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graphic by Jessica and Marcus Del Greco Bare Bulbs
by Marcus Del Greco

    Roy fabricated hundreds of names for his tulips.  He had Fluorescent Philanderers, Patriot Missals, Bursting Blue Bonnets, Sunfire Sweethearts, Peppermint-On-Your-Pillows, Purple Kings' Scepters... to mention a few.  The High-Breeds catalog he printed twice a year listed them all, in captions beneath full-color centerfolds... a regular stroke-book for floraphyles.
    Roy was the only flower farmer in a nine-thousand-cow dairy town, and the richest.  He did little to stem the tide of professional envy.  In fact, he even aggravated it.  "Milk, milk, milk," I heard him say to an associate over coffee at Aunt Pam's, "If it wasn't for me, this town would be totally homogenous."  He chuckled so hard he knocked over the creamer and I had to bring him another.

    I'd been working at Aunt Pam's for three years and I was just about through.  My family was in dairy, of course, but I'd decided long ago that I wouldn't be.  I'd already milked enough cows to send my own Cheese Moon into orbit.  I was going to check out the city, like all country boys, but I was still only fourteen.
    Aunt Pam had gotten sick of utters and buckets, too... twenty years before.  As a young girl of twenty-six, she set out to open her own diner.  My grandpa wouldn't let her live at the farm anymore (leaving dairy was considered a defection of sorts in those days), so she had my father build her a little dormer loft above the restaurant space.  He'd lent her the cash to rent the place, too.  Luckily she made a success of it, and hired me when I was old enough.

    I went back to the kitchen to get Roy another creamer.  Aunt Pam was standing sideways and checking out her profile in the mirror.  We had a big mirror in back of the grille for some reason; you could watch yourself frying eggs and sausage.
    "Oh, damn damn damn damn damn."  Aunt Pam shook her head.
    "Worried about Roy?" I asked her.  She threw me a resentful look in the mirror.  "He's no lean machine, Auntie."
    "His wallet ain't lean, neither, and he's taking a liking to me.  So hush up, Jake."  She tightened her belt and went back out.

    Roy was, in fact, very fat.  I'd mind saying it, if he was better liked.  But us boys, when we were younger, knew how our fathers felt about the tulip tycoon, each and every one of us.  We passed the time chanting "Flower Fag, Flower Fag!" from the other side of fences when he took his walks to the post office.  Presumably, hundreds of bulb orders per week arrived in his box.
    And for this reason the assumption was made that Roy was a genius.  The word was, he was a genetic engineer who had spawned the most beautiful hybrids yet, and hence became a hundred-thousandaire.  Doubters said he was merely a botanist, the stumbling beneficiary of a couple of lucky pollinations.  Regardless, the town watched in wonder as a sea of rainbow tulip-heads started up from the snow each spring.
    I still don't know why Aunt Pam went for old Roy.  She had to have known the ridicule she was tempting.  The young woman who broke from the family trade to start her own diner hardly seemed prone to gold-digging.  I think perhaps she was just tired.  Roy could take care of her.  The old story.

    "Roy's invited me to his house for lunch tomorrow," Aunt Pam told me as we were closing the place up around noon.  We only served breakfast. "And I've taken the liberty of inviting you to come with me.  Doesn't that sound exciting?"
    It sounded like social suicide.
    "You know I shouldn't go alone, first time.  It's not proper."
 I knew where all the retro-etiquette was coming from.  She was still a bit suspicious of him.  He may have been the best prospect in town... a man who had everything... but he didn't have anyone's trust.
    "Alright, Auntie.  I'll go."
    "Don't sound so happy about it.  You should be interested, Jake.  He's a genius, and a self-made man."
 And soon I would find out how he did it.

