For Sunday coffee hour, my friend Liz cut irises from her front yard and brought them to our spot (Victor Allen’s on D’Onofrio) in a heavy clay vase, glazed verdigris. “I just wanted you to have some flowers,” she offered, setting them down on the deep orange of the wooden side table between our chairs. The cafe is decorated quite darkly – mohair armchairs the color of clotted blood, deep brown floors, walls no lighter than coffee with a splash of cream. The irises towered like white clouds in the modest light reflected from the parking lot. Outside, other customers absorbed the warmth of a June day we’ve waited so long for, filling themselves with a little extra buzz of sunshine. Liz and the irises and I had the place to ourselves.
Usually, I have the presence of mind to take a picture when I feel that inner clang pointing toward something ordinary and beautiful, but yesterday I had practically no mind at all. Which, sadly, is just another way of saying I was all mind – bedeviled with thoughts and anxieties so persistent and familiar I have all I can do simply to sit still. So I missed that moment when the irises took hold of the entire room, perfecting the light and the dark with their own unrestrained becoming. Taking our cozy seats across from the irises, Liz and I told the events of the week in their presence. “Oh, don’t they smell wonderful!” Liz observed, distracted in mid-sentence. “I can’t really smell them,” I said, leaning in to see what she meant. “You can’t?!” She was astonished.
The irises made it home with me intact, in a big plastic cup with one of those domed lids meant to protect the whipped cream on your confectionary beverage. As I compared a few props against them, I caught myself hoping that making a picture would help me feel better. There’s no kindness in letting this sort of expectation get the upper hand. “It hurts now,” I told myself. “It’ll probably still hurt when I’m done photographing.” I taped up some backgrounds that I like, and took my spot on the little step stool next to the bright window. Maybe it was the warmth of the car on the drive home, or the stillness of watching the beckoning layers of petals, but unexpectedly, there it was. A sharp, juicy-fruit scent, as thick and purple as the irises were white and tender, radiated from them like chimes echoing into summer twilight.
I did stop. I did drink it in. I can’t make a picture of it. You just had to be there.