I was born in Chicago, went to school (never cared for it), got a job, married, and like many people spent most of my life pretending to be content. I say content because there were occasions, like when we escaped the Great Chicago Fire, when I could be called happy. I didn't suffer from any particular melancholy. In fact, I only learned the word I need around 1919: ennui. See, sometime around fifteen I had this epiphany which granted a forward glimpse at the big picture I could call my life. The summation I used before isn't brevity in action, it's the simple fact of my existence, a formula for life (which I've found most people follow). And it didn't seem to be a life worth living because it seemed like the life everyone around me lived -- born but to die after a brief while in routine. Terrified of the banality I saw advancing like a train, I intended to have a more interesting existence.
However, financial concerns dictated I put off my adventures, my quest for a grander life. So I worked hard in the train yards stitched throughout Chicago. Then, without considering the consequences, as is often the case, I fell in love. Melissa Yancy shared my point of view; she wanted all she could get out of life, to travel the world; and together we believed we could make our dreams come true. We'd wander the globe, experience all there is, and meet the most interesting people. Together we saved every penny intending to leave the city before another winter.
Then we had a child. Peter.
True, we could have taken him with us on our epic excursions, however, it didn't seem safe. How could Melissa and I explore the jungles of South America with a baby? So we decided to put off our adventures until our son grew old enough to accompany us. Then we had Ellen. And David, who died inside of a year. After that Melissa didn't seem to care what life could offer. My bones began creaking too often, too achingly to make me lust after Bavarian mountains. So we resigned ourselves and hoped to inspire our children to be what we never could.
Ellen possessed no desire other than to marry and raise a family. She met a good man, and he too wanted the same. Peter married the daughter of the grocer for whom he worked, and then he also settled into routine. I felt proud of them, in a way. They grew up to be decent people, as far as I could tell, though a little shame always persisted, nagging at the back of my mind. Melissa understood my feelings despite never sharing them. Age softened her appreciation of existence whereas I only say the diminishing sands, the hourglass draining.
One morning I woke up, and she didn't. I buried my love and acquiesced to soon joining her. I wanted to think, as some people do, that after this life there is something even more spectacular waiting. But my thoughts would never cling to such fancies, even when I wanted them to be true. I expected to die and there to be nothing after -- the inspiration for my dreams of a grand life.
By 1902 I was past fifty, my heart sometimes pained me when it beat, and I was forced to live with Peter as I couldn't work anymore. I'd take walks during the day to distract myself from thoughts such as: This is what I foresaw at fifteen; my life is right on the track I predicated and feared; soon I'll be no more and a failure as far as my dreams are concerned -- what was the point?
So it was, with these thoughts in my head, I ambled to the cemetery. Despite my idea of the afterlife, I still found some strange comfort sitting beside my wife's grave. And Melissa was, in many ways, the only person who ever really listened to my complaints.
Approaching her grave I noticed a young Oriental man by her stone. He knelt in the grass picking small purple-blue flowers, the size of clover, from the ground. When he heard me coming he looked up and smiled.
"Hello," he said without hint of an accent.
I returned his greeting and asked, "What are you doing?"
"Flowers." He held up a small pouch full of the same plants he picked, "For tea."
"From the graveyard?"
He nodded quickly, "They only grow with the dead."
Pointing to Melissa's stone I said, "That's my wife."
His smile fell. He rose to his feet and made a slight bow, "I'm sorry. I meant no disrespect." His eyes fixed on the ground, he seemed to be mulling something over in his mind. Coming to a conclusion he nodded and said, "Here." He held out his hand offering me a palm full of the flowers he'd picked.
At first I considered refusing but then thought, 'Why not? It would be something different. Even if the tea turns out to be terrible it'll be an interesting story.' So I asked if there were any special preparation instructions. He shook his head, said to make it like any normal tea. I thanked him, took the flowers, and he walked off.
Later that night I told Peter and his wife, Lucy, about the encounter. Lucy immediately went to heat a kettle. Peter protested with concerns the tea might be toxic. Lucy shushed him saying, "Just a sip. To see what it tastes like." The twinkle in her eye made me think of Melissa.
I let Lucy handle the task. After a while she set a steaming mug before me. It looked blue-green. Both of us grinning I took a cautious sip.
"Not bad," I said, "Tastes like mint and maybe..." -- another sip -- "Cinnamon? Something peppery but sweet."
