There was a short period of time where one of the owners would come for a visit once a month to help build our relationships between our business and funeral homes. We would go out to a handful of businesses with a plate of cookies and a spiel. During one of these visits, our owner chose the Coop funeral home.
"They'll never take us," said Grandpa's forty years of experience. "They have an in-house florist and they won't use anyone other than Wren."
"Maybe we can change their mind," said the owner's unfailing optimism.
They rolled up to the funeral home, which was unlike any funeral home that the owner had ever seen and much more like every smoke shop he'd ever seen. He looked at the location on his phone and then back at the white building, then back at the phone and then back to the crumbling parking lot. "You sure this is the right place?"
"Just wait," Grandpa said, holding up one finger. A woman who was not Wren poked her head out of the building and made her way towards the van. “I’m going to let you do the talking on this one, just this once.”
The woman approached the two of them, took the cookies and headed back towards the building before the owner could speak a word to her. However, upon looking at the decal on the side of our van, she pivoted and tilted her head.
“Saaaaaaay,” she said. “You don’t happen to have one of your books available, do you? The ones with all the casket sprays?”
“Of course,” the owner said, producing one from beneath the passenger’s seat. “If you’d like to talk about-”
“Thanks, bye,” said the mysterious woman from Coop’s, taking her plate of cookies and our sample book back inside the building, never to be seen again.
“Well, that’s gonna bite me in the ass,” Grandpa said.
“Is that… is that it? That’s the meeting?”
“I told you- they’ll never take us!”
And it was never discussed again. Until two years later when Wren admitted to stealing our clientele.
Truth be told, The Flower Thief never truly went away. In fact, when faced with adversity, Wren doubled down on her efforts to win whatever game she thought she was playing. There were rules now, new ones. Ones that weren't about our behaviors- ones that were about hers.
She played a part. She played nice.
She made an effort not to come in on days when she'd get me ringing her out.
"Oh, that Lee- you never know what kind of mood she's gonna have."
Ah yes. I'm the moody one. You tell a lady ‘no, I won’t let you steal from us’ a couple dozen times and suddenly you’re the bad guy.
"I'm retirin'," she said one day. "I'm leaving for Colorado to live with my son."
We nodded, knowing.
"This is the last you'll see of me," she said. "I'm going on to greener places."
We nodded, knowing.
"Adios," she said on her last day. "I'm gonna be well taken care of from now on."
We nodded, waved, and knew. We breathed for two weeks and let ourselves love the silence. But at the end of those two weeks, she breezed back in as though nothing had changed.
"What happened to retirement," Grandpa asked.
"Re- what? No- That's not happening until October. October is when I'm retiring. I gotta show my daughter the ropes- how I do my flowers, the ins and outs of the funeral biz, you know."
"Ah," we said, knowing.
She played by the rules for awhile, but no rule set is airtight and some people exist for the purpose of finding the cracks in a system. This is her place in the world.
Business picked up for her and soon she was in our shop daily.
"Oh baby, can you believe it? I got a pair of them that died within a week of each other with two different types of cancer! I'm gonna need pink roses and purple roses."
"Oh baaaby- I got this little boy that died from neglect. Neglect! Can you believe anyone would do such a thing to a baby!?"
"Oh baaaaaaabyyy, I got that double-suicide over on the south sid of town. So tragic."
Now a double-suicide is a pretty high-profile case and we're nosy- so when the funeral director calls us with an interesting account involving two casket sprays, they tell us why. As it so happened, we had just finished taking such an order. "The Ramierez account? I thought that was at the Dirkman Funeral home. Don't you work for Coop?"
"I'm branching out, baaaaby! I picked up Dirkman just last week."
Interesting. Of course, I report everything to Grandpa- who has Gary Dirkman's personal number. She called him during brunch.
"Who is this Wren lady? Give me her number so I can tell her to stop telling lies about us."
Grandpa declined to give out her number, but grinned at the fact that she caught her in a bad lie. She was losing her touch.
"Oh baby, you know I picked up Dirkman, but I only do the hispanic funerals. They got a lady there that only calls me."
Further inquiry to Gary Dirkman showed no revelations to who this might be.
We watched her play nice while taking our business away from us. She didn't steal, she didn't pick trash, she didn't argue prices. But it became a curious endeavor- it seemed she was buying the exact same flowers that we had in our sample book.
