December 14, 2004

Her Moment

She wasn’t always a flower arranger; she started out as a mere clipper who snipped the thorns and stem ends from the stalks before the arranger deigned to bestow attention on them. But then came a new fad, started by a famous arranger from the north, of greenery overshadowing blossoms. The meaning of the blossoms was still present in any arrangement but now something deeper called from the leaves: the highly colored blossom was where the general audience would stop—and well enough for them—but the sophisticated persisted and found the enduring secret of bud and blade, of lobe and tooth.

She was one of the first in her region to seize on the innovation, and in her few spare hours each day she toiled to master the grammar of frond and vein. She discovered a flair for it, like no other she had known, and adapted the esoteric new code from the bitter north into a warm little style that the ordinary eye could take in.

She became talked about. She made a name. She rented a grand studio with flamboyant, ever–changing window displays. She made money. It was her moment.

Then after a time the new style passed and a newer one took its place, a fad for cilia and roots.

People still liked the greenery style, but there was an air of nostalgia about it now: the people who bought it were the aging ones of her own era clinging to the past, plus a few younger people recycling her time for purposes she didn’t understand. Enough money came in from these sales to keep her going decently, though not in the lavish manner of her peak.

Then the nostalgia passed and people became nostalgia for later fads, while the newest thing once more was pure white blossom. She rented a smaller studio in an older part of town, where she continued making the greenery arrangements, not because she thought it was the best kind but because it was the only kind she knew how to make. Whenever she finished an arrangement, she placed it carefully in the window, and it stayed there, unadorned, for a long time.

She loved to browse in the shops where the newest flower arrangements were shown, though she could rarely afford to buy. It amazed her how many things people were doing that she would never have thought of. She liked the wistful feeling these new flowers stirred in her, the smile they put on her lips as she walked out the shop doors. Once in a while a shop manager would recognize her and invite her to tea in a back room.

“All my life has been built on one moment,” she would laugh modestly over the steaming cup. “An inspiration that began to fade almost as soon as it was born. It never came again. I could nurse it just long enough to build a life on. And now look where it’s taken me.”

And she walked home alone with small, careful steps, imagining that the world was looking at her, and reminding herself, “Oh, what a moment I had!”