I finally drug myself into work around 10:30 since I didn’t have any deliveries until 11:15, and I was type 1. It had been a long night. And no, I wasn’t hung over, just on the threshold of another failure of nerve - trying to figure out how I could come up with a good, or even lame would do, excuse for not going by to see Cadney today and dealing with the ruling. Admit it. That’s an odd word.
When I got to the shop, the Flackette was busy in the back making her final push for THE WEDDING. This was the final four days of preparation. The biggest and most expensive event the Flacks had ever done. Flack, of course, took all the credit for landing this account. Is that the correct lingo for floral contracts? Anyway, Flack claimed that his triple-pun funeral display is what did it.
Last fall the Rotero matriarch, grandmother-of-the-bride-this-Saturday, died. Flack had ordered this hideous grave blanket or casket spray or whatchamacallit that spelled out “MUM” in white chrysanthemums on a pink background. Flack was beside himself. And not in the good, ecstatic sense of the word. But in the bad, full of himself (which is, if you think about it, the very opposite of beside himself) sense of the word. Which just goes to show that "beside himself" probably wasn't the best choice. But, neither was "MUM."
Yes, sports fans and flower lovers everywhere, Flack had found the funeral flower arrangement par excellence: MUM is for mother; MUM is for the fact that she is, indeed, speechless; and MUM is for chrysanthemum. And he could get it from the West Coast next day for a modest shipping fee given the outrageous price of the arrangement itself.
I was, mercifully, out of work sick the day they buried Granny Rotero. With a blessed bout of intestinal flu and a fever of 212, give or take. Count your blessings.
Why not just let the flowers speak for themselves? They were eloquent enough. In France and Spain chrysanthemums are only used for death displays. In China they are one of the “Four Gentlemen,” representing the four seasons long before Vivaldi got into the act. And closer to home, mum = autumn. If I’d have known at the time, perhaps I should have taken some chrysanthemum tea for my fever.
In Flack’s head, that is what gave us the “in” on this wedding. Never mind that I had delivered the engagement bouquet to the newly-diamonded Rotero daughter around this time last year. And I had conversations with the couple about their wedding plans at the time, and had passed their wedding planner’s card along to the Flackette, and had even given us the “in” on the matriarch’s going-home ceremony. But, in Flack’s head, it had to be the mum display. He was the boss and all, and I was the hired help. (But don’t forget, Rufina was the real boss.)
So there she was, with her gorgeous orange hair like the woman on the Gladiator bicycle poster by Georges Massias. Except that the Flackette wasn’t flying through a starry sky and her hair wasn’t flowing but pinned up. The hair colour was the same, though. She had her final prototypes for Saturday laid out on a gigantic circular oak table. And on an adjacent rectangular table she had the drawings of the sanctuary set-up and reception set-up (they were in the same space and required a re-set between ceremony and reception), her list of vendor contacts, and her phone numbers (in really large print) for the wedding planner, caterer, photographer, musicians, minister, bride, and bridesmaids. She wasn’t the planner, but she was a pro and was leaving nothing to chance.
She motioned toward the case for the deliveries today. “Those are the four bouquets for University this morning.” She meant the hospital. These routine flower tasks were beginning to become more of an afterthought, now that THE WEDDING was imminent. Not that she was slacking them, she just didn’t say as much about them as she usually did. It was gonna be a crazy week. Sweating out the deliveries of stock to us on Thursday and Friday morning. And especially Friday night and Saturday morning when all the builds, deliveries to site, and set-ups needed to take place. Flack, of course, would stay mainly on the sidelines with his weasel comments.
And since you’re thinking it, yes, weddings and funerals are the biggest part, the core, the engine, of the business. And while weddings affected 2 people very directly, death with 1 still had the mathematics on its side: not everybody got married. Even though these big set pieces were critical for the viability of the business – I preferred the events where the flowers actually passed from my hand to somebody else’s. Where I could be Mercury, or maybe even someone real.
I loaded the handful of arrangements for the pre-lunch hospital deliveries; I’d loop back by around lunch-time for the afternoon stuff. “See you later, Rufeeeeeena,” I called back when I was leaving with the last bouquet.
Rufina Flack looked up and silently waved. She had a finger in her mouth, sucking another thorn-prick from one of the extravagant long-stem roses. I slid the back door shut and headed for the van. I just knew that it was going to be one of those days.
I headed downtown toward the big medical complex and I checked the cashbox for a fiver I could give to Carter who allowed me to park on the entrance circle. Otherwise, it would take forever to make a delivery. I slid the crinkly bill into my shirt pocket, which was sharply pressed.
I know that it is quite fashionable, and very common, to hate your job. I really did, and most of the time, hate the job I had before Flack. I sold outdoors and camping equipment and was on the road 3 or 4 nights a week. You know, tents and backpacks and lanterns and sleeping bags and hatchets and compasses and worthless snakebite kits. It came in handy when I got kicked out of my very own house, though.