Ah- so it did come back to bite us in the ass.
“I’m so tiiiiiiired,” Wren said one day in October, grabbing about three hundred dollars worth of flowers. “These families are driving me craaaaaazy.”
“Wren,” I dared boldly to inquire. “I thought you were retiring this month?”
“November, baby. November. I’m moving down to South Carolina- that’s in the Bible Belt, you know!” Never in my life have I ever heard someone refer to the Bible Belt in a positive manner, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything.”I’m gonna be a motivational speaker, working for the Kamala Harris campaign. You know she’s gonna be President, I just know it.”
Wren’s premonitions are the stuff of fiction.
On one such occasion, she regaled me with the dream she had.
“I had a premonition,” she said, as I printed a banner for her: Proverbs 31- The Virtuous Woman. “And in this premonition, I saw the faces of every person in my life that has wronged me. And I watched and I watched and I watched and every single one of them turned into pigs. And out of the pen they went and up the ramp they were sent and at the end there was Satan himself with a great big butcher knife. And you know what that tells me?”
“Am I gonna have to print a different banner?”
“No, it means that every one of them that wronged me is going to get their due- and their due is coming.”
“So… you still want it to say Proverbs 31- The Virtuous Woman.”
“Do you know what Proverbs 31 says?”
I, a heathen. “I bet you’re gonna t-”
“A Virtuous Woman is Kind. She is Gentle. She is a Good Wife. She is a Good Mother. And above all, she knows that The Lord Is God and His Word Is Law.”
I squinted at the word document in front of me. “That’s a lot of banners.”
So as you can see, Kamala Harris is going to be President and Wren is going to be a motivational speaker for her campaign. That is what is going to happen in November- definitely.
November came with more and more appearances from Motivational Speaker, Local Psychic, and Flower Thief Wren of Coop Funeral Home. Sometimes it was every day- buying something only to return it the next day and buy more, only to return it again.
The pattern changed, but it was still a pattern. But she did always take a look at the schedule to see if I was working the next evening to make sure she came in during the day.
She had a pattern, so we scheduled accordingly.
Our regional manager, whom I am calling Puppet for the purposes of a story that I am saving, has been making an effort to come to each store weekly to go over any inconsistencies in management and to check how we’re doing as a store.
He missed her the first time.
We told him to come earlier this week.
He and Grandpa went into the back of the store to discuss some things in private, and who should walk in but-
We all pretended to be happy to see her, and watched closely as she made her way into the cooler.
“Lee,” Blue said. “Go get Puppet. He needs to see her in action.”
While she was occupied, I ducked my head in the back room. “Not to interrupt, Grandpa, but Wren just walked in.”
I watched her eyes fill with an evil kind of delight. “Come on, Puppet, we got to get out there. I want to show you something.”
“I’m waiting on a phone call,” he said- as his phone started ringing.
“You gotta make that quick. There’s someone I need you to meet.”
Grandpa walked to the front again and we watched Wren go about on a brand new kind of bullshit. She pulled out six, seven, eight packs of different kinds of pink roses and began tearing the packs open, mixing the roses all together into one giant bouquet.
We didn’t say anything.
We were waiting.
She went back through the workshop, past the ‘employees only’ sign, and began digging through boxes for water picks.
We didn’t say anything.
We were waiting.
She opened up a box of floral foam and a casket saddle and made the setup in plain view of the breakroom where Puppet was quietly making his phone call.
We didn’t say anything.
We were waiting.
This short phone call was beginning to take form as a very long phone call and we were beginning to wonder if Puppet was ever going to come out of the break room. It was when Wren snapped her head up out of her mass of pink roses and demanded that someone ring her up that he finally emerged.
“Whatchya… got there,” he asked, sizing up the mound of pink.
Wren, wholly unfamiliar with Puppet and thinking he was the new kid, said: “I need one-hundred assorted pink roses for a spray and because all these packs were molded I thought it would be okay if I took them out and just have you charge me the usual price of $22.50.”
“When you take them out of the pack, they’re $2 each.” He had to have known that there was more than a hundred roses in that pile.
I watched her jaw clench. “There ain’t none that are whole packs.”
“When you take them out of the pack, their life is shortened- we ch-”
“I know that, I’ve been working in flowers for 40 years. I don’t need them for but a day.”
