They were metal buckets. Garden pails, really. He would drop them near the door and call out that he was home, and I’d follow the sound to the foyer, running to his solid embrace.
I didn’t mind the roses, and I liked the tulips and irises and sunflowers.
But it was the gladiolas that I loved.
The first time he gave me glads, it was the night before his first deployment, and they were yellow.
“No ribbons, babe,” he insisted. “You’re allowed to be reasonably worried. But no ribbons. No signs. If you must keep a vigil, do it quietly.”
Well, I really wasn’t the ribbon type.
But before he left, I buried myself in his arms and breathed in his scent – fresh flowers, speed stick deodorant, Old Spice aftershave. I memorized that smell.
The next bunch of gladiolas were pink, brought to the hospital the day our daughter was born.
I asked if he would have preferred a son. “Nawp. Girl or boy, it’s much the same. We’ll raise her and love her, and she’ll know about writing and cooking and embroidery from you, and tools and gardening from me, and none of those pink screwdrivers, either. This baby will grow up knowing the difference between Philips and flathead.”
I laughed at that. “Don’t forget Allen wrenches,” I said. “She has to be the queen of flat-pack furniture by the time she heads to college.”
“And so, she will.”
And so, she was.
And the gladiolas kept coming, their tall green stalks and delicate pastel flowers witnessing every holiday and birthday and sometimes just because it was a day that ended in ‘y.’
And then they stopped.
At his funeral, I tore away the lilies and roses, and laid the gladiolas on his coffin. They looked me, our family, our friends, like I was crazy, but I did it anyway. And our daughter understood. She wrapped her arm around me and said, “Yes, Mom. That’s what he would have wanted.”
I couldn’t be around glads for a long after that.
When I turned fifty, a well-meaning friend sent a bouquet that had gladiolas in it. I gave her my brittle smile and thanked her politely. I also stuffed the whole god-damned bunch of flowers into the trash can outside the restaurant as soon as her leased BMW had pulled away from the curb.
A few days later, the bucket appeared near the front door. Metal. Galvanized. Full of yellow glads. I stared at them, convinced they were a mirage, but when they remained after several hours, I brought them all the way inside.
I caught a whiff of speed stick as I moved them through the house.
Being in a relationship with a ghost is a tricky thing. Sometimes, he can be corporeal enough to engage in sexual intimacy, but other times even a simply hug requires more substance than he can offer.
I can hear him speak, but no one else can, though our dog always follows the direction of his out-of-tune singing.
I don’t ask him Why or How or How Long.
He doesn’t push me to remarry.
Our daughter never questions my out-of-the-blue happiness, either. She never suggests I seek therapy, or find a new lover – one who has both presence and a pulse.
She sees the buckets of gladiolas in every possible color.
And she knows.