There are flowers on the ground everywhere. In Paris. In all states of “aliveness,” in all colors. Kind of like humanity itself. Claire, who despised cliches yet somehow always embodied them, did not intend to have a vaguely French name only to move to France, and was especially attentive to this strange detail of the city. Maybe because the very act of someone–a man–buying flowers was an emblem of such a bygone era that Claire felt as though she was constantly in an episode of The Twilight Zone unbeknownst to her. It wouldn’t be the most shocking thing to have ever happened in her life, quite frankly. Between a mother in and out of rehab for heroin most of her life (alcohol alone wasn’t enough to numb her from the pain of Daddy’s constant philandering until finally up and leaving her when she got pregnant with child number three) and two sisters who each required their own separate DSM handbook, Claire was equipped to handle just about anything. Except, for some reason, the visions of these discarded flower bouquets on the street.
To her it signified nothing but some sort of ill portent. Of love gone wrong. Whether romantic or familial. What else could flowers strewn about so carelessly by either someone in a rage who had just been rejected or a receiver who did not requite the sentiments mean? Of course it was love gone wrong. There was no other explanation. Paris, for as perpetually romanticized as it is–as glorified as it is–for being a city of l’amour–is, in equal measure, a city of heartache. For every match made there must come the tradeoff of a breakup. Mercifully, for Claire, she had come to town fresh from an emotional ripping that made her thus far untouchable to either phenomenon of the city. Immunity save for the multiple sightings per day of these flowers. Roses, daffodils, azaleas, carnations. No species was left unturned by the time she got around to month six of her move. That the giving of flowers knew no bounds from season to season also unnerved Claire, who somehow assumed that their omnipresence would taper off after the months between February (Valentine’s Day) and May (Mother’s Day). But no, the French commitment to romance could not be shaken at any hour, any interval. And though Claire’s job as a lecteur d’anglais at the Sorbonne was often too demanding to be consumed with anything other than the neuroses of her students, she was very much plagued by thoughts of these deserted flowers. Maybe she read too much. Had to find symbolism in everything. If she was as liberated as a dullard, this might all mean nothing to her. She could walk the streets without feeling the pain of others, whether they had been the ones jilted or the ones to do the jilting (for even the asshole who rejects must feel some level of agony for destroying another’s coeur–one can only hope that reciprocity at least comes in the mutual breaking of two hearts in two entirely different ways).
Her quotidian torture got to be so unbearable that she took to actually buying a pair of horse blinders off of eBay to put on. But it still couldn’t block her frontal vision, where remained the obliterated plastic now loosely hugging stems either overly damp or overly dry (depending on the season) attached to petals in various iterations of ruin. How could someone cast beauty away so callously, she had to ask of herself each day, to the point where she would demand some form of the question out loud to no one in particular. But of course, insanity was the norm on the streets of Paris, so no one bothered to so much as even look in her direction to inquire, “Comment?”
With her mind constantly racked with visions of butchered leaves, pulverized petals and emasculated stamens, it was a challenge for her to focus on moving on fully to the potential of a new love of her own. Especially with a perspective on the matter so colored with contempt. Thus, she was somewhat taken aback when, one day, out of nowhere, while re-reading Jude the Obscure to ascertain whether or not Thomas Hardy could really be serious in having created a character so earnest and innocent to the point where he was more incongruous than endearing, a man sitting at the table next to hers at the cafe tapped her on the shoulder to say, with what she viewed as an annoyingly shit-eating grin, “Pouvez-vous passer le poivre?” It was an abstract question, for there was no pepper on her table to be seen, just salt. She had to briefly debate his presence of mind before realizing that this was his idea of some kind of joke, some “haha” means of striking up a conversation.
She surmised that it was and decided to oblige Alexandre, despite his countenance like a raisin and build like a jockey. Short and ugly, she gathered out of nowhere, could very well be the best thing for her right now. Just what she needed to evade any further emotional detriments. No real attachment could be made with someone of physical inferiority, she maintained. She didn’t care how much the books and the movies trumpeted that love was blind. It most certainly was not, and there would always be that éléphant in the room to pretend to ignore–most particularly when it came to matters involving nudity.
They began slowly. A dinner here, a museum there. It was nothing even remotely serious. Until, one day, in a moment of crisis spurred on by a medical emergency, Claire could think of no one else to call to come and collect her. Alexandre was there in a flash, proving his valor as no other in her life ever had. It was then that she knew the course and depth of their relationship had shifted dramatically. That it had gotten to the level where Alexandre was comfortable enough to believe in the merit of their romance by bringing her flowers–her least favorite, red roses. Apparently it was some Parisian custom she had never learned about in French class. Maybe her American high school teacher in the subject, Madame Cooper (hopelessly American, yes), couldn’t have possibly known, herself never having been to Paris. How could she have warned Claire of the danger as such? Cautioned her against a delicate spirit such as herself falling prey to the attraction of such a phallic place (that means you, Eiffel Tower).
Of course, Claire could have just come right out and told Alexandre that not only did she not want this over the top gesture in her life, but also that she loathed red roses almost as much as the red blood that appeared in her underwear at the end of every month. But that would have been far too direct for someone of her passive aggressive nature. For someone that was sprung from a culture of “politeness” and “white lies.” But those white lies were starting to turn what was left of her heart black. For every week, when Alexandre brought her a fresh batch, she would cringe increasingly, to the point that it was all that she could do to conceal a full-fledged convulsion. But conceal it she did. Waiting for him to leave each round that he brought her the “gift,” as he saw it, so that she could do as she had always condemned others in doing: toss them to the equally as spurned and forsaken streets (for what could be less loved and respected than pavement subjected to the impetuosity of “open air” urination?).
Except, one night, she didn’t wait long enough to do it. And after Alexandre departed (or so she thought), she immediately ran to the vase she had pretended to joyfully place the roses in so that she could tout de suite chuck them out the window. Feeling unburdened as she sent them flying though the air, she heard a sharp yelp the second she walked away from the opening in her wall. It was the unmistakable intonation of Alexandre’s voice. Of all the people les fleurs could have hit, why oh why, she cursed the gods, did it have to be Alexandre? She couldn’t possibly face him now, explain to him her illogical reasoning for doing the very thing that had for so long disturbed her during her time in Paris. But it was her duty as his “beloved” to do just that.
Upon cautiously and fearfully approaching the scene of her crime on the sidewalk, Claire took a deep breath, hoping that out of nowhere would arrive an explanation for her action. But seeing the fresh cut on Alexandre’s pruny face from the very flowers he had tried to express his love with to her, she knew there could be no viable one. She would have to be that person in the dynamic she never suspected she could be: the one to break as opposed to the one being broken. And as she started to guide him up the stairs to begin the process of attempting to heal his wound, she decided to finish the job, launching the scattered bouquet in the trash right in front of Alexandre’s very wary eyes.