He didn’t like poppies, because as a little boy, someone told him poppies grew on trees. When he found out they were flowers, just flowers, they disappointed him. They were boring, ugly even, because they weren’t what he expected. Plenty of them grew on the hill where he lived — bright red, like Christmas ribbons, and a few were orange, like tropical fruit. He avoided looking at them; he looked instead at the trees, and didn’t see any flowers there. No flowers were better than flowers he hated.
Ellie came by on Sunday this week, with a few rolls in her basket, and some instant coffee. He made the coffee and talked about work at the shop. She put up with his stalling — she was used to it — and tossed her hair over her shoulder and kicked her tan feet out in front of her, above the linoleum. They had coffee and bread. Then Jack noticed something her basket — poppies, all red, perfect.
“Did you pick those?”
It was a stupid question. It sounded stupid coming out.
But she smiled; she always smiled. “I did. Aren’t they nice?”
“Well I — actually hate poppies.”
“Who hates poppies?” She rolled her eyes and waved him closer. He went, wary. “Look.” She picked up a flower, spread the petals back, and revealed a black, pollen-drenched star. “If you press this to your skin, it leaves a tattoo. Of a star. Here.” She took his hand in hers; he suddenly felt heavy. She pressed the flower to his skin, and a dark, five-pointed star appeared. It was almost like a stamp. “Isn’t that amazing? See, that’s why I love poppies. I know they’re invasive or something, but they’re so beautiful and resilient and look at that! A hidden talent. You hate them because they’re common, right, Mr. Fancy Pants?”
Jack smiled. “Uh, no. I just…”
But he can’t articulate it. Thought they would be something more? Nothing could be more than this girl, California-hair and a necklace with a bird, holding a single poppy in her callused hands.
Jack suddenly isn’t sure why he hates poppies. Sure, he was lied to. Poppies don’t grow on trees. But in this moment, with this girl, they are beautiful, and interesting, and everything he thought they weren’t.
“…I thought they grew on trees.”
Ellie laughed. “What?”
“Yeah, I — I know it’s stupid. But they make me kind of angry. Because I thought they grew on trees, and they don’t. It reminds me of all the other things I thought that…didn’t work out.”
“Hey, just because something doesn’t work out doesn’t mean it’s not worth something. Open up a little. You can’t take yourself so seriously.”
Jack smiled at her. Maybe she was right, she always were. Ellie looked at him with those big, bright eyes. Most people compare eyes to oceans, or galaxies. Not her eyes though. They reminded him of his favorite thing. Glancing down at his cup of coffee and then back up at her coffee brown eyes. That is probably why Jack always feels so awake when he is with her. Ellie always made things clearer, better, just like a morning warm cup of coffee.
Ellie was beutiful, and she was no poppie, because she didn't need a tree to make her look more interesting, to make her look perfect.
“So, what do you say?”
Jack frowns a bit, “About what?”
She smiles, she always smiles, “The poopies. They deserve a second chance?”
It was probably stupid to be angry at the flower because he was lied to. To feel betrayed and disgusted by them. After all they were just flowers. But that is always the problem, isn’t it? Maybe what bothers him is not the fact that there are no trees behind the poppies, maybe the fact that they are just poppies, is the real issue.
Per se, maybe we don’t feel betrayed or disgusted by people who turns out to be what we didn’t thought they were. Maybe we feel that way because they are simply what they are, and not what we wanted them to be.
Jack looked at the poppies. Were they always this bright and red? This delicate and soft? Did they always felt this fragile but yet looