There’s an old man who sells fresh flowers on the side of the highway near my house. I think about him more than I should, considering I’ve never actually stopped to smell the roses. I think about visiting him like I think about visiting a therapist – it’s something that I’ll probably never do. But I think about it. I think about it a lot.
My highway thoughts usually begin to gain clarity by the time I’m about five minutes away from home, but then the old man distracts me. First, I see the propped-up sign reading “Fresh Roses” in a magenta, half-cursive-but-not-really painted print. It takes about five seconds before I pass the second sign – this one reads “Fresh Flowers” in that tacky, Easter-egg-grass green that briefly makes me forget the beauty in the items it’s describing. Another four seconds pass.
Now, the old man is visible, sitting on the rear bumper of his light blue mini-van that (I suspect) contains the advertised delicacies. I’ve never gotten close enough to know for sure. I’ve also never gotten close enough to see the features of the old man’s face. Is it worn and wrinkled, or is it soft and understanding? Some days, I think that underneath his grey beret, there is a mess of thin, white hair that falls to frame the crow’s feet which accompany years of laughter. I imagine the stories that he could tell – ones of loss and of love, explaining that the love has been (and always will be) worth the loss. I think he would smell like peppermint and wisteria, and I would smile as I drove home with my bouquet. Other days, I imagine that the crow’s feet have formed from years of scrutiny. From his scowl, I smell tobacco and a disdain for 80’s perfume in the form of unwashed overalls; I keep driving.
Near the end of one Thursday, I decided that I would finally face the old man with his flowers that provoked such curiosity within me. As I neared his stretch of the road, I played back the images from drives past in my mind. I would pull past the van and park by the largest sign which was framed with flowers, the one with words painted in bright yellow that read: “Every Flower is a Soul Blossoming in Nature.” I slowed as I approached the beret on the bumper. The flowers decorating the sign were fake. I kept driving.