Orchids

Wendy dropped her boy off at the airport on a Friday morning. He had an early flight out to Fort Benning and basic training. She went home and did not cry. She attended his orchids instead.

Ten weeks later, her boy came home a man, handsome in his uniform, quieter, more serious in his manner. There were hugs and a cup of coffee, then he was off to his orchids in the greenhouse he had built three years earlier. At the end of his two-week leave, Roy gave her some new instructions for the orchids. He gave her a hug and that big grin of his. Then he was off for Fort Hood and his unit.

There he phoned or emailed about once a week. The emails usually contained several snaps, Roy and friends, Roy with a new girl he had met in the town, Roy driving a jeep. Always he had that grin of his. He went on about this new buddy or that one, and always he asked how are the orchids doing. “They’re fine,” she would say, holding back her tears. The news was that his unit would be going to Iraq. He wasn’t sure when. After each call or email, she went out and tended his orchids.

Two weeks went by with only a couple of emails, then he skyped her. He was in Fallujah, he said. “Fallujah?” Fear was in her voice. “That’s in Iraq,” he said. “And I’m fine. I’m with my buds. We watch out for each other. How’s my orchids?” “They’re good,” she returned, holding her fears inside. Each time he would call the flowers by their names. She could never remember the names. All she knew was that the orchids were fine.

Her son’s body arrived at the funeral home on Tuesday. From Tuesday till Saturday, she could not stop her crying. She would stop for fifteen minutes, then tears were back like water breaking through a levee. The funeral was Saturday. The rifles for the salute to her son gave her a headache. Then the words the soldier spoke to her she couldn’t remember, and the flag laid in her arms, instead of the son she had once held.

Wendy walked back to the car between her married daughter and her ex-husband. Ed had flown in from Los Angeles. He seemed to be holding himself together, but she knew how hard he was taking his son’s death. When they got home, there was food and people. She wasn’t ready for all that. “Mom, why don’t you go upstairs and get some rest?” her daughter suggested.

“I’m going out to the greenhouse,” Wendy said. Alice shook her head, understanding.

She opened the greenhouse, turned the fogger on, then slipped on her gloves. In her mind, she went through the names he had given her for the orchids. Somehow she had remembered what she had forgotten before. Then through the mist, she heard Roy’s voice. “I’m okay, Mom,” it said. “I love you. And thank you for taking care of my orchids.” Then it was gone. She picked up one of the orchids, cut the flower off at the stem, and tenderly set it in the basket. When she finished the cuttings, she would have enough orchids for her daughter, her ex and Roy’s closest friends.

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