“We would be happy to order you an assortment of pink roses to ensure the quality of them. We get shipments every ni-”
“I’ve been coming to this place for seven years- I know how it works.”
Puppet stretched his neck. “Then you should know that they’re $2 per rose.”
I saw that vein. The little one that pops out of her forehead whenever she gets mad. She stared him down, he stared her down. Everything in the workshop stopped and a silence fell over the shop.
“Seven years,” she finally said in a low growl, but soon she picked up both pitch and momentum. “Seven years and I have NEVER been treated this way! Your roses are shit, anyway! I’m getting my flowers at Cleveland Plant from now on- they’re cheaper and they’re better quality and they don’t treat me like… like a god-damned thief when I go there.”
We watched her go, watched her turn back towards us and shout ‘seven years’ to us again before slamming the door.
“Cleveland Plant won’t take her,” Grandpa said. “She ran up a huge bill last time she was there and then never paid it off.”
“I feel like I just pissed off your entire crew,” Puppet said.
“Are you kidding? If Lee didn’t have a knife in her hand, she’d give you a high-five.”
I’d like to tell you… a scary story, if you’d like to hear it.
The trouble is deciding where it started, so I’m going to start with what we know.
In the spring, our headquarters were hit with a massive tornado. I can’t remember what size they said, but whatever it was, it completely demolished a large portion of that city and our greenhouse was right in its path. All the windows in the main building were smashed, the statue of Persephone in front of the greenhouse was rubble, and there was nothing at all left of the tiny greenhouse that used to be the shop itself a long, long time ago.
A lot was gone.
The bosses, managers, call takers, and designers woke up to broken glass, steel beams bent and broken, flowers thrown about, and everything soaked.
For the first time since the owner died, our home office was closed. Phone calls were rerouted to our store to make up for the fact that our usual call-center now had a sunroof instead of an actual roof.
“I need to be connected to the main branch,” one woman said on the phone.
“I’m sorry, but I cannot connect you to the main branch today, our home office was a casualty of last night’s tornado.”
“But I need to order flowers for my daughter’s birthday today. She lives in Beaverton. You do her flowers every year.”
“I’m sorry, but we cannot make any deliveries to the Beaverton area today. Our main office was hit with a tornado last night.”
“Well, it’s not going to downtown Beaverton, it’s just right near your shop. It’s never been a problem before!”
“Well, due to damage from the tornado last night, our Beaverton location is not making any deliveries today.”
“Are you telling me I need to go somewhere else?”
“I’m sorry, but that is the only option at this time.”
Pause. Pause. Long pause.
“Did you say tornado?!”
It went on like this for six hours when we finally closed and we prayed that we’d be able to work something out soon. For the second time in two years, we were worried that we’d wake up the next morning with no job.
But the next day was business as usual. Phones were working again, we didn’t have to shoulder the responsibility of thousands of incoming calls and demands of some very, very confused people.
It was chaos down there, of course. Sifting through the rubble for pieces and parts that still worked. They sent the majority of their flowers to our location so that they would at least be somewhere useful and not rotting in a cooler that didn’t work properly. Everyone tried to go back to normal. Everyone tried to rebuild. Everyone tried to ignore the lack of walls and windows.
And we just… continued working.
Like everything was okay.
Like everything was fine.
Eventually, they figured out some kind of system and things did somewhat go back to normal. Being far away from our headquarters, we didn’t have to experience the day-to-day rebuilding. Occasionally, someone would mention the tornado and we’d all say ‘oh, right- the tornado.’
It’s kind of strange to think of things as just kind of… happening. Like it happens and then it becomes past-tense. You think about suffering and misfortune as being an on-going endeavor, but the truth is that sometimes things are gone in an instant and the hard part is building it back up again.
Sometimes that doesn’t happen.
But we never hear about it that way, not when our shop is two hours away. Just vague reports about cleanup, the occasional shipment of damaged carnations, a couple broken pots,
We almost forgot that the cooler was broken.
Things were good, or as good as they could be- all things considered.
Then, for one month, we had a series of problems.
The first was that one of the drivers in Troy stole the trash truck and crashed it. It was all over the news and for a few days, people searching our shop would find that article at the top of Google Search.
