If you will not buy my flowers, she said, then I will give them to you. And she thrust them into my hand in a way that let me know how poor I had always been, and how suddenly rich I had become. We met often after that, always and never quite by chance — such is the nature of miracles. She was little more than a child. I asked about her parents, her family; she laughed and said she had none. Where did she live? That was her secret. A castle, she said. Or a broom closet. I can never quite tell. On other days, we had other funny conversations. I would ask her a serious question, and she would give me a make-believe answer. It went on like this until it was time for me to leave. With the day rapidly approaching, I first thought I would go without telling her — what would it matter if, one morning, one evening, one bright-shining noon, if she saw one less traveler wandering the streets? I was like anyone else. True, I still had her flowers. I had kept them in a vase in my room. They did not seem to wilt. But maybe that was not so extraordinary. I was far from home. What did I know about flowers? No. I had to tell her — and anyway, I was sure she already knew. She knew everything else. That was the thing about her that made her so different. She knew me better than I knew myself. And I knew her — hardly at all. It was tragic, in a way. She was an angel. Of that I was sure. I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t stay. I had a life elsewhere, although I could hardly remember a thing about it; I lived somewhere; I made a living in some way; I had a habit of keeping all of my old shoes. Apparently it was not much of a life after all. And then she disappeared. I asked for her everywhere. No one had seen such a girl. There was one old woman in the neighborhood who used to sell flowers, but it had been several years since she could walk. A grandson looked after her now. He had a mustache. A very nice young man. Giuseppe. Giovanni. Something like that. Of course I knew it was she. I missed my boat. I did not catch the train. I did not go to the airport. I stayed in my room and looked at my flowers. They were still fresh a month later, when I saw a funeral procession passing by in the street. Instinctively, I took up the vase and joined the procession. At the cemetery, I placed the flowers at the head of the old woman’s grave. And as I did so I heard laughter — beautiful laughter. I give it you.
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Categories: New Poems & Pieces