Dead End Florals

'Theirs is said to be a marriage of tragedy. They call him deformed, warped, a presence that insulted the heavens; while she was the epitome of beauty, of love.

The poets misspoke.''

- L.H.Z // Maybe Aphrodite loved her husband

greek mythos + romcom + romance

setting: flower shop run by persephone/hades

*Cover art is my own. Do not reproduce without permission

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1. The Ivy and the Adler


 

To my mother and S.B.

-my love, the world you never saw-

 

“The world's flattery and hypocrisy is a sweet morsel:

eat less of it, for it is full of fire.

Its fire is hidden while its taste is manifest,

but its smoke becomes visible in the end. ”

Jalaluddin Rumi

 

Divine Right Florals sat next to Harvest Wholesale Grocers on a dead end strip joint in a small midwestern ghosttown.  The stark contrast between the two was apparent in the front displays.  The floral shop boasted a beautiful menagerie of animals that scuttled around a manicured forest that was outfitted with bright florals and fruit baskets.  The animals glowed as they chattered with bits of banana and and drank from a serene crystal fountain.  The grocery store on the other hand had a hodgepodge of different seasons smashed into a 10 x 10 window frame.  Every potted plant imaginable decorated with straw wreaths and gaudy Christmas lights strung through them.   Easter eggs stacked like cheap baubles at odd angles.  Hidden amongst the foliage was slogan that read:

AMPLE FOR EVERYONE.

 

    This morning had been a very successful day for Ms. Demeter Prosper and she was quite proud.  Her thought turned to how her daughter was faring so during her lunch break Demeter walked over to the adjoining flower shop. She found her less than impressive daughter crouched behind the cramped cash register.  

“We make sure every day is a bountiful harvest.”  Demeter said sharply, straightening her suit as she cocked an eyebrow.

    “Yes, mother.  You are a goddess of good-will and good-fortune.  I can’t imagine why you would ever fail at having a bountiful harvest.  This isn’t a wholesale grocery, I have to make sure everything stays alive the normal way.”  A stack of framed botanical illustrations slipped from a shelf and crashed onto the floor

    “Now Kore . . .”

    “I’m not a god, you are.  I also prefer Persephone to being called Kore.”

    “Just for protection dear, we wouldn’t want any accidents.”

    Accidentally having some real fun”  Persephone muttered under her breath as she peeked out from underneath the counter and stacked the illustrations in the prescribed place.

    Demeter dusted off the top of the counter.  “You should consider making Divine Right a joint venture with Harvest.  The profit margins would be excellent and you’d get some real business experience if you got away from all of these . . . flying and crawling pests.”

    The bell at the tip of the door rang.

Infinitesimally Demeter turned.  Persephone felt herself slowly descending into the alcove underneath the register and a cold numbness creep through her knees.  She knew she could fight it, but from experience, she knew Demeter would remind her later why the mortals revered her.  Resigned Persephone gave in and she could see the vein in her mother’s poreless forehead stop twitching.  

Demeter’s mouth curled up into a smile.

    “Sir, welcome to Divine Right Florals.  I am Demeter.  Proprietess of this establishment.  But, I’m sure you already knew that.”

    The voice who was there was brash.  “Cut the act, Demi.  We’re here for some flowers.  You have over ten million here alone according to the lovely love guru herself?  You know I need some for my ladies.”

    “Apollo, dear brother.  Do you really think that you need any more children?”

    “You should have that conversation with the big man himself.  But Hera does clean up the mess for him, you know when he is a bit--”

    “Sloppy.”

    “I know you disapprove of my relations, but we are here for--say since we are talking about women Hermes was saying there was a very beautiful mortal girl named Kore who was working--”

    “A flower in a flower shop who will bloom and die with time.  Why would a single flower tempt Apollo?  I like pruning and I’m not keen on the flowers being picked before they’re ripe”

    “Strong words for one merely changing seasons.  If I didn’t have a thousand years to show for it, I would wonder what it is you’re hiding under all that dirt, but today I am here for flowers.  Not for a special one.  I just wanted you to know that word was getting out.  I don’t care too much for your business.  Get me some of those daffodils wrapped in silver paper before thursday  I’ll pay you then as well.”  

    There was a snigger followed by the doorbell ringing again as the occupants quickly vacated the premises.