You know- after news about the tornado and subsequent Presidential visits where I may or may not have put a curse on him, but who’s counting?
Then one of our trucks caught fire, and during the news report there was a discussion of how much more abuse our company could take.
For a few weeks, we were having trouble with our greenhouse manager. Things would go missing, just disappear and she wouldn’t be able to find them. We thought maybe she was just disorganized. Sheila was somewhat new to the position and there’s kind of a running joke that if you stick around long enough at the headquarters and don’t fuck it up too much, they eventually give you a manager’s position. So having not worked with her long, it seemed probable that she might just be ditzy.
And we get a call.
“Grandpa, I don’t get it- are you hungry or something?”
Grandpa narrowed her eyes, and she could probably hear that on the other end of the phone.. “I don’t think I understand your question.”
“Pistachio,” said Sheila the Greenhouse Manager. “I have four orders for pistachios. I don’t know what you’re asking for.”
“Pistachio, Sheila. Pistachio was the name of Friday’s special.” Sheila made a frustrated sound on her end of the phone, something like whimpering. “Darlin’ are you okay?”
She took a long time to pause. “No.”
And she tells us what’s been happening to her.
You think you understand the patterns of life, but then someone throws you for a complete loop.
Surveying the extensive damage of the tornado had been an ongoing process. They said that with some luck and insurance on our side we’d have the place back to normal by 2022. Or at least what served as normal because it always seemed like there was something happening that was decidedly abnormal. Our best bet was to just completely rebuild.
But it was a challenge to do that and still operate a business. The greenhouse that we kept all our flowers in had to stay open and working, despite having no roof. They had gotten the actual cooler to work so that the flowers would stay alive, but any time spent out in the actual greenhouse had proved itself a test of their life span.
It was turning out to be a hot, horrible summer.
Rumor had it that when it came time to survey the damage, our flower buyer Fluer fell to his knees and wept. I would have, too. It was a field of bent steel and broken glass- overturned dirt and roots askew.
But we had to keep going, like nothing ever happened. Because that’s what Americans do: we move on.
Or, as therapists like to put it: repress.
This meant that Sheila was working in the shell of a building, often late at night.
One morning, Sheila came to work to find a note on her desk. “I love you.” She thought it was sweet that her husband would hand a note to one of the greenhouse girls to be left on her desk. That is to say that she thought it was very sweet of him until she realized that the heavy scrawl on the paper was not her husband’s heavy scrawl. Whoever this was wrote with round, open letters compared to David’s compact slant.
It was obviously a joke- the people who worked in the call center were notorious for stirring up trouble for the sake of making the day go faster. She was too busy for it.
But then it happened again.
“I love you, Sheila.”
She gave it a few moment’s thought, considering all the pranksters in the main office. But it wasn’t worth taking time out of her day to address it to them when she had seven weddings to handle.
She took the complaint to one of the owners:
“Kyle, I don’t have time for this bullshit. I have too much to do to spend time dealing with all of these idiots.”
Kyle looked at the note, shook his head, and decided that he didn’t have time for it, either. “Just don’t respond to it. They’ll get tired of poking fun at you eventually.”
Just ignore them. I think I speak for every bullied kid reading this when I say we know how this works out. If a joke isn’t funny, don’t laugh at it. Sure.
The very next morning-
“I love you, Sheila- what is your answer?”
Figuring that she’d had enough, she wrote the prankster back. “My answer is leave me alone.”
The best way to deal with a joker is not to laugh at their jokes. Works for Batman.
The Joker didn’t like that answer. The Joker wasn’t joking.
The next day, there wasn’t a note. It was a million notes.
“Bitch” was scrawled across every surface: on all her papers, across her pinboard, carved into her desk. Papers were shredded apart, coffee had been spilled on all of her orders. Her office, or what seemed to serve as one, was completely destroyed.
This was a long way to go for a prank.
As she was heading up to the main office to discuss this with Kyle once more, she heard one of the call center operators say “Hey Sheila!”
And two heads turned.
There was more than one Sheila working at our shop and she didn’t know it.
“You’re Sheila,” she said, approaching Sheila Number Two.
There was no way to ask this question without coming off as… well… strange. “You don’t happen to have a… jealous ex-boyfriend or anything, do you?”
Second Sheila reportedly paused, trying to find an un-odd answer to a very odd question. “He’s not my boyfriend,” she said.
