As in:

“Now, where did you say Janine was?”

Verla’s question was veneered with civility, but dripped with disapproving incredulity, “Okinawa?”

“She’s taking a class on ikebana, Japanese floral arranging,” was Carol’s short reply.

She hesitated and then continued.

“You use the presence of flowers to emphasize white space, I think it’s meant to remind us of the things we can’t perceive.”

Carol’s voice trailed off as she heard herself through Verla’s ears, rambling and dreamy-sounding.

Verla narrowed her eyes and drew her breath in slowly.

“So, she only uses Japanese flowers?”

Carol shifted her weight uncomfortably, eyeing the rows of shredded wheat in the grocery aisle behind Verla’s head and thinking of her lengthy grocery list and the weight of undone chores waiting for her at home.  Carol loved her daughter Janine’s whims and her ability to completely engage a topic, but seeing the pinched face of her aunt, Carol knew Verla thought it another one of what she referred to as Janine’s “pursuits.”

“Well, really you can use any flower,” Carol began, “it’s more of a concept.”

As she spoke, Carol felt a flush of defensive pride for her daughter’s craving for exoticism in the midst of Midland, Texas.

“Or really, any plant, even the stems or leaves.  It’s more about lines and forms and perception and showing the beauty of the plant.”  She felt a bit like she’d recited the description from the junior college adult education guide, but felt that she’d somehow vindicated Janine.

Verla’s reply came so softly and slowly that Carol could barely hear her.

“Beauty of the plant” she repeated in a clipped tone.  Verla suddenly reached forward and hugged her in an embrace that was as comforting as it was unexpected.

Drawing away, Verla smiled radiantly and exclaimed in an undulating Texan drawl: “Sugar, that sounds just beautiful.  What a daughter you’ve got there.  Well, I best be off, all my regards to Hal.”

Verla pushed her grocery cart down the aisle, leaving Carol standing in bemused confusion, unsure if she’d just changed her aunt’s life or witnessed blithe Texan hospitality at its finest.  She reached for the cereal and decided the real answer was probably a bit of both.

—Jamie Borgan

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