Chapter 2 - Flower Boy
Light seeped through the crooked blinds of the window, comforting my room in a soft glow. Only when I turned towards the light did I squint my eyes, raising my hand to shield it’s strong presence. The natural rays stirred my conscious.
Surprisingly, I slept peacefully. The exhaustion of yesterday’s events had taken its toll. I raced around town gathering everything Mama had asked, which occurred after a long day’s work. Business over the last several weeks had boomed from the influx of returning soldiers. Not that I minded. It meant more money to help support the family. And besides, a couple of extra hours never killed nobody.
I stretched beneath the sheets, curling my toes. A sore sensation traveled up my hamstrings to my hip. I couldn’t help but groan in response. A full day’s work gifted me that luxury. The early hours of dawn were the only time I could rest my feet. One of the few times of day I laid down and did nothing.
A weighted blanket hugged my body, giving me the warmth that was deprived from me last night. My chewed nails made it to the bridge of my nose as I reminded myself that last night’s events were about to turn into a new reality. The yelling. Arguing. The bouts of panic... I sighed. All the new normal.
A pair of sunken eyes met mine in the mirror, bags held under their rim. My jawline curled down to a rounded chin, highlighting plump lips. An irritating crack lined the center of my bottom lip from the lack of moisture. My hand ran over the curled fuzz atop my head.
The unsteady stream of water made due for a quick wash-up before work. Grabbing a singular marigold that laid isolated on my sink, I rubbed it’s remains against my sweater; masking any negative odors. Only the rich could afford exquisite liquids to mask their scents or gallons worth of water to bathe in. I’d have to find another means of hygiene soon, because if Father had woken by now, he’d surely hit me. And I’d have to explain to Mrs. Bonni why I was late.
Rushing through the rest of my routine I scurried to the door, desperate for an escape from this house. An escape only work could now provide me.
“Brotha?” Poppy called, rubbing her tired eyes. “What time will you be back?” She wandered into the living room, wearing only a nightgown.
“Before supper.” I grabbed my tattered coat and made my way towards the front door.
“I’m going to be very busy at the store today...” I trailed off, lost in Poppy’s pitiful eyes. She batted her lashes and curled her mouth to a pout. “Okay, I promise.”
“Yay!!” She exclaimed in a hushed whisper, careful not to wake our parents and, tossed herself into a hug. “Have good day workin’!” Poppy tugged on my coat before pulling away.
“You too..” I found myself smiling as I exited the house.
The bitter winds of the city nipped my exposed skin. Eyes squinted from the thin layer of snow that blanketed the streets. As my view shifted upwards, the sun had cowarded behind darkened clouds, giving the city a depressing aesthetic. Despite the sun’s cowardliness, the city remained brighter than my home. Mama and I could only afford a fraction of the candles it took to brighten our home. Only yesterday did I purchase enough to last us the month.
I hugged the loose fabric of my coat as a huge gust of wind whipped it’s way down the streets. Rustling tree branches and abandoned papers. The streets remained oddly barren. Which, surprisingly instilled a sense of peace within my conscience. The uneasy energy locked within my house did not pertain to the rest of the world. The bitter winds that chilled my bones felt better than the boiling tension that resided from Father. No longer feeling trapped by his presence, I felt... Free.
Rounding the corner, the sign of Mrs. Bonni’s shop was visible down the street. Passing through an alley I heard the vile words of drunken men. Their poison leaking into the main street. Peering in, I saw a small group of white men, stumblin’ about with forbidden flasks and dirty cigarettes. They roared with laughter, making note of each other’s idiocy. One drunkenly danced across the cracked pavement, howling slurs throughout in-cohesive sentences. Another two sat atop a couple of trash cans, pounding upon them whenever someone strew another vile statement. My pace quickened once I noticed my staring. I wouldn’t dare stay around long enough to find out what would happen if they caught me.
Mmph, and they call my race barbaric...
A colorful sign greeted me once I arrived at the end of the street. I opened the glass door, the metal of the doorknob frozen beneath my heated palm. The dominant scent of flowers filled my nostrils. My heart jumped by the adorable ringing of a bell, alerting my presence. An assortment of flowers were on display in the window. Bundles of flowers sat in vases, arranged by color. Darks on the left, lights on the right. Large lights hung above the flowers, providing them the warmth a Brooklyn autumn couldn’t. I slid off my jacket, content with the temperature inside the store.
I sat my jacket on the worn checkout counter, “Mrs. Bonni!” I called.
Paranoia grew as I stood waiting for an answer. “Mrs. Bonni?” I called again, my mind raced around the store in search of her.
I glanced back at the front door. “Welcome!“, the sign read.
She must be here if the door is unlocked and the sign is flipped. She’s very adamant about her sign... I moved through the space towards the back room.
