By Maddy Schow
Anise’s favorite poisonous plants were delphinium, oleander, and lily of the valley. Especially lily of the valley, which she’d wanted in her wedding bouquet even before she knew the flowers could put a man into cardiac arrest. After she learned that tidbit, it had sounded even more appropriate for a wedding. A flower that could literally make your heart skip a beat? Not to mention the wicked play on “till death do you part.” She didn’t tell anyone about this joke after it had gone over poorly with her sister, who had always been, Anise thought, a little too sensitive about dark humor.
Anise’s sister Hortensia was traditional, to say the least. Lilies for funerals, always lilies. White, like heaven: pure, innocent, sterile, like every funeral since the funeral when that first white lily had entered the folded white hands of some dead medieval maiden. Anise admitted there was Gothic charm in a traditional funeral, but people aren’t all stuffy Victorians, and people aren’t at all pure. Anise’s passion ensured her father placed her firmly as manager of funeral arrangements upon his retirement from the flower business.
Anise had a flair for casket flower sprays, and she loved making them, to the point that she had planned arrangements for herself, her parents, and Hortensia (who, upon finding the scratch paper plans, tore them up and threw them out). Anise imagined the flowers she would choose to complement every body that walked into the shop—purple roses for that red-haired woman, chrysanthemums for that man who whistled “Jingle Bells” in the middle of May, orange gladioli for the girl with the guitar. Everyone thought it was so nice how the flowers looked like they represented the person. Anise liked the compliments, and she liked the irony in the flowers being so full of life and personality while the person whose personality they represented was just a shell in a wooden box. She liked the fragility of flowers, the burst of color and life cut for a display that would only kill them, to decorate a party for a person who was only dead.
When the ice cream man came in to buy daffodils for his wife, she imagined what an ice cream man’s funeral would be like. Would the pallbearers all wear white ice cream man uniforms? Would the organist play a solemn version of the ice cream truck’s tinkling song? Anise imagined the flower display: cattails as popsicles, dyed daisies sprinkled among vanilla white and strawberry pink roses . . . maybe she could even use strawberry flowers, depending on the season the ice cream man died. It would have to be at the start of spring.
Anise bought a knife with cash and killed him in his driveway when he parked in the evening. She stole some money from his truck to make it look like that’s what she’d wanted. And she provided the funeral flowers to his widow for free. He was always giving free little treats to the kiddos, after all. It was the least her family’s shop could do.
Over the next few years, Anise waited and waited for the next time inspiration would strike so fiercely that she would kill to execute her design. There was an ornithologist. She had a vision of birds of paradise, blackbird lilies, parrot tulips. She sketched ideas. She tested arrangements in the back room. She interviewed him to find out if she should emphasize the intense tropical colors or mute them with lighter plants. He was very soft-spoken. She would use a whiter variety of tulips. She killed him three summers after the ice cream man.
Then there was a beautiful, luxuriously dressed woman who came into the shop to buy herself a Valentine’s bouquet. Anise pictured a devastating display of black roses, white lilies, and poppies. Dark, dignified, and scandalous. She killed her a few Januarys after the bird watcher. Her days became exhilarating. Waiting for her next project to walk in to buy flowers, watching for anyone who might be suspicious of her. Each time she pricked her finger on a rose she watched the blood bloom from her skin like a flower opening to the sun, and she reminisced, and she anticipated. Each wound she inflicted expressed the dark roses trapped within the body.
Anise met her late husband when she was thirty. He was a botanist and a romantic, with a wicked sense of humor, just like Anise was. The only difference between the two of them was that her sister seemed to like him. He and Anise were married in six months. Hortensia was suspicious of the wedding decorations, but not surprised by them, because she was a little too familiar with Anise’s tastes. Delphinium, oleander, and, of course, lily of the valley strewn all over the rented ballroom. All out of reach of children and all away from the food because they were all “a little toxic,” Anise and her fiancé said.
Anise’s sister would not stop writing to Anise’s husband. He showed her the letters, and laughed at them, because Anise laughed at them. “She doesn’t like you much,” he said.
“No, she doesn’t. I can’t recall what she even has a grudge against me for anymore.”
“In this one she says you’re conniving.”
“She calls you murderous.”
Anise curled in close to her husband and looked at the letter in his hand.
Anise expressed to me a long time ago that she enjoyed the thought of planning a murder. I don’t know what side of her you know and trust, but I know the most important side of Anise. She’s never made friends with anyone without them being a tool, without them having some use, artistic or utilitarian. You’re a trophy to a woman who plays at funeral planning.
Anise noticed that soon he stopped showing her the letters. Soon, he stopped even quoting them to her. For their one-year anniversary, Anise cut her husband’s throat. “You sure do spend a lot of time reading what she has to say about me,” Anise said, staring firmly into his eyes as he choked on blood.
She arranged the flowers for his funeral. Delphinium, oleander, and lily of the valley. She picked herself a bouquet before leaving, and she nibbled on the flowers in the car. At home, she couldn’t stop herself. She ate until her heart stopped beating.