The Tallest Man on Earth


<i>I can’t forget the sirens. The sound of my mother screaming replays in my mind on an endless loop. The purple hint to her skin stretched tight across the features I used to study when she wasn’t looking is still burned into my eyelids. But it’s the smell that haunts me the most, decay, musk, and her perfume. </i>

We didn’t meet in a spectacular way. There were no fireworks when his eyes met mine or butterflies when he introduced himself. It was all so ordinary, so average that I would have never expected I’d see him again. It was a simple “hello, nice to meet you,” there was nothing memorable about the exchange, but I’ll never forget that day.

I had woken up late that morning to the sound of little feet pattering across the hard bedroom floor and tiny hands clapping together. That was my first clue that I’d slept through my alarm, the second was the glaring red numbers I came face to face with when I finally pried my eyes open. 7:53am.

“Mama!” Wren giggled at me, peering over the edge of the bed. His hair was tousled from sleep but his big blue eyes were wide awake. “Breakfast?” He tilted his head to the side when he asked a question, knitting his eyebrows together and waiting eagerly for my response.

“Breakfast?” I repeated back to him playfully and forced myself out of the bed. “Are you hungry, Little Bird?” I swooped him up in my arms and held him in the air above my head, shaking his little body as he squealed with laughter. We flew to the kitchen, his arms stretched out and feet kicking while I made airplane noises, and made a smooth landing at the kitchen table. It felt like every movement was taking the last of what little energy I had.

 Wren watched me intently as I popped two pieces of bread in the toaster then ran to my room to get myself together. He prattled on about the day to come, asking me questions in his two year old english that'd I’d become accustomed to. I had just pulled my sweater on when I heard him holler “Done!” after the toaster popped. 

I buttered his toast with my pants undone, shoving one piece in my mouth and giving him the other before running back to my room to finish getting ready. I didn’t have any choice but to pull my hair into a ponytail in hopes of hiding the fact that I hadn’t showered, and the only makeup I could find was mascara. It didn’t matter how hard I tried, I was always losing things and makeup was not an exception. We were out of the house, shoes tied, teeth brushed, bags packed, by 8:34, pretty impressive if you ask me. I dropped Wren off at the babysitter’s and was pulling into work at 9:03, only a few minutes past my usual time but easily forgiven by my boss.

“Good morning, Charlotte,” Mrs. Coupe greeted me as she did every morning. She was carrying a tub of red long stem roses from refrigeration room to the cutting table.

“Morning,” I rushed over to help her with the heavy bucket, dropping my purse on the way. “Sorry, I’m late.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she brushed off my apology and motioned for me to put the tub in the corner.

I had never planned on working for a florist. Then again, I didn't plan on getting pregnant at seventeen. Both had just kind of happened and luckily worked out alright. I didn’t know if I actually believed in luck, so much as hard work. It had taken me months to find someone willing to hire a pregnant teenager, but I was nevertheless thankful that it had worked out. Mrs. Coupe turned out to be the closest thing to a family I would have in the city after separating from my son’s father, Josh, when Wren was just a few months old, and likely the reason I stayed in Montreal. When I left him the summer after Wren’s birth I was sure I’d have to go home to New Brunswick and beg my parents to help us. But Mrs. Coupe taught me how to make it work. It wasn’t easy, not even after two years, but somehow I was still surviving, even if surviving meant learning how to furnish our apartment from the discount items at thrift shops and upcycling.

I spent the day thanking god it was Friday and arranging standard bouquets, carefully watching the clock for the second I could leave. I had nothing against my job, I actually quite enjoyed being surrounded by brightly coloured blooms in our quiet little shop. But tonight was my night off, my every other weekend of uninterrupted baths, adult television, and as horrible as I felt saying it: freedom. Every second Friday, as soon as my shift ended I’d race over to pick Wren up from the nursery and drop him off with Josh by dinner time. It happened like clockwork, routined just like so many other parts of our lives.

