Alice hated the smell of flowers. Rather, she preferred aromas that challenged her senses. Bouquets that boasted fearlessness and vigor like gasoline or even skunk. No one seemed to understand this. Family and friends would say things like “Alice finds amusement in rivalry.”
Though it deeply stung her, Alice refused to defend herself. She wasn’t very good at arguing, let alone proving a case without any proof. Instead, she would just smile, which only enraged her loved ones more.
How could she explain the layers of truth to her fondness for pungent fragrances? While she loved how soft flowers felt between her fingers or how silky chocolate felt against her tongue as it stroked the roof of her mouth, the actual odor of sweetness suggested nothing but weakness to the girl. Fragility was too dreadful of a characteristic for Alice to handle and the smell of it flooded her mind with shame, frustration, guilt and even worse, immutable loneliness.
As Alice grew into adulthood, her nose didn’t mature out of any phase. Every new year, Alice was met with new barriers that pushed her further away from personal connection. She never kept fresh flowers in the house, but she did become very good at keeping secrets. During university, she learned of the power that can exist behind a shield, even without a sword.
Well into her 20’s, Alice had befriended her loneliness and poured all of her personal love into her job as a teacher. As a superior, Alice was proud to be a different sort of mentor. After all, she had been different all of her life, how could it not be true in this area of her life? Her pet students weren’t the typical. She found herself partial to the defective ones. Ralph was unruly yet she never yelled at him. Grace was naive but Alice never showed her intolerance. In Alice’s classroom, the strong were punished for arrogance and the weak were heralded for their efforts.
Oddly enough, Alice didn’t realize this irony until a few years into teaching. She had also began to date a certain gentleman. She and this male suitor had met while shopping at the market on a Saturday. It wasn’t the charm or the compliments that had squeezed Alice’s heart so tightly but rather the sensitivity in how he spoke. After their fruit and vegetables had been purchased, he asked her to dinner and she accepted. It had been 2 months and the two were finding themselves quite fond of each other.
His name was Frank and to make ends meet he worked odd jobs. Mainly odd projects for his wealthy uncle. But, there was more to Frank than his casual labor. Frank was an oil painter and unlike artists of his time, he didn’t paint drab portraits or calming landscapes or lucrative religious icons. Frank’s eyes were infatuated with bold, sharp, and crisp shapes, with lines that didn’t blend softly. He mashed gobs of white into his paint blends to make glowing oranges and sunny greens. To most, even Alice, Frank’s paintings didn’t make much sense but – out of her likeness for Frank, she adored it.
Alice’s heart skipped when she was with Frank. A lot. He was funny, yet not silly. He challenged ideas without aggression and he was deeply committed to something that didn’t mean anything to anyone but him.
The irony of being charmed with all this weakness didn’t strike Alice until Frank surprised her, at school, with the biggest assortment of flowers she had ever seen.
Frank knew how uncomfortable public attention and spontaneity were for Alice, so he thought it wise to surprise her when she was alone – at lunch time.
No matter what time of year it was, Alice could be found outside. If it were winter, he would have found her bundled up, enjoying a stroll around the campus. If it were spring, she would be sitting on a bench with her eyes closed, inviting the sunlight to glaze her face. Nevertheless, it was Autumn.
The guard at the school gate, knew exactly who Alice was and exactly where Frank could find her. Since Frank was carrying such a beautiful arm full of flowers and had a gentle voice, the guard didn’t ask many questions.
She had just begun a new book and was under the red maple tree by the Math building. While Frank didn’t know how much Alice loved the smell of decomposing plants mixed with wet dirt, he did know that Fall was her favorite season and it became even more apparent when he saw her, sitting under the red maple tree.
Alice, finished a chapter and looked up to see a few leaves fall from the branch when she saw Frank. Her heart impulsively fluttered and her smile was so big Frank could already see it. As he approached though, Alice saw what he was holding. Pinks, purples, whites – the brightest of blossoms that surely emitted the sweetest of smells. As she kept smiling, she also began plotting – what to say, how to react and more importantly of all, how much should she pretend?
Alice wasn’t a liar. Yet she had developed a keen instinct to pretend and withhold details that could potentially cause others to assume negative things . Her calluses were only so thick. She was well aware that it was the pain from her earlier years that had created the calluses. Since she had been so young and so fleshy, the wounds, although somewhat healed, were internally scarred.
Alice stood and walked to meet Frank. She hugged him, smashing the buds and stems, triggering more fragrant to be released. After thanking him greatly, she took a deep inhale through her mouth and as she exhaled tears puddled in her lower lashes. She took the giant arrangement into her arms. Out of fear of dropping it she cradled it as she would a baby. A gesture that she had little experience. Alice felt different. She was still not fond of the sweet smell of the flowers but somehow it didn’t trigger disgust or anger.
Years later, Alice would look back at these times and shudder at how weak she had been for so long and perfectly grateful to her husband Frank for awaking her inner sweetness.