Let’s Write a Story Together August 3-9
A Rose for Shiva
Mordecai put the final touches on the arrangements and carried the four large vases out to the van parked in back of the shop. “This is it,” he thought to himself, “My big break.” There would be dozens of fabulously wealthy people at the party tonight and when they saw his flower arrangements, he would be “sitting in butter,” in the gauche Midwestern vernacular of his mother. Tonight’s check would pay the rent on the shop, but the connections he’d make would have him on easy street forever. Perfect timing, too, as he just maxed out the last of his credit cards (the Caletheas alone had set him back two-hundred dollars!) and he was living on fumes.
Mordecai was sweating with excitement, even though the shop was so cold he could see his breath. He kept it cold for the flowers, not to mention his inclination toward Italian cashmere sweaters, of which he had a modest collection. Image is important in the flower business and Mordecai refused to look like an American.
Mordecai’s phone rang. It was Skip.
“Come to the Scotch Bar!” Skip was drunk.
“I can’t. I’m making a delivery.” He closed the rear doors to the van.
“Travis is here,” said Skip.
After a brief pause, Mordecai said, “I’ll be there in an hour. Keep him there.”
He climbed into the van and placed the card with the address on the dashboard. It was a simple card, just the address to the penthouse apartment and the one-word name embossed in the middle: Shiva. Mordecai thought the single name was a bit pretentious, but had no problem taking the man’s money. He popped a Madonna CD into the player and the phone rang again—Skip could be persistent when he’d had a few. He picked up the phone and saw the name “Vera” on the screen.
“Hey, Mom,” he said. “I’m just about to make a—“
“Don’t go,” she said.
“I’ve had a premonition. Massive devastation. Tornadoes filled with flowers.”
“Did you eat a cream pie for dinner again?”
“Well, yes, but that’s not—“
“Mom, I have to go. Feed Penelope for me.”
“We’re out of possum chow.”
“Give her some pie. I gotta go.”
“This is it,” he said out loud as he put the van into gear.
He gunned it down Main Street and took the corner on Stone a bit too fast. He looked to check that the vases were still upright, and as he turned back to the front, he saw someone standing directly in the middle of the street. He slammed on the brakes, stopping inches from a woman dressed as a Geisha: white face, black hair up in a bun, and a flaming red kimono. Her narrowed eyes, only a few feet in front of him, burned into his soul. He wanted her almost as much as he was repulsed by her.
She came over to the window. “Where are you going?” she said.
“Claudine. I was going to call you. I swear.”
“Nice sweater. What does something like that set you back?”
“You got it all wrong. I got this great gig. I’ll make the rent payment just like I said.”
“Don’t make me regret making an arrangement with a florist.”
He looked at her heavily pancaked white face and the small, drawn-on lips and he wanted to take her right there in the street, or run away screaming. He was also thinking it would be nice to have maybe a cinnamon Pop Tart, because he missed lunch.
She turned and walked away, making tiny little steps.
He pulled the van into the loading zone in front of the apartments and gathered the arrangements on his cart. On the sidewalk were two pimpley-faced teenagers wearing matching leather outfits and holding handmade signs: “Plants are People Two” and “flowers are innosint!!!” Mordecai loaded the flowers on his cart and began wheeling past them. “Plucker,” said the young man. Mordecai had dealt with the flower protestors before; it was best to just ignore them. The young woman came up and dumped a small vase of water on Mordecai’s leg.
The wind suddenly came up and tore the signs from their hands. Mordecai barely made it into the foyer before a heavy rain began pouring down. He imagined the teenagers’ wet leather outfits shrinking on to their bodies.
It seemed strange that a nice place like this had no doorman. In the elevator, he pressed the Penthouse button and the doors closed. Nothing happened. He pressed it again and waited. He pressed the Open Door button. Nothing. He noticed three lit spaces and a small keypad next to the Penthouse button. He tried 1-2-3. Nothing. He thought of the card that Shiva had given him, now sitting on the dashboard of the van. He searched for a call button or an alarm button or a camera. He began to sweat. There seemed to be no air in the elevator car. He sat on the floor. He thought of Travis.
