The autumn weather finally seems to be rolling in. The clouds are low and grey, and the crisp air pierces Logan’s skin as he walks into the flower shop. He says good morning to the designers and makes his way into the office. Olivia scribbles on a paper with her right hand, her left pointer finger typing away on the keyboard.

“Yes, I will take great care of this for you,” she says into the receiver, waving to Logan with her now free hand. “You too… take care… thank you.”

“Orders already?” Logan asks, glancing quickly at the large wooden hand clock on the wall to the right, above his desk. 8:45a.m. – it’s early but right on time for flowers.

“It’s cold out. You know people like to order flowers for their loved ones when the weather changes. It’s also dark out… a lot of our families feel like their loved ones are lonely,” Olivia replies.

She makes a lot of good points. No one likes arriving at their loved one’s grave to find wilted, dead flowers from the blistering sun. On gloomy days, people don’t like the idea of their loved ones in the cold ground with nothing bright around them.

He places his backpack down on his side desk, then sits down and logs into his computer. All the applications he needs for the day start to load – OEM: order entry manager for floral orders, the Rest Haven database of all grave locations, and his email. Lucky me, he thinks, there’s nothing out of the ordinary in his emails. Logan’s inbox has a strange way of predicting how his day will go. If he receives more than twenty messages overnight, he’s usually in for a busy day. Today, only five emails, all of which get sent to the respective departments.

As he settles in, Olivia and Logan catch up about their weekends, both of which involved all things spooky. One of the best parts of autumn is Halloween, and it’s probably only natural that those who work in the funeral industry have some kind of affinity towards the holiday. Every department decorates the parts of the offices the guests can’t see. It’s considered poor taste to have decorations in any of the main areas as the guests probably wouldn’t have the best response to a grim reaper, skeleton, or a ghost hanging from the ceiling as they grieve the loss of a loved one.

Logan’s direct line begins to ring. “Rest Haven. This is Logan. How may I help you?”

White noise fills the line, then it goes dead. “The phone must be on the fritz again.” He places the phone back on the receiver.

Olivia throws her head back and groans, “Nooooooo. I can’t spend tomorrow answering phone calls from people angry that they couldn’t send flowers today.”

Before he even removes his hand from the phone, it begins to ring again. “Rest Haven. This is Logan. How may I help you?”

There’s a split-second of static then a voice comes through. “Hi, this is Jenny Valles. I’d like to speak to my husband, John Valles.”

“Of course. Just a moment,” he replies, placing her on hold.

Usually, when people are that exact, the person they are looking for works in one of the Rest Haven departments. Logan clicks into the address book of his email that has every employee of the park then types in John Valles. Big bold letters pop onto the screen: Sorry, we couldn’t find any results.

His brows furrow at the name he types, then he realizes that the name seems vaguely familiar, but he remembers it in a different capacity… he pulls up the Rest Haven database and slowly, he types in John Valles again. Sure enough, there is one John Valles interred at the memorial park. The name finally rings a bell – Logan assisted Mrs. Valles at the beginning of the year in selecting flowers for her husband’s funeral service.

Thinking he misunderstood Mrs. Valles, he resumes the call and says, “Thank you for holding, Mrs. Valles. Just clarifying, you want to place an order for flowers for your husband, correct?”

Even though she’s on the other end of the phone and probably in her living room, Logan can practically see her shaking her head fervently. “No, no, no, no. I want to speak to him. He works there,” she replies.

He works here? “Okay, my mistake. May I place you on hold while I search for his number?” he says.

“Yes, of course. Thank you,” she says.

He hits the hold button once again. As he pinches the phone between his left ear and shoulder, he goes back to the contacts. He types in only the last name Valles this time. Maybe his name is listed differently. Logan enters in the name and there are four employees with the last name Valles, none of whom share the same first name, let alone same initial. He clicks the keypad of his phone and resumes the call once more. “Thank you again for holding, Mrs. Valles. I can’t seem to find your husband in my contacts and I have a list of everyone who works here at the park. Do you happen to know what department he’s in?”

“No, I don’t,” she replies. “That’s why I’m calling you.”

She pauses, and in the brief moment of silence, there’s another voice with her. She then says, “You know what? He said that he might not be in the system. He just started working there. It’s okay, though. I live close by, so I’ll just come over to talk to him. Thank you, Logan.”

The call ends, and he places the phone back on the receiver. “What was that?” Olivia asks.

Logan shrugs. “Umm, it was a lady asking to speak to her husband. She said he works here, but she didn’t know what department.”

“Did you look him up?”

“I did, but his name didn’t pop up… the name sounds familiar, and so does hers, so I looked it up in the database – John Valles was a decedent back at the beginning of the year, and I helped his wife pick flowers for his funeral. She was who I was on the phone with,” Logan says.

Before Olivia can respond, Logan’s direct line starts ringing again. “Rest Haven Flower Shop. This is Logan. How may I help you?”

“Did you find him?”

Recognizing the voice, he says, “Hi, Mrs. Valles. No, I can’t seem to find your husband in the system that lists our employees.”

