Bouquets of Good Intentions
Updated: Mar 15, 2020
My husband Mark had the flu this past weekend. He spent most of his time wrapped up in a blanket on the couch, curtains drawn, with a fan lightly blowing in his direction. Despite taking over-the-counter medication, he remained febrile, his temperature hovering around 103 degrees. Whenever he awoke, he spoke of a headache and muscle aches and joint aches. Between bouts of sleep he took Epsom salt baths, but his discomfort persisted.
At one point I snuck out to the grocery store. I purchased for Mark three kinds of soup, two kinds of crackers, a sparkling water, and on impulse, a small bouquet to put at his bedside. At home again, I found an empty kombucha bottle in the sink, washed and filled it partway with water. I trimmed the bouquet stems and fed them through the bottle’s opening. I placed the flowers on the coffee table beside the couch.
I attribute buying the bouquet to a scene in a book having primed my mind. The scene comes from Miranda Popkey’s Topics of Conversation in which the unnamed narrator and her mother talk while her mom arranges flowers in vases to place throughout the home. To the reader, the daughter divulges that she hates that her mom regularly brings fresh flowers home, that her mom extends her kindness to herself. While the scene initially makes the mother appear innocent and the daughter mean-spirited, their interactions betray a more complex relationship. The narrator’s mother speaks to her in a way that superficially shows concern for her daughter, but upon second read is filled with stabs of aggression, for example, anger that her daughter won’t confide in her and implicit blame toward her daughter rather than her son-in-law for their divorce. Though the daughter picks up on her mother’s subtext, she still describes her mother generously, using words such as gentle, kind, well-intentioned, lovely, nurturing. I suppose “well-intentioned” reveals a snag in her otherwise forgiving opinion, suggesting that the effect of her mother’s actions have fallen short of their intent. Overall, the mother-daughter relationship is fraught. The mother means well but leaks anger, and the daughter attempts to override resentment with generosity.
On Saturday night Mark considered moving from the couch, his site of respite for the previous twenty-four hours, to the bed. Alert to how that could affect my sleep and my health, I interrogated him: What do you want the bedroom for? Is it because the bed is more comfortable than the couch? Is it because I’m still up and you want the quiet of a separate room? In his fevered, groggy state he explained that the living room is bright at night from the street lamps. I found something with which to cover his eyes, he rolled over, and I kept the bedroom for myself. I didn’t want his virus contaminating both the couch and the bed; I didn’t want my sleep interrupted from his coughs. I knew I was being selfish, but I tried to convince myself that my reasoning was sound.
Overnight Mark’s fever finally broke, and on Sunday he began feeling better, opening the curtains, answering emails, watching TV. I adjusted his spine before throwing on an old episode of Gilmore Girls to watch together.
When he sunk into bed at the end of the day, he said, “Oh, I forgot how comfortable the bed is.”
I admitted, “I felt like a real jerk keeping you on the couch last night.”
“Oh, that’s okay, I completely understand,” he replied. “Thanks for taking care of me.”
I thought, how like Mark to be so giving in his assessment of me. I got into bed beside him, one arm under my pillow, the other resting on Mark’s hip. I closed my eyes and saw the bouquet, sitting on the table by the couch, petite and vibrant in a makeshift vase.