The day before my mom's funeral was bright and windy, and our house was overcrowded by an infestation of family and friends. While it was comforting to have so many caring people around who loved my mom, seeing as my dad was staggering through grief by leading everyone in a medley of Patriotic songs, and describing my mom's cancer as though it were a great World War II battle, the burden of hosting fell mostly on me, my Aunt M and Aunt E who had both flown in from the East Coast.
"And there we were, the allied forces of chemotherapy ramming the hell out of the Nazi cancer cells... It was Stalingrad all over again, Ladies and Gentleman" my dad said as he held forth.... I had only heard him tell this story about three thousand times so I quietly excused myself.
I had to get outside for a cigarette. I crouched down between two parked cars and lit up, all the while thinking to myself that she would kill me if she knew I was copying her digusting, self-polluting habit.
While I sat there, letting the sweet nicotine rush through me (and trying to avoid detection), I noticed a tired green van chugging along down the hill. When it turned onto our driveway, I quickly stubbed out my cigarette, and got up to see who was inside. A surprisingly spry old man hopped out of the front seat and announced that he was here to deliver flowers. I offered to take the anemic looking lilies, and he seemed satisfied. But then, as he was about to get back into his van, his brows knit, and he said, "you really shouldn't be smoking..."
"How did you know I was smoking?" I asked, surprised that he had seen me hidden between the cars.
"I know a lot of things," he replied.
He stood there for a while, looking up at the sky and watching a lone cloud get shredded by the wind. Then, he reached into his pocket and said, "you can have this -- it'll help."
He opened his worn, creased hand, and there, in the center of his dirt-encrusted palm was a little yellow pill winking at me...
"Its Ecstasy!" he announced triumphantly. "Here! take it!"
I said "No" and he seemed disappointed. As he climbed back into his van, his gaze landed on our neighbor's lush magnolia tree. "Do you think I could take some branches?" he asked... "They are such beautiful flowers." I told him I thought the trees were public property, and that he could, and so the elderly florist stopped the engine, hopped out of the vehicle, hauled a ladder from the back of the van and placed it against the tree. With a nod, a wink and a smile he ascended into the myriad of leaves, and disappeared.