[Spoilers herein: Read Part I first]
There are moments in a boy’s life – generally summer or autumn evening moments –when he is walking home alone, worn to his essence at the end of a day’s all-out play, his heart as always overflowing with all the possibilities vouchsafed him by the universe, that give his life the extra lift that causes him to reach instinctively for his slingshot as he looks around for optimally exciting targets in the endlessly questing hunt that is the very reason for such moments…
That was the kind of evening it was, with cool prussian-blue sky and whispers of night air through crisping tree leaves, when all is otherwise silent, folks are at dinner and the streets are empty, leaving a young boy to nothing but his own devices at a time when the world is entirely his de facto oyster; he looks upward…
It had also been at evening a few weeks before, when I’d first shot out the naked streetlight bulb above that dark corner by our hangout woods, the corner didn’t even merit a streetlight cover, just a big open light bulb up there on a pole like a giant great idea, that called to me like a Buffalo to Bill, that made such a satisfying POP! when struck dead on with a slung marble, plunging the whole corner into true darkness of my own making… through which I then walked – much larger for the one-shot achievement, Annie Oakley’s little brother – home to dinner on time, all in a boy’s day’s work.
As I headed home past the house on the corner, the only house on that corner, hidden away in a now (thanks to my slingwork) even darker grove of trees, someone called to me from the darkness there. It was a woman’s voice, calling me, little boy. I went through the hedge into the darkness. On the low house porch a woman stood in the light from the half-closed doorway; all I could see was a silhouette. She said she’d seen me shoot out the light. The time before too. I was nailed. She invited me in to talk about it. I followed her inside. She was older than my mother but younger than my grandmother.
When she opened the door my jaw fell. From out of the darkness I had never seen an inside of a house like that inside of a house. Flowers were everywhere, bright flowers of every color: on the walls, hanging from the ceilings, on the floors, in other rooms, on the table; there were bits of flowers all over the chairs, scraps of flowers on the floors, flowers in vases, tall flowers and bouquets and… I stood there dazed with guilt amidst all these flowers, I stood there speechless, staring, waiting for the scolding.
But it didn’t come. Instead she asked me why I had shot out the streetlight. I explained the idea of it, the Buffalo Billness of it, the need for a guy to keep his aim and so on, all that I’d understood to be true thus far, which at that moment somehow didn’t seem to be enough. I understood nothing of housefuls of flowers. She seemed to understand, she didn’t look angry. She explained to me that she lived alone – no, she wasn’t married, no, she had no children – and she made flowers for a living. And living up here on the edge of the woods alone like this, she liked to have that street corner light on so she felt better.
Then at my question she smiled and showed me how she made flowers out of crepe paper, silk, all sorts of materials I’d never seen before, that in her hands changed from whatever they were to what flowers are. She made roses, petunias, poppies, lilies, irises, they were there all around her, filling that house on the corner behind the trees, and all this time I’d had no idea.
Looking back on it now, I can see that I was indeed awed at her being a sort of goddess who could make flowers, but at the time I was mostly grateful to her for not turning me in. I never shot out that streetlight again; in fact I once stopped a slinger friend from shooting it out. We moved away as our fortunes declined not long after, so I never saw or spoke with the lady again, but I always remembered her. It wasn’t until many years of growth later that I finally realized what she had really given me that night: an entire house full of flowers, forever.