"May I?" Lucy asked.
"Of course." We drank the mug together, laughing away Peter's concerns about poisons.
The next morning Peter and Lucy looked tired yet satisfied. Recognizing the symptoms I remarked discretely, "Interesting evening?" Peter looked to Lucy who blushed and focused on making breakfast. Leaning close he whispered, "I don't know what's in that tea, but I think you should get more."
Following breakfast I went for a walk and found myself strolling at a much quicker pace than usual. Something felt absent, and I realized my back didn't pain me the way it usually did. In addition, my heart didn't thud painfully any longer. I spent most of the day wandering the city and didn't feel the least bit tired even after miles of walking. For three days I enjoyed this reinvigoration. But on the fourth... the old ailments returned.
Suspecting the curative properties of the tea I went to the cemetery and searched the grounds for any sign of the flower. I found none. Remembering the man's words, "They only grow with the dead," I went to another graveyard. There I managed to find a small handful of the flowers.
What happened next I am not proud to admit. I worried the small quantity I procured might not have the same restorative effects as the previous amount. So I waited till Lucy and Peter went to sleep before brewing a cup.
It worked. I woke up the next morning with the same zest as before... Lucy suspected something. She said, "Feeling refreshed?" And I've never been able to shake the concern she knew about my selfish consumption. From then on I always made sure to save a few petals for her... though it didn't turned out to be enough.
The flowers were harder to find than one might imagine. I found myself in a new routine: wandering from one city cemetery to the next. Occasionally I could find a small handful but never enough to fill a pouch like the Oriental man had. Sometimes I'd spy someone strolling the graveyard, eyes scanning the ground, and I wondered if we searched for the same thing.
Although, from time to time, I set some aside for Lucy, I drank the lion's share of the flower. As such, though it made her feel stimulated and potent, it produced some very interesting affects on me. For instance, my hair lost all signs of grey. My joints ceased to bother me. Distant images became less blurred. I gained stamina I hadn't seen since twenty. Instead of feeling fading I felt alive.
One morning I decided to explore several cemeteries in the area. In order to do so I reasoned that I'd best start as early as possible. I rose near dawn and left on my endeavor. Imagine my surprise finding at least a dozen people searching the graveyard. I could tell by the bags they carried, and the way they stooped every few paces they were gathering flowers. This explained why my afternoon excursions so rarely produced more than a few meager plants. During the early dawn others must have harvested every stem and petal from the grounds.
I immediately went to work. None of us spoke to one another. Every so often I might pass another harvester, but we merely exchanged brief nods of acknowledgement. We went up and down the rows till the whole cemetery had been plucked. I didn't fill my pouch as much as others, but I walked away with a tidy amount. And now I understood. In order to gather any significant quantity I'd have to harvest in the predawn hours. The Oriental I met must have been out gathering what scraps he could, knowing as I do that some flowers escape detection.
Thus my new routine developed. In the earliest hours I went to the cemetery to harvest, took the spoils home at dawn, drank my tea for breakfast, and spent the remainder of the day revitalized.
I took a position in Peter's store and started saving money. It felt like I could still manage to live the dreams I'd had since childhood. With a bag full of my cemetery flowers, I saw the world opening up with possibility again.
I do not care to dwell upon what came to pass, so I will be brief.
Peter grew old. He died. Ellen and her husband did as well. Lucy lived to be eighty, but she too passed away. She alone suspected the cause of her longevity. I out lived them all. Even, perhaps, my grandchildren.
Of course, it rapidly became apparent I couldn't stay in the old neighborhood. People at first suspected tonics of various natures and shoe polish in my hair, but eventually, their suspicions grew darker. Some who saw me leaving the graveyard in the dawn hours fanned the flames of superstition. I considered revealing my secret, however, I wondered about my fellow harvesters. For one reason or another they'd all kept the secret of the flowers. Maybe it was just pure selfishness. After all, there weren't enough flowers for everyone, and they only grew with the dead. If people stopped dying... so I sold Peter's business after his death in 1927. I gave a large portion of the sale to Lucy and used the rest to travel.
Naturally, I took a pouch full of my flowers. I planned to use them sparingly, however, my first night in London I stopped off in a local cemetery, out of habit, and found harvesters at work here as well. So long as there are the buried dead, I can find my flowers; I harvest, I work, I travel, and now that I have the time I will, eventually, live the life I always wanted: a life extraordinary.