    “Perse, you can come out and resume normal business.”

    Persephone peaked her head out from where she was hidden and slowly resumed to full height.  She said nothing about what had happened and simply rearranged gardenias until Demeter returned to check on her store.  Immediately as the heels retreated, Perse was enveloped in a cloud of chattering animals.  A parrot on her shoulder, a lizard that entwined between her fingers, beetles up her back--soothing and massaging.  She luxuriated in the sensations.  She cooed and reassured the animals she was all right.

Then in the midst of her calming them the bell rang again and the animals scattered.

    Persephone perked up and smiled.  “Welcome to Divine Right Florals.  I’m Miss Kore.  But, you can call me Perse, What can I help you with?”

    The customer odder than any god or mortal Persephone had ever seen.  His body was sinewy like an athlete, but his elbows and knees stood out with sharp angles.  He was both a vision of health and somehow disturbingly bony.  There was a strange ashen texture to his skin like he didn’t go out in the sun often.  Even with this allure, he had such a genuinity about him that it was hard to believe he would be dishonest in the slightest.  His hair was a slicked back jet black, wrapped with a youthful bandana of the same color.

    His brown eyes met hers--slicing and gentle.  “You?  What do I need from you?  A beautiful girl with a beautiful name.  Uh, I need flowers that are hard to kill.  I mean I need a plant I can pour acid on and the thing will live..  I also need something that will thrive if I keep planting it.”

    Persephone laughed a little uncomfortable and he seemed to size her up.  Then impossibly, slowly his lips twisted into a half smile.  Persephone felt herself blush.  He had a really nice smile.

    “Yeah.  I can see if I can find something in the back or um--”  Persephone felt one of her badgers hand her a lilac flower crown and then without even considering his gothic sensibilities, she found herself putting it on his head.  It was a reflexive gesture to hide her embarrassment when she had really attractive customers.

He immediately stiffened and lowered his voice.  “Those will wilt.”  

The flower petals began to curl before taking on a sensible gray hue.  They hardened to a strange almost ashen texture.

Persephone was entranced.  “Those are gorgeous, they would look fantastic with some geraniums”  She felt a strange warm jolt course through her as she realized that her customer was most likely not human.  She froze and considered how angry Demeter would be if she knew.  She surveyed the man opposite her, wondering exactly what he was.  If he was a god, Demeter would have pulverized him by now, so there was no way.  He was probably just a vampire or something with some Underworld connections.

The customer looked appalled.  “You like gray flowers?”

Persephone smiled warmly.  “I enjoy all flowers.  Why would I open a florist boutique if horticulture and animalia weren’t my joy?  I can find you whatever you need here.  I love to match flowers with people.”

The stranger's eyes glowed with a strange amber luminosity.  “You are lovely, not just to see.”

 

 

    “Perse . . .”

    Persephone was locking up the shop, when her mother strolled past.  Her hair bundled up in an apricot embroidered shawl that matched her green overcoat.  “Mother dear I do love you but, can I please just lock up in peace?  I’m not going anywhere but home.”

    “No of course not.  I’m your mother, one and only.  Love of your little existence.  I want to walk home with you and hear about everything you did.  I want to keep you safe.  The only way to keep you safe is to keep you with me.”  Demeter laced her arm through Persephone’s as she thrust her arms into her pockets.  “A mellow purple coat suits you, but the color green is growth.  But enough with silly superficial things.  Did you have any interesting customers today?”

    “I’m not going to be honest with you, I do want them coming back.”

    “I only do that for men darling.  I want you with me forever now.   Anyone you need mommy to take care of, you should let me know.”

    Persephone sighed.  She saw the same guy from that morning lounging along the side of a building that was in their path on the sidewalk.  As Demeter walked past she scoffed and this caught his eye.  Persephone noticed that he was wearing the flower wreath on his head as he leaned down and fed an abandoned rottweiler a piece of vender bought hot dog.  The dog’s whole body was covered in terrible mange with one eye dropping from a cut.

    The canine caught Persephone staring at him and barked.  He jumped up on her as Demeter’s handbag swatted him back down.  Persephone felt a weight suddenly added to her hand in her pockets.  It was round and oddly shaped.  She knew from watching her mother slowly peeling them, the precarious fruit--he’d slipped a pomegranate into her pocket.