“Put your phone on idle. I need to talk to you,” she said.
Greenhouse Sheila has a presence when she speaks, which is something that comes with being a manager. Phones Sheila did not. She thought she was going to be fired. When a manager comes to you with intensity and tells you you need to talk, you fear for your job. That’s how it’s done.
“Who is he,” Sheila asked her, showing her photos of her office. Phones Sheila stepped back, rubbing her face with her hands.
“You remember like… a month back when we had to fire that guy for stealing the truck?”
“Darlin’ you didn’t.”
“We dated like… for a week? I figured he was crazy, but I didn’t know that he was THAT crazy.”
Sheila took a deep breath. “Your ex-boyfriend has been terrorizing me because he thinks I’m YOU?”
“Sorry? You’re sorry?”
And so the plans were laid to catch the truck thief. Cameras were installed in the greenhouse at all known points of entry, to be reviewed nightly for any trespassers. This proved an interesting challenge, considering the building’s notable lack of doors. Alarm systems were put in place. Sheila’s office was moved temporarily to the inside of the main office.
And business went on as usual because that’s what businesses do. But we had to account for all the missing and destroyed orders and in the course of that time, Sheila lost about a week’s worth of paperwork- and this is where we got caught up to speed.
The rest of this story becomes somewhat fragmented at this point, as we ventured on into the next busy season. But every time we called Sheila, we asked.
It wasn’t until months later that she had something to say about it.
Hours and hours of watching video footage turned up with nothing- no face matching the photo they had on file, no one coming in our out that wasn’t supposed to be there. Granted, they hadn’t invested much in the process of catching this man, but they did at least move her to a safer spot where this couldn’t happen again and made sure that everyone working in the greenhouse was out of there when they were scheduled to leave.
Again- nothing. Not even a blip on the radar.
October came like an angry polar bear- putting a layer of frost on everything exposed to open air. High winds, cold rains, very little warning. This greenhouse needed to be cleared and cleared now. Plants were sent to our store for safekeeping, and a cursory cleanup began.
While moving a cluster of plants and a sheet of corrugated tin, one of the greenhouse workers found something unusual. Tons of wrappers from pre-packaged snacks shoved into a corner, and a makeshift bedroll made out of insulation material.
The truck thief had been staying inside the greenhouse all along- sleeping only a few feet away from Sheila’s office, hiding amongst the rows and rows of plants when someone came.
And he had to have known that he had the wrong Sheila. But he did it anyway.
Eventually, they caught him. They never told us how, or where, but he’s gone away now and not likely to return to the greenhouse for a good long time. Stalking charges will do that to a man.
Reconstruction has begun and the first thing that the greenhouse gets is new doors.
So one of our most popular arrangements is a little $20 bowl of one dozen roses assorted. It says on our website that the colors of the roses will vary based on our inventory. So while the photo displays purple, orange, and burgundy roses, you may get one of any variety of colors.
Most people accept this.
Some people... however...
We got a call from our home office around 3:00 asking if we’d be able to deliver something to the other side of town before 3:30. The woman was unhappy with the roses and wanted something that looked more like the picture.
None of our drivers were back yet and traffic was terrible. Getting anything anywhere by 3:30 was going to be impossible. We could deliver it tomorrow or later in the day, but not by 3:30.
So the girl at the home office sighed and I could hear her rolling her eyes through the phone. “I don’t wanna tell that to this bitch.”
Too bad, Susan. I got no control over the situation.
Fifteen minutes later, an order comes through our printer.
“DOZEN ASST ROSE SPECIAL. MAKE IT LOOK EXACTLY LIKE THE PHOTO SHE GOT ONE THAT DOES NOT LOOK LIKE THE PHOTO AND SHE IS VERY PISSED PLEASE MAKE SURE IT LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE THE PICTURE. WANTS TO MAKE SURE WE ASSIGN IT TO SOMEONE WHO IS AN ACTUAL DESIGNER AND NOT SOMEONE THEY PULLED OFF THE STREET BECAUSE SHE COULD DO BETTER HERSELF. ”
She gave Susan an earful, I see.
She’s going to be picking it up herself.
Which means that we’re going to have to deal with her in person.
So the woman came in and I could tell it was here almost immediately because she looked like someone pissed in her cornflakes this morning.
