or Samhain, as Melissa insisted.  She was one of the few women on the college campus who wasn’t wearing a costume that night.  She was dressed in robes, but it was serious – not child’s play.  Caroline could tell as much from the sombre expression on her face and the way Melissa held her back.  Melissa was a serious woman – a beautiful, and serious, woman.  She was celebrating the dead that night, and when Caroline had shown interest, Melissa had invited her along.

That was how Caroline knew Melissa trusted her.  The two of them had walked into the middle of the forest, sat around candles and talked about their dead grandmothers.  After that night, they had decided to date for real.  Not just wax poetic about life and death.

But going to school, as well as maintaining a part time job, was more than an act of faith for Caroline.  She became so busy after the first few dates with Melissa that life – and maybe fate, too – seemed to get in the way of them both.  They had broken up before the ground had been completely covered with snow, during the darkest part of the year.  It had been one of those slow break-ups, too.  One where the other person doesn’t call, until finally, the relationships dissolves.

All things must come to an end, or so Caroline told herself when she realized what had happened.  Winter seemed a fitting time to back away from relationships and hibernate for a while.

But now it was spring.  At the farmer’s market, about a month ago, they had found one another again.  After the first few moments of awkward conversation, holding strawberries and apples, they had decided to try again.  They had pretty much picked up where they had left off, and so far, Caroline thought it was going okay.

“It’s really been more than a month,” Caroline said.  “If we count all the bits in between.  But I don’t like counting.  It seems ridiculous, like we’re hoarding days when we should be sharing them.”

Caroline slid her hand across the bench, nudging Melissa.  Though it was cold, she smiled as she took her hand again.  They had come to the park that afternoon to collect stuff for Melissa’s jars, her spells, and things that would help to usher in spring.  She wanted to make a wreath for her dorm room before she had to leave for the summer, along with adding a few things to her alter before Beltane arrived.  After circling the dense pines around the park, the cold had gotten to both of them, and they decided to opt for a bench.

“Flowers seem cruel, I guess,” Melissa finally explained.  “Bouquets of them, I mean.”

“How so?”

“They die.  Right away, they are cut down when they are at their most beautiful, instead of letting them bloom and die on their own accord.  We keep them inside, away from nature, and on display.  We use flowers like objects, when they are living things.  I don’t like it.  And it doesn’t make much sense, either.  To keep them around just to die.  What’s beautiful about that?”

“All things die,” Caroline said.  “I thought that was the point of Samhain? You celebrate what’s gone, so you can start again.”

Caroline moved a little closer, a smirk on her face.

“Yeah, perhaps,” Melissa answered.  “I know death is important.  But I don’t want to wax poetic about rosebud being my final words – nor do I want to stink up my apartment with a decaying rose, either.  I just don’t like flowers when they’re given by a romantic suitor.  I mean, there are enough romantic tropes out there and most of them are problematic.  Why bother conforming to something already dictated to us?”

Melissa said the last part with a glance towards one of the high school couples.  Two of them were making out, their hands all over one another.  Public displays of affection had always bothered Melissa.  She much preferred kissing in the woods, around nature that understood, instead of in front of a society that dictated, as she said, far too much about their lives.

Hand holding was the only exception to the no PDA rule, Caroline knew – and was grateful for.  She squeezed Melissa’s hand, grinning, as she longed for more than this.

“I guess,” Melissa concluded.  “I would much rather create my own ideas of what I’d like, what I’d want given to me, than depend on old tropes.”

“I get that.  That was why you wanted to be Wiccan in the first place, right? Recreate your family’s holidays, so it doesn’t remind you of drunks and stale cigarette smoke.”

Melissa smiled.  When she did, her eyes crinkled, and the freckles on her cheeks moved.

“Yeah, a little.  There is certainly something to be said for rebirth in that regard.  But you’re forgetting that the flowers were here before we decided to use them.  I wanted to be Wiccan because I wanted to go back to my roots.”

Caroline felt a shiver go up her back as Melissa turned her attention towards her.  Melissa flipped Caroline’s hand over and began to trace over her skin, touching the fine lines like a fortune teller.

Caroline paused then, thinking of how they had first met.  With Melissa’s robes, her red hair had almost looked dark – and at first, she had reminded Caroline of Persephone.  She was the dark queen of the underworld, who did not worry about death and instead revelled in it.

But Caroline now knew that twisting Melissa to fit her ideal woman, her ideal version of myth, was what had torn them apart in the first place.  Melissa wasn’t Persephone, or even the dozens of other goddesses that they could pick from.  They both weren’t a love story like that – because all those stories ended badly, and no one got what they wanted.  Instead, they were just two college students, sitting inside the park, and waiting for other people to leave so they could pick up acorns and stones to decorate an altar.

“Aphrodite must be tired,” Melissa said with a sigh.

“Oh, how so?”

