"Hello," I heard a voice call when I followed Mom into the small floral & gift shop. "Welcome to my mess."
"Did someone say something?" Mom asked, for her hearing is terrible. "Did you hear it? Where'd it come from?"
"I don't know," I murmured, inching toward the door in order to reverse our journey and return to the car.
"I want to buy you flowers," Mom had insisted before we had dined at the Chinese restaurant next door. When I said we could stop at WalMart on the way home (I'm very suburban), she insisted that we should do something more special on my birthday. Flowers from a florist.
We both blinked at the piles of crap - scraps of fabric, balls of styrofoam, dried flowers and plastic blooms.
"I still have to clean up after Christmas," the proprietress offered cheerfully and we peered around glass shelves so heavily laden with stuff that they formed an impenetrable wall of sorts.
"Hello?" Mom offered carefully, taking careful steps around the overflowing boxes on the creaky floor while I watched, gathering my coat closer to me so that it didn't knock over the perilously stacked papers on the three card tables with overlapping corners.
I spared a moment to admire their defiance of gravity - no table had all four legs touching the floor and the tops nearly bowed under the weight of their burdens.
"It's Katie's birthday," Mom was explaining to the rather large woman seated in a different nook of the terrifying shop. "She likes flowers."
The woman smiled and I took a moment to notice she was wearing only one shoe before obediently turning at her direction and squinting through the dirty glass of the cooler.
"Blue carnations, yellow carnations, red roses," she recited and Mom and I exchanged meaningful glances. "I think there are some pink and white roses in the back there," she said and I shrugged helplessly.
"Roses," Mom decided and I offered that I'd prefer pink or white.
"May I get them for you?" Mom offered when the woman rose - with no small amount of effort or noise - from her chair. She refused though, moving slowly toward the cooler and emerging with 3 roses of each color.
We watched, making polite conversation that I mostly carried as Mom looked confused and kept whispering to me that she couldn't hear.
"Don't get old," the shop owner advised as she carefully removed thorns and removed dead petals from the elderly blooms.
"There's not a good alternative," I replied easily, wishing with futility that she would hurry in her task. I was starting to feel claustrophobic.
I was unsure of the source of my discomfort though - while the environment was uncomfortable, perhaps belonging on Hoarders, it has become relatively common for me to feel breathless with panic or grief or this awful blank depression that sometimes settles over me.
We finally departed and I carried the flowers - wrapped in a sheet of yellow tissue paper stapled at the side - with me to the car.
"They're pretty," I told Mom with a smile. "Thank you."
"They'll be dead tomorrow," she replied, looking concerned.
"Maybe," I decided, looking at the brown edges of the pale petals. "But they're pretty today and we provide 30 minutes of company for a lonely lady in an awful shop. So I think we did OK."
Age 33 was mostly misery - cancer diagnoses and treatments. Professional failure. Losing Daddy. Working through grief remains as sharp as the memories that overtake my consciousness at times.
34 must be better. Though the roses Mom bought me yesterday are definitely drooping, they make me smile each time I glance at them.