Poppies

Isabel Litzen, Proofreader

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Everyone says not to stare at the sun. I’ve never listened. And guess what? I can still see.

But, I’ve always wondered why my eyes always felt a connection to the things that lie above me. Of late, I have come to indulge the idea that I was perhaps searching for something. The sun seemed so bright that it had to bring a bright future. Perhaps I was looking up because I was too afraid to look ahead.

I can remember the dream I had a year ago. I was lying in a field of asters and when I woke up in my dream I was staring at the sun in a poppy field. I was naked so I could feel their petals on every inch of my skin. They weren’t scratchy but soft and even in my slumber they made me feel sleepy. I remember I stopped staring at the sun for a moment and I could see that the poppies were pink and smelled of earth and home. That’s all I can remember. I think that the poppies put me to sleep.

When I awoke from the dream, the poppies were gone and the asters were back and the moon had replaced the sun. The sky was a wide arc full of stars that shone despite the brightness of the moon and if it had been day I could have seen the horizon on all sides of me. I know because I fell asleep that afternoon when the sun was still shining.

It happens often for me, falling asleep in this field of purple. I come on my baby blue bicycle when I decide to escape the confines of the apartment walls or the overwhelming noise of the city. I ride the bike for miles on the gravel road just so I can arrive to see the wide and vast field of purple asters all around me that span farther than my human eyes can see. Often times the ride tires me so much that it seems as though the asters are the poppies from my home.

That night, the clear blue river that runs through the field was just a few steps to my left. I couldn’t make it out perfectly in the night, but I could hear it rushing as if it was racing. I must have fallen asleep reading that day because Little Women was lying on my stomach, my thumb in between the pages.

When at last I pulled my gaze away from the sky, I saw a man staring into the depths of the river. I could see that his hair was gold, so bright the moonlight made it shine like stage lights do to brass instruments during orchestras. I could even see that it was parted down the middle. And I could make out his silhouette. He was kneeling over the river as if he was trying to see his reflection, but there’s no way he could have. It was too dark for the untrained eye to see their reflection clearly.
He had a guitar case strapped to his back and a top hat lying on the ground next to him. One of his long, lanky arms stretched out towards the raging water, one finger touching it.

Sometimes I think that staring at the sun has improved my night vision. Even in that midnight, I was able to see him as clearly as if it were day.

I pondered whether or not to be afraid of the man. I decided after a few short moments that there was likely no need. If he was going to harm me, he would have while I was dreaming. So I allowed the curiosity to pervade my being and I wandered through the asters toward the river until I was right beside him, only a few feet from where he knelt. He was so focused on the river that he still did not notice me. He just knelt staring down at the water, obviously in search of something. I knelt down so I was at his level and looked into the river and saw only the river and the very faint shadow of our reflections. In the night the clear blue had turned a murky black.

I looked back up at the man but he still stared at the river. I reached out and touched it like he was and pulled back almost immediately with a gasp because it was ice water, so much colder than I had thought it would be. The man immediately looked up when the gasp escaped my lips and I saw the shine on both of his eyes and stared into them as if they were suns but didn’t say anything. I, for some reason, felt calm.

He did not start or seem surprised, he stared back and after a moment he whispered, “Do you know where this river leads?”

I was stunned at his sound. For some reason I expected his silence to continue forever. I just shook my head and after a few moments I could see that he couldn’t see so I whispered back no. His eyes went back on the river, but I could not pull my gaze away from him. He didn’t seem to care.

“Why?” I said out loud without whispering because I couldn’t see the point. He looked back up at me but still wasn’t startled.

“I would just like to know,” he said aloud. His voice was an instrument. So smooth that it felt like his words were a song. My mind took a while to process the symphony of what he spoke, and after it did I still didn’t quite understand. Was he thinking about jumping in, hoping it’d take him somewhere?

“It’s too cold,” I said before I could think, “and the river is moving too fast, you would die.”

He blinked and blinked again. I knew because the tiny suns disappeared for seconds at a time. “I wasn’t planning on jumping, just searching for something.”

I didn’t say anything after that, but I stayed because I was too curious.

After a long while of us sitting in silence, the man stood. He did so slowly and smoothly, but so unexpectedly that it seemed abrupt. He grabbed the hat and put it on his head as he stood up, took off the case on his back and pulled out his guitar. He strummed the strings once and it seemed as though the cool breeze that once chilled my bare arms ceased completely and transformed into warm stillness.

He strummed again and asked in his angelic voice if I was going to leave.

“No” I said back.

“I finally found it. My inspiration. Care to listen?”

I stare at him unblinkingly, attempting to search his eyes for a hint at what he could mean, but all I could see was a sort of glint of excitement. They were shining. I nodded slowly.

He strummed the strings again, but this time it lead into a beautiful song. I couldn’t decipher his words because the sounds took me away and I stood up and I danced without thinking about it. I twirled my body around him, feeling my wild red curls flying behind me and my black sundress flaming up around me. And soon he was dancing too. He sang and he strummed and he danced and I couldn’t help but be astonished that he could do it all at once.

I didn’t notice how close he was getting to the river’s edge until it happened. There was a splash and the music ceased, replaced by a scream. And then silence. And then I ran so fast I was flying.

I ran alongside that river’s edge, racing the water while it raced back as if it was what it wanted all along. In the far distance I could see the gold and I begged my bare feet to tread faster and they did, beating against the ground as rapidly as my heart beat against my chest. Soon I couldn’t hear the river, only the wind in my ears.

After I ran for what must have been minutes but felt like seconds, I was so close to him that I could make out his face and see his eyes, the little suns urging me onward. I ran until I passed him and kept running until I spotted a stick long enough to reach him and I grabbed it without stopping. It felt like a feather.

There was a little bend in the river and that’s where I stopped. I threw the stick in the water and waited until the gold appeared again and I started screaming for him to grab it because I knew his vision wasn’t apt enough to see but he’s the master of sound. So I screamed louder than the river and he heard it. When I saw his hands grasp the stick I pulled with all that I had and somehow it was enough. Thank God I stared at the sun.

After he was all the way out of the freezing water he crawled away from the river and laid in the asters, shaking violently from the cold. I wished more than anything for them to be the soft, warm poppies from my dream. I went to him and laid beside him, wrapping my whole body around him, hoping to warm him with my body heat and we stayed like that until the sun came up. I didn’t stare at the sun, only at his eyes. They were closed and the shaking was finally ceasing and I started feeling his chest rise up and down.

That night, my world changed, or maybe my view of the world shifted. After I first saw the man with the golden hair I began living in a world where my eyes were never drawn to the things above me, but only to what was ahead and around me.

The man from the aster field has become my love. I may have stopped staring at the sun in the sky but his eyes have always seemed brighter anyway.

I remember looking out at the rare and beautiful California poppies every evening through my bedroom window. That home was all I ever knew until I moved away and had to trade the poppies for asters. After that the poppies were all I dreamt of. Until a year ago. Now I only dream of the asters.

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