“With so many people in love, asking for her help, it must seem like a never ending call-center.  I personally,” Melissa said, standing with a smile on her face, “would rather leave her alone.  I don’t want to bother her with my romance.”

Still holding Caroline’s hand, Melissa began to pull Caroline off the bench, and towards the swings.  Caroline went eagerly.  While they repositioned themselves on the swings, and began to pump higher and higher, they were silent.  Only breathy laughter was exchanged between them for some time.  Then, because Caroline could never let anything go, she pestered more about flowers and romance.

“But,” Caroline asked.  “You still wish to have a romance?”

“Maybe.  But I would rather it be honest.  True.  And flowers are… well, they’re sad to me.”

“But they don’t have to be,” Caroline said.

Melissa rolled her eyes.  She moved her legs forward more, pumping higher and higher.  Caroline struggled to keep up.  Each time her feet moved, she felt like she was touching the sky.  Around them, the high school students moved away.  The parents and their over-bundled children did too.  After a little while, it was just them.

Melissa began to swing higher and higher, a smile on her face.  Then, twisting her swing slightly, she reached out to grab Caroline’s hand.  Caroline felt warmth moved through her as their movements slowed.

“You ready?” Melissa asked, now completely stopped.

“Almost,” Caroline said.  She grasped the chain in both of her hands and continued to pump.  She braced herself, biting her lip, until it felt like the sky would swallow her.  When she jumped, she relished flying for a couple feet until she hit the ground with an oomph.

As Caroline regained her balance, Melissa was clapping.

“Very nice, very nice.”

“Thank you.”

Caroline brushed off the dirt from her jeans as Melissa moved from foot to foot, eager to get started and collect.  Their eyes met one another and they smiled crookedly.  Melissa looked around, checking their surroundings – before Caroline dove in and kissed her cheek anyway.

“I think you’re wrong, you know,” Caroline said with a smile.  She took Melissa’s elbow in her own, as they moved towards the pines.

“About flowers?”

“Yes, and about romance.  I’m pretty sure it still exists and doesn’t have to be old and boring.  And I don’t think Aphrodite’s that tired.  This is what she lives for, after all.  And how can you tire of what you love?”

“Well,” Melissa said, crouching down under a tree.  “I’m going to have to take you on your word for that.”

Melissa held up an acorn with a smile – just as Caroline kissed her quickly again.

“I’m counting on it.”

By Beltane, it was warm.  The snow had melted and the grass was now thriving.  Melissa woke up when the sun rose and the birds outside her window began chirping.

When she walked downstairs, Melissa was shocked to find a small slip of paper under the door.  Her name was written in big block letters.

MELISSA.  Look outside!

Curious now, she clasped the door handle and peaked out onto her porch.  A small brown box rested on the front step.  Not something from Amazon or Etsy – there was no postage, no return address.  Just a box.  Melissa kicked it, just a little bit, with her toe to make sure it wasn’t alive or something equally revolting.  Another note was placed on top, this time in an envelope.

MELISSA, the front read.  This time, as she unfolded the piece of paper inside, the handwriting was recognizable.

“Happy Beltane!” Caroline wrote.  “And whatever month we’re on now.  Even if I don’t like counting the days, I know romance is not dead.  It’s not even a bad trope that we should get rid of – but one we should recreate.  You said you didn’t like flowers, but maybe I can change your mind if we plant them together and watch them grow.  What do you say?”

Still smiling, Melissa peeled back the brown paper on the box.  There were large bulbs inside, brown like the paper, but still small like misshaped onions.  Tulips, she realized.  There was also a small, potted plant in the center, its green leaves spiralling outwards.  A spider plant.  One of her grandmother’s old favourites.  Melissa smiled again and pressed the letter to her chest.

“Not exactly a bouquet,” Caroline finished the letter.  “But just as romantic and lasts ten times as long.”

Melissa looked up just as a car door slammed.  Caroline got out, wearing green shorts and a white tank top.  Her brown hair flowed over her shoulders, long and down the center of her back.

Caroline smiled from the car door and held up a tiny shovel.  “I hope you’re up for some gardening today?” she asked, still slightly timid.  “I brought some more soil, just in case we can’t break through and…”

Caroline didn’t have a chance to finish.  Melissa ran down from the porch, leaving the plants where they were.  She wrapped her arms around Caroline, kissing her lips quickly, before burying her face in her neck.

“Thank you,” she said.  “And I am.  Most definitely.”

Caroline kissed back quickly, her arms around Melissa.  “Well good.  Happy Beltane.”

“Yes! Happy Beltane, indeed.”

Eve Francis

has appeared in The Fieldstone ReviewPlunge Magazine, and Gay Flash Fiction.  She has a forthcoming sci-fi series on on JMS Books entitled Metal and Dust.  She lives in Canada and can be found at http://evefrancis.wordpress.com/

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