Being a florist, Mordecai knew his religions; everything you needed to know was in the Florist Handbook. Shiva. Three-eyed Hindu god. Seven day mourning period in Judaism. He stood up and tried 3-3-3, then 7-7-7, then 3-3-7 and 3-7-7 and, for good measure, 3-4-7. He screamed. The elevator moved.
Mordecai wheeled his cart into the penthouse foyer. A set of double doors opened and there stood an extremely tall, dark-haired man in a terrycloth bathrobe with a large, white snake wrapped around his shoulders.
“Hi,” said Mordecai. “That elevator—is there a code or—“
“This way,” said the man.
“Nice place. Where do you want the—“
“I brought some business cards.” Mordecai reached into his pocket and turned toward the man, who had reached into his robe and was holding a large, curved knife.
“That’s certainly a big knife,” Mordecai said.
“It’s a Wüsthof,” said Shiva. “Super sharp. Just FALLS through tomatoes.” He reached into the pocket of his robe, pulled out a tomato and demonstrated, the two halves falling to the floor with a sickening plop. “And florists,” he added.
“Hey, wait,” said Mordecai. “I’m just trying to make a living here.”
“You disgust me,” Shiva spat. “You lily-killing, stamen-snapping, dandelion-poacher!”
“Listen man,” Mordecai begged, “the huge snake, the knife, the implied nudity with the whole terrycloth robe thing—can you pull that closed, man? This is way too Freud for me, ok? This is Freud on poppers. This is poppers-Freud backstage at a Prince concert. This is Prince dressed as Freud on poppers, you get me? What have I done to deserve this?”
“Die, Plucker!” Shiva came at him with an overhead strike. Mordecai ducked under the tall man’s swing and ran into the penthouse.
Mordecai leapt over a crystal coffee table and landed atop a white tiger-skin couch. “You don’t understand! I’m an activist, too! I’m saving my earnings to launch an International Talk to the Animals Day. Like for your snake there. For reals. Ask my possum.”
“Your knee-jerk categorization of flowers and snakes as masculine-phallic is part of the reason why what I’m about to do is necessary. The snake is a long-standing feminine symbol, its shape in the global consciousness veers as easily into a circle as it does as something upright at attention,” shouted Shiva, who lunged across the table at Mordecai.
Mordecai dodged again and circled past the maniac. “THE WOMB IS TEMPORARY! THE PHALLUS IS AN ILLUSION! GENDER IS FOR COMMUNISTS!” He dashed back out into the foyer, and realized he was trapped.
Shiva smiled and made his way slowly toward Mordecai. “How does it feel, Plucker? To see the harvester coming?”
Mordecai felt a little pee come out. Then there was a ding and the elevator door opened. An arm clad in a flaming red kimono reached out and pulled him inside.
Mordecai swayed backward and fell to the elevator floor. Shiva lunged forward and slashed the knife wildly in front of him him, screaming, “I’ll get you Plucker!”
The elevator door closed on the blade. And Mordecai looked up at Claudine. “Wow – that was just like in Terminator 2!”
“You’ve pissed your pants,” she said.
He looked down. “That’s the problem with khaki. How did you know I was here?”
“Lucky guess.” She punched at the buttons. “How do you get this thing to work?”
Mordecai got up and screamed and the elevator descended, snapping the blade off the knife, which fell to the carpeted floor. Claudine bent down quickly and tucked the blade inside her kimono.
There was nearly a foot and a half of water on the street and it was still coming down hard. They dashed to the van through the pouring rain and Mordecai started it up. Claudine’s white makeup had nearly washed off and her hair fell down across her shoulder like a rope made of wet, black ferret. “They’re calling it Hurricane Guilermo,” she said. “It came up very suddenly.” Mordecai thought she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. He was also glad that his pants were soaked, leaving no indication of his recent bladder malfunction.
“To the Scotch Bar. Fast,” Claudine said.
They drove, or boated, through the streets until they came to the familiar blue neon sign in front of the Scotch Bar. Mordecai was exhausted, but he had a score to settle with Travis, if that was even his real name. They dashed through the downpour into the dark, smoky interior and there, sitting across from Skip, was Travis.
