by Nicholas McGirr
I was 12 when I started working for Mrs. Sesser. I remember this distinctly because it was the summer before my 8th grade year. That was 2 years ago. I’m a sophomore in high school now and I’m about to attend Mrs. Sesser’s funeral.
That summer was extremely hot, or at least for a 12-year-old boy who was pushing a lawnmower around his neighborhood looking for work, knocking on doors, collecting ten bucks and then moving on to the next neighbor. I did this for 3 days before I was on one of the main streets that held mostly locally owned businesses. That’s when Mrs. Sesser opened her door and said she could only give me five dollars but promised to provide lunch after I was done.
Mrs. Sesser owned a floral shop and I took her offer of five bucks and lunch. Wasn’t a bad deal from what I could tell since I was hungry. I finished mowing her lawn and after an hour in the hot sun, I was hungry and thirsty. She brought me inside for my promised lunch.
The shop was attached to the side of her home and to get to the kitchen, you had to cut through the shop which smelled of light floral scents and peat moss. Mrs. Sesser was old and feeble, and she moved slow. I helped her up the three stairs to the main house and had a seat in her very old kitchen. She served me an egg salad sandwich, an apple and milk. I hate egg salad, but she sat with me and I felt obligated to eat her promised lunch. It was all she could afford to give.
We talked through that afternoon while I ate my lunch. She wanted to know more about why a young boy was going door to door asking neighbors for work. I explained that I was the youngest of three and my father was just laid off from his job and Ma told all three of us that we would have to wear last year’s school clothes until Dad found another job.
Mrs. Sesser found my story sad and offered me to work for her part time regularly instead of me hustling the neighbors. Those were her exact words, “hustling the neighbors.” She found work for me to do around the house and outside the house that whole summer. I vacuumed the very flat carpeting, I washed dishes, I even painted the outside of the shop for her one week. I worked for Mrs. Sesser for what I thought would be half of what I would charge anyone else, but she followed through with sandwiches and lunch every day I worked. They weren’t all egg salad sandwiches. I finally confessed after my first week that I didn’t like egg salad and she laughed.
By the end of that summer, I had saved over $500 which I found to be plenty to get myself some new school clothes, shoes, a haircut and a new backpack. I was proud of myself, Mrs. Sesser was proud too. So proud of me, in fact, that she decided she was going to allow me to work right alongside her in the shop and teach me about floral arrangements.
Once Mrs. Sesser brought me into the shop, I realized she didn’t always work with real flowers, some were fake, and she said that was okay for some arrangements. “It keeps the happiness of the occasion alive,” she would say.
I rode my bike down to Mrs. Sesser’s shop every day after that for the past two years. Some days she had work for me, other days she was too tired to work and would ask me to fetch her an afghan, so she could take a nap.
And today, I rode my bike to the funeral home to pay my respects. I put on an old suit I borrowed from my older brother and rode my bike through the snow to get to the calling hours. I didn’t know what to expect when I got there, but there weren’t many cars in the lot when I arrived. I went inside stamping the snow off my tennis shoes and I read signs that read the names of the deceased. I followed the sign that read “Tilly Sesser,” but the door was shut. A man in a black suit came out of an office and told me that Mrs. Sesser’s calling hours wouldn’t start for another 2 hours, but I was more than welcome to wait.
Instead of waiting, I rode all the way back to Mrs. Sesser’s workshop in the snow and let myself in the back door. Mrs. Sesser never locks the back door.
I grabbed the afghan I usually fetched for her naps and the last arrangement of fake flowers we worked on together and stuffed them into my winter coat. I headed back to the funeral home.
The round trip took me two hours in total and I was on time for the beginning of the calling hours. There were a few more cars in the lot, but still, not many. I made my way inside and found Mrs. Sesser’s door open with her casket at the head of the room. There were no flowers anywhere and she laid there like she was taking one of her naps. I pulled out the afghan and flowers from my coat and the man in the black suit nodded at me.
I tucked the afghan in next to her and laid our fake flower arrangement on the other side.
“These flowers will help keep your happiness alive,” I said to her.
I then took a seat with the few people that were there and stayed for the service. I even cried, choking back tears as only a teenage boy can, feeling the hurt that came with each breath. I sat there alone with strangers, crying, wondering where my next egg salad sandwich would come from.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing