On the hottest day of the year, the skirt of my red dress flutters against my thighs in the breeze manufactured by the fan.
Mam bakes when she’s worried, and she hasn’t let the summer heat stop her.
I long for an excuse to escape the sweltering house.
“Mackie, take these cakes to your granny’s, eh?”
Just the excuse I’ve been waiting for.
I grab the basket that Mam holds out and bolt for the door, barely stopping to slam my feet into trainers and grab my purse. Mam’s calling after me. “Straight there and back.”
The heat glaring off of the pavement is only a little cooler than the heat radiating from Mam’s kitchen, but at least here the hot air moves, blown sideways by the wind between the high-rises.
Granny lives ten blocks away. Not far, really, but far enough to make a good walk, especially with Mam’s cake hanging heavy on my arm. I’ve lived in the city as long as I can remember, but still I love the jangle of it, the auto horns calling to one across the blocks like starlings, the groan and rumble of their wheels on the streets, the hawkers calling out wares, the sights, and smells of hot dogs and pretzels and baking asphalt and steel.
There’s a raw tingle up my spine each time I set out into the crowd knowing that I pass and am passed by people I’ll never see again, who’ll never see me again, but that I know these streets as if they were my own, as familiar as the flat I can navigate in the dark, but always changing, never mine, always their own.
Each street has a flavor. Some are bright and sunny and whitewashed: lemon-scented. Some are cluttered with shop fronts with fluttering, colorful awnings, a café, a flower shop with buckets of colorful blooms spilling onto the pavement and a watchful man who guards the merchandise from the wandering hands of couples and toddlers.
“Flower for you, Red? Free of charge.”
Well, maybe he’s not as watchful of his flowers as I thought. He holds out a red rose. I know I should walk past him, but I love red roses.
“Pretty girl like you must get a million flowers, eh? Where’s your boyfriend? Girl like you deserves an armful of flowers.”
Granny likes roses too.
I take the flower. Its been plucked of its thorns. The stem is smooth and cool to the touch. Its scent is heady. I bury my nose in the soft petals.
“There you are. That’s the smile I wanted to see.” The flower seller flashes me a white smile. “So where is he?”
“Haven’t got a boyfriend.”
“Aw, Red, that’s a real shame. Someone ought to pluck you up. You put that rose to shame. You hang onto that flower.”
“I might give it to my granny. I’m on my way to see her now, and she’s ill.”
“Red, you’re breaking my heart. Tell you what. You tell me where your granny lives. I’ll bring her a whole bouquet of red roses. Think she’d like that? Think that’d make her feel better, Red?”
“I haven’t got the money for a whole bouquet.”
“Would five dollars be enough?”
“I can do that, yeah.”
I shift the basket, shift the rose to my other hand and fish out the fiver. He pockets it and starts to gather a bouquet of red roses, carefully selecting each bloom.
“Now you just give me your granny’s address. I’ll make sure these get to her. Make her smile.”
I give him Granny’s address and thank him with a smile.
“You get off to Granny’s, Red. And don’t worry now. We’ll make her feel better.”
I thank him again and continue up the block, humming now and dipping my nose again into the aromatic bloom. The city streets look even brighter, a bit more cheerful with a rose in hand.
Mine was the line stolen this week.