“Okay, well, if he calls for me, just tell him that I called and that I have a headache,” she replies.

“Will do.”

The line disconnects once more. Logan’s eyes meet Olivia’s as he says, “It was her again, and like I was saying, John Valles is the name of a decedent from the beginning of the year. I hate to say this, but because she seems to be confused, I feel like she might be having an episode.”

“Well, did you tell her that we have a decedent here by that name?” Olivia asks.

He shakes his head. “I didn’t, but I also don’t know if that’s the best approach. If I’m right, and she does have some form of dementia and is having an episode, I don’t want to send her into a spiral. I did that with my grandpa once, and he flipped out.”

Olivia nods in agreement. “Well, who was the memorial counselor for that case? Maybe reach out to them and see if she’s called them?”

“That’s a good idea. I’ll see who it was.”

He clicks into the Rest Haven internal Internet and navigates the cursor to the memorial arrangements for active and completed cases. He ticks off “Completed” in the arrangements then types in John Valles – the case folder pops up. The counselor’s name is at the top right of the screen as Logan clicks into the folder. It was Shannon. He picks up his phone and dials her extension. 3-6-9-6. There’s a short ring, then he hears, “Memorial Counseling, this is Shannon.”

“Hey, Shannon. It’s Logan.”

“Hey, Logan. What’s up?”

He bites his cheek then he says, “This might be a strange question, but did you receive a call from Jenny Valles?”

“No, I haven’t. I arranged her loved one’s services at the beginning of the year, though. Why are you asking?” she replies.

“Well, she called my direct line twice this morning wanting to speak with her husband, John Valles,” Logan replies without any other context.

“Oh…” Shannon says quietly. “That’s the decedent.”

“I know,” Logan says. “I arranged the flowers for her, and I know he’s the decedent, but she’s pretty insistent that he works here and she wants to talk to him.”

“Thank you for letting me know. Let me try to find her daughters’ information and give them a call. Maybe she has Alzheimer’s and something just triggered her need to speak to her husband.”

“Yeah, she seems to know he’s here, but not in what capacity,” he adds.

“Okay, yeah, I’ll look for the daughters’ information. If she calls again, just transfer her to me and I’ll see if I can get a better hold of the situation,” Shannon says.

“Great, thank you.”

As he disconnects, Olivia looks over her monitor at him.

“Shannon just said that if Mrs. Valles calls again, to transfer the call to her,” Logan says.

“Well, I wish I had known that,” she sighs.

Logan’s eyes widen and his head tilts to the side.

“She called the main flower shop line while you were on the phone, and she asked to speak to her husband. I just did the same thing as you and said I couldn’t find him. I think she called twice, actually, but the first call was just static, then dropped. She got through the second time. It was still hard to hear her, though, lots of static.”

“Man… this is sad. Well, if she calls again, call Shannon, then transfer the call,” he says.

Olivia purses her lips. “What do you think happened that’s making her have this episode?”

“Maybe she’s ‘sundowning’,” Logan says with a shrug.

“What is that?” Olivia says, shaking her head.

“I read about it. It’s also called ‘Late-day Confusion’. Towards the end of the day, when it gets dark, people with dementia forget things.”

“Logan, it’s nine in the morning,” Olivia replies.

“I know that. I’m just trying to come up with a reason… I mean, it is pretty dark today, so maybe she’s just not having a good day,” he says.

Olivia frowns. “She’s obviously not having a good day if she’s trying to talk to her dead husband, Logan.”

Logan sticks out his pointer finger at Olivia and gestures up and down. “All of that, is not helping.”

“Oh, I’m supposed to help?” Olivia replies with a smirk.

Very funny. Logan’s eyes roll as he looks to his computer to actually get some work done.

Logan returns to his desk after meeting with a family to discuss floral options for their loved one’s memorial service. He sets his book with all the flower arrangements the shop has available on his desk, then removes his blazer, resting it on the back of his chair.

“How’d it go?” Olivia asks.

He pinches his lips together. “All right, I guess. They wanted all roses, but thought our prices were exorbitant. So they ended up just getting a small spray for the casket and a vase arrangement of mixed flowers.”

“Everyone wants the expensive flowers without the expense,” Olivia states.

Logan knows that’s true, but even he believes that the funeral industry is highly overpriced… people can’t even afford to die.

The moment Logan sits down, his direct line begins ringing. From the caller ID, and the now seven phone calls he’s received, he knows who it is. “It’s Mrs. Valles again,” he says.

There’s a stifled groan from Olivia then a brief moment of guilt in her eyes. “I thought Shannon said she was going to handle it,” Olivia says.

“Clearly, she hasn’t. I think she’s been meeting with families all day,” Logan says as the phone keeps ringing. He inhales deeply through his nose then lets it out through his mouth, picking up the phone. “Hi, this is Logan.”

“Hi, Logan. It’s Jenny Valles again. Any chance on locating what department my husband is in?”

