Starting with a lame question did not impress me. When we first met, Gawain seemed different, and I was looking for different. I didn’t want weird different, where the guy lived in the basement of his mother’s house ripping Star Trek episodes from the Internet. I wanted open-minded different.
I had plans for my life, and they didn’t include children or working for a family business in small town America. I admire women who make those choices, but it’s not for me. Maybe I was arrogant and self-centered, but I had to burn off some energy. I had to try. If I never tried, I’d torture my kids with unfulfilled dreams. I wanted to be a poet.
“Come on, Erika,” Gawain said. I’d been staring at him with a puzzled look on my face for some time. “I’m serious. I want to know your favorite flower.”
“I’m not a ‘favorite flower’ kind of girl,” I said.
“You’re a poet.” He looked at me as if it were the stupidest thing for a poet not to have a favorite flower. His answer dug him out of the pit where all chauvinist pigs are sent to roast alive, but he fell right into the next one where lame poets discuss sunshine and butterflies.
“I write good poetry,” I said. If he didn’t understand my statement, I had no hope for this guy.
Gawain laughed. “If you’re going to tell me good poetry is about darkness and death, then I think you are mistaken. Consider it a challenge. If you’re a good poet, you should be able to write about a flower without being cliche.”
At least the guy had guts.
“All right,” I said. “I’ll tell you about my favorite flower. I grew up in Iowa, and when I was a little girl, my dad used to take me to the Pella Tulip Festival. I think he wanted to overcome the influence of my mom’s disdain for small towns, but he failed. I’m a big city girl through and through, and New York is a religion for me. Still, those trips were the best times I ever spent with my dad.”
“Good.” He gave a sharp nod, and seemed very pleased with this tidbit of information.
I felt a little guilty for misleading him. Actually, I liked red roses, but feared the consequences of admitting it. Even more so, I dreaded the idea of our next date. I expected a bouquet of tulips, a box of candy, and a trip to a movie. For some unknown reason I decided to give the guy one more chance to impress me.
Instead, all I got was a phone call inviting me to his apartment Sunday afternoon. He didn’t pick me up, and didn’t even bother to offer dinner. Our second date looked as if it would leave romance starving in a barren desert.
“Come in!” I heard him yell from inside his apartment. For some reason he couldn’t be troubled to open the door.
Piles of newspaper crowded an open bag of potato chips on his kitchen table. He sat there reading. Next to him lay a pile of books, atop which squatted a cut glass bowl with a single rose. Had it been a red rose, I would have suspected betrayal by my roommate, but it was a pale peach color.
He saw me looking at the flower, and smiled. “Do you like it?”
Was the guy an idiot? I told him tulips.
“Have you ever heard of Li Bai?” he asked, motioning for me to take a seat.
“Of course,” I said, eyeing the rickety chair he offered before sitting down. “One of the greatest Chinese poets ever.”
Why do I live among the mountains?
I laugh and answer not, my soul is serene;
It dwells in another heaven and earth belonging to no man,
The peach trees are in flower, and the water flows on.
“See. Flowers.” He looked like a greedy spider with a fly caught in its web. “I couldn’t find peach blossoms this time of year, so the rose is as close as I could get.”
“I said tulips.”
“Oh,” he waved me off, “we’re not ready for something like that. But maybe this.”
He pushed a brochure across the table. I didn’t pick it up, but I could see it advertised a reading by Bei Dao, the poet exiled from China after Tiananmen Square.
“I don’t understand much of it.” He tapped the pile of books. “Could you help me out?”
I began reading the titles on the spines as a pleasing warmth spread over my whole body. I had to lift the flower bowl from the top of the stack to take a book, and the scent tingled in my nose.
“You can keep the flower,” he said.
Maybe this guy had some potential after all.
Surprise! Resha Caner is a pseudonym. Since he has not yet summoned the courage to starve for the sake of beauty, by day Caner takes off his costume to work as a mild-mannered engineer. Yet, under cover of darkness, he writes. To date these efforts have yielded him selection as a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest, and editor’s choice at “Bewildering Stories”. His work has also appeared in “Fear and Trembling”, “The Muse Marquee”, “Haruah”, “MindFlights”, “Constellation”, “Every Day Fiction”, “SNReview”, and “Residential Aliens”, with more to come at “Rose & Thorn”, “AlienSkin”, and “Anotherealm”.