Ashur headed out the door of the flower shop with a bouquet of relatively inexpensive flowers, the door chime ringing behind him as he exited. He turned the flowers over in his hand, inspecting them one last time before he entered the subway and lost the natural light. No roses, no lilies, no orchids; just daisies, carnations, and baby’s breath. He sighed, but it would have to do. They weren’t eating caviar off golden plates just yet, after all, and though he wanted to spoil his wife Mulli, they weren’t making enough money together (much less making enough separately) to justify his spending absolutely more than he needed to on flowers, a luxury in and of themselves.
On the train, Ashur held the plastic-wrapped bouquet under one arm and juggled the rest of his things with gloved, clumsy hands. He tried to avoid swiping other subway passengers with the blooms when he turned, but it was practically impossible in the lunch rush hour. He hoped to get to Mulli’s work in time to surprise her with flowers and lunch, but every time he looked at his watch it seemed like only a minute or two had passed.
When the train finally pulled into his stop, he pushed through the huddled masses and onto the above-ground platform, taking care not to ruin the bouquet more than it already had been. The icy cold air hit him directly in the face, and he had to stop to catch his breath before continuing down the platform stairs into the din of the city below.
He had crossed three streets, jumping over slush piles and narrowly avoiding stepping in yellow snow, when he finally reached the unassuming office building where his wife worked. It was kind of squatty, he decided, since the building was framed on every side (except the side facing the street) by apartment buildings much taller than its short three stories. He smiled as he walked up the brownstone steps, remembering one time Mulli had half-jokingly complained that her commute was too far and that they should move into one of the apartments adjacent to her work.
Pulling open the first door into the building, Ashur kicked his boots against the rough wall to knock off any lingering snow so that he wouldn’t track it inside. Making sure the first door was closed to avoid a gust of wind, he pulled open the second door and stepped into the warm waiting area where the doctors’ clients sat before they were called for their respective appointments.
The receptionist looked up from her work at the front desk with a retail-flavored smile. “Hello! What can I do for—” Her smile faded into confusion. “Hi, Ashur,” she said. “What are you doing here?”
“Here to see Mulli, of course,” he replied. He held up the drooping flowers and makeshift picnic basket full of food he’d lugged with him through the city’s transit system. “I brought lunch. Do you know when she’s having her break today?”
“Mulli?” the receptionist asked. “Why?”
Ashur lowered the food basket to his side again and set the flowers on the front desk’s counter. “I brought her lunch,” he repeated, frowning. “Is she back there with a client?” He leaned over the desk to see into the hallway that led to the private rooms where the doctors and nurses worked.
The receptionist shook her head, still somewhat confused. “I’m sorry, Ashur, but Mulli doesn’t work here anymore. She hasn’t worked here in more than a month.”
“What do you mean?” he asked. “She left this morning like usual. She hasn’t said anything about not working here.”
“She had a fight with one of the doctors about a client’s care, and when the doctor pulled seniority, she stormed out. We haven’t seen her since. Didn’t she tell you?”
Ashur stepped back, even more confused than the woman in front of him. Mulli had been in a fight? Mulli had been in a fight? She was demanding and difficult to please professionally, but she had never once so much as snapped at another coworker—doctor, nurse, or anyone else.
Scratching the back of his head, he swiped up the flowers again and backed into the entryway. “Oops! I just remembered she mentioned it before, and I was just on autopilot getting here.” He was out the door before the receptionist could finish asking him to let them know what had happened, and it was likely he’d pretend he hadn’t heard her request.
Mulli: missing. Ashur stood on the sidewalk at the bottom of the stairs and looked down the street one way and then the other. He thought for a moment and set off purposefully toward the park a few blocks away.
He found her sitting under a pine tree making little mountains in the snow with her booted feet. He sat down next to her, gingerly wiping some of the snow away so that he wouldn’t end up with his pants soaked. “I brought you flowers,” he said.
She didn’t look at him but leaned against his shoulder, the last vestiges of tearful shaking working its way through her body. “Want to tell me what happened?” Ashur prompted after a moment. She shook her head. “Did it have to do with a client?” She nodded against his coat.
He pulled her closer to him and wrapped one arm around her, the flowers and basket of food temporarily forgotten beside him. “Have you been looking for a new job this entire time?” She nodded again, and he could hear the strangled sob even through the coat’s layers where she’d buried her face. “Are you worried about the money?” he asked quietly. She nodded once and refused to lift her head to look at him.
“We’ll make it through, Mullissu,” he said, using her full name to catch her attention and bring her back from the catastrophizing her brain had surely worked itself into. She stilled against his chest, and he wrapped both arms around her more fully. “We’ll figure it out together, okay? I’ve got you; I won’t let you fall.”
This post is part of Flash Fiction February.