Logan removes his glasses, placing the back of his hand to the space between his eyes – the glabella – Logan read somewhere that that was what it’s called. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Valles, I haven’t. Shannon, in our Memorial Counseling department, said she can probably assist you. May I place you on hold to see if she’s available to talk to you?”

“Yes, if she can help that would be great. Thank you, Logan.”

“You’re welcome. Just a moment,” he says, placing her on hold. Logan presses the other line and dials Shannon’s extension. The line rings a few times and it heads to the general voicemail for the department. He throws his head back and ends that call. Logan takes another beat then resumes the call with Mrs. Valles. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Valles. It looks like Shannon is currently assisting another family. May I let her know you called and then she can give you a call back?”

Every ounce of Logan hopes that Mrs. Valles agrees. He’s running out of things to say to her, other than the one thing he really doesn’t want to tell her.

“That will be fine. If she can call me as soon as possible that would be great,” Mrs. Valles says.

“I’ll let her know… thank you… bye.” Logan hangs up the phone and glances at the clock – it’s three o’clock. The day will be over soon even though it’s felt like ten hours from meeting with families about flowers and talking to Mrs. Valles all day.

He’s tried everything he could possibly think of to get Mrs. Valles to realize her husband passed away months ago without directly telling her that. It is clear that she remembers some things, but in fragments. Mrs. Valles remembers meeting with Logan about flowers a few months ago, which is why she had his business card to his direct line. She even remembers telling him that she thought he was too young to be working in the funeral industry; the only thing she doesn’t remember is that the flowers were for her husband’s services.

“What if you called the daughters?” Olivia asks Logan.

“I mean, I could, but Shannon has a better relationship with the family. I didn’t talk much to the daughters… I only did when they came in to pay for their dad’s services,” Logan replies. “I don’t know how thoughtful it’d be to be like ‘Oh, hi, you probably don’t remember me, but I just wanted to tell you that your mom has been calling all day to speak to your dead dad.’”

Olivia’s eyes roll this time. “Now who’s not being helpful with suggestions?”

Logan’s phone starts to ring. He doesn’t even check the caller ID because he already knows who it is. “Rest Haven, this is Logan.”

“Hi, Logan. It’s Jenny Valles again.”

“Hi, Mrs. Valles. I haven’t been able to get ahold of Shannon yet. She’s still with another family,” he replies.

“Oh no, I wasn’t calling about that,” she says. “I just wanted to say thank you for being so helpful today.”

Logan runs his fingers through his hair. He hasn’t felt very helpful – if anything, he feels the opposite. “That’s very kind of you, but I feel like I haven’t been able to fulfill your request.”

“You tried, and that’s what matters. But, I was able to find my husband, so I wanted to say thank you for being so helpful and patient with me,” Mrs. Valles says.

“I’m here to help, or at least try,” Logan says. She found her husband?

“I’m truly grateful for it, Logan. You take care now.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Valles. You too.” There’s no response or goodbye from Mrs. Valles. The line just fills with static then disconnects.

Logan hangs up the phone, his brow furrowed. Mrs. Valles has called nearly twenty times throughout the whole day, and there was always a slight tone of confusion in her voice, but this last call was the most together she had sounded. Logan couldn’t place his finger on it, but the call also felt different – not because she wasn’t asking to speak to her husband, nor the fact she said she found her husband, but the way she spoke reminded him of when he met her all those months ago.

Olivia walks over and hands Logan a flower form. “Why’re you giving me this? It’s your turn to go meet family for flowers,” he says.

“They requested you,” she replies. “Now hurry up. They were waiting for you while you were on the phone with Mrs. Valles. They’re in room 55.”

Logan takes the form and puts it into his folder quickly. He stands up and puts on his blazer then hurries over to arrangement room 55.

The large white double doors are slightly ajar. He knocks lightly, then walks in. “Hello, I’m Logan. I’ll be the florist assisting you today.”

There are two ladies, probably in their early to mid-forties. They look vaguely familiar, but Logan meets with so many families that sometimes they blend together. The two women sit side by side at a large mahogany table. Logan sits directly across from them in the empty chair.  He sets his folder and flower book down. “First, I’d like to offer my condolences for your loss.”

Logan realizes that he didn’t even look at the floral form – he doesn’t know who he’s meeting or the name of the decedent. Before he goes into his spiel about pricing and floral selections, the woman on the right says, “Hello, Logan. I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Jeannie, and this is my sister, Jenn. We met you several months ago when we paid for our father’s services.”

It starts to click in Logan’s head why these two seem so familiar. “You met with our mother and helped her pick the flowers for our dad’s funeral, and she was very fond of you and how you helped her during such a difficult time, so we thought it was only fitting that you help us now,” Jeannie continues.

A sharp twinge pierces the pit of Logan’s stomach as he opens his folder to take a look at the floral form. His eyes scan the white parchment and in the top left it says:

Deceased: Jenny Valles

Photo by Rodion Kutsaiev on Unsplash

CategoriesShort Fiction
Lian Lansang

Lian is a Filipino-American writer based in Los Angeles. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from CalArts in 2019. Currently, he works at a cemetery flower shop.