An editorial note, here. This is a constrained-writing prompt that demanded the use of quite disparate elements. I didn’t want any of the elements to be a mere mention, but each one integral to the story. This story may not seem to connect well, or feel contrived as a result. I think I did well making the story ‘flow’. Where I do not succeed, you, the reader, have the apologies of me, the author.
“You want to send what?”
“Sixteen live water lilies.”
The woman’s brow furrowed, struggling to express just how strange she thought my request. “Sir. Don’t they have to be . . . in water?”
“Each will need to be shipped with a reservoir of fresh water. If the trip takes too long, they’ll have to stop and sun them each day, too.”
“What . . . sir.” This time she failed to maintain her professionalism. What I was asking would cost her riders in time, as well as the weight their horses would have to haul. “What the HELL could you possibly want–”
I held up a finger for silence and fixed the woman with a glare. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business. You work at a post office. I want to post something. It’s unusual, it’ll be expensive, and I’ll pay.”
” . . . yes, sir. Yes. But if I may suggest, the weight of the water will be a big issue by cart. By ship, not so much.”
“I tried sending it by ship. They didn’t sun them, and when they were becalmed and ran low on water, they drank the reservoirs.” I looked out the window at the distant harbor, and pointed. “That ship, in fact, the Red Herring. It’s your turn to try.”
“Yes, sir. The cost will be fourteen imperials and seven octans. Or one Andalian crown and seven dimes.”
I sighed. The rate was exorbitant but justified. I counted coins onto the desk. “Take this receipt to the postman outside.”
I took the slip of parchment and walked outside. Men working for the post office waited outside for deliveries or cargo to haul. I went to up to one of the men. He took the parchment, looked at it, and shook his head. “Socks can’t handle that weight. Try Marcus, over in the green. His team could pull a house down, and the cart’s a smooth ride.”
I went down the line and handed the slip to Marcus. “You want me to carry . . . wait, what?” He fell silent, reading the instructions on the receipt. “Look, I’ll take it, but this is gonna be irritating and slow. Your cargo’s cutting into my profit, holding me up like that.”
I expected this, had planned for it. I needed a driver mindful of his cargo, and so, of course, I would pay him beyond his fee. I found more coins, nearly doubling the cost of this venture. “I’m sorry for the trouble. But . . . Marcus, was it? If I pay you for handling and these arrive dead . . . ”
“Dun’ worry about that. I don’t know anything about these lilies, but I can follow instruction. Hour in the sun each day, fresh water if I’m delayed.” He began loading the first crate, stumbling as the water’s weight shifted within the reservoir.
“Your team . . . are they matched horses?”
“Autumn and Fall, given their coloring. They were a team for a noble gent once, liked to run ’em too hard. They can pull weight, but they can’t make speed anymore.”
I went to the horses, and pulled out an apple – my lunch – and drew my knife, splitting it in half. I fed one to each horse. Perhaps it was silly of me, but if I were going to bribe Marcus, I might as well get on the horses’ good side too. At least it was cheaper than bribing Marcus had been.
With the horses bribed, I went inside, claiming a desk inside the post office and began writing a letter to go with my cargo.
Penny, my star, I hope this shipment reaches you. The last went astray. When you and I last spoke, you said you missed the lily pads of the ponds where you once resided. I cannot return to you for a month yet, (I cannot trust oversight of these cargoes to another,) but have the gardener spread these in our garden ponds. Perhaps your new home will feel a little more like home.
I can hear you protest already – ‘I am home, I would not wish to be anywhere but with my husband!’ I know you, dear, and it’s all right. You needn’t comfort me. Everybody misses the familiar when it is taken away, as I miss you in this past month I’ve been without you. I will see you soon, and I will have
“Hey! Buddy, I’m going to hit the road. You want to inspect the load?”
“Give me a couple minutes, I have a letter to go with it. You can’t rush a letter to your wife. Especially not when it’ll be a month until she’ll see you next.” I furrowed my brow, and I wiggled the pen around in the air, pretending to write the last line over. Finally, my thoughts clicked into place, and I picked up where I had left off.
I will have more gifts for you from my travels when I return and will be able to conduct my business from home henceforth.
With love, your husband, Rousseaux Gold.
“Okay, here.” I handed him the letter and another coin with it. “Please take care of these. My wife misses her home, and business has kept me away. These might make her think of me fondly until I return.”
I could see him struggle. He took the money, of course he did, and he’d give the cargo the consideration the bribe required. But he was struggling against an inclination to care about it on a personal level.
“Thank you, Marcus. You’re a good man.” I spoke the words, and I could see the moment they broke through.
“No sir . . . I’m not. But for a man who said so, I’ll take special care.”
It was two months before I could return, not one. The clerks at the shipping offices had been teasing me, telling each other horror stories about what neglected wives got up to where they knew I could hear. I knew that wasn’t my penny, but the stories still nagged at me. As I got out of the carriage, a maid came out of my house to meet me.
“Estelle. Maybe you can forewarn me. Is she mad at me?”
The woman bent a little at the waist. The custom would be to bow, but her back wasn’t good, and I had excused her from the practice. “She pines for you, sir. She is upset sometimes, but I think when she sees you, all will–”
Suddenly there was a blur in the corner of my vision, and a blur shot into my arms. “Rousseaux! My husband! The lilies, we got them! They’re beautiful! How did you get them here? Was it difficult? Come, I want you to see them!”
I looked at Estelle with a smile, and shrugged, allowing Penny to pull me away. I folded her into my arm, drawing her into my side as we walked. Her animation and obvious affection warmed me, and all the worries of the road vanished. I was home.