I got the arrangement for her, all boxed up and ready to go and she says the dreaded words:
“Can I ask you something?”
No you may certainly not. “Of course!”
“Why didn’t you give me this in the first place?”
“That particular arrangement varies based on our inventory and what we have available. So the colors and roses will not always match the photo."
She lifted her hand and held it three inches in front of my face. "Stop," she said. "Unacceptable."
If you have ever been on the cash-acceptance side of a register, you will understand the pure, seething rage that comes from someone invading the sacred personal bubble created by the counter.
This is my space. If you step into my space without permission, you are my enemy.
I will destroy you.
"Let me show you the arrangement you sent me and you will understand."
The thing about angry people on the other side of the counter is that they usually want something. In this case, she wanted us to be just as mad as she was.
And it was not going to happen.
Grandpa sidled her way up to me the minute that woman's hand went up. Everyone else in the room has fled the scene. I watched one of our drivers walk out of the cooler, see the woman's hand in my face, and watched her pivot straight back inside. The woman's photo showed hot pink, tea green, and cream.
"Sorry about that," Grandpa said. "The colors vary based on-"
"IT'S NOT ABOUT THE COLORS." She pointed frantically to the photo. "Look. At. It."
Grandpa and I shared a confused look.
"I... I don't think I understand," Grandpa said. "Is it the berries? The new one has more berries."
"No. Look at it! Look at it!"
"I'm looking at it, I just don't think I'm seeing the same thing you are."
"Look at the roses! They're huge! Blown all the way out! They won't last a DAY!"
"Oh, I see where the confusion is," I said. "Roses come in different shapes and sizes. These are cabbage roses- they have larger heads and fuller blooms right out of the package."
She was not convinced. "I would expect something like this from Flowerama, but from YOU?"
I decided this was my cue to exit the conversation and leave this woman with Grandpa. Of course, you can hear almost every word of their conversation from the back of the room.
"Look, I know you're used to dealing with regular people, who don't know what they're doing, but I'm a flower snob. I know flowers. I LOVE flowers. When I was a child I wanted to work in a flower shop but my mother told me that I would never make a cent at it. And I regret every moment I listened to her. I've always wanted to do it and I would work for free if you let me. Just pay me in flowers! I don't need the money! Just pay me in flowers!"
Grandpa is silently nodding, clearly not listening to her sob story about her boring life as a medical data entry specialist.
"You know why I do this? I do this because this is the anniversary of my mother's death. And every year, I buy flowers for someone special in my life because that's what she wanted: to make someone happy. And the woman I bought these for- she loved them. But they weren't what I ordered! And they were going to die in twenty four hours! So can't you see why I would be- ARE THOSE BLUE ROSES!?"
Kali was carrying one dozen blue roses to one of our junk buckets. She paused in the middle of the process.
"Yes, they are."
"Do they... do they come like that naturally? I've never seen them that color!"
"They are dyed, actually," Grandpa said. She motioned to Kali to bring her the roses. "Let me wrap them up for you!"
"Oh, I could never... oh," she said as Kali approached them. She fell in love with these blue roses.
Grandpa gives me a sly smile.
There's one problem. "I'm going to Olive Garden after this- will they survive in my car til then?"
"They should be fine. It's cool out."
"Hmmm. I don't know... I'm worried."
"We can put them in a vase for you!"
Grandpa gets my attention and tells me to make a vase out of these blue roses that were going to be trash.
So to recap, she's a self-appointed Flower Snob who knows So Much About Flowers, who did not know that roses came in different sizes and shapes, who did not know that blue is not a natural color for roses, and... to top it all off...
... these roses are dead.
Like... the roses that she thought were dead were just a fuller breed of rose. These are the style of rose she was actually looking for in the first place and they are dying. The petals are soft, they are starting to wrinkle, I'd give them about two days.
This Expert Flower Snob looked at these, turned them over in her hands, and said 'yes. These are good.'
I made the vase, I put it in a box, I let Grandpa finish their chat. She left with a smile on her face and as soon as the door closed behind her, Grandpa turned to the back and said:
"You can all come back out now. She's gone." And then to me: "I had her eating out of the palm of my hand."
"Oh, you mean this hand," I said, putting my palm towards her face. "UNACCEPTABLE!"