Wild Poppies

May 22, 2009 § 5 Comments

ok so i tried my hand at a short story.  i have only written a couple of short stories in my lifetime.  which is strange because i love to read fiction, but i dont really write it.  hmmm…..

anyways any and all feedback would be appreciated and is encouraged.

i am working on illustrations for this piece…they will appear soon…inshallah…


Wild Poppies

Ellie startled awake that winter morning and sat up in her bed. She rubbed her aching shoulders, her arms, and then reached between her shoulder blades. Two large bumps were growing on either side of her upper spine. She grabbed the hand mirror off the nightstand, and raced to the full-length mirror. Dark burgundy nubs poked out the back of her camisole. She held her breath and touched them again. She was growing wings.

Last time she had seen her dad his wings were stuffed in the blue trench coat he always wore. He looked toward Ellie and smiled. He dropped his coat on the front door’s threshold. His wings popped open like a spring-loaded umbrella and he flew off the porch. Her dad flew over the world and sent nothing more than a postcard photograph of flowers every once in a while.

She was fairy too.


Her first menses had come a few years earlier in summer. Mama had bought her books with subtitles like: your sacred moon time or fun and safer sex. She handmade for Ellie cloth pads from a worn pair of flannel pajamas. They ate cake and played Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced. Mosquitoes squirmed in the cracks of the screen door and the shaky ceiling fan blew them back outdoors.

Mama had always said how grateful she was that Ellie was not fairy. But Ellie’s wings had just come later than usual. At night, after Mama was asleep, she experimented in front of the mirror the different ways of getting dressed. They swung limp refusing to lift as she stared wishing them to disappear. At first she hid her nubs under large sweaters and dresses. She snuck into the boxes in the basement and unearthed her mother’s maternity clothes. As they grew wider and brighter red, she wrapped the wings around her shoulders like a scarf. As they grew even longer she draped them like a shawl, a sari, or even a skirt. She rushed out the door in the mornings wearing her book bag strategically placed on her back, a red wrap around her shoulders, dull boots, black leggings, a lavender knit cap, and a quick goodbye to Mama.

She skipped school most days and hung out at Ishmael’s. Everyone knew Ishmael by his iconic afro with the black power fist pick sticking out the side. He had graduated from high school a couple of years ago and spent his days hanging out with his boys. The first morning she had hung with him, he pulled up his sweater and showed her his knife scar. It rose off his skin like pursed lips. When she reached to touch it, he jerked and dropped his shirt. She thought about showing him her scars from where the wings had pushed through, but she didn’t dare. A knife meant one thing. A fairy meant something very, very different.

She didn’t even know what ‘fairy’ meant to herself; she was just a girl. She wasn’t her father, didn’t want to be. She wanted to walk not fly, loved the earth, the gardens, like her mother. She spent the summers swimming in the nearby lakes. Did wings float or get water logged?

Bluish light, reflecting the fresh snow on the ground, flooded Ishmael’s room. A bed leaned against one wall and a couple of large crates against the other. He tilted his back against the bed and inhaled slowly.

“Hey” she said, “I got another postcard.” Her wings flickered on the worn carpet. She froze. He blinked, shaking his head, “Sometimes, girl, I think I…never mind.”

She pulled from her book bag a postcard of a luminescent field of wild poppies photographed at night. It had arrived that morning. She had once read something about wild poppies that she thought might interest Ishmael, but now she couldn’t remember it. After Dad had left, she read everything available in the local libraries about fairies. Her mother worked into the evenings and was grateful to let library books be a baby sitter. When her father sent her postcards, she used to research the various flowers to discover from where were they native. She imagined her father hiking in Sierra Leone or soaring over the Ganges, hunting the next and rarer species of flower, the illusive perfect catch.

She had thought about writing Dad and asking him if there was a reversal to their common condition, but she already knew the answer. There existed the possibility of surgical removal, but the surgery was expensive, regeneration of the wings was common and only a couple of doctors in the world knew how to perform the operation.

“Add it to your collection”, she said pointing to Ishmael’s collage of flower photos that covered the wall beside his bed. In the center of all the flowers was a tiny torn drawing of Betty Boop, his goddess.

He reached over his bed, knocking a couple of magazines on the floor, and tucked the postcard behind a Georgia O’Keefe print. He flopped on the bed and grinned just like a mama’s boy.

“What would your boys say if they saw your ‘art piece’?” She pulled a seed out of his piles of dried morning glories and popped it into her mouth.

“My boys don’t come in my Mama’s house…Damn, girl, don’t you know you ain’t supposed to eat the seeds?”

