By Mia Tong
Everything becomes romantic in New England precipitation. But it somehow doesn’t apply to the two-hour rain-slicked drive to Portland. You and Sawyer take turns on the radio that crunches on every station until you feel a migraine hatching. He begins talking declaratively (monologue-style) of the chronic irritation that comes from the grind of middle management in financial services—the job that he has held since you met him two years ago. Sawyer has just passed his CFA, or is it CPA? You stare outside at the grainy and malaised highway road, choked in vehicles driving faster than usual, whether by will or inertia. Green and yellow signs hover overhead.
Rows of coral begonias greet you amid waxy leaves inside the greenhouse’s nursery. It’s Saturday but Sawyer doesn’t take his eyes off of his phone long enough to notice the shopkeeper walking over. She smiles and asks if you need help. Sure, why not? She guesses at the occasion from your age and what adorns your hand and you say yes, yes, nearby in Freeport next spring. Sawyer is trailing behind as the shopkeeper peppers you with questions: colors, vases, and height. Pins or corsages? How many tables? Anything for the ceremony or aisles? When you hesitate, she comes up with suggestions: ivory and dark wine, vintage crystal, not too tall to obstruct conversation. The shopkeeper looks to Sawyer for an opinion, and he nods. You’re the expert, he says with his hands raised as if he’s committed a crime. She chuckles once before continuing, describing seasonality and price ranges given the supply chain challenges. It’s terrible, you agree, after a beat, even though you have no firsthand experience as a small business owner in a pandemic. You pass by a barrage of potted evergreens, thick and needly. Spears of perennial phlox and lupine in bright colors. From middle grade science you know that the difference between perennials and annuals is that the latter only lasts one season.
As you leave, you wrap your fingers around the brown bag with the split-leaf philodendron you’ve bought to commemorate the occasion and fold a matte business card into your wallet. Sawyer walks over to the driver’s side of his Subaru Forester while you unload the bag into the backseat. An unexpected red enters your vision: a single begonia bloom with two pairs of even petals. It may have been accidental, but the stem is cut. Clean. Nestled into the canopy of overlapping leaves of your purchased houseplant. It’ll be, in all likelihood, the most naturally-occurring vibrance you see for the next few hours. Tucking it behind your ear, you get into the passenger seat before the roar of ignition muffles the sound around you.
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Mia Tong (she/her/hers) is an emerging fiction writer of immigrant stories and YA. She is based in the Boston area where she is pursuing a master’s in Creative Writing and Literature. Her work has placed in the top 5% of submissions in the Bridport Prize. She has a website with her writing samples for those interested, www.miatongwriter.com.