Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A Head Full of Flowers

A Head Full of Flowers

“Okay, Lilah, time to move on,” the young cop said to the bundle on the bench.
“I don’t feel so good,” it said in a weak voice.

“You gotta get off the bench, Lilah. It’s already 8 am. I can’t let you sleep here. This is the Upper East Side for chrissakes.”

“It’s a public park. I’m public. And park plants share.”

"Yeah, you're public. You eat in public. Sleep in public. Central Park's not your bedroom."

“Well I can't sleep in my own bedroom. I can't find it anyway." Lilah sat up and rubbed her eyes. She was hungry and sad. She slowly finger-braided her long dark blond hair. 
"They made me leave." She spoke to the dirt path, barely loud enough for Tom to hear. She never said a word to the other cops. This one didn’t scare her.

“Come on, Lilah. Get yourself together and move to some other guy’s beat. I don't have time to hear your life story."

“I’m remembering myself this morning. Most mornings I don’t, but today I remember that I used to teach third grade.”

“Right. And I used to be a Rockette.”

Lilah looked at Tom then and flashed him a smile. A blue foulard necktie belted her baggy yellow t-shirt and there was a pink and green flowered scarf around her neck. She wore black cotton pants that had faded to a greenish-gray. Red flip-flops dangled from her filthy feet.

“I was a teacher. But my Philodendron began to laugh at me, tease me, call me names. The English Ivy was growing too fast. It was going up the walls. You know? And then one day my Calla Lilies told me all the houseplants wanted my apartment to themselves and that I should go for a long walk. So, I did.” Lilah started coughing and pulled a man's whitish handkerchief out of her Macy’s shopping bag.

Tom looked at Lilah’s dirty face more closely. She’s young, he thought. Mid-twenties, maybe. She’s schizo-not a drunk. I’ll be damned.

“When did your lilies tell you to go for a walk, Lilah?”  Lilah?”

“Oh, I don’t know. There were Tulips here, near this bench. They’re dead. See? No Tulips. I'm trying to find my sister's place. She’ll know how I can get my apartment back from the plants.”

Lilah, carrying the Macy’s bag and another from an A&P supermarket, got up and walked alongside Tom. She liked the sound her flip-flops made if she swung her feet up before putting them down and flapped with every step.

“Where did you live, before you moved onto my beat?” Tom twisted to look at her.

“Around someplace. I’ve been looking, but I haven’t seen it again. Bye!” Tom stopped as Lilah abruptly turned to her left and headed into the park, walking quickly and without flapping.


Lilah patted her almost full belly. She never asked for money. It never occurred to her to do that, but a white-haired lady had given her five dollars so she’d bought two warm bagels from Sid, a vender she liked. He’d slapped cream cheese on them, because he said she needed dairy.

She hadn’t made it back to her bench until after dark. Today was her day to walk from E. 86th and Fifth Avenue to the river. Her sister, Haley, lived on one of these streets. Haley had houseplants, but Lilah wouldn’t have to go near them. If she ever found her sister’s building, she  would just wait on her stoop until Haley showed up.

Lilah’s brain was full of voices that rarely told her anything useful. She could’t concentrate with all that chattering. Begonias and Impatiens were arguing about how long they had until the first frost. Lilah curled up as tight as she could and tried to sleep.

"Okay, I get it. Cold is coming. We have to be inside someplace before the cold starts. Stop yelling at me!” Lilah pounded her feet on the ground. She was sick of the Purple Coleus nagging her to find Haley’s place. The morning was gray and cool. She wrapped her arms around herself and swayed side to side. Water. She needed water and every plant in her head was telling her they were thirsty. Lilah stood up and looked under the bench for her flip-flops. 
“Where are they? My shoes-they’re gone!”

“No, your shoes are right under that bush, Lilah,” Tom said.

Lilah straightened up and saw the nice cop pointing to a Boxwood in a hedge that bordered the Fifth Avenue sidewalk. She saw her shoes and laughed. She’d completely forgotten that last night the Begonias told her she’d better hide them before she went to sleep.

“ How ‘bout you come with me to a police station on the West Side?  I’ve got my car, you don’t have to walk. It’ll be okay.”  Tom said. He had a schizophrenic cousin and badly wanted to help this woman get off the streets. He didn’t think she’d been off the radar long and if she’d taught school, they’d have her prints. 
I don’t get this, Lilah thought. Is this bad? Don’t any of you stupid flowers know what I should do?

“Why aren’t you wearing your uniform? Where’s your gun?”

“I’m off today. We’ll go talk to a lady named Colleen. She looks for missing persons. You’ll like her.”
“No. I’m not missing. My apartment and my sister’s apartment are missing.”
Lilah heard Old Rose, who rarely spoke, say in a teacher-voice, “Go with him, Lilah. You need help.”

“Can you get me some orange juice?” Lilah ignored all the high-pitched voices saying bad things about orange juice. They wanted water, but she was clear about wanting cold, tasty, orange juice.

“I can do that. I’ll get you a big glass. But you have to come in my car with me, because the place I know with the juice is over near Colleen’s station.”

“I’m supposed to look for my sister’s on E. 87th today. I think. Maybe it’s 84th. Or 86th.”
Lilah was swaying from side to side and lightly stamping her still bare feet. She didn’t know what to do. She looked at Tom and noticed he had green eyes, like all the green in her head.

“It’s time, Lilah. You need to find your sister and this man will help you. You’re sick child, and you aren’t taking care of yourself. Go with him.” Rose’s voice cut through the chatter and Lilah stopped moving and stood still. Then she put out a scratched, dirty hand, and Tom took it. He picked up the A&P bag, and Lilah picked up her Macy’s bag. She got her flip-flops from under the Boxwood and flapped them loudly as they crossed Fifth Avenue, heading for Tom’s car, orange juice,  and maybe a chance.

first published in The Write Side Up (C.W.Smith)


Karen said...

heartbreakingly beautiful.

Anonymous said...


A touching story beautifully told. Very well done.

Gary Johns

rak said...

Your pieces either make me laugh or cry or both.Each read is good for my day.Not too many days in between
pieces ok?