Father’s Day Poppies
Some years ago, Ellie’s Father’s Day gift to me was this story. Her writing has improved immeasurably since, but it remains one of my favourite presents ever. Enjoy.
The young girl stared out across the field. Dusty red poppies swayed steadily in the tired breeze and small swallows dove joyfully like ribbons across the land, barely touching the bobbing heads of the sorrowful watchers. From a bramble-wrapped stone wall a bashful, brown rabbit darted out and scurried through the long, tan grass leaving a wistful peace behind. Above the green, shaded dome-like hills an orange sun blushed with pink slowly sank beneath the horizon, milky trails of colour washing across the surrounding landscape.
The girl tilted her head, her blonde hair swaying, catching the last of the sun. In her hand she clutched a basket of blackberries, freshly picked. They were for her mother to whom she would present them on her return, and consequently some sort of sweet baked dessert would follow, much to the girl’s delight. This was the first time the girl had been sent to gather berries. The task usually fell to her older brother, a source of wisdom the young girl had always admired. But today, her mother had sent her to gather the berries.
She had been sitting on one of the wooden kitchen chairs, watching her mother make the dinner. It smelled lovely. A smell of delight and deliciousness that the girl was not yet old enough to pinpoint in her memory though she knew it led to something nice. Her mother was at the stove, her lovely bright blue dress, her golden hair, scraggily pinned up and the eyes that the girl so brightly remembered and had consequently inherited. Lovely grey eyes. Her mother had looked across at the girl and told her that now she was five, she was old enough to go and gather the blackberries.
The young girl, thrilled at the idea of being given this new responsibility had eagerly run from the house, barely recognising her mother’s warnings to be careful. She didn’t need directions either as many a time she had followed her brother as he had collected the berries, sneaking from the kitchen.
Now the girl remembered those times and she remembered the way to where the best berries grew. She had revelled in choosing and picking the best berries and would not rest until she reached one at the top of the bush, even though it had resulted in a grazed elbow. The girl hadn’t cried, though she had wanted to for her arm hurt fiercely, but she was a big girl now. Five years old, and she was growing up.
But the girl didn’t remember this place. A field full of lovely red poppies. She struggled to find a picture of it in her memory but was only met by a grey, misty haze. The girl liked poppies, her father had told her about them many a time and the field reminded her of a song her father used to sing her to sleep with. A song of colours and corn, of meanings that the girl did not yet understand, but seeing the field full of poppies reminded her of it.
As she stared across the landscape a surge of inspiration hit the girl’s mind. She would take some of the poppies for her father. She placed the basket down on the verge of the track and lithely climbed over the gate. She decided to pick five poppies, one for each year old she was. That way, there would still be plenty of poppies left for anyone else who wanted to pick them for their fathers. As she picked five of the best poppies around her, the girl remembered something her mother had told her. That tomorrow was a special day. A special day for fathers where their children gave gifts to them. The little girl smiled when she remembered. What a perfect gift for her father. Five poppies from his daughter.
Soon, satisfied with her bundle the girl clambered back over the fence and collected her basket. The sun was almost gone behind the hills, and she knew her mother would be worrying but the girl was too happy with her gift to mind. She happily skipped home humming the song her father sung her so often and picturing his face when he saw the poppies.
Upon arriving home the girl hurriedly placed the berries on the great wooden table, ignoring her mother’s questioning glances, and filled a jug with water. She carefully carried it up the stairs and tentatively opened the door to her parent’s room and proceeded to place the jug on the table next to her father’s bed. Then she dropped the five poppies into it. Once finished, she stood back to admire the present and smiled. The poppies seemed to light up the room, a bloom of red amongst the browns. As she stared at them the girl found she was delving deeper into her thoughts than she had ever done before, and the words of the song her father sung, for a short time no longer were a swirl of words, but something that had meaning.
Her mother’s shout brought the girl from her trance and the song again became just that, a song. Forgetting all she had been thinking the girl ran back out of the room and again became a carefree five-year-old.
Her father never forgot the day he woke to find a jug of five poppies next to his bed. Neither did his daughter, for each year poppies yet again appeared at his bedside, though, for each year the girl grew older another poppy appeared in the jug. No words were spoken between the two about the gifts, for nothing was needed but the special bond remained, and as the girl grew up and learned more about the world her father revelled in the sight of the his little five-year-old who left five poppies at his bedside become a woman, get a job, find a perfect man and have two children of her own.
The day after fifty poppies filled the father’s room a mournful funeral procession took place in the church in the nearby town. The girl, who was now a woman, stood at her father’s grave, family and friends surrounded her, her own little five-year-old clutching her skirts uncertainly. Then, as the bright red of the sun slowly departed below the horizon, the girl began to sing. The song her father had sung her all those times. But now the girl understood the song and it would always be so special to her and she would pass it to her own children, to be sung for evermore in the family line. But in her heart, the words would always be just words of colours and corn, and a bright field full of poppies, swaying in the fresh autumn evening.