As Lovely as a Flower

“These are the ugliest flowers I’ve ever received,” the woman snarled as she threw the dyed daisies on the floor beneath Gloria’s feet. Driving off into ongoing traffic, she turned the ledge and gave Gloria the middle finger before swerving in front of a car as it began to accelerate.

Gloria has been at the flower stand for eight hours and has received not nearly enough sales to pay for dinner. She perched herself on a wooden bench, surrounded by dirty buckets filled with a large array of decaying flowers. Her advisor, Marco, demanded that all the flowers must be sold before he gives Gloria a new shipment. Even the flowers that have decayed within their bucket, leaving nothing more than a pile of debris covering the bottom, must be sold.

The frost of the cold, winter climate has withered the flowers faster than normal, leaving most of them rotting after only a couple of days.

She works from noon to midnight every weekday. This Friday night was severely cold, her arms covered with goosebumps under a few layers, complimented with jeans and knee-high boots. The wind swerved gusts against the buckets making them rattle, the flowers pushed against the rims in an unnatural posture.

Like most nights, the only light near the stand was the overhead light a few meters away connecting the stand to a nearby gas station, leaving the stand partially recognizable as a blurred silhouette.

It was quite a surprise to Gloria when a bright red Mercedes swerved into the nearby parking slot of the stand an hour before closing shop. Well shaven, in button-down white shirt and khaki trousers exited a young man obviously disgruntled, slamming the car door, and moaning an exhausted breath so loud Gloria could hear from inside the stand. He walked over to the stand one foot at a time, scanned the buckets within a matter of seconds and asked,

“What are the shittiest flowers you have?”

“I’m sorry?”

“What are the ugliest flowers you have? My girlfriend wants some flowers but I’m planning on breaking up with her, so.”

He made a weary laugh but quickly returned to a serious expression. Gloria could tell it was difficult for him to pretend he cared about his soon to be ex-girlfriend.

In awe, Gloria shook the debris left in the empty bucket, and tossed the remains of torn petals and crumbled leaves into a bouquet bag.

“Five dollars,” she said.

Unphased by the cost, the man opened his wallet and tossed a five-dollar bill into Gloria’s hand.

He grimaced at the bouquet and smiled to Gloria,

“Thank you.”

That was only the beginning of numerous men arriving to the store throughout the week asking for the ugliest flowers available for various reasons: break ups, a hated co-worker or manager, poor customer service, disliked celebrities or politicians, even gifts for abusive or callous family members.

Sometimes the gifts were subtle, as if the recipient believed that they had poor taste in choosing flowers or were tight on money at the time. Often enough, the flowers were intentional, with one man even reciting to Gloria,

“I told her, ‘I found the ugliest flowers in town for the ugliest girl in town.’ Boy was she pissed.”

One day the original man with the red Mercedes returned to the stand to buy ugly flowers for a “miserable bartender who ruined his night.” He revealed that he took a photo of the flowers on his Instagram with an address to the stand’s location, and many of his friends found his crude joke so hilarious they picked up on the act itself.

Gloria thought of it only as an inside joke that would dim away after a couple of days. But weeks after the first wrongful purchase, she arrived at the stand at noon and noticed a few customers waiting in their cars for Gloria to open shop.

The gag became so popular that nearly none of the decayed flowers were left and all that remained were sets of dyed roses and daisies, which the customers commented were “too nice” for their recipient.

On supply day, Gloria arrived half an hour early to wait for her advisor to arrive with buckets filled of fresh flowers. When the truck arrived, Marco jumped from the driver’s seat and lifted the door of the truck to reveal what appeared to be nothing but empty buckets. After throwing them to the floor, Gloria realized there were crumbs and remnants of decayed flowers within all the buckets in the truck. They were the most hideous displays Gloria ever saw: dead roses turned gray with bundles of thorns wrapped around the rim of the bucket, daisies with cobwebs scattered across the leaves. In one bucket laid carnelians that were crushed and molded together with the help of fungi that overgrew on top of the debris.

Once transported in the stand, the buckets reeked of mold and decay and from a well-off distance, the stand appeared completely empty.

At noon a rush of customers walked out of their cars in alarm, only to realize the stand promised more than they could ever imagine. Half of the buckets were purchased within the day; the biggest sale Gloria had ever experienced after years of working.

That night she stopped by her local convenience store, her wallet filled with the cash she earned. She noticed the flower bouquets, a vast selection of colorful flowers resting within decorated pots.

The flowers were well watered and nurtured, despite residing beside the corner of the register under a large fluorescent light. It dawned on her that those flowers have probably been untouched for days, that even as delicate and as beautiful as they were, nothing could compete with the feeling of pride and reprisal her customers felt when handing someone they despise a bouquet of decayed garbage. That feeling is priceless.

Amelia Stern