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 ghost town. 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 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 a 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 goodwill 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 ‘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—”
“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 peeked 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 was 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 genuineness 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.”
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