It was nearly five when I got a text message from Josh. It wasn’t uncommon for him to text me, we were still on good terms, although we really didn't have any other choice. It was strange however for him to contact me when we were supposed to meet in less than an hour. I gave Mrs. Coupe- who was with a customer- a nod, and snuck into the back cold room to read the message.

Hey, hope your day is going well. Change of plans, instead of meeting on campus can you bring Wren to my buddy’s place? It’s closer to you.

I studied the message trying to decide how to feel. It was very unlike Josh to change plans, and the idea of bringing Wren to a strange place didn’t sit well with me. It was hard enough to leave him with Josh for those four nights every four weeks.

Why? Have you been drinking or something? Is it safe?

I hit send before I could rethink my message and waited impatiently for his reply. But instead of a text message, my phone rang a few seconds later.

“Charlie, do you really think I’d be drinking at four in the afternoon on a night I get Wren?” Josh said on the other end of the line. He sounded perfectly sober, and I knew I should feel some guilt for the strong accusation.

“I don’t know, maybe? We never change the plan. Why today? What are you doing there?” I asked, sounding so much like a stereotypical mother it made me cringe.

“We’re not doing anything,” he groaned. “I just thought it would be easier for you to drop him off here because it’s closer than driving all the way across the city. I’m trying to do you a favour, Charlie.”

“Fine,” I sighed, reminding myself that Josh was a good father and had never done anything to endanger Wren. He would bend over backwards for our son, and I had no reason not to trust him, but that didn't stop my hesitation. “Text me the address, I’m leaving work now.” I relented and hung up.

Wren and I pulled up to the high rise apartment building and I felt a bubble of envy swell inside of me. I was used to Josh and his friends having money and living in buildings like the one we walked into, with doormen and mirror covered elevators. But being accustomed to their money didn’t mean I wasn’t frustrated by my own lack of funds. Our apartment wasn’t a dump by any means, but it was small, with one rickety elevator, and appliances that had probably been around to see the Berlin Wall crumble.

“What dat?” Wren pointed to the knocker that hung on the heavy grey door in front of us, the numbers 1107 written in fancy white script. I checked my phone, adjusting the boy in my arms, making sure I had the right place.

“It’s to let them know we’re here. Knock like this,” I took his little hand in mine and moved the knocker back and forth a few times. I let go of the brass handle but Wren continued, banging the two pieces of metal together. “Easy,” I reached for his hand as the door swung open and we were greeted by a man only a few inches taller than me. I instantly suspected I had the wrong place. This wasn’t a friend of Josh’s I’d met before, and I was sure I’d met everyone involved in Wren’s life. In fact, I generally made a point of it.

“Charlie, right?” the man grinned and I nodded, eyeing him. “I’m Brendan,” he smiled even wider—if that was possible—and held out his hand.

“Hello,” I said politely, juggling the things and child in my arms to shake his hand.

“Daaaaaa,” Wren screeched when he saw Josh walking towards us. He flailed in my arms, reaching for Josh and trying to break free of my grasp, breaking my heart just a little in the meantime.

“Hey big guy!” Josh took him from me and kissed his soft forehead. Leaving me standing in the hallway holding Wren’s small Canadiens backpack and the diaper bag.

“You can come in,” the man moved out of the way, inviting me into the beautiful, naturally lit apartment. I stepped over the threshold and marvelled at the dark wood floors and giant windows. 

 “See, I told you it wasn’t a crack house,” Josh teased and I rolled my eyes in response. “Do you want to stay for a bit? We were just about to order pizza.”

“No, thank you. I have stuff to do,” I hugged my coat against myself tightly and smiled nervously. The whole situation felt weird I didn’t know how I was supposed to act in this stranger’s apartment.

“Stuff as in put on your pyjamas and watch Grey's?” Josh cocked his eyebrow and smirked, setting Wren down on the floor to explore.

