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Allison Fritz

Grade: 12

Hathaway Brown School

Instructor: Scott Parsons

Camellia

Short Story

Camellia

Kyun had been a hairdresser for a year. He didn't make much from his job, but he enjoyed the crisp morning sunlight pouring into his salon, and the conversations he shared with his clients. At first, he wondered if he had made the right choice by choosing this career. He didn't make significant money, and he didn't have any holidays off. So why would he choose it, even when he had a choice? But oftentimes, people don't have a choice in life. Life is a gamble, and you pick and choose until you win the lottery, which isn't even a guarantee.

No matter the reason, he wanted to help people. No, he couldn't save lives like a doctor, he couldn't prescribe medicine like a psychiatrist, he couldn't bring justice like a lawyer. But he always wanted to save someone in his own way. Because someone told him once, "Being a hero doesn't mean you do something big and grand and everyone loves you. Being a hero means doing something to help someone even if you might not get anything out of it."

***

Felix used to get his haircut at a little salon located at the corner of a small shopping area. His mother had asked him if he preferred to go to a fancy salon, one that charged one hundred dollars per cut, and came with a massage, but he was young, so of course he had no need for those things. She brought him to the salon every few months, even when his slow growing hair was out of his face, because his father had insisted that his hair was a "bird's nest" every time it grew a few inches beyond his ears. It was boring and he had to sit in the uncomfortable chair, but his hairdresser always finished in a matter of minutes, as Felix's hair didn't take long to cut. When he got a little older, he always insisted on coming to this salon, because the process was so easy. Every time he went, he noticed that the salon had a new addition. Maple wood flooring to the reception area. A mint green electronic fan. Soft blues painted onto the walls. Monstera and cacti growing from white porcelain planters.

"Why do you have those specific plants?" Felix asked the hairdresser one day.

The hairdresser laughed. "Because those can still thrive even if they're neglected. I tend to forget to water these plants. They're one of the only things you can neglect and still bear no consequences."

"My mother says they thrive well because of the sunlight. You have a lot of windows here."

"That must be it." He snipped off a strand of Felix's hair.

"So can I bring my plant here? It's a camellia, and it's wilting."

"...A camellia?"

"Yes, I need it to grow here. Our house is too dusty, and its petals are getting ugly."

"Oh? Do you...not clean? A camellia...will grow back next year, won't it?" He didn't mean to speak so coldly, but the hairdresser wondered how a dirty house would make a plant deteriorate.

"...of course we clean." Felix snapped back. "Sorry. This is really important to me."

"I can tell. Alright then, bring it in and we'll see what we can do." Felix seemed awfully desperate to have the flower back to health. The hairdresser couldn't figure out why, but he decided to keep the boy's mind at peace. It was a small favor anyways.

Felix did as he was told, and the flower started growing well in the sunlight. He decided to keep it at the salon permanently in a white pot in the corner of the room. He thought it was growing so successfully because of the sunlight. He didn't know until years later that the hairdresser had taken extra care in watering the camellia routinely. People would probably make fun of him if they knew he cared so much about a flower, but the thought of it thriving made him smile. He thought of the old planter that once held the flower in his house, pristine until it got smashed. After the soil spilled from the pot, they stopped bothering to clean the house. Felix didn't ask for a new planter, because at least the fighting stopped.

He walked past an empty street one day, and paused when he saw a splash of pink and red against the backdrop of a grey landscape. A camellia flower sat in a porcelain planter on the doorstep of a house.

***

Giselle wore oversized sweaters that might have been hand-me-downs, or a garment from a lover. At least that is what she liked to imagine. In reality, it was because she bought men's clothing from a warehouse supermarket, when she realized that she could get brand name clothing for a better price that actually came with real pockets instead of ones that were sewed on. People said she had a keen eye for observation. Speaking of eyes, she had an eye smile so that when she laughed her eyes became crescent moons. She was polite and attentive, and brought her laptop to the hair salon to work on something. After her session finished, she always immediately deleted her laptop's search history. After all, she was shopping online for knives, took notes on which weapons could cause fatal injuries, and knew what sold well on the black market. She knew that the hairdresser would glance at her screen, as she saw his shaking eyes in the reflection of the mirror. Giselle wondered if he would report her to the police, so she decided to be honest.

"I'm an aspiring writer." She told him. "The research you saw was for my writing. The knives are for my grandaunt, you see. She loves to cook."

He paused, seeming more suspicious than before. "Oh. I see. That's lovely."

"...would you read a book like that? About crime, I mean." This was the first time she asked him a question that was unrelated to his job.

"Um, maybe? I'm not sure."

"Because my writing seems to always get rejected. So I was just wondering if I was taking the wrong approach."

"Hm. Maybe you are. If you would like, you can write some drafts and bring them. I'll read them and tell you what I think."

"Really?" She perked up in the salon chair, causing snippets of hair to fall from the salon cape she was wearing.

