“You really have turned things around, Andy.

…The whole town is so happy for you. Your flowers and arrangements are simply beautiful. They are almost other-worldly.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Thompson. Say hello to Mr. Thompson for me and don’t forget: One ice cube every Tuesday for those Orchids. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call or come by.”

I watch as she carefully lifts the teal colored pot of soft white orchids and shuffles out to her late model Toyota Camry. I slide my left hand through my thick mop hair and exhale. Every other day I hear a comment like hers and can’t decide if my life has been cursed or blessed. But as I look around my shop, the aroma of fresh cut flowers and greenery hanging in the air, I can definitely say it has been lived.

I step out back and pull one of my hand-rolled cigarettes from their leather pouch. Leaning against the brick wall of the building, I run the length of the long, slim cylinder under my nose and take a deep belly breath, before lighting it. Its contents are a unique blend of cloves, Mugwort, thyme, and willow bark, wrapped in organically grown flax paper. Nothing about it is addictive. I can’t be trusted with anything habit forming. Not even coffee. You see, I’m a recovering addict. You name it, I’ve smoked it, shot it, snorted it, or drank it. Sometimes all of the above on the same day. I’m okay admitting it because if I hadn’t been an addict, I wouldn’t have the life I have today. It all started about 38 months, 5 days, and 6 hours ago.

Following in my family’s footsteps with addiction, I worked any minimum wage job I could find to get me to my next fix. I told myself I got high to stave off the crazy that consumed Grandma and Pop. However, there came the point where the need of getting high exceeded my demand for work. Jobless and homeless, the only place in town that offered any protection against the weather and thugs was the old factory down by the river.

It had once been a thriving manufacturing plant in the early days of the industrial revolution, but after WWII, it became an empty shell. In the 80’s a developer tried to make it into a bunch of small shops, like a dry cleaner, a convenience store, and a few others, but every business that went in there failed. The townsfolk said it was either cursed or haunted. I figured we were a perfect match.

A stockpile of canned food, including sardines, was left behind from the store. Once I ate it, I used the cans for anything from a bathroom, to a makeshift lamp, collecting the sardine oil they came packed in, as lamp fuel. One night, while curled up on the dank floor, riding the waves of a heroin high, I had the strangest encounter. To this day, I think it was probably a hallucination, but I can’t be sure. Through the flicker of the oil flame, a woman dressed all in white and floating several inches off the ground appeared in front of me.

“I love flowers, don’t you? I miss their fragrance. Their vibrant colors. By creating a freshly cut bouquet.”

Scared that I had finally lost my mind, I ran out into the rain and slept under the highway overpass, not returning for several days. But it turned cold, and the local high school bullies had found I was an excellent candidate for working out their insecurities and inadequacies. Knowing I wasn’t capable of fighting back, they stole what little belongings I had, spit on me, and even physically abused me.

They left me no choice. Reluctantly, I went back to the abandoned building, making sure I smoked, shot, snorted, and drank whatever I could afford every night before I slept. No matter how inebriated I got, the woman returned. She was there, night after night, talking about flowers. One such evening, out of money, hope, or desire to live, I embraced the crazy.

“What do you want?!” I screamed.



Her voice boomed accusingly, “They live, while you lay here dying a little more each night.”

“Then take me. I’m done with this life. I’ve nothing left to live for!”

With a toothy grin that showed a set of rotten and missing teeth, she started to float towards me. Slow at first, then fast. She barreled into me with a force that knocked my breath away. My chest contracted, then expanded in a way that I thought my heart might explode. A bright light filled the room and burned my eyes.

The next thing I remember, I was on my back in what had once been the parking lot of the building, until the weeds took it over. Except among them were beautiful, exotic flowers. My actions not being my own, I began plucking them. Inside the old building, in a type of mania, I gathered bits of lace and ribbon from a small craft shop forced to close when they couldn’t pay their rent. I used my old tin cans as vases to fashion beautiful bouquets. Before the sun was high in the sky, I had made 12 different arrangements. I took a couple into town and asked passersby if they’d like to buy my creations.

At first, they scorned me. Laughed. “Poor, pitiful Andy. The town addict. Where did you steal those from?”

I was ready to throw them in the trash, when a kind woman, a former high school classmate, took sympathy on me. “I’ll buy one, Andy.” She pressed some bills in my free hand, and selected a bouquet, inhaling their sweet scent. I watched as a broad smile spread up to her eyes and her pupils dilated. “Take the money and use it for good. Go to the Dollar General. Get some real vases and perhaps some soap.” Her voice reminded me of the woman in white. But my mind was too busy exploding with excitement that someone liked my creations, to worry about such coincidences.

Taking her advice, I went straight to the store and bought every glass vase they had.

Each morning, for the next twelve weeks, just before the sun fully peaked over the horizon, I would go to that special spot in the parking lot, pick the flowers hidden among the weeds, and make bouquets, bringing them into town to sell. Soon, people started coming out to the warehouse instead of me standing on street corners, word spreading of my flowers unique aromas and unusual arrangements.

Within months, they were sold out before noon each day, and I was earning enough money to afford rent for a real home. Instead, I went to the Town Clerk’s Office, enquiring about the title to the building. It had been up for auction for more than 20 years. All the town wanted was money for back taxes and someone to ‘do something with that eyesore.’ I made a deal with the mayor, and two years later, I owned the building.

With the help of some local craftspeople, the building is now a bustling business center. My flower shop sits on the bottom floor, a corner section right near the still weed-filled parking lot. A new lot lies on the other side of the building, away from where my flowers grow. Now, of course, I can afford to order flowers from all over the world, but my shop still offers the local variety, in old tin cans and other repurposed materials recovered from the building. I’m unsure if what I experienced that night was real or not. I’ve decided it doesn’t matter. I have a new life now. I’m alive and thriving, and I can’t get enough of the lovely fragrance of a fresh bouquet of flowers.