The seed for this story started while I was standing in a slow line at the grocery store. It’s such a wonderful place to glean story characters simply because spaces like that are life’s great equalizers. We all need to buy food and toilet paper and soap; none of us gets out of the tasks that come with those purchases. Not the disheveled senior citizen putzing down the aisle for a package of hot dogs. Not the rushed parent picking up cases of juice boxes for their child’s classroom. Not even the arrogant jerk discreetly scouring the shelf for Preparation H.
When I looked at the florist kiosk near the registers there were these glaring juxtapositions. Gorgeous orchids next to gaudy foil balloons. A man wearing an expensive suit selecting a ridiculously cheap bouquet. A demure employee in the most heinous shade of yellow that corporate headquarters could have chosen for a uniform. She was someone who obviously cared about her job by the way she fluffed the carnations and engaged with customers. Watching her got me wondering about the relative credentials and backstories we subconsciously ascribe to people in the world. Was she really all that different from some high-end florist with wealthy clients in the middle of an expensive city? My gut told me no. But if you look at the way people like her are often treated, it doesn’t seem like the grocery store florist is ever that highly regarded.
As I loaded my items on the conveyor belt, I grew curious about her story. Does she like this job? Is it her only job or does she work three? How does she get to work every day? Is she happy?
Finding the right medium to grow a story using a grocery store florist came much later after I’d been thinking about how so many of us (myself included) have different kinds of addictive behaviors. How easy it is to become addicted to a substance or activity or, in some cases, a whole life, even if it’s not good for us. And how hard it can be to quit. I thought of the Alcoholics Anonymous twelve-step program and how it’s helped so many to a better path because of its structure.
As someone who likes to play around with unusual structures in my writing, the twelve steps also struck me as an interesting way to tell a story (i.e. a hermit crab approach). Not only do the steps offer the kind of restraint and parameters that work well in flash fiction, the order of the individual steps also inherently lends itself to a subtle plot driver as well. But there’s also this: adhering to the twelve steps is not always a long-term guarantee of success, and in that way it leaves a story’s conclusion open-ended, just like sobriety. Will she permanently quit her life with Gil? We can only hope so. I certainly do.
KRISTEN M. PLOETZ (@KristenPloetz) lives in Massachusetts. Her recent short fiction has been published (or is forthcoming) with The Normal School, Atticus Review, Wigleaf, jmww, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a collection of short stories, and is Creative Nonfiction Editor for Atlas + Alice. You can find her on the web at www.kristenploetz.com