“Does it really matter?” I glanced at him, irritated, then turned back to watch Wren who was sitting with Josh’s best friend Matty and two other clean enough looking guys. “Just make sure he has some kind of vegetable for dinner please, and no more ice cream and candy, it makes him sick. And…”

“And if I need anything call,” he finished my sentence. It was the same thing I said every time I dropped Wren off with him, because as much as I loved the freedom, it killed me to leave without him.

“He’ll be fine,” Josh threw his arm over my shoulder and pulled me into an awkward hug. “He always is, Charlie.”

“I know,” I shook him off. Even after a year and a half of being separated I still felt strange when he touched me. Not nostalgic or turned on, just strange under the weight of his arm. Uncomfortable with his familiarity because it reminded me that he was still the only one in the world that familiar with me. Even after all this time he was still my first and last.

I managed to pull Wren away from the excitement of the loud group of young men long enough to kiss him goodbye then left quickly as soon as he’d run back to them hoping he wouldn’t notice me sneaking out the door. It was the same every time. I left in a hurry under the guise that I didn’t want to upset him, but in reality I couldn’t stand being away from him and the more I prolonged the inevitable, the harder it was.

I arrived home to the empty apartment with Chinese take away in hand and a carton of Ben and Jerry’s— a rare treat that I planned to savour. Just as Josh had suspected, my plans were pyjamas and Grey’s Anatomy, but there was nothing I’d rather be doing. I’d learned the value of free time when Wren was born, what it really felt like to be needed every second of the day, and for those few hours when the apartment was clean enough, the laundry could wait, and Wren was safe, I needed to practice the art of doing nothing at all.

I fell asleep after the second episode. The ice cream left out on the coffee table with the spoon still in the carton, and three more episodes playing while I lay snoring on the couch using Wren’s stuffed polar bear as a pillow. I woke up groggy and annoyed, having wasted not only my fancy ice cream but also my night. It was close to midnight and all I wanted to do was crawl into bed which seemed like a tragically lame way to spend my Friday night with the place to myself. I tried to convince myself I had enough energy to do something else, take a bath, browse online, anything other than go to bed. But my eyelids were heavy and moving felt like a chore so I put the former ice cream— now soup— in the freezer and flicked off the T.V, making my way across our tiny apartment to the bedroom I shared with Wren. When I moved out of the high rise apartment Josh’s parents rented for us, my bank account was drained and I barely had enough for a security deposit. So I found the cheapest, safest place I could and we made do. It had a small living room, a tiny kitchen, and one bedroom—just big enough to fit my double bed and Wren’s little blue toddler bed, along with a dresser we shared and a laundry hamper. Somedays it took a little creativity to make the space liveable, and I knew it wouldn’t work forever but I was oddly proud to call it my own home, even if Josh’s parents were depositing a sizeable child support cheque in my account on his behalf every month that made paying the rent possible. But that was our little family secret, one I wasn’t willing to admit to anyone else, not even my own parents.

I’d picked up an extra afternoon Saturday shift, and spent the next day organizing hundreds of orders in preparation for Valentine’s Day the next week. The day felt long and drawn out, only broken up by periodic pictures of Wren sent to my phone from Josh. That last being a selfie of Wren and Josh with the caption: Habs here we come! My stomach dropped seeing them clad in their bleu, blanc, rouge. It wasn’t that I wasn’t excited for them, Wren was quickly becoming just as much a hockey fan as his dad and I knew he must be thrilled, but knowing that Josh could afford to do exciting things with our son reminded me how much I couldn’t give him. It was almost a feeling of insignificance and it clung to me like an unpleasant stench for the rest of the weekend.

My so called weekend of freedom passed with the blink of an eye and before I could do so much as finish the laundry the apartment door swung open and my life was back to normal.

“Bonjour Mama,” Josh called before I could emerge from the bedroom where I’d been trying to pair a pile of at least fifty tiny little boy socks.