    This was the height of spring, and Roy's tulips greeted us long before the sight of his house.  Buttered Scotchmen, Filibusters, Kandy Kanes, Aqua Wizards, and Nine Irons everywhere were in full bloom, alongside their brothers and sisters from the catalog.  Aunt Pam was dolled up like I hadn't seen, and smiled at me as we walked up the long driveway lined with gardens, practicing (it seemed) being proud of her man.  Even then, I had the sense she was claiming all of it as her own.
 Roy met us at the door and was the picture of politesse.  He cleverly paid far more attention to me at first than to Aunt Pam, pampering me with lemonade ("More ice, Jake?") and attempting man-talk.  He even excused us briefly from my aunt and handed me an earthy cigar, suggesting with a wink that I take a walk in the gardens and try it out.  And voila, he had Aunt Pam to himself.
    His flowers truly were spectacular.  I wondered if he unearthed the bulbs after one season or two, or if the tulips produced extra bulbs on runners underground and these were what he salvaged.  However he did it, the result was remarkable enough.  I was walking through Holland.
 I noticed a small path, maintained of grass, which ran to the left and up a hill through the gardens.  One side the path was guarded by blue tulips, and the other by yellow.  I started up it.
    In a couple of minutes (and a couple of minutes walking through endless flowers makes quite the impression) I spotted a wooden shed.  It was fat on the horizon.  How many acres of garden did Roy keep?  He must have needed a lot to keep up with his business.
    Arriving at the shed, I tried the door.  It wasn’t locked.  It was dark inside, however, and I spent awhile feeling around for a switch.  I found none, but inching into the center of the room my forehead was tickled by a pull-string.  The bulb was bare and bright. There were no cobwebs and the room was immaculately organized.  It appeared to be mostly a storage shed; boxes were piled in eights and tens along all four walls, jutting out into the center of the room.  They were arranged so that just enough space was provided to walk; I had been lucky not to knock anything over.
 So this was one of Roy’s secret lairs.  The man had seemed so mythic to us as children… so mythically hated… that it was strange to be standing on his property, inside one of his structures.  Though I was invited, I felt the trespasser.  I wondered if the genetic formulas for his patented varieties of tulips, or at least a breeding journal, were hiding somewhere in here.  I would be celebrated by every cow-man in the county if I crippled Roy’s business.  Of course, Aunt Pam would cripple me.
    But Aunt Pam was a turncoat anyhow.  She’d given up… lost her resolve to fend for herself in the world.  She was in there right now, flirting with the Flower Fag despite herself.  Who cares, I supposed, if you’re disowned from a struggling family if you’re bought out by another?
    I lit up the cigar Roy’d given me, and puffed away sitting on a  bale of hay.  Some of the boxes nearby were already open, so I looked inside.  High-Breed catalogs, two hundred in each.  There were some larger boxes on the other side of the room which hadn’t been opened from the top.  Each had a little whole torn in its side, as to let its contents spill.
    Walking up to one of these, I noticed a few tulip bulbs on the floor, which was only dirt and straw.  A discrete label on the box, not far from the hole, read

 

DUTCH SERVICES
"We Go Dutch"
Wholesale Code #44131

     whatever that meant.  Reaching inside the opening with one hand, I pulled out a couple of bulbs.
    If I had been in a cartoon, the old Thomas Edison would have immediately appeared above my head.  I looked to the left.  More tall boxes with holes in them.  I looked to the right: yet more of the same.  I walked down the row and read the labels on all the boxes.  Each was marked "Dutch Services" and was endowed with a different wholesale number.
    So old Roy wasn’t much of anything special, after all.  He wasn’t a genetic engineer, or a botanical hybrid expert.  He was a middle man.  A middle man with the most gigantic garden in the state, to maintain the illusion that he had made his wares, not simply transported them.
    There was only one thing my father and the other dairy men hated worse than Roy, and that was the existence of middle-men.  They’d been draining his profits for years.
    I looked above me at the bare bulb, burning white.  It hung from a regular extension cord and seemed to be simply draped over a rafter.  It was too high for me to reach so I stood on the bale of hay.  I gave it a tug.  Indeed, there was slack.  I pulled it down to the bale of hay.

    Back through the gardens, I smoked the last of the cigar and detoured slightly to a tiny brook to throw the cigar in.  It hit the water and fizzled, twirling a last thread of smoke.  Behind me, I saw the first few dark clouds rising from where the shed was.
    Aunt Pam and Roy were on his back porch sipping lemonade when I got back a minute later.
    "How’d you like that cigar, boy?" he was chipper.
    "A little strong," I said, "Hope you don’t mind, but I put it out in your shed back there.  Didn’t want to throw it in the flowers, them being so beautiful and all."
    "I suppose," said Aunt Pam, "that the tobacco could damage the bulbs?"
    "Unlikely," said Roy.
    But he would come to believe it.

    Old Roy didn’t notice the fire at all that afternoon, his shed being a good mile from the main house.  He’d said his good-byes to us and took off in his own truck to do some business.  He didn’t see it until the next day, when he went out there to fill some orders, I imagine.
    I told my father and Aunt Pam all about Roy’s unglamorous profession: buying someone else’s flowers and making up silly names for them.  Of course I had to call Roy and apologize about the shed: I hadn’t known how damn hard it was to put a cigar all the way out.  He said it was his fault for giving it to me.  Unfortunately, he added, his whole year’s supply of bulbs were destroyed in the fire.
    Luckily for Aunt Pam, the fire didn’t slow down her courting plans.  She and Roy were married the next year.  And I continued working at the diner, now in a more full-time capacity since Auntie had a house to attend to.
    I’m still not exactly sure why I did it.  It was partly finding out he was a middle-man.  But it was partly something else.  There were only three kinds of people in that town.  Dairy farming folk, like most of my family… folks trying to get out of dairy farming, like me… and folks who already had gotten out of dairy farming, like Aunt Pam and Roy.
    But I hadn’t gotten out yet.
    All I had was the old Thomas Edison.


Marcus Del Greco has been writing for the page, stage, and record since 1992. He founded mindmined.com in 1998 and continues as editor and developer of this domain and a small network of other creative websites. He lives in Alton, New Hampshire.

Email: marcus@mindmined.com
Website: http://www.mindmined.com/marcus


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