Death and the Maiden

Susan Cornford

Dec 9th 2022

She was certainly a beautiful, young thing; there was no doubt about that. It was a pity that she had to die. Especially so beautiful, especially so young, And so talented. Elise had a way with flower arrangement that was magical, and guile enough to charm the best of fresh blooms from all the local growers. But, still, someone else got to choose his clients; all he could do was to carry out his job. That didn’t mean that he couldn’t make it as easy as possible for her.


Elise looked up from where her hands were busying themselves with the assorted flowers, greenery and ribbon that were making up a bridal bouquet. That dapper, old man was hanging around outside the front window of her shop again. This was the third day in a row that she had noticed him, always looking as if he were about to come in but never quite making up his mind to do it. She didn’t think stalkers behaved quite like that, but you never knew. No, wait, there he was: opening the door, making the bell jingle and progressing, rather regally, into her premises.

‘Good morning, sir. May I help you with something?’

The gentleman adjusted his pince-nez. (Did people still actually wear pince-nezes anymore?) He cleared his throat and said in low, refined voice, ‘I wish to order a standing sympathy wreath with entirely white, mixed flowers. This is for the youth and innocence of the deceased. I understand that you are the best practitioner of the floral arts in this locality, so I have come to you. Do you think you can provide what will be truly suitable for the occasion?’

Although well-experienced in dealing with this sort of request, Elise felt slightly daunted. (No pressure, then!) ‘I can assure you, sir, that I will do my very best to make the wreath exactly what you want it to be and thank you very much for trusting me to do the work for you.’

They spent quite some time, discussing various aspects of this and both parties felt that it had passed happily. He knew that he could later contact Elise’s assistant and change the delivery details. ‘So, you’re sure you can get it completed before you finish work today.’

‘Yes, Mr. De Mise, I promise that it will be done exactly as you have requested.’

He turned, hesitated a moment and then turned back. ‘This may seem presumptuous of me, but would you be willing to have dinner with me tonight? As you can see, I am an old man and could do you little harm. Besides, you can watch me the whole time to make sure I don’t put anything into your food or drink.’ He smiled in a way that somehow caused a small, twist in Elise’s heart.

She had no plans for the evening and it seemed, for some reason, like the right thing to do. He was probably a lonely, old soul and, given the cost of the wreath he’d just ordered, a good customer. What’s more, anyone his age would probably need more funeral wreaths fairly often. Elise smiled and said, ‘Yes, that would be lovely, thank you.’  They made arrangements to meet at her favorite restaurant at 7:30 pm.

He sat waiting at the best table when she arrived and gave his name to the maître d’. At his insistence, Elise had worn her favorite dress. He watched as the silvery silk flowed and ebbed across the smooth contours of the well-toned body that, so soon, would no longer give pleasure to either the inhabitant or the beholder.  The maître d’ seated her across from her host. As agreed, Mr. De Mise had ordered for both of them: her favorite meal with an elegant dessert to follow. They enjoyed it all very much, accompanied by pleasant conversation. After this was cleared away, the maître d’ arrived, popped the cork on a bottle of French champagne and poured a glass for each of them. He retired. 

Elise giggled a little nervously. ‘Are you sure you aren’t planning to get me drunk?’

Mr. De Mise lifted his glass. ‘Just one toast. To youth and beauty and talent! That’s the last thing I’ll ask of you.’

‘Well, I guess I can survive one sip,’ she said and she drank.

But she didn’t. There was nothing whatsoever wrong with the champagne and no poison had been slipped into Elise’s glass. But there was an aneurism deep in her brain that had arrived at its time to burst with immediately fatal results.

Elise felt her hand being tugged and she looked away from the disquieting sight of her own body, slumped over the restaurant table. Mr. De Mise led her away gently. ‘You don’t want to be here when the doctor over there starts to do CPR and your lovely dress gets messed up. There’s already nothing he can do. I’m sorry.’

She followed him in a daze and then suddenly turned on him. ‘You’re not who you said you were! You’re not a nice, old man who orders funeral wreaths for… My God, that wreath was for me, for my funeral! You had me make a wreath for my own funeral! That is so despicable!’

He brought her hand to his lips and said, ‘Ah, but you will have flowers chosen and arranged by the very best florist in the country; that would not have been possible otherwise, you must admit. And it’s certainly what you deserve, don’t you think? Furthermore, you get to spend eternity in your very favorite dress, with the taste of French champagne on your lips.  

Elise blinked the tears out of her eyes and nodded. ‘I guess you’re right.’

Mr. De Mise smiled at her kindly and said, ‘Now, please, allow me to escort you forward to the next stage of your journey.’

Susan Cornford is a retired public servant, living in Perth, Western Australia. She has pieces  published or forthcoming in Ab Terra Flash Fiction, AHF Magazine, Akashic Fri Sci-fi, Frost Zone Zine, Fudoki Magazine, Granfalloon Magazine, Theme of Absence and others.

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