“Hi Baby Bird,” I took him from Josh’s arms and kissed both of his cheeks while he wiggled in my arms. “Did you have a good weekend?”

“Grrr, hockey!” He growled and me, holding up his hands like a lion. I had no idea what the correlation was between wild animals and hockey, but like with most things he did I went with it and growled back at him before letting him down to prowl the apartment.

“Did you get the pictures?” Josh asked, coming inside and dropping Wren’s bags on the couch. I nodded and adjusted my top, realizing I was wearing a very flimsy tank top and there was no doubt that my bra was visible.

“The tickets were free,” he added as if he was anticipating a conflict. It wasn’t that we ever actually fought—not since I moved out— but we’d had heated discussions and he knew I worried that those weekends would become all about spoiling Wren rather than them actually spending time together. “From a player,” he added and I wondered if I was supposed to be impressed.

“Has he eaten yet?” I glanced at the clock on the radio that read 6:09pm. We usually ate at 6pm on Sundays and I hated to mess up our Sunday night rituals.

“He had a snack around four. Why don’t we order in? Have a family dinner,” He suggested and balanced himself on the arm of the couch looking at me hopefully. He did this when he was lonely, try to make us a family again that is.

“Josh,” I looked at him pleadingly. I hated these nights when he wanted us all together. It made it that much harder to move on from him and it undoubtably confused Wren who was already used to us being separate units. “Please don’t.”

“C’mon Charlie,” he reached his hand out and grabbed mine, pulling me closer to him. I reluctantly let him, all the while knowing I needed to be firmer with him. He wrapped his arm around my waist and held me between his knees. I weakly tried to push away from him, but not enough for him to know how serious I was. As frustrating as his moments of sentimentality were I liked the feeling of being wanted and although I wasn’t willing to admit it, I missed being touched by him.

“We can order whatever you want,” he nuzzled his head into my neck. “I’ll pay.” I felt his lips press against my jaw and I begged myself not to react. But it had been so long since someone touched me like that and my self control was weak, I was desperate. “I miss you,” he murmured and his hand slipped under my shirt, fingers brushing against the goose pimpled flesh on my lower back.

“No you don’t,” I whispered, so low I wasn’t sure he heard me because his hand kept moving up my back and his lips didn’t leave my jaw. It would have been so easy to let him keep going, god knows I had before. But I found it in me to push him away before Wren rounded the corner looking for his imaginary prey. "You should go," I said loud enough that he could hear but Wren couldn't, surveying the space I'd put between us.

"Yeah... okay," his face fell and I had to fight the guilt that came with seeing him look so rejected. “I guess I’ll talk to you later this week then.” He got to his feet, the tone of his voice had shifted to the same cold civility he usually reserved for me and only me. After kissing Wren goodbye he left without another word, closing the front door with enough force that I said everything he hadn’t bothered to.

It was almost a relief not to hear from him that following week. Although he liked to forget, there was a reason we broke up, there was a reason I’d traded his high rise and life of convenience for my walk up and careful budgeting. To be fair, there were days I forgot too and woke up to the feeling of emptiness and a longing to have someone beside me who just understood. It felt like I’d known Josh forever. I had no really memory of meeting him. There wasn’t a significant day or moment when we became a couple. Both just kind of happened. I remember him walking into my fourth grade classroom on the first day of school, his dark hair carefully combed and parted on the side and his shoes clean as if he’d just taken them out of the box that morning. He was assigned the seat next to my twin brother, Kevin, and after that he just melted into our lives.

Kevin was always the quietest of the group, no matter who he was with. Surrounded by three sisters, my mother used to joke that he simply didn’t have an opportunity to talk because no one could possibly compete with our constant chattering. His reserved nature could never be considered anti social though, he was the most well liked person I had ever met. In contrast to my laid back brother who came from our busy house, Josh was out spoken, used to getting his own way, and the only child of two very wealthy parents who had had him late in life. He wore brand name clothing that was always in perfect condition and brought extravagantly packed lunches to school. While our mother worked as a teacher at the school one town over, his took tennis lessons and doted on him. He was their shining star, which in their eyes made me a low class temptress who would never be worthy of him.

