Author’s Note: I’ve been leery about posting fiction on the blog because of the (albeit remote) possibility that someone might claim my copyrighted work as his own. I’ve given serious thought to altering this story so it will appeal to an audience composed of people who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the two protagonists are an LDS missionary and his friend, who is waiting to find out where he will be sent on his mission—his mission “call,” in LDS parlance). (And no, contrary to what happens in The Book of Mormon, the musical, missionaries have already received their calls before reporting to one of the Church’s Missionary Training Centers.)
“Mormon angle” notwithstanding, I believe the story treats themes to which a broad audience can relate: homesickness, fondness, love, friendship, and depending on others to do for our loved ones things which we, ourselves, cannot do for them because we’re absent from their lives for a time—at least, absent physically. It won second place in the fiction category of the 1991 creative writing contest sponsored by The New Era, the monthly magazine for youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Don’t believe me? See here, last accessed today [scroll down to “Fiction”]: http://www.lds.org/new-era/print/1991/08/contest-winners-the-cream-of-the-crop?lang=eng&clang=eng).
Fiction . . .
A Short Story
By Ken K. Gourdin
© 1990. All rights reserved. Except in the case of brief quotations used in reviews, in whole or in part, this work may not be copied, redistributed, stored in any data storage or retrieval device, or otherwise used in any form without prior written permission of the copyright holder.
I stood before the door and prepared myself for what lay beyond it. Securing the top buttons on my coat and gathering my scarf more firmly around me, I turned to say goodbye to Mom. She was seated on the living room sofa, studying intently in the light of the lamp beside her.
“I’ve got to run an errand,” I announced. “It won’t take long.”
“What kind of errand could possibly take you out on a day like this, Gary?” she asked as she rose to see me out.
“A pretty important one,” I said as I met her concerned gaze.
“I’d say,” she agreed. “How long will you be?”
“Not more than an hour,” I answered.
“Be careful, okay?”
Nodding my acknowledgment of her final caution, I opened the door and made my way out into the dark-gray, cold wetness of April’s late Saturday afternoon.
I took a quick shortcut across the lawn and sought shelter from the downpour in the blue sedan parked in the driveway. I was safe–for now, at least. I sighed, remembering the postal carrier’s refrain: Neither rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night . . .
It had been raining steadily since mid-morning, and there was no sign that it would soon let up–which was just fine with me. The streets–which would have been bustling with traffic on any other day–were nearly deserted, which would make the trip that much easier, despite the weather.
With these thoughts, I started the car and made my way into those dark, deserted streets, my route illuminated only by the occasional street lamp or set of headlights. I was in search of a special gift to fulfil a special request.
Half an hour and three floral shops later, I finally found what I was looking for. For the first time, I had not been turned away by a small sign with the familiar apology, Sorry, We’re Closed. Bells announced my coming as I triumphantly pulled open the door. The rain had taken its toll: I was soaked, and thick wet strands of hair hung down into my eyes. I brushed them away with a flick of my hand.
“Well, young fella, what can I do for you?” asked the bald, bespectacled, rounding man wearing a green apron behind the counter. He was obviously pleased to have me as a customer, and I was just as pleased to do business with him–especially on a day like this.
“I’d like a rose,” I said.
“A rose, eh? For your wife?” he asked.
“Not married,” I answered.
“Oh. Looked too young, but ya never know these days. Girlfriend?”
I did tolerate his interrogation. After all, it did keep me from having to face the weather again so soon. “Nope,” I said patiently.
He looked puzzled.
“Why, I’d think a strikin’ young fella like you’d have one,” he said.
“I do,” I answered, “but it’s not for her.”
“Is that right?” he asked. He sounded almost disappointed at the prospect that his questions might fail to elicit the answer he hoped for, and I couldn’t leave it at that–even if it really wasn’t any of his business.
“It’s for a friend,” I finally volunteered.
He raised an eyebrow at this revelation, then asked, “What’s the occasion?”
“Just because,” I said, apologizing inwardly that this answer, too, would leave him unfulfilled.
He paused, as if carefully searching for his next words.
“Well,” he finally said in a good-natured tone, “if you want a rose for ‘just a friend’ and ‘just because,’ I’ll sell you one. That’s free enterprise. But first, let me give you some advice. In my day, the really special women got ‘em on special occasions. Why, that’s part of what made ‘em special! Nowadays, seems like men think their women are good enough to have ‘em almost every day. Why, I see some guys in here once a week! Fact is, a rose isn’t just for any woman on any day.”
