This is a work of fiction, a short story of 1420 words.
Patty had always loved nice flowers. She couldn’t really afford them, but she always tried to have some around the house, even a tiny bunch. She would arrange them just so, and change the water daily. Keep them away from the heaters, and try to get them to live as long as possible. When she was a little girl, her Dad used to buy her Mum flowers on special occasions, and Patty loved to see Mum’s face light up with delight, as she unwrapped them from the cellophane. But that was a long time ago, and Mum and Dad were gone now, leaving Patty to struggle to maintain the house, holding down two jobs to make ends meet.
After arriving home from her work, she got ready for the evening shift at the supermarket. They provided a uniform of sorts, so she left on the red and black striped jumper that she had worn all day. Nobody would know, and they wouldn’t see much of it under the overall anyway. It was one of the few warm things she had to wear under her coat, and she knew only too well that the other women at the office noticed that she wore it a lot. Working from seven until eleven every night on top of the clerical job was so tiring, but it had to be done, and it wasn’t as if she had anything else to do. But it never seemed to get her in front. There was still so little money at the end of the month, she often cried herself to sleep, imagining having to sell the old house.
The next morning, she slept late and had no time for a shower, or any breakfast. She pulled on some clothes from the washing bin. They would have to do another day. Rushing out of the front door, she almost fell over the huge bunch of flowers propped against it. Despite being so late, she had to stop and look at them. It was such a lovely bouquet, she couldn’t bear to leave it there. She was sure it had to be a mistake. Nobody would be leaving flowers worth a day’s pay for her, that was for sure. She found her biggest vase in the hall cupboard, and ran the water until it was cold enough to prop the bunch into. She would sort it out later. Maybe a neighbour would come looking for them, when she got home.
Mr Cunningham had been really unkind. She was hardly ever late, and yet there he was, standing by her desk, ready to lecture her in front of the others. “Not good enough, Patricia”. To hell with him. She stayed late to make up the twenty minutes, so by the time she got home, she didn’t have long before she had to leave again, to be at the supermarket by seven. But she could not ignore those lovely flowers. There was no card with the bouquet, and no note from a neighbour claiming them either. She arranged them beautifully, folding the striped cellophane wrapper carefully, and placing it in a drawer. Just in case somebody called round to ask for them.
The next morning, she left home early, determined not to give Cunningham the satisfaction of telling her off again. Propped against the door was another lovely bunch of flowers, wrapped just like the last ones. She ran a hand through her barely-combed hair. Could it be that she had a secret admirer? Even the thought of that made her laugh out loud. Who would admire her? Most of her hair was grey now, and it had been a long time since she could afford to buy make-up, or dress nice. It must be a wrong address thing. Someone was sending flowers to a sweetheart, and she was getting them instead. With no time to find another vase, Patty dropped the bouquet into the kitchen sink, and ran some water over the stems before leaving for work.
By the end of the month, Patty had twelve arrangements still going. The scent of all the flowers filled her house with a wonderful aroma, and the sight of them made going into every room a real pleasure. She had had to buy eight new vases, just to cope with all of the bouquets, and that had made a real dent in her salary. But the flowers were worth it, at least to Patty. When the gas bill arrived that week, she knew she would not be able to pay it. She turned the heating off, and sat in her coat, admiring the wonderful blooms. When money got even tighter, she resorted to taking the date-expired sandwiches she removed from the displays in the supermarket. After a while, she even began to enjoy eating them.
Winter took a grip on the city, but Patty didn’t mind. The flowers kept coming, and lasted longer in the cold, especially with no heaters on. She had stopped caring about where they came from, or who should have been getting them. She had just decided to enjoy them, as it was high time something nice happened in her life.
Patrolman Kenney banged his gloves together to try to get some warmth into his hands. He had caught the call, and now it looked like he would be here for a long time. The grey car reversed into the only space left, and Kenney was pleased to see two detectives emerge from it, wrapped in heavy overcoats and scarves. Riley walked up to him. He was holding a coffee cup with both hands, more to warm them, than for drinking. “What you got, Kenney?” His tone was flat, it had been a long day. The patrolman hoped he might be able to hand off the job, he just had to make it sound more than it was. As the second detective walked past him into the house, Kenney tried to sound excited, but it wasn’t easy.
“Some old bird, dead in a chair. Looks to have had maybe a heart attack, or she might have frozen to death, for all I know. There’s no heat in that big old house, not a thing”. Riley looked decidedly unimpressed. “So why us, why did you call it in?” Kenney smiled. “You’ll see”.
Inside, Riley saw Esposito peering at the woman’s face. He was a family man, like all Italians, and he had a thing about old ladies. Worried about them, stuff like that. Riley cast his eyes around the large living room. His partner smiled at the Irishman’s open mouth. On every available space, there was a vase of flowers, all the blooms mostly long dead. On units, side-tables, window ledges, even all over the floor. The old lady hardly had room for the chair she was sitting in. Esposito put on some latex gloves, and scooped up a big pile of papers from under the chair. Riley raised an eyebrow, and his partner said, “All bills, all overdue”. This ones not for us, Max”, said Riley, shaking his head. “Just a dead old lady with a thing about flowers, and no money”.
Esposito thought for a moment. “But who sent the flowers? Maybe there’s something behind all this after all”. He pointed to a half-open drawer nearby. It was bulging with carefully-folded sheets of patterned cellophane “I recognise this wrapping, same shop where I get Lila’s flowers. You know, the one near the big supermarket. I’ll go check it out while you finish up here”.
The florist was just closing up when the dark-haired man in the padded coat tapped on the glass door. She called out, “Sorry, we’re closed”. The man pressed a gold badge against the glass. “Detective Esposito, Homicide. I have some questions”. The woman opened the door, wondering what he could want. He showed her the bundle of cellophane wrappers with the pink and blue stripes. “Can you tell me about someone who buys lots of flowers here. And I mean lots. I’m talking maybe a hundred, or even more than that. They must run to fifty, maybe seventy-five dollars a bunch. I’m guessing they are bought for a woman around sixty years old. Maybe her son, or an ex-husband?” The florist didn’t really need much time to think.
“Oh no, nobody like that. But I do have one regular customer who buys such expensive bouquets. She’s a nice lady, doesn’t say much. And she usually wears a red and black striped jumper”.