Sunflowers for Winter by Eric J. Duong
The last few straggling clouds of early morning retreat from the rising sun. They'll come back with a vengeance later this winter, as they often do.
It's 10am. I’m a little groggy on this particular Sunday morning, but I’d already made a promise to go somewhere. Otherwise I’d be more than content just rolling over in bed and shutting out the world behind my curtains for the next few hours. But, perhaps to spite these plans, a small circle of friends had been conjured around me in this mountain town.
For this outing, there’s three of us: myself, my good friend and housemate Quentin, and a girl. Maybe even my girl. We never issued a title for it, but I doubted that either of us felt too strongly about forcing the issue just yet.
The farmer’s market; I’d always assumed that there was one in town, but had never possessed the drive to venture there by myself. We park a block away, with only a bridge and prematurely falling leaves between us and all of the overpriced booths. Ever the wiser, Quentin spies a tamale stand and insists that we support our local businesses.
This feels familiar. I’m an actor sight-reading a scene I had already performed sloppily years before. There's different characters surrounding me this time. Maybe I’m playing a different character now as well.
Quentin ventures off in search of a horchata to wash down his meal.
I’m lucky. A few more irrational choices and I most definitely wouldn’t be here with the present company, working towards whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish.
“You say that a lot,” she notices.
“Does it bother you?” I try to present my face as thoughtful in my reply, but the realization suddenly hits my taste buds that you’re not supposed to eat the corn husk casing of the tamale. Without breaking eye contact, I open my mouth and let it all splatter to the ground.
She laughs. “No. It doesn’t bother me.”
A lone honey bee issues a danger close fly-by across my face. I try to track its erratic path throughout the crowd. It lands on a vendor selling flowers. I decide to do something nice for her.
She sets the little bouquet of sunflowers I got her in a mason jar filled with water later that afternoon. She scans her kitchen before settling on the windowsill as its final resting place. A brief moment of eye contact and a nod of agreement. We take a step back to admire the result of our day.
A mutual appreciation of underrepresented music is part of what brings Quentin and I together as friends.
“Dark was the Night” by Blind Willie Johnson commands the aux as we take the short car ride home from her place. While conversing late the evening before, as roommates often do, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that we were both familiar with this particular line of gospel blues. I once read somewhere that the Voyager spacecraft carries an audio tape sampling the sounds of earth. This song is the first track on it. Someone decided it to be the purest representative of human loneliness. I’ve always thought that it was fitting accompaniment for something designed to be infinitely alone, yet still clinging to the microscopic hope of being found. All the while, the rest of the universe slowly passes by.
The shards of sunlight dripping through her kitchen window make it seem as though the sunflowers were set in an oil painting, not too unlike the ones she hung up in her room.
They won't be there forever. In a few days the golden pedals will fade to beige, before eventually dying as a blank shell of itself; sickly white, and devoid of the vibrancy they once exuded. Maybe at this time next year, a different bouquet will sit there for a while. A younger version of myself might have found that reality...uncomfortable. It doesn’t bother me so much anymore. I don’t control where anyone comes or when anyone goes. I close my eyes as a sad Blind Willie continues wailing on his guitar.
At one point in time on that windowsill, those sunflowers sat perfectly.