“Oh, she’s not just any woman, believe me. Hey, would I be out on a day like this if she were?” I asked as I lay my selection down on the counter.
“Ya gotta point there,” he said as he placed it in a box and returned it to the counter. “That’ll be three dollars,” he announced.
“Does that price include the advice?” I asked as I watched him ring up the sale and exchanged my money for a receipt.
“No charge for that,” he said with a smile. “Have a nice day.”
“I will,” I answered. “And you do the same.”
With that, bells announced my exit as they had my entrance, and I made my way out once again into the rain, enroute to deliver my precious cargo.
Ten minutes later, I pulled up in front of my destination and shut off the ignition. Reaching into my coat pocket, I pulled out the letter I had received the day before, unfolded it, and began to read:
Tonight for some reason, I was in a really sour mood. As I tried to think of something which would improve my outlook, I thought about some of the simple things in life, the things that really don’t cost anything but give us so much pleasure, you know? And one of the things I thought of was to smell a rose. As I thought of how happy this would make me, my thoughts turned to my mom, and how happy it would make her. There are few people in the world, if any, who can appreciate the fragrance and beauty of a rose like my mom can.
And I thought that since it would make her happy to have one, it would make me happy to give her one. So I called a national florist. Their minimum order was $31.50. That’s a little out of my price range. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that even though I’m over 2,000 miles away from my mom, I want her to have a single, beautiful, fragrant rose from me. She would love that.
And so, I turn to you. Would you take the time to select such a rose and deliver it for me? It would mean so much to her–and to me.
Even though I can’t deliver the flower, I can pick who does deliver it. He’s not employed by any national chain, and he doesn’t deliver dozens of $31.50 floral arrangements to dozens of women–just one special flower to one special woman.
The enclosed letter tells her many of the same things I just told you. Would you please see that she gets it? I would appreciate that very much.
I leaned my head back, closed my eyes, and thought of Travis. We’d started school together. I could still remember the first day as if it were yesterday. We’d graduated together. We had started Scouting together, and we earned our Eagle awards at the same time. We had started and finished four years of seminary together. Only a call from the Lord separated us after all that time. He was already serving the Lord in the mission field, and I was awaiting my call.
We had spent so much time together that my family had “adopted” him, and his had “adopted” me. My home was his home, and his was mine. I thought of how much we’d each come to love the other and his family–almost as much as our own, almost as if they were our own.
I ducked out into the rain and made my way up the walk with the rose tucked under my arm. I rang the bell, and Travis’ mom came to the door.
“Why, Gary! What brings you out on a day like this?” she asked as she ushered me in, took my scarf and coat, and offered me a seat beside her on the sofa.
“Travis asked me to give you these,” I replied as I handed her the box and the letter.
Gingerly she opened the box, peeled back the paper, and grasped the rose with thumb and forefinger.
“Oh, how beautiful!” she exclaimed as she lifted it to her nose and drew in a deep breath. “Mmmm.”
Then she turned her attention to the letter. I watched as tears formed slowly in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks as she read. After finishing, she looked silently at me for several seconds. Finally, with a catch in her voice, she whispered, “Thank you, Gary. You’ve made my week.”
Surprised at having to choke back the lump in my own throat and blink back the tears in my own eyes, I said, “You’re welcome. And you’ve made mine.”
The next Saturday, I found myself back at the flower shop. The owner greeted me.
“Let me guess,” he said. “Back for another rose, right?”
“Well . . .” I hesitated. Not wanting him to feel like his sermon of the previous Saturday had gone unheeded, I then told him this story.
That night, my mom found a note on her pillow which said a lot of the same things Travis had told his mom. That letter, too, retold this story. She also found the single beautiful, fragrant rose I had bought that afternoon.
# # #
Afterword: While this story is fiction, it was inspired by actual events. I was the missionary (Travis) in this story. In a down moment, I really did ponder the things that might make me happy, and smelling a rose was one of the things I thought of. Then, my thoughts really did turn to my mother and how I might make her happy, even from about a thousand miles away. I really did call a national florist, and I really was quoted the $31.50 minimum order. (I forgot to ask, though, if they had a “Ministerial Discount”! ;-D Heh!) While the relationships between the two protagonists and their families and the conversation between Gary and the florist are fiction, Gary is based on a real person. The person I recruited to be my flower delivery person was the bishop (pastor) of my ward (congregation) at the time I had been sent on a mission, Bishop Watkins