    “Not just to see.”  He repeated again, his voice like velvet.  But the voice was so soft, Persephone knew Demeter wouldn’t hear.  She smiled thinly, her hands were pinned to her pockets by Demeter.

    Demeter’s brow furrowed.  She opened her mouth to say something, then thinking better of it.  She yanked Persephone’s arm and quickened her pace.

    “Mother, you’re going to sever my arm.  He’s not following us either.”

    “You, take a care.  Stay far away from that boy.  He’s not what he seems to be.  Nothing but trouble and torment.  He’s a pathetic excuse for what he is.  Not anything to worry about, I’m going to protect you and keep you safe from him.”

    “He’s a mortal, mother.  Of all things to be careful of, but where are we going so in a rush, home is just ahead.”

    “We’re going to pay a visit to your darling auntie and uncle for tea.”

    “Tea with Hera, lovely.  Just when I thought this day couldn’t get any more weird.”

    The word weird, was probably not the best word to describe the woman who opened the door when they knocked on the ostentatious red trimmed brownstone apartment.  The whole outside was regal and elegant, but those words did little to describe the woman of the house.

    “Oh my gods, Demi!!  You wouldn’t believe it,” Hera was dressed in a figure hugging satin gown with a neckline that bespoke fertility in its finest.  Her ample curves and perfect features were of paramount importance to no one more than herself. Demeter had specifically said tea when she’d called on the way there, but Hera’s hand was curled around a martini glass.   “He did it again.  You know got another girlfriend.  He’s so sure that I’ll never find out about this one because she’s modern and got all the latest gadgets.  They don’t think a goddess like me can use a phone.”  

She slumped into Demeter.  For a moment Persephone’s arm was free and she massaged it to relieve the tension.  Hera drunkenly winked at Persephone, her lipstick staining her glass.

    Demeter rubbed soothing circles on Hera’s back,  “That’s perfectly dreadful, I can’t imagine how a mortal could stand that type of thing, you know they have a thing called divorce, where the mortal woman leave their spouses and take all their money and possessions.  Then the man has to pay them anyways.”

    Hera untangled herself from Demeter and laughed outright.  “Who needs a divorce on Mount Olympus, we have the Fates!  Gorgeous women, I just have a little chat with them and she gets run over by a truck or has some incurable disease that a god couldn’t ever fix.  It’s all a clean business, especially with healthcare nowadays.”

    “I don't understand how you can stand him . . . touching other women?  It’s why I don’t bother with men, they’re so fickle, especially the ones we have to choose from.”

    “Oh but it’s mad fun Demi.  Killing the girls off one by one.  It keeps him in line.  I get whatever I want and I don’t have to nag--the mortals do it for me.  He does his job, puts his member to good use and then after all that practice I get to play the real game with the king of gods.  I mean it’s perfectly understandable you’ve got a daughter to raise.”

    They settled down into the small parlour with a self-serving tea set,  Persephone listened to Demeter and Hera coo over each other with bile rising in the back of her throat.  She saw Zeus quietly sneak out to the back deck. He was trying to avoid the women.

    Perse put her cup and saucer on the coffee table.  She tapped Demeter’s shoulder.  “Mum, I’m just going to talk to Zeus for a second.”

    Demeter was too occupied with Hera to really notice her.  Zeus was closing the sliding door as Persephone caught up to him.

“Why weren’t you at the door with Hera?  Is something wrong?”
    “Oh no dear.  It’s just my brother Hades stopped by.  I was wondering if he would bring my old back to life.”
    Persephone was aghast. “That a god could do such a thing is news to me.”
    “But even so he refuses to get involved in my affairs.  Hades is an interesting brother.  He does what he wants, not always explaining why.”
    “He sounds like he keeps to himself mostly.  I’ve never heard of Hades ever leaving the Underworld.  I thought he was bound there by you.”
    “Yes, he does prefer that.  Strangely he’s been interested in flowers and fruit, perhaps finally considering a dalliance with a mortal”

Persephone was going to press on, but she felt Demeter’s hand on her shoulder.  Zeus’s face melted into a heroic smile.  

“Demeter have you grown tired of my marvel of a wife?”