"I guess so. But to be honest, I would prefer a more heartwarming story. I feel like there aren't enough of those in the world. And we just have so much happiness in the world, don't you think? Someone once told me that we often forget how everyone has their bad days, but everyone also has something to be grateful for. But I'll take a look at your writing."

Giselle settled back in the chair, looking satisfied, then glanced at a corner in the room. "That's a nice plant. My grandaunt loves camellias like that one."

"I enjoy watering it. It makes me motivated to care for something that gives back something so beautiful." He replied back.

***

Mrs. Epiphany was an elderly woman who sometimes experienced partial amnesia. It was not medically diagnosed, but it was evident, as she couldn't remember her name when asked by the salon receptionist. And so, they called her Mrs. Epiphany when she suddenly recalled that her first name was Frances, but people called her Fanny.

Mrs. Epiphany always received the same haircut, so she didn't go to the salon often. Sometimes she would forget that she didn't need a haircut, and show up at the salon anyways. Her hairdresser decided not to charge her a fee at these moments, but let her sit in the reception room, and offered her a cup of coffee in a clay mug, marked by her camellia pink lipstick. This continued for a long time, until the salon noticed she hadn't come in a while. The hairdresser set out to visit her house, which he knew the address of because she had signed up for paper mail from the salon, one of the only clients that still did so.

The hairdresser knocked on the door a few times, until Mrs. Epiphany opened the door. When she saw him, she widened her smile. Inside, they enjoyed chocolate croissants and scones imported from France. Mrs. Epiphany also insisted that he try her homemade cooking, so he enjoyed some beef bone soup as well.

"Mrs. Epiphany, how have you been?" The hairdresser asked her after he finished.

"Great, but I haven't been going to the salon, as you know." She tapped her knee. "This broke." She let out a loud laugh that sounded like a crow.

"I'm sorry about that. Can the salon help at all?"

"No, I don't think so. I appreciate the visit."

"That's good." He checked his watch. "I have to get going, but I'll visit again soon."

"Sir," She suddenly said. "What are your troubles?"

"...my troubles?" Mrs. Epiphany nodded at his words. "I guess I'm envious of people who have tight bonds. I want to be able to leave an impact on someone, and call them my friend." He chuckled jokingly. "I've always wanted to help someone, but I don't know if I've done that yet."

Mrs. Epiphany nodded in a knowing way. "I used to think that I had to be liked by everyone, so I tried to help everyone I came across. But as you grow older, you realize that not everyone will like you, and it's okay. Most people pretend that they're close to other people, but I don't need to pretend. Some bees and hummingbirds pollinate camellias, and other camellias are left alone. Regardless if they attract anything or not, they still have meaning in this world. You wouldn't kill a flower because it's not doing anything, just thriving." She let out another loud laugh as if this were the funniest joke she had ever heard. The hairdresser paused, letting it sink in. He thanked her wise words and went on his way back to the salon.

When he arrived at the salon he was met with frenzy. The other hairdressers were trying to calm a young woman, asking about her grandmother.

"This is Mrs. Epiphany's granddaughter." They explained.

"She said she was coming here." The granddaughter said. "Are you telling me she's still at home?"

"I just saw her." The hairdresser raised his hand. "She's at home. It must be her amnesia, so she forgot to come."

The woman shook her head. "Amnesia? She doesn't have amnesia."

"You must be shocked. She comes here all the time, thinking she has an appointment when she doesn't."

"And...she stays and drinks coffee too?"

"Yes! How did you know?"

"She doesn't have amnesia, she's just lonely. She's embarrassed to tell anyone so she pretends like she has memory loss as an excuse."

The hairdresser stood there for a moment, processing what he had just heard. He wanted to rush back to Mrs. Epiphany's cottage to announce that she was welcome at the salon anytime she became lonely. The next time he was able to visit her, he found unfamiliar people filing in and out of the house. A sign outside of the house read "For Sale." The hairdresser ran back to the salon to retrieve a porcelain pot. He placed the camellia flower on Mrs. Epiphany's doorstep as a drop of rain fell from the sky and it started pouring.

***

Camellia was turning three. We bought her a beautiful red and white cake that was three layers tall. I wanted to bake the cake, as I found an old recipe from my grandaunt's files. It didn't work out, to my dismay.

Kyun had cut her hair recently, and although he was a professional, Camellia jerked her head a bit so her haircut came out a little crooked. Apparently it was the first time he failed on a haircut. I joked that it was because he wouldn't get paid for this session.

I asked Kyun what his present was for Camellia and he paused. I said he couldn't just give her a haircut. He suddenly asked me if I remembered what I had said once, about being a hero, even if it was doing something small. At first I thought he was just being snarky and trying to get out of buying Camellia a present, but then I realized he was right. If we ran to get a present at that moment, we would miss half of the celebration. Being right by her side at the moment and caring for her as a harmonious family would be enough for Camellia. It was enough for me at least.

"You've been a great hero, Kyun." I said. "A camellia can't bloom when it's neglected."