NOTE: My pal and fellow Open Salon writer, Dom Macco, came up with an idea awhile back about a fictional character named “Carl” who has recently died. In the story, other fictional characters have been asked to prepare eulogies for Carl’s funeral, but each has little or no actual knowledge of who Carl was. The only thing anyone does know about him is that he was a good man.
Dom and I selected other Open Salon writers who have kindly gotten together and written pieces in an effort to help put Carl together as a person. The following piece is a contribution to that larger work.
Carl, in Their Own Words: Orchid Delirium
“You forgot to water the plants again.”
“Hello to you, too!”
“Oh, sorry.” She gave Lila a dutiful kiss.
“Glad to see you missed your girlfriend! How was your trip?”
“Fine. I brought back some seeds for that flowerbed at the edge of the garden.”
“So, what’s been going on with you?”
“Oh, nothing really. Actually --” Lila stopped, feeling uselessly hopeful. “—do you remember a guy named Carl?”
“Yeah. Like maybe someone I worked with, or a friend of a friend?”
Lila sighed. “I think maybe then he’s the guy who used to help out at the animal shelter when I was volunteering there. I’m not sure.”
“What does it matter?”
Lila held up a cream-colored envelope. “Well, I got this weird letter the other day. This guy, Carl, died, apparently, and this girl, Connie – she seems to think I know her, too – wants me to be one of the people to speak about him at the funeral.”
“Yeah, I really don’t know. I just feel awful.”
“That he died? Wasn’t your fault.”
“No, I mean, that I had no idea who he was when he was alive.”
“Maybe it’s a mistake.”
“How could it be? They have my name and address right.”
Natalie felt exasperated. This was the kind of thing that could only happen to Lila. “Well, who the hell sends a letter like that, anyway? I mean, why wouldn’t they at least give some kind of explanation about who Carl was?”
“How could they know I didn’t know him as well as they think? Sometimes a person can seem like your whole universe, and…”
“You’re too nice.” Natalie snapped. She threw up her hands and walked outside to the greenhouse.
Lila tried not to wonder if Natalie had ever looked at her and caressed her the way she did her orchids. Instead, she stared at the envelope. Maybe the new silence would help her remember who Carl was.
Natalie spent the next hours tending the orchids carefully, talking to them. Their forms were so beautiful and reassuring, so unique. She’d invested thousands of dollars to have this greenhouse and thousands more to put some of them inside. She’d never regretted it. In the center of the greenhouse was her prize, the jewel of her life: an American ghost orchid, its white flower perched on its leaves like a graceful bird.
The sun was going down when she came back inside. Lila was at the table, staring at the Carl letter, a spiral notebook and a pen beside her.
“You’re still thinking about that?”
“I feel bad.”
“What if no one else can make it and there’s no eulogy?”
Natalie rolled her eyes. “What if everyone else they asked to speak has no idea who Carl is, either?”
She could see the new idea spread across Lila’s face like a terrible dawn. “Yeah. Oh my gosh….” Lila shook her head. “The funeral’s tomorrow. I think I’m gonna go.”
Natalie shrugged and headed towards the garage. “If that’s what you want to do.”
“Want to come with me?”
“Come on.” Lila was grinning. “It could be fun.”
“Come on.” The slight insistence that had crept into Lila’s voice made Natalie’s skin crawl. “I-I’d feel better if you were there.”
“You’ll probably be in good company with a bunch of other confused people.”
“But Nat, you know I don’t like to speak in public.”
“Come on,” she said yet again. “We used to do stuff like this all the time. You would have thought this was hysterical when we first started dating! Come on, it’ll be good for a laugh, at least.”
“Lila, you know the damage you did while I was gone. The plants haven’t been watered, and your stupid cat chewed half the leaves off my eyed tulip.”
“My cat? We bought Tigger together.”
“Only because you wanted him,” Natalie muttered under her breath. Then, more loudly, “Anyway, I can’t. I have to get ready for the Metro Garden Expo.”
“In two days. Michael Jones is going to be there, from the Orchid Society, and he says he might want to make me an interesting trade for one of my hybrid paphs.”
“Natalie.” Lila’s voice was flat. “I really need your support. I really need you to come.”
“No you don’t. You’re too nice. You don’t have to go speak at this guy’s funeral – you didn’t know him. He obviously didn’t make an impact on your life, so screw it. Stop bothering yourself – and me.” She turned and continued to the garage for some Nutricote.
The next morning, Lila woke up and reached for the notebook she’d left on the bedside table. She critically re-read the speech she’d written. It was short enough that maybe she could memorize it. At least if she learned by heart what she was going to say, she wouldn’t get too tripped up, and she’d have the written version there to help her if she needed it.
She repeated it to herself in the shower, while brushing teeth and hair, while carefully putting on sheer black stockings and her black business suit:
“Those of us here today loved Carl. He made an impact on our lives. Carl, wherever you are, I hope you know how thankful I am for the good things you’ve done for me, and how sorry I am that I didn’t get to know you even better. Rest in peace.”
“You’re going?” came Natalie’s voice from under the covers.
She snorted. “Don’t forget a bouquet.”
Lila rehearsed the speech as she descended the stairs: “....Carl, wherever you are, I hope you know how thankful I am for the good things you’ve done for me….”
She went out to the garage and pushed the button to open the door. Then, she walked around to the backyard.
Still muttering, she entered the greenhouse.
The orchids were all around her. Their weird-shaped flowers always made her think of aliens or poisonous insects. She arrived at a blue-speckled red one that she knew had cost a small fortune. Funny to think that something so fragile was worth so much.
The pruning shears were hanging on a hook on the wall. She got them and brought their thick blades to the red and blue orchid’s stem and snipped.
She went to its neighbor and did the same.
A wild exhilaration raced through her. She felt lightheaded and almost outside herself, as though she were watching someone else do a very, very bad thing. She snipped another orchid stem. This might have been the first time flowers had ever moved her.
At last, surrounded by empty pots, she turned to the ghost orchid. The white flower perched on its leaves made her think of a waiting spider. She cut its stem, too.
Taking up the speech and the cut orchids, Lila put away the shears and left the greenhouse, careful not to crush the blooms against the door.
“…wherever you are….”
- There. The spools of ribbon she used for Christmas gifts were on a shelf in the garage. The crimson velvet one was probably sober enough for the occasion. She laid the orchids on the workbench and arranged them carefully, placing the ghost orchid and a yellow one in the center.
The crimson bow was perfect. She opened her car door and slid the bouquet to rest on the passenger seat. Then, she got behind the wheel and headed out.
*Orchidelirium is a term I discovered while researching this piece. It refers to a time in the Victorian era when people were so crazy about collecting orchids that they would venture to extremely dangerous places to get them.
To read more about the mysterious Carl's funeral guests, please visit the following OS blogs. Please note, we'll be posting our "Carl" pieces today, March 15, but due to time differences, working hours, etc, not all of the pieces may be posted yet. Please check back throughout the day.