“They taste good. “ She said picking up another one. He shook his head and kept rolling the dried petals between his fingers. He elbowed her side, “You need to be in school anyways.”

“Why? I already know to how to read.”

He lit a match, turned on his camp stove, closed his eyes, and inhaled the smoke from the tea pot. Every morning after tea, he went to Stonehenge, a little abandoned graveyard, to do business with his boys.

Rumors floated around the neighborhood about Ishmael and ‘his boys’. Were they choir boys or car thieves? Once she had asked him about his boys. He replied that they liked to play role playing games. “Yeah right”, she said. “Where’s your crazy 20 sided dice, then?” “It ain’t that kind of game”, he said, handing her a tea cup.

When he had left and the room was all hers, she pulled his blankets onto the floor and slept. She always dreamt with a Jimi Hendrix soundtrack in his room.

He came back a few hours later and handed her a flyer, a picture of a woman with a tambourine and a long circle skirt. ‘Sufi Prayers’ was written in calligraphic script. “What’s this for?” She asked. He shrugged, “I thought it looked kind of cool…plus it’s free.”

A week later she sat holding her breath watching the dervishes spinning and accelerating in striped skirts. At one point, the lead dancer stopped and arched backwards, her face wet, staring at the stars in the open theatre. And then she started to spin again, faster and faster went the drums, the hips and the feet. By the end of the performance, Ellie stared as most of the audience spun in concert with the dervishes. Her body felt light and hungry, as if just watching the dancers had burnt so much energy out of her.

The next morning she brought Ishmael dandelion tea in a thermos mug.

“Thanks” he said. ”Which reminds me there is a party at Stonehenge tonight.”

She raised an eyebrow, “You never invite me to Stonehenge.”

“Just telling you there’s a party.”

“I’ll take it as an invitation.”

She and her mother came to the graveyard every year in the spring to gather dandelions. Then they made strong dandelion tea with raw honey. The honey label read: no bees were harmed during the making of this product.

When she arrived to Stonehenge that night she saw Ishmael talking with his boys near the center. She lay in the grass between two tombstones and a patch of grey snow, and watched the party kids fill the graveyard. They lit a bonfire and passed a bottle of peach moonshine around the circle.

Ishmael walked toward her, grinning, “So you made it. Having a good time?”

“Yeah but aren’t you afraid of the cops coming by?”

He waved his arm toward the tombstones. “Ellie they are already dead. We aren’t hurting anybody.”

“But still…”

“Nobody cares what happens in an old Black graveyard”. He shrugs. “Probably they are going to use our parties soon as an excuse to get rid of Stonehenge. Call it ‘a breeding ground for crime’. That’s the price for our freedom. You want some tea?”

“What you got?”

“Wild Poppy infusion”

“Did you know that even though wild poppies produce no narcotic effects, they are illegal in Palestine, because they symbolize the blood of the martyrs?”

“How do you make a wild flower illegal? You can’t stop it from growing, right? It’s a weed.”

“Yeah wild poppies grow almost anywhere.”

“Even here.”

The kids at the graveyard that night blamed it on the moonshine and Ellie’s crimson dress. When she spun, they said it looked like her feet weren’t touching the ground anymore.

She had been dancing on the edge of the drummers circling the bonfire. Her wings started aching and swinging to the rhythm. Then they began to spin her body so fast that the wind caught them like kites and she whirled off the ground. She was spinning like the moon, the smoke, the stars and the blue-black horizon. When she came back to the ground again, the drumheads were cold and most of the people had disappeared into the woods and the roads. She picked up her trench coat out of a pool of melted snow, and then put it back on the ground. She walked home through the woods, her wings dragging behind her like a royal cape.

She tiptoed down the hallway, passed the slightly opened door of Mama’s bedroom. Ellie noticed Mama was naked in front of her mirror. Stretch marks crept like black ink down her mother’s brown belly and thighs. Ellie slowed down recalling being younger, taking a bath with her mother on a soft yellow afternoon, and tracing the stretch marks with her fingers.

And then her mother’s stretch marks fluttered. And again. And a third time.

They were wings. Thin and black lacquered to her body. Mama had wings. Why had she never said so? Could she fly? What was her price for freedom?

Ellie stepped away from her mother’s door and shook out her own wings. They brushed the ceiling, unfurling and filling with light. She walked outside to the mailbox. Inside, was a scarlet wild poppy, but no note. She tucked it behind her ear and went to the kitchen to start the water for Mama’s tea. Next to the kettle, Ellie placed the flyer. On the back she wrote: Needed to fly.

Dad still sent postcards.

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