SIX FEET UNDER (2001—2005) is a television drama about a family-run mortuary, noted for its dark humor and focus on death.
12/01/09 | Television

Six Feet Under

by Molly Gaudry

The young think themselves longer lasting than they are. Who are we to tell them otherwise? Grandma Rose, who has been here longer than anyone, wants always to tell them otherwise. Her petals have fallen out and her stem stoops, but she bids them close, and “During the time of the pollinators,” she says, “I was the most sought after blossom in any garden in all the land.” The baby’s breath surrounding her huddle in and try to share their warmth while she goes on, but she falls asleep, her tiny head back and to the side.

I shush the children to sleep, and the others follow their lead. Only my husband and I are awake. He has not spoken since the florist removed us from his backyard. Too much effort to uproot us, the florist snipped us with his shears and bunched us with a handful of tulips and the last of the daffodils—our kind, other dying narcissus like us—and fluffed us in with a family of some kind of ferns.

In the cold dark, my husband weeps. The sound gives the children nightmares. They tremble, whimper in their slumber. The others—daisies, irises and lilies—bend as far away from him as their plastic buckets will allow.

“I can’t take much more of this,” I whisper.  “Why won’t you talk to me?”

Silence.

Silence all night long.

In the morning, Grandma Rose lays beneath us like a carpet of blood-red tears, stained with the cold mist that give-us-this-day-our-daily-shower wakes us.

*

After the children have been calmed, made to understand that Grandma Rose’s falling apart is natural, reassured that it will happen to them too, one day, but not anytime soon, I try again. “Why won’t you talk to me?”

All around us the children recite riddles, play memory games, make up rhymes and ask a million questions a minute. My husband gathers his petals closer around his face, burying me out, and turns away.

“I miss the moon,” I say, “the way it lights up the cold dark night. I’m tired of cold dark nights. I feel like I’m going crazy.”

“Do you miss it, too?” I ask.

Not even so much as a nod.

I give up, for now. The children want a story, are tired of making up their own. They are still frightened of Grandma Rose’s remains and refuse to look her way. The baby’s breath sigh.  They have little patience for the rest of us. They are filler, after all. I look to the orchids, hanging from small wooden baskets above, in a separate glass case where it is much warmer. “Why won’t you let the children play basketball with your big bulbous pockets?” I want to ask, but don’t.  The orchids are in their own world, have their own preoccupations to attend.

So I tell the children the only story I’m willing to share, and it begins with, “I thought I might die, it was so cold,” and ends with, “That’s how I got this tear here, and why the edges of my petals are frayed.  We are warriors. We may be signs of spring, but that’s the thing with spring—it’s still partly winter, and it can be a long way till summer.”

“What’s snow?”

“What’s ice?”

“What’s wind?”

“What’s spring?”

“What’s summer?” the children want to know.

“Oh, children,” I say, “Those are stories for another day.”

That night, my husband’s leaves caress the ticklish spot on my stem, but still he does not speak.

In the morning, the children, two orchids, and an iris are gone, and Grandma Rose’s remains have been removed.

*

Another cold dark moonless night. “I remember how we met,” I say. “We met under the sun on a hot April afternoon when the shadow of the flower shop began its slow drift in the other direction.

“We were married when a small white butterfly flitted first on you, dusted its wings all over with your yellow, then dipped down on me, wings flapping, showering me with his pollen.

“I remember the wasps.

“I remember the robin.

“I remember blue jays and morning doves and wrens.

“I remember white clouds I thought I could wade through like water.

My husband leans in close, spreads open his petals, and whispers, “Look.”

Nestled inside is a tiny ladybug, either sleeping or dead.