Maybe it was fate, or just perfect coincidence, but I met the man with the wide smile who lived in 1107 again just a week after our first encounter. Valentine’s Day had left most of the florists in town low on stock and weary from the big rush, but it was business as usual for Mrs. Coupe who had received a shipment of exotics from her “people”, a supplier she kept top secret. I was working the front of the store that afternoon while she busied herself with the new stock, designing bouquets that looked more like pieces of art. My focus was on rearranging the single Gerbera daisies but I had one ear listening for the bell on the front door. Somehow it still startled me when they chimed and someone walked in. Crouched on my knees and spinning around to greet the shopper I bumped into the industrial black vase causing water to slosh over the side and right onto the leg of my pants. Hazard of the job, at least this time it was clean water and not two day old swampy run off like it had many times before.

“Hi there,” I greeted the patron without getting a chance to look at them and reached for a towel to dry off my soaking jean clad leg.

“Hey,” his voice caught my attention and I looked up surprised. I’d been expecting one of the older ladies who came in regularly. “Charlie, right?” he beamed down at me as I got to my feet.

“Charlotte,” I corrected him automatically, trying desperately to remember why that smile looked so familiar.

“Brendan,” he reminded me before I could say anything. “You dropped your son off at my apartment.”

“Right,” I smiled politely, the pieces falling into place. “Is there anything I can help you find?” My words felt stiff and I wondered if it was because I was standing in wet pants or because I was talking to the owner of the nicest eyes I’d ever seen.

“I’m not really sure,” he let out with a low chuckle and I felt myself blush. I had no reason to be blushing, I reminded myself. He was just another customer, likely looking for something to impress a date. 

"Well is there a specific occasion you're buying for?" I twisted the towel in my hands nervously and glanced at the pre-made arrangements to my left. 

The corners of his mouth twitched and his lips moved into another wide smile that made my pulse race and my stomach tighten. "Not really," he shrugged, making the whole situation even more confusing for me. The small spark of jealousy inside of my wanted to assume he was going to end up leaving with a dozen or so long stem roses no matter what I did, but I still had to do my job.

"There's an assortment of exotics I made this morning," I pointed in the direction of the orange and yellow bouquet made up of lilies and birds of paradise. "Or I could make you something. There are some nice daisies in the back."

"Daisies," he repeated as if trying to picture them in his mind. "Yeah, that might be nice," he nodded and I turned eagerly to escape into the back where I could be alone. "Hey Charlie," I heard him call before I could get to the door.

"Charlotte," I corrected so quietly that if he'd heard me it didn't phase him. 

"Which is your favourite?" Brendan tilted his head to the side and smiled. It felt like his eyes could see through me and the longer he looked at me the stranger I felt. "Flowers I mean," he clarified.

 "Ranunculus," I answered without hesitation.

 "Put a few of those in too?" he was walking towards me now, stopping only a foot or so away from where I was, leaning against the door to the cold room.

 "Seriously?" I looked at him in shock. "They're like $15 a bloom this time of year," I explained with an awkward chuckle. He gave me a shrug that I took to mean go ahead, and I pushed the door open, expecting it to swing behind me but instead noticing it catch before closing. When I turned around I found Brendan standing there with a goofy grin on his face and I half expected him to tell me he was kidding about wanting flowers.

"Can I watch?" he asked, cozying up to the metal table I stood at and resting his elbow on the surface. "They're for my mom by the way." I hadn't had a chance to reply, let alone ask, but was oddly relieved to hear they weren't for some beautiful girl he was taking out.
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For those of you who have read my other two little pieces, those two are still in progress I promise!
I've had this ditty in my documents for nearly two years now and I thought it was high time I get a chapter out so I can see if it's something worth continuing.

Please let me know if you want more!