Orchid lessons


When the seasons change, people in New York are electric.  They waltz across basketball courts and gun engines at red lights and dance in the street to car stereos.  They pet each other’s dogs and chat across fences and look each other in the eyes as they pass each other on the street.  Sometimes total strangers talk to each other.

I was encumbered walking home, two big bags over my shoulders, a hot cup of coffee in one hand, and a long orchid in a small pot in the other.  I’m house-sitting the orchid, sort of.  It was passed to me by a friend who’s off working, and when I’m off working, she’s going to have to take care of it for me.  This is how we work.

“Is that for me?” asked an elderly woman, still wrapped in winter’s down, as I approached her on my block.  I realized there was no reason it couldn’t be.

I stopped. I asked her, “Would you like it?”

“No,” she said firmly.

I explained the caretaking arrangement, that everyone, including the orchid, might be glad if it had a permanent home.

“Still no,” she said.

My good deed undone, I needed an exit line.

“Well,” I said, “be careful what you ask for, I guess.”

“Isn’t that the truth,” she said.


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