The Flowers Were Awful
Lex Sonne

Your uncle with the cigarettes makes his move and you follow him past your grandfather, past your uncle with the glass eye, past your niece and nephew running after one another in the foyer, through the double doors and out onto the back porch which is concrete and white in the sun. You quit two months ago, but it seems like you should make an exception today.

“Can I get one from you,” you ask as he pulls the red and white pack from his pocket.

“Sure,” he says, smiling maniacally.

A front blew through the day before and you thought the temperature would fall, but it didn’t. There’s no haze, but it must be close to a hundred.

Your uncle takes a handkerchief from his pocket and mops his forehead with it. “Ben,” he says squinting at the blinding light, “I went to the doctor a couple months back because of these bruises on my hands.” He spreads his fingers and holds them out toward you. They are black and blue at the knuckles and the skin is thin. “I said to the doc, said, ‘Tell it to me straight. If it’s my liver or cancer, just go on and tell me because I’m not changing anything anyway.’”

There’s a table out there on the concrete with an ashtray on it. He taps his cigarette against the white rim and looks across the empty parking lot at the movie theater that sits there in the heat. There’s a marquee, but neither one of you can read it at this distance. “Turned out, it’s only broken capillaries.”

You tear a small hole in the filter of the cigarette and watch the smoke drift out of it. “Well that’s good to hear,” you say, loosening your tie and unbuttoning the top button of your shirt.

“Yeah, good to hear, but I don’t do anything anyway, Ben. The less I do the less I want to do.”

“Do you sleep,” you ask him because your father told you that he doesn’t.

“Two or three hours at a time,” he says. “If I drink enough vodka sometimes I can stay knocked out a little longer. But they say I’m as healthy as a twenty-five-year-old. That’s what the doc said.”

You can see your niece and nephew peering through the window at the two of you smoking. The younger one, your nephew, is scared of most things. You think he’ll be the one to smoke; he’ll be the one to drink too much, like you and your uncle. “Do you miss Texas?” you ask.

“Hell yes. I would be living there if it wasn’t for Helen. She wanted to be near the family. She never wanted to leave in the first place.” He takes a long draw off the cigarette and puts it out in the ashtray. “If you can’t find it in Lubbock, then you don’t need it. You can buy skis there. Right there in the middle of the desert you can buy a pair of skis. Yep, if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have come back.” His son died three years ago and you didn’t come back. You were living in Chicago and plane tickets were high or you were busy. “Do you like the flowers?” you ask. “What?” he says. “Nothing,” you say. “You ever try to quit drinking?” you ask. “Nah,” he says, taking a seat at the table and pulling another cigarette from the pack. “Too late to quit now.”


After the burial you ride with your brother and his family to a mansion you’ve never seen. When you get out of the car, your two uncles are standing on the brick walkway that leads to the porch. There are two thirty-foot cedars in the front yard and brown and gray pieces of bark as long as your arm on the brittle grass below. You walk over to one of them and pick up a piece and smell it but it smells nothing of cedar.

“He says he doesn’t like coming over here anymore,” you hear your brother tell one of your uncles. You heard your father explain himself before you left the gravesite; something about his pride although he didn’t put it in those words.

“Ben,” your uncle with the glass eye yells across the yard at you, “A train brought these columns in. They built a spur off the line up there just to get ‘em down here.”

“Damn,” you say, pulling the bark apart and dropping it on the dead grass.

A woman opens one of the front doors and a cat runs out between her feet. “Monster,” she says. “Get back here.” You notice her jogging suit right away, then, as she walks down the steps, her yellow teeth and you decide not to go in although your uncle with the glass eye and your brother stare at you in some sort of disgust before they follow behind their wives. “I wrote the goddamn eulogy,” you want to yell, and all of the sudden you want to eat the bark from the cedars.


On the way to your parents’ place, your brother tells you that there were cats everywhere. He says he doesn’t understand. He says he can’t imagine having enough money to buy the place and not enough money to keep it up. He says there were offices on the second floor with computers and oriental rugs spread out on the wooden floors. “And who was the fat lady with the teeth?” he asks, looking at his wife in the passenger seat. “I don’t know,” she says. “My eyes are itching,” she says.


Your uncles were invited to your parents’ place, but no one shows. You ask your father how long it’s been since either of them came by. He says he doesn’t recall. He says, “You did a good job today. We all appreciate what you did.” You say, “Thanks.” You say, “What’s the name of the estate? I was just there, but I can’t remember.” “Wellington,” he says. “And you lived there?” you ask. “Three years,” he says, “While I worked at the lumber company.” “And you knew when it was going down?” you ask. “Yep,” he says. “And you told her to get out?” “Yep,” he says. “And she was broke when she died?” “Yep,” he says. “Nothing left.”


You cannot believe that the sun is still as high as it is. You are standing in the backyard with your niece and she says, pointing over your shoulder, “There’s a plane.” You put your hand above your eyes to block the light and search the absurdly blue sky. You find it and it’s white like her hair. “Where did it come from,” you ask. “From over there,” she says, pointing in the opposite direction of where it’s headed. “And where is it going?” you ask, laughing. “Nowhere.” She says, “It just likes flying.”

Lex Sonne fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Eleven Eleven, Hobart, Knee-Jerk, Night Train and elsewhere. A collection of his short stories will be published by Lark Sparrow Press in 2012. Currently he is living in Louisville, Kentucky and working on a new collection.