by Kathleen Rollins
He’s short and stooped, with the body of an old man and the face of a child. At dawn, he climbs the forty-seven stone steps from the resort parking lot to the cabins on the hill, pausing on each step to look around him. Behind him, far below, the turquoise and sky-blue sea stretches out past the reef, but he’s looking at flowers. Each step is a different neighborhood to him, peopled with its specific flowers, some with official names and some with names he made up himself: yellow storm birds, witch’s broom, fancy ladies. He notes new buds, picks off dead blooms, straightens a trailing bougainvillea stem.
When two younger resort employees run down the steps toward him, he moves aside to let them by.
Farther up the steps, he cuts bunches of red ginger leaves and lays them in the bottom of his cardboard box. Half a dozen steps past the ginger, he cuts eight stems of yellow bells and red bird flowers and places them on top of the ginger leaves. While he works, white-winged doves call from a holly oak. A pair of rock lizards dart across the rocks near the steps. Several steps up, he cuts lines of dark fruits from a grape palm and tucks them along the edge of his box. Near the mid-point of the steps, he cuts eight hibiscus flowers, brilliant red and orange, and holds them by their stems so they won’t be crushed as he continues his climb, one step at a time.
When he reaches the top, he studies his collection before he heads to the first door in the row, where faded wooden pieces making the number 14 stand out on a dark square. He removes yesterday’s faded blooms from between the square and the door, and piles them to one side. Then he tucks the ends of the ginger leaves behind opposite sides of the square, adds some dark fruits from the grape palm, and pushes the yellow bell flower stems in over them. On the top he adds two red bird flowers facing opposite directions.
He steps back, his head tilted as he considers his effort, then readjusts the ginger leaves and one of the red birds. When it’s done, he places two hibiscus blooms on the saddle of the door frame – extravagant beauties, with their petals folded back and their long styles extended.
With one door finished, he moves to the next one, repeating the decoration around the door number for all four cabins in the row.
After a final check, he starts watering the new plantings on the hill that haven’t quite settled in, aiming the hose at the base of the seedlings, but out of the corner of his eye, he watches the cabins. After a while, the doors to two of them open and people rush out, weighed down with dive gear and beach bags, never noticing the flowers they step on as they go. The third door opens in the middle of an argument. A man backs out, kicking over the flowers, yelling something. A woman yells something back before she slams the door, and the man heads down the steps alone.
The fourth door opens slowly. A heavy-set woman somewhere past middle age glances out, then closes her eyes against the morning sun. Wisps of dyed blond hair flip back and forth as she rubs her temples. With a sigh, she turns back to her room, but two red hibiscus flowers lying at her feet will not let her pass. She bends over and picks them up, one in each hand. As if taking orders from them, she carries them in and looks in the mirror as she tucks one of them over each ear. Secure in their sensual red and orange, unafraid of their beauty, the flowers call out for attention. They refuse to be insignificant or unimportant. Or be made to feel ridiculous, ever. Brushing her hair back, she moves one flower a little higher, straightens up, and gives her reflection a wry smile. From her suitcase, she pulls out her red and yellow shirt jacket because it goes with the flowers.
Outside, she spots the gardener. “Gracias! Qué bonita la flor!” she calls, gesturing toward the flower she’s wearing. “What a beautiful flower! It reminds me of that song, ‘Qué bonita es esta vida,’ I forget who sang it. ‘How beautiful this life is.’”
He tries to hide his smile but it takes over his face. “Bonita. Sí,” he answers. “Bonita flor.” After the woman heads down the steps, he repeats her words, “Bonita, sí. Qué bonita es esta vida.”
About the photographer: Melanie Faith is an English professor, tutor, auntie, and photographer. Her poetry is forthcoming in Poems in the Waiting Room and her photography series is published in The Scene & Heard Journal. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and is a winner of the 2017 Brain Mill Press Driftless Unsolicited Cover Art Contest. Read more at https://www.melaniedfaith.com. Her photo is titled “Profusion in Pink Glo.”