“Mrs. Bonni??” The door squeaked uncomfortably, “Mrs. Bonni!!” I exclaimed, rushing to the sight before me.
Mrs. Bonni laid collapsed on the floor, sobbing hysterically. Her face hidden by a wall of voluminous curls. Her hands quivered with a thin silver chain wrapped around her nimble fingers. She made no notice of me, too lost in her own grievances.
“What-” I paused, “What happened?” I kneeled beside her, placing my hand on her shoulder.
“He... Ed.. Edward’s...” Her hand trembled as she opened her palm, exposing a dog tag with her husband’s name on it.
“Edward Patterson” The dog tag rolled off her hand, clinking against the floor. Her hand retracted back, shaking even worse than before as she cried out in agony. Mrs. Bonni’s eyes slammed shut, smeared with tears and makeup.
“I..wa... want... my Edward back...” She stammered, knocking her head back against the wall, wailing.
I pulled her into a tight embrace, “Sh.. shh..” I found myself saying.
Hot tears stained my sweater as the pair of arms around me squeezed harder. The bitterness is my heart consumed any empathy I could have expressed. Truthfully, I envied her. We knew this war would bring us nothing but death. An unjustified death. Apart of me prayed that Father wouldn’t return home. That, like Mrs. Bonni, Mama would be visited by a pair of tropes and be broken the news. But no. He came home, and stole any and all happiness inside that house. If it were up to me I’d switch places with Mrs. Bonni. Over the last couple of days her and I had been crafting a beautiful bouquet for Mr. Patterson. Each flower strategically placed. Her smile, her excitement, her hard work; all for nothing.
She pulled away, black mascara streaks lined her chestnut eyes. Mrs. Bonni looked to me, in a helpless plead of reassurance. But I had no reassurance to give. Instead, I helped her up, fixing stray strands of hair. She took me in another embrace, this one lasting longer than the first. A cold gust of air blew beneath the door, accompanied by a bell chime. Mrs. Bonni hurried to the door but I stopped her, insisting that I’d take care of the costumer as she cleaned up.
After some time, Mrs. Bonni exited the back room. She busied herself with arrangements of bouquets and strategically placed window displays.
“How did supper go last night...” Speaking for the first time in hours, the corners of her lips frowned, holding a single Anemone. The flower’s sorrowful symbolism matched the sorrow in her glossed eyes.
“It uh, it went fine.”
“You don’t have to lie to me.” Mrs. Bonni set the flower down, brushing off the dirt that clung to her hands.
“I don’t want to burden you with my hardships.” I admitted, focusing my attention to my nails.
She placed her hands on the counter, looking down at me from where I sat. “Never hide them emotions, Raymond, ’specially not from me. I’m still here, and I’ll always support you.”
I smiled weakly, “Yes Ma’am.” Beginning to repeat yesterday’s events.
Mrs. Bonni shook her head with a twitch, “I’m so sorry.” Reaching her hand to mine, “That’s not right. You’d think he’d be happy to see ya.”
“Yeah, you’d think.”
The rest of the day drifted at a tiresome pace. The excitement of our customers could not lift our spirits. Eventually, the last costumer exited, prompting us to flip the colorful welcome sign to a “close”.
We spent little time cleaning and reorganizing for the day to come. Although we seemed to have stayed longer than usual, both avoiding the realities that awaited us at home. Finally, I wrapped my arms around her one last time, waiting until she pulled away, knowing she’d go home to an empty house.
Approaching the entrance, my attention was drawn to a lone sunflower sprouted away from the rest. It’s yellow petals glowed from the orange rays of the fading sun. It’s leaves extended away from the stem, greeting the world with compassion. A sunflower. The golden interior of the flower reminded me of the golden speckle covering Poppy’s cheeks.
“Can I take this?” I called out.
I pulled the delicate stem from the laced ribbon, taking a moment to admire it before leaving. The sun still cowered behind darkened clouds, now behind tarnished buildings. A storm gathered from the east, threatening the strip the color bleached sky of it’s beauty. A chilling breeze ushered me to the entrance of the alleyway, where the sounds of drunken fools were no longer heard.
Relief rippled through my body. THUD. A foreign force knocked me back. Crooked smiles met my frozen frame. The drunks... Only this time, there was no laughter or dancing, just menacing stares.
They casted looks to one another, answering their silent questions. The man who bumped me, snapped his suspenders and took a couple of steps forward, and loomed over me. “Look at what we got, boys...” Sweat poured over his oiled face, “Another nigger running around the street.”
THUMP THUMP “Please don’t call me that, sir.” I piped.
“Ah a nigger and a smart-ass.” I took a step back, “I’ll call you whatever I wanna,” But the man seized my arm, “Nigger.” Trapping me.
“Sir, I must be getting-” SPAT. My eye slammed shut, my hand rubbing the man’s saliva from my face.