“Of course I couldn’t.  But, Perse and I have errands to run. I just remembered the strings

of my loom need some new fastenings.  You know I dabble in that sort of a thing”

The day progressed quickly and slid into a cold clear night.  Persephone sat on her balcony in her night clothes holding the pomegranate she’d been given by the stranger.  She wondered whether the stranger she’d served today was the god who’d passed by.  She peeled the fruit.  She wondered how Hades could have handled something so fresh without turning it grey, apparent from the phenomenon she’d witnessed earlier.  She surmised there would be no harm in tasting it.  

It was a bit stale, but still retained the taste.

Demeter finished her shower and while she was brushing her teeth, felt a stiff breeze chill her arm.. Silly girl forgot to close the door again, She thought.  She came to close the sliding door when she noted a fruit peel sitting on the railing. What on earth is something like this doing here? Her interest piqued she touched it, and the peel wasted away to ashes.  Her heart started beating frantically, she pulled the house phone out of her bathrobe pocket and dialed.

There was a tone, before Zeus picked up.“Demeter?  Have you--”

“No, you’re brother has made a conquest of my daughter.”

“Oh.  That’s why you called?”

“What kind of response is this.  Why aren’t you concerned?  This is your daughter too.  I don’t want her to live there.  I could kill him.”

Zeus sighed.  His voice was oddly firm.  “I have no jurisdiction in that world.  I am with the living.  I can do nothing.  Killing him would be pointless.  He’s beguiled you out of a child.  He has won his game. Persephone will have to return with him to his house.”

“Fix this.”

“He is one of my brothers.  I share the world with them.  I will not go to war, just to avenge a beautiful flower.  You have kept her in a cage long enough.  This will do her good.  I have nothing more to say.”

Persephone remembered she had forgotten to close the balcony door and tiptoed back when she overheard the whole conversation.  

She could feel the fumes radiating off Demeter as the conversation cut.  

She peeked out, “Mom?”

Demeter crumbled to the ground as Persephone reached out to catch her.

 

 

Persephone arrived to her new destination by crossing a river via a small rowboat.  The situation hadn’t been explained to her, she didn’t understand why the adults in her life were making these decisions.  Demeter was distraught, she’d just keep yelling without explaining anything.  Over and over again she’d been told that this was as a result of her being an immature.  She wasn’t too phased about her new situation, she would deal with the changes as they came.  

To be honest, she didn’t miss Demeter too much, at least not yet.

The shop sign swinging above her read: Dead End Florals

And in front stood the same slightly malnourished man who’d brought this all down on her.  Her jailer--at least according to Demeter--had come to greet her himself.  The gnarled boatman who’d rowed her all this quietly helped her onshore.  She gave him a small black bunny as a tip.  She knew money meant nothing to him, but she hoped the gesture would mean something to him.  The rabbit sniffed the skeletal hand, before climbing inside the sleeve.  The hood was tipped downward as a measure of thanks before it resumed rowing in measured strokes away from this shore.

The ground here was swampy and smelled of burnt toast and the moldy inside of a refrigerator.  Persephone wrinkled her nose.  Her hooded cloak snaked back to her neck and she clutched her knapsack closer.  It would be impossible to grow anything here.

Neither spoke for a solid minute.  Anger.  Sadness.  Betrayal.  Persephone didn’t know where to begin.

She tried with his name. “Hades, I--”

He touched her shoulder softly. The touch sent a chill through her and she met his eyes.  He spoke slowly.  “I know you don’t like the idea of living in a land of eternal damnation. But I don’t regret what I did.  I wanted to help.”

Persephone felt her face grow hot.  “If this is your version of help, I’m not here to be your wife.  I can’t grow anything here.  There are no plants, no animals.  Nothing.  This is a dead barren wasteland.”

Hades smiled.  “It has different life than the above-world.  There is life after death.  You may explore it.  I cannot return to what was.  I offered you a choice and a chance.”

“I didn’t have a--”

“Demeter would not allow me to explain.  I could not have interacted with you if I had spoken or written about this place.  I do not regret giving you the pomegranate.  Demeter has had you for quite long enough.  In three months you may return to her, but every year you must come here for that time.”

“That’s not so bad, now that I think about it.”  Persephone felt lighter.  “You’re still wearing the wreath I made you.”

“It was the first time another goddess had shown me kindness.”  He said simply.  “For now I hope these accommodations are satisfactory.”

He handed her the keys.

 

 

 


 

 

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