The old man’s eyes were growing dimmer with each passing year, but he still completed the crossword puzzle in the paper every day – and the big one in the Sunday Times – as if it was some kind of a ritual. He needed a magnifier, now, to see the grid, but he didn’t seem embarrassed to use it in public.
Daisy knew this because he often worked his puzzle sitting in the café at the front of the grocery store on Wednesdays, while his wife did the shopping. “Nita doesn’t like it when I help her shop,” he’d shared. “She says I do it wrong, just because I want to go up and down every aisle and see what’s new.” He’d tried to seem insulted, but she could tell he loved his wife, and didn’t really mind having an hour or so to sip a decaf coffee and ink in – he always used ink – the letters, fitting them into the correct boxes.
Daisy had gotten into the habit of taking her break at the same time the old man – Frank was his name – showed up. At least, she did so whenever she could. Some Wednesdays there was a rush at her kiosk, people needing flowers for birthdays or anniversaries, Secretary’s day or back-to-school. There were any number of reasons, and, she made a point of asking each customer who they were shopping for and what that person liked, doing her best to find the perfect blend of giver, receiver, and occasion.
From anyone else, being called a ‘girl,’ would have caused Daisy to respond with a correction that she was over eighteen and was the floral manager, yes. But Frank was sort of a friend, and he was from the generation where ‘girl’ wasn’t meant offensively. Context, she remembered a line from a favorite miniseries. It’s the difference between roadkill and a nice dinner.
She dropped into the other chair at Frank’s table. “I am,” she said. “What can I help you with?”
“Two things,” he answered. “First…what’s a five-letter word for ‘how daisies bloom?'”
Daisy grinned. She knew this one, being based on her name, and all. “Aster,” she said. “Daisies are asters. It means the flowers are star-shaped.”
Frank penned the letters into their blanks, and grinned. “Perfect. And second… Nita’s been a little blue lately. Our granddaughter was supposed to visit, but she got into a special music program for the summer, and won’t be able to come until later.”
“Aww, I’m sorry to hear that,” Daisy interjected. “I mean, you must be proud of her, but still…”
“We are proud of her,” Frank assured, “but Nita, she was really looking forward to some girl time. It’s hard for her – our daughters are all over the country, and don’t visit much, and most of the other grandkids don’t want to hang out with old folks anymore. But she and Katie have always had a special bond… I think because Katie’s the only one who went into music.”
“Was Nita a musician?” Daisy asked.
“She was. She still is. Plays piano for the church choir at St. Agnes. But when we met she was singing in her father’s restaurant. You’re probably too young to remember it – the opera café down on fifth?”
“I’ve heard of it,” Daisy said. “It closed before I ever had a chance to go. Tell me how you met?”
“Well, now… Nita was singing and I was there with my buddies. It was a counter serve place – you made your order at one end and took a tray and picked up your food at the other. Like that Frenchy place all the kids go to now… the one with the girl’s name?”
“That’s the place. Anyway, it was spaghetti night, and I took my order – spaghetti and meatballs, salad, and the best garlic bread that was ever on this earth, and I was walking to a table, when all of a sudden, this dark angel – black hair, eyes the color of cinnamon toast, warm olive skin – opened her mouth and started singing, and I was overcome… I stood stock-still right in front of her, just staring, and my buddy Jack came crashing into me.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” Daisy observed.
“No, it wasn’t. My tray went flying, and landed upside down all over her feet. Good thing it had cooled off some while I was dumbstruck or she would’ve been burnt.”
“But she wasn’t…?”
“Naah, she was fine. Madder than a wet hen, but fine. Her father came running, even replaced my meal, but she glared at me for the rest of the night.”
Daisy chuckled to herself. She could just imagine. “So, what did you do?”
“Well, after we finished eating, my buddies and I left, but I knew I wanted to see her again. So, I told them I’d catch up with them at the pool hall, and I picked a bunch of yellow sunflowers that were poking out of someone’s fence on the corner. Then I went back to the café and gave them to her. Asked if maybe I could take her to dinner somewhere to apologize.”
“And she said yes?”
“Actually, she said she’d think about it. So, I showed up there on spaghetti night every week for a month, bringing sunflowers every time. After a while she gave in. We’ve been together ever since. Had three daughters, seven grandchildren, and more dogs and cats and parakeets than I care to count up.”
“That’s so sweet,” Daisy gushed. “So, you want to get her flowers today?”
“If I could, yes. But not roses or anything. I get her roses for her birthday and our anniversary, but… I saw you had some sunflowers in a bucket?”
“I do,” Daisy said. “Do you want me to put together a bouquet with some baby’s breath or stock?”
“Well now, that’d be just perfect,” Frank responded, giving her a cheeky grin. “Let me just finish the puzzle and I’ll be over there to pay for them.”
Daisy grinned right back at the old man. Getting up, she leaned over to peer at his puzzle, and poke a finger at one of the clues. “That one – seventeen across – ‘still waters do this?’ The answer is ‘run deep.’
About the author: Melissa A. Bartell
Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.