Mordecai coolly slid into the booth next to Skip, whose face was resting on the table, eyes closed, a string of drool hanging from the side of his mouth.
“Long time no see,” said Mordecai as he stared into Travis’ eyes.
Claudine slid in beside Travis. “Now, Mordecai, there’s something you don’t know,” she said.
“Oh, really? Is it that good old Travis here has been stealing my customers and undercutting my prices?”
“That’s over,” said Travis. “I’m out of the flower game. I got something better, and I want you in on it. In fact, you may not know it, but you’re already in on it.”
“Oh, yeah? Well guess what? I just about got killed a little while ago and you know what I learned? Life is precious. I don’t give a damn if I never make another dime. Screw the flower shop. What’s important are friends,” he put his arm around Skip, who belched, remaining face down on the table, “and true love,” he stood and bent across the table, puckering his lips and leaning toward Claudine, who looked at him quizzically until he sat back down, “wherever it may be.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone showing the screensaver picture of his mother and Penelope the possum. “And family.”
Claudine waved at the server. “Three Scotches,” she said. “Mordecai, you’re going to need a drink when I tell you this next bit.” She reached into her kimono and pulled out the blade of the knife from the elevator. She took it in both hands and wiggled it back and forth like a stick of gum.
“It’s fake!” said Mordecai.
“But I saw him cut the tomato—“
“It was already cut. The fake knife was part of the contract,” said Claudine.
“Contract? What contract?”
“Three Scotches,” said the server, and set the glasses on the table.
Mordecai pulled a quarter out of his pocket, bounced it off the table and into his glass, then picked up the glass and drained it. Skip popped his head up, looked around once, and lay back down on the table.
“This is the gig I was telling you about,” said Travis. “We had an arrangement with Mr. Shiva.”
“It’s just Shiva,” said Claudine.
“Are you sure?”
“It’s like Cher or Madonna.”
“Oh, you mean like Prince?”
“I think he’s The Artist Formerly Known as Prince now.”
“No, I’m pretty sure he’s back to just Prince.”
“So, anyway, Mordecai,” said Travis. “There are people in this town who have certain ‘needs’ that I help them with. Mr. Shiva—“
“—Shiva likes to role-play a homicidal flower protestor. It’s perfectly harmless.”
“Perfectly harmless!?” Mordecai fished the quarter out of his glass and bounced it into Claudine’s glass, then downed the Scotch in one gulp. He leveled his eyes at Travis. “I was nearly killed.”
“Never a chance,” said Travis. “You were perfectly safe. It’s all in the contract.”
Mordecai picked the quarter out of Claudine’s glass and Travis covered his glass with his hand.
“Could we get three more?” Claudine said to the server.
“And some Pop Tarts,” said Mordecai softly, his eyes still fixed on Travis.
“And some Pop Tarts?” added Claudine. The server nodded.
“So what do you say?” asked Travis. “You want in?”
Mordecai shifted his gaze to Claudine. “Are you in on this?”
“So the geisha outfit…I suppose you were involved in some bizarre sexual—”
She reached across the table and slapped him, then leaned over and gave him a long, wet kiss with lots of tongue. She sat back down and wiped her mouth on the sleeve of her kimono. “Why does everyone think that geisha are prostitutes? I just served some tea.”
Mordecai was reeling. Tonight had been too much. He was on sensory overload. “So you prey on people’s desires and capitalize on them?” he said to the two of them. “You should be ashamed of yourselves. That’s not the American way.”
“Think of it as therapy,” Claudine said.
“It’s a public service,” said Travis. “We’re helping people.”
“You’re sick,” Mordecai said.
“I understand,” said Travis. “Well, no hard feelings. Here’s your cut for tonight.” He reached into his shirt pocket and set down a check, made out to Mordecai, for ten thousand dollars.
Mordecai stared at the check. Skip gurgled. The wind and rain outside had stopped—the hurricane was either over, or they were right in the center of it. He thought of his mother and Penelope, and International Talk to the Animals Day, and Claudine’s lips, and a closet full of Italian cashmere sweaters and the smell of warm cinnamon Pop Tarts.
“Therapy, you say? Therapy’s a good thing.”