Cornflower was always a sad youth, oversensitive and excessively inclined to introspection. But his parents had expected him to bring to life their aspirations for business. Even when choosing his name, they were thinking about flowers. What materialists!
But Cornflower had no interest in going into business. “So what are you going to do, petal?” his parents would ask.
“I’m going to write books.”
“About flowers?” they asked, intrigued.
“No. About the suffering of my generation.”
Sociologists called it the daisy generation. Its members had not a stamen of ambition – and even if they had, there would be no place for them to put out buds or leaves. But the older ones believed the youth were a few flowers short of a bouquet.
“Every rose has its thorn; you can’t make money without getting pricked,” Cornflower’s parents instructed him.
“That’s why I’m not interested in roses, but books,” he teased them. “Paper doesn’t prick.”
“And what if I introduced pieces of paper that represented bouquets?” he daydreamed. “You would just take them to the shop instead of a whole armload of flowers. Wouldn’t that be easier?”
His parents shook their heads in disbelief when they heard these flights of fancy. But Cornflower was stubborn. He wanted to become a man of letters. And if not a man of letters, then a commentator. And if not a commentator, then just a journalist. You have to start somewhere. He published on the Interleaves, on various pages devoted to the problems of his young generation. But nobody cared about The Sorrows of Young Cornflower. His friends, who would meet up in various greenhouses, flower shops, seed nurseries and garden centres, looked down on him. Nobody cared about Cornflower the complainer. The girls thought he was only good for bee food.
Cornflower often had not a peony to his name. On New Year’s Eve 2019, his Interleaf publisher gave him his back pay in petunias, enough to buy some Russian sparkling wine. But he didn’t get discouraged. He kept writing. Sometimes he’d scribble out something for “Przekrój” in the Flowery Prose section. Then he sent the prestigious opinion journal The Hoe a series of texts about important events from Polish history. For example, how Bolesław Chrobry, before the Congress of Gniezno, strewed Otto III’s entire path with flowers. So what if they were wildflowers! In exchange, the emperor crowned him with a diadem of asters. In another text, Cornflower decided to recreate the famous entry to Rome of the Polish ambassador in the 17th century. The hussars had chrysanthemums woven into their wings. When they fell on the road, the Romans threw themselves under the horses’ hooves to snatch up the treasured buds.
When crafting these scenes, Cornflower experienced a moment of enlightenment. He decided to write a book, a science fiction novel. Actually, an alternative history.
In it, he described a world in which people pay for things not with flowers, but gold. Yes, that silly metal that’s used to fix teeth! In this strange, upside-down world, shimmering discs were everything. With the contents of your pocket you could buy a bicycle; with what a dressing-case could hold, a car. You no longer had to carry a yoke with buckets of cut flowers, or push around a cart filled with flowerpots. You could melt down gold and use it to make jewellery, figures, decorations, to show off your wealth.
Cornflower’s novel was a wild success. The irony of his idea was so enchanting that his book won the Marble Vase at the Leaves of Grass Festival, as well as the Bouquet Prize. And, as if he had planted a magic beanstalk, his life was transformed. Nobody prattled on about “the Sorrows of Young Cornflower”. His old friends invited him to salons, asked him to read at gardening schools, begged for autographs on flasks and jars of honey. He could afford a balcony with flowers and a car with tulip-shaped hubcaps. Girls who smelled of lilies crammed into the car – the same ones for whom he so recently had been just so much pollen. Even his parents started treating him differently. “You know, son, with that book you really broke the florist!” they said, offering him jasmine tea and doughnuts stuffed with rose hip jam. Yes, Cornflower was a successful man. He started to earn so much that he had to hire a gardener to look after his assets. And whenever his family and friends would ask him what the next book would be about, he was tempted to reply: “About an invasion of giant man-eating sundews from outer space.”
Translated from the Polish by Nathaniel Espino