But I don’t hate my job now. If you think about it for more than 5 minutes, what could be more grand, more sublime. The intermediary for the world - the diplomat of diplomats. Extending flowers to brides, lovers, mothers-to-be, local peach blossom prom queens, little miss runners-up, dance recital dancers. Before I came on the scene most of these dancing bestowments were straight from the parents. But one day, out the blue, I just showed up at the final recital at the ritziest ballet school in town and just marched up to the stage and gave a gigantic bouquet of roses to the school’s most accomplished student (on her way to NYC) after her performance. It was like she had just won the Kentucky Derby. Who is that strange man? What does he think he’s doing? Why didn’t we hire him? So then the word got out. And those with money, good taste, a sense of drama, and overall good sense would hire me to bestow the flowers.
It’s the best job in the world. You are the intermediary between 2 people. Perhaps one is miles and miles away and they cannot deliver the flowers in person. Or perhaps they are very close by, but there are intricate reasons for going through the flower man. In addition to distance, perhaps it's shyness, or wanting to give time or space to the recipient, or paralyzing fear, you name it.
And then there is the consideration of the roles that you get to play. These little self-contained tableaux, where I can displace the husband, the lover, the wooer, the condoler, the sympathizer, the congratulant, the well-wisher, the secret admirer - for a moment, I am within a closed and safe dance. May I cut in? The go-between, the mediator, the interloper. The isthmus between two great continents. The waterway joining two deep oceans of emotion. And, perhaps, all of these thoughts are just the compensatory ramblings of a loser who lives in the boss man’s trailer - and the recipients and givers aren’t really oceans and continents but just shallow people with small and petty and parochial concerns.
When I looped back to the shop to pick up the afternoon batch, I noticed Tone loitering around up front - he looked like he was dressed for an interview or something. “You here for work, or you have a photo shoot?"
Tone just grinned, “Thought we’d run by your lawyers.”
“And you’re going to tag along?”
“I don’t have an appointment.”
“Do you really need one? Maybe you can catch her at the end of her lunch break. Sure she’ll fit you in anyway.”
Tone was right, but I didn’t really want to go. Didn’t really mind him going, just didn’t want to go myself.
So we slid out the back, stopping to check in with Rufina.
“I’ll be back in a little while to help with the table settings,” Tone offered.
“See you then. I have to call Liberace right now.” She was talking about the wedding pianist with whom she had been arguing for about 3 weeks now. After taking precise measurements of the Bösendorfer Imperial Grand (did I tell you that these folks had some major-league money), she had designed this floral display that would sit on a plexiglas panel that would sit inside the piano over the strings like a glass bottom boat.
The pianist was outraged. For a number of reasons. Potential damage to the piano. But mainly concerns about controlling the volume of this gigantic beast of a forte-piano. “I won’t be able to play softly!” And the Flackette, getting louder and louder: “Full stick! Full stick!” Referring to the fact that the piano lid would have to be open fully - but not removed - for the flower design to work. And so it was to begin again.
“Good luck,” I whispered as we headed out, leaning in toward her left ear, the phone already up to the right. She smelled like an advertisement for a romance novel.
We crawled into the van. I immediately started thinking, How do I account for Tone? I could just hear Cadney, later on the phone, Couldn’t you ride on the carousel without your nanny? Or something along those lines. So I started flipping through the possibilities.
This is my co-worker, my friend, my psychologist, my wingman, my helper who doesn’t really know how quickly I have latched onto him and would probably be taken aback if he did. This is my chaperon, my Linus blanket, my school marm. Who takes somebody they have only known for 5 days to a legal appointment? We technically didn’t have an appointment, but that’s beside the point. Yeah. It’s a verbal tic.
It didn’t get any clearer the whole ride over. No telling what Tone was thinking.
When we walked into the lobby, I said, “Let’s take the stairs.” Maybe I’d have a heart attack and get rushed to the hospital and a sympathetic judge (who had recently had triple bypass, so a misery mate) would temporarily overturn the protective order since I wasn’t really a threat – potential, kinetic, imminent, metaphysical, mortal, etc. – to anybody, anymore. And, Molly would get to come see me, and bring me flowers, and sit beside my bed while I faded in and out of pain killer dreamland. And, I would intermittently recognize her and other times ask her, “Who are you?”
I was replaying last night’s crazinations – on tape delay.
We climbed the stairs to the third floor, Tone was intentionally throttling himself back – that is, taking only one step at a time - so he could actually accompany me. What a sweetheart. We finally reached the door that would empty us out onto the suite of offices where Cadney would be, maybe. And I wasn’t laid out on the landing gasping for air. Here we go.
So what was the news? What was the ruling from the equity judge? Not sure if the Honorable Skinny Fingers was back from his leave of absence he had apparently taken in the winter. He had ruled on all the yearly requests to lay aside the restraining order. And every year, the same blunt denial, none of the pertinent conditions have changed, the same finger pointing at me from the cavernous sleeve of his black robe. I could feel the adrenalin splashing around in my legs and I was wearing my stomach like a Wonder Bra.
We approached the receptionist and lied about having an appointment. We were shown in in about 15 minutes.
“This is a fellow jackdaw, Tone.”
Tone held out a paw, “I’m Antony, actually.”
Cadney held out her paw-ette and purred, “Always happy to meet a fellow jackdaw.” She raised her perfectly penciled eyebrows toward me.
“So clearly you got my message. You didn’t have your machine turned on at the trailer.”
I probably blushed at the mention of trailer. What kind of grown man lives in a trailer smaller than a grand piano? I just stayed quiet.
“Both law firms have gotten the ruling and we’ve discussed the logistics of how this can work.”
“Yes. The ruling was a little unorthodox.”
“Remember the judge is God in this matter.”
"I haven’t forgotten, believe me.”
"The restraining order is still largely in effect with one little crack. You and Molly can exchange written correspondence."
"I still can't call her?"
"No. It's all mail driven. Which will be monitored, for now. At least randomly."
"O, so I really am in jail. Or a P.O.W."
I could tell Cadney was thinking Don’t be so dramatic, but she knew that I was majorly stressed out so she wasn’t gonna say it. I remembered back to the first plea hearing where I kept saying “Aggravated assault! Yes, it was aggravated! It was MY bed!” And the very pretty lawyer leaning into my face with her nostrils flaring. She was almost as pretty as Sugar Ray Leonard in the late rounds taunting Duran. “We’re trying to keep your delicate manly specimen out. of . jail. How. about. helping.” Her perfume was exquisite. And her breath smelled like a Peppermint Patty. And her teeth were right out of the Song of Songs. And yes, she did staccato out her words like that. It was like getting a telegraph from Lena Horne.
“Come on, don’t be so dramatic.” And while I was processing these two different channels, Tone piped in. You know, like the Pied Piper. Always thought that meant he was a baker of pies.
Tone, from his perch near the bookshelves, "Isn't this unusual?"
"A little. But from the judge’s point of view, this is his way of showing some mercy to the father. And given the tiny change from the status quo, the review panel is very unlikely to question it.”
“So everything goes through somebody else? She’s reached majority status already, she just turned 18.”
Tone mumbles something about Delaware and Nebraska, pretending to read one of the leather-bound tomes.
“What’s the deal about Delaware and Nebraska?” I asked. Tone had obviously done some research.
“The age of majority is 19 in Delaware and Nebraska,” Cadney explains to the father.
“So that may be where she is living.” Tone was no wallflower, you gotta admit. I was shivering in my shoes.
“As you know, I can’t directly say. But it is a logical conclusion given the overall presumptions in the ruling.”
“She’s at the age, she’s gonna act as a majority anyway – practically speaking.”
“That may be so, but if your ex-wife,” (Cadney played along with my non-use of her actual name), “reports a breach on your part, you’re still sunk – deeper. Regardless of what Molly desires since she is technically a minor. That is, if she is living where Antony is suggesting.”
“Remember the ex-wife is God in these matters.” I really didn’t say it. But I thought about it later. Even if I had been allowed to speak to her, to see her, she could just refuse to see me like any other intelligent adult. I was now in the realm of having to win back my adult-daughter-in-48-states via the U.S. Mail. No talking. No listening. All in very slow motion. All the machinery of that’s-just-how-things-are-mom-and-dad-and-daughter-we-have-a-relationship-since-we-share-blood-at-least-two-different-pairings-of-us-do was now officially and legally sabotaged, broken down, rusted.
“So I can write to Molly and bring the letter to you?”
"You got it. Letters go through each respective legal office. There are four hand-offs. You to us. Us to their attorneys. Their attorneys to the former wife. And from your wife to Molly. And then the other direction from their end." Everybody noticed that she said “your wife,” but we let it go.
"That looks like a system fraught with breakdown."
So this was it. Molly could write me. I could write her. Both directions the communiqués would go through a variety of unknown hands. I was under correspondence probation. My wife could potentially object at any time. My handwriting could be amiss. Does this mean that the ex, a.k.a. Cupcake, could now, legally, send me a letter bomb? Remember these orders work in both directions. A question for the legal profession, I guess. Lack of sleep will really clear the head, you know.
“Do you want your copy of the ruling?” She knew I would say no, but she felt she had to offer. Since the first one, which I read hundreds and hundreds of times and still couldn’t figure out the good guys and the bad guys, they just kept all the legal docs. I treated them the same way I treated unopened mail. Perhaps you know the old Appalachian expression, “If an unopened bill falls in a forest, and no one is there to open it, do you have to pay it?”
We took our leave and we slipped into the elevator. I punched “G” with a knuckle and we were lowered softly to the lobby. We both stared at the stainless steel doors like we were total strangers. But I knew what I was thinking. Tone was probably concerned that he had overstepped. But I was glad that he didn’t just tag along as a spectator. Antony was the real deal. From a fourth category: wingman.