“Toss em’ over here!” His scrawny companion shouted, eyes gleaming with the satisfaction of my fear.
My body hurled into the alley, only to be picked up roughly by the third man. His nails dug into my bicep, sending line of pain down my arm. “What we gonna do with him?” I winced, struggling to get away.
“We could, rough him up a bit...” The 2nd shaggy haired man smirked devilishly.
“Ya’h know..” The leader pounded his fist against the other, “That ain’t a bad idea.” Taking a step towards me.
“I mean no harm!” I pleaded behind restrained arms.
The leader shook his head, almost pitifully, cracked his knuckles, and swung. My visions doubled from the blunt force. Reeling me back. My head slammed into the brick wall. Fragments of pain shuttering throughout my skull. My arm held the wall for support. Eyes wavered, struggling to maintain focus.
“Come on, nigger. Fight.” I was challenged.
“Get him good, Rob!” Another cheered.
My attacker faced me once more, ready with another blow. I raised my hands, anticipating the blow. Nothing. Instead, my eyes open to the white man bending over something in the alley. The sunflower. It’s petals damaged from the fall, now held between a sinner’s filthy paws.
“What’s this piece of shit doing with you. What are you, a faggot?” The leader cackled, causing the others to do the same.
He held a petal beneath his finger nails, and plucked it. One by one, he destroyed the earthly creation to oblivion.
“How pathetic.” He tossed the remaining stem into a dirty puddle.
“That was for my-” All air from my lungs vanished with deviled eyes piercing into mine. My feet dangled from the ground, swinging freely.
“Just shut up.” -“No..” I breathed heavily, forming a jagged fragment of light from my palm.
My attacker froze, allowing me the opportunity to act. The dagger pressed against his vile neck, my arms just long enough to reach. Groaning, I pushed my body closer to his. But I wasn’t strong enough.
“He’s one of them.” His friend gasped.
“So he is...” My attacker tightened his grip on my neck, causing me to drop my dagger.
“We gotta give him to o’l L!”
The edges of my vision faded to an abyss. My perception of reality altered into a haze once my body hit the ground. My hands scraped against the cracked pavement. Stinging. A long gasp for air provided little comfort.
An agonizing grunt escaped my lips as the soles of the men dug into my stomach. And my chest. My crotch. My frail body forced open by the men, beatened black and blue. All sense of reality began to fade, except for the newly formed bruises chaining me to reality.
This... Horrid reality.
Soon the kicking stopped. My body dragged through the Brooklyn streets. With only the distorted laughter of sinners to keep me alert. There was no telling what time of day it was, if it had been five minutes or five hours. More muttering voices filled the void. Those also unrecognizable.
Slowly I gained sensation in my limbs. Bittersweet, but better than nothing at all. Although, they wouldn’t move. I.. Couldn’t move them. What started as wishful thinking quickly grew into desperate pleads. My thoughts screamed for control. Something. Anything. Nothing.
A strong, blinding, artificial light swallowed my swollen vision. Not my light, no. Dangerous. Two pairs of hands hoisted my body, resting it against something cool. Something metal. Restraining cloth folded around my arms, legs, and chest.
The scene around me began to focus; masked men, all huddled around alien technology and equipment, communicating words in which I did not recognize. In fact, I couldn’t make out a single word any of them were saying. My hot breath clung to a curtain of glass inches from my face during this realization. Wiggling about, a heavy weight tightened around my chest and up my throat. My head bumped against the glass, drawing the attention of the others within the room. But only temporarily, before they ignored me once again. These men weren’t like the ones in the alleyway, no, they were... Intelligent. One was centered around a small clock, one in which had a very specific countdown.
Beside this man, laid an arrangement of files. Most pertaining words that weren’t legible from my distance. Except one, which had a photograph of an African american off the street. His head held high with false confidence and a straighten posture, a bouquet of flowers cupped in his hands. The flowers from my bedroom... Me. It was me.
THUMP THUMP. My heart began to quicken. How was a photograph of myself beside these mysterious men? How... Was it beside these men. Another masked man approached this contraption I resided in, paying no attention to me, but focused of the machine itself. I opened my mouth, but he did not hear me. Or care to hear me. He began making his way out of the room, one in which had become empty.
I spoke louder, fear clung to the tip of my tongue. But he kept walking. Out of sight.
I used what little strength my body had to pull against the restraints. An attempt that quickly proved useless. The glass fogged up by my breath, now completely isolating me from the outside world.
Clenching my fists, I called upon my light. Praying it would provide me a release. An escape. Something! But my light failed me.
My throat ran dry from my screams. I was too stupid. Too pathetic. Weak. No one heard my desperate pleads.
Hot tears peppered my cheeks. This wasn’t fair! I’m a useless man.. An innocent man! Unable to provide... To defend myself!! ... I couldn’t even defend myself. I couldn’t even defend-
Poppy... The sunflower-