I must have dozed off in Nana's chair, because it was after 10 a.m. when I heard the sound of the phone ringing. I dashed to answer it. Maybe it was someone calling to pre-order sunflowers.
It was Carm.
"So how are sales going?" he asked.
"Fine," I said.
"How many have you sold?"
"Um, I don't know. Probably lots," I said.
"How many's lots?"
"Geez Carm, I just got them out there at 8 o'clock. Give people a chance!"
There was a pause on the other end of the phone. I could hear my brother-in-law's morning scruff scraping the receiver. He was probably making a "told-you-so-Kimmy" face.
"They are going to sell, Carman," I told him. "People want sunflowers. Trust me."
"Okay Kimmy," he said, not bothering to sound convinced. "Whatever you say. Bye."
I hung up, and went back to the front porch. I couldn't see the buckets from the window. Maybe fifty cents a sunflower was too much. I'd bunched smaller ones together, 5 for $2, which seemed like a deal compared to the starchy, margarine coloured $8 bouquets at Sobey's, but maybe I'd overcharged. I chewed my lip. Maybe I'd just go out and check.
Before I could throw open the patio door, a gold SUV slowed, then pulled into our lane. I froze. Did the mail man get a new car? Was this just another person using our lane to turn around in? Or was it...a customer?
A woman got out of the SUV and walked purposely toward the sunflower buckets. The rest of the action was hidden from my view by our blue spruce trees and I wished I'd installed a video surveillance camera inside the pink umbrella. I pressed myself up against the glass, trying to see what the woman was doing, how many she might be buying. When she walked back to her SUV, her arms full of sunflowers, I let out a little whoop. Yes! I was right! They were selling! Stupid Carman.
Day 1 profits were excellent. I only had ten wilted sunflowers left by 4 p.m. and my money jar jangled with toonies and loonies. The operation would have been more efficient had I actually kept track of how many sunflowers were in the $2 bucket vs. the 50 cent bucket, but that was a minor detail. Cash was cash. When I fanned out the dough on the kitchen counter that night for D's approval, he looked shocked. His expression alone made the bee attacks worthwhile. Now I just needed to see the same look on Carm's face and I could die happy.
On Day 2, I was up early again, and chopped down another forty sunflowers. This time I kept careful track. I had the kids at home with me, so there was no time to supervise the stand. It was well after 5 p.m. before I remembered to check the jar. I took Jade and Dylan down the lane with me, telling them all about Mummy's new business. They liked the pink umbrella. I smiled and did a little dance of entrepreneurial glee when I saw that only four sunflowers were left. But - horrors! - after counting the money and checking my totals, I discovered that I'd been ripped off $4.00! What the what?
I dialled Carm immediately.
"I got ripped off!" I yelled into the phone. "I'm four dollars short! What the hell is up with that?"
"Well, Kimmy," he said, "sometimes that happens. Did you sell a few?"
"I sold more than a few, but that is not the point," I said. "The point is that some people didn't pay! That is so rude!"
"Maybe you're charging too much," said Carm.
I should have known better than to look for sympathy from Mr. Pessimist Farmer. I growled a goodbye and hung up. I decided to empty the money jar twice a day.
Day 3 sales were a bit slower. I found several extra nickels where there should have been quarters, and hoped this phenomenon was a result of customers with poor eyesight or tourists who couldn't tell a beaver from a caribou, rather than people being cheap. When I went to get the mail, I found a loonie under my stack of letters. I didn't know if it was a peace-offering from Carm, or whether a guilt-ridden soul had driven back to pay what they owed. Either way, it made me feel a little less misanthropic.
On Day 5, I chopped down seven giant sunflower heads that had begun to dry. D had informed me that the seeds were of "confectionary" quality, so I thought perhaps people might enjoy eating them. I plopped the heads into Jade's kiddie pool and dragged the whole thing out to the end of the driveway. "Dry your own sunflowers! Fun for the kids! $5 each" I wrote in orange marker. At the end of the day, none had sold. When I mentioned it to D, he looked at me like I'd told him I was selling used underwear.
"Are you nuts?" he said. "Five dollars? Who's gonna pay five dollars for a dried-up sunflower head? Kimmy, you're crazy."
I stroked out "$5" and wrote "My husband says that's crazy. Now $2 each." I sold three more.
I was getting used to the early mornings, and began to enjoy that first moment out of the truck: just me, Pinky, the sunflowers and a few startled deer or a shower of goldfinches for company. I learned to shake the bees off the flowers first, then snick after. I discovered other cool insects to show to the kids: triangle bugs, yellow ladybugs, iridescent blue-green beetles. My pink umbrella made several bids for freedom; once I found it in the cornfield, once across the road in the ditch. Once, I came out to find all the sunflowers had been sold but there was no money jar in sight. I panicked until I saw that someone had kindly hidden it behind the table. I was getting used to people beeping at me in a friendly way if I was out setting up. A few times I even met customers, all of whom were gracious and yes, smiling at the sunflowers.
The list on the fridge with the tally of sunflowers picked vs. sunflowers sold and the money I'd earned grew longer and longer, until a few weeks had passed and I realized that there weren't any more big sunflowers left to pick. The field of friendly yellow faces had become a field of praying grey nuns, with dark heads bowed towards the sunrise. Sunflower season was over.
I felt sad; I'd just gotten used to having my little business, and apart from being shortchanged a few bucks here and there, I thought I'd worked out the kinks admirably. And most importantly, I'd proved the Lowry boys wrong by making an impressive little chunk of change. For a former city-dweller, nothing tastes sweeter than hearing a country guy tell you they were wrong about something agricultural.
"Well," I told Carm that night as I plopped my earnings back into the sunflower jar, "I guess that's it for this year. Whatever will I do with all my free time?"
"Don't worry, Kimmy," replied my grinning brother-in-law. "Pretty soon you'll have sweetcorn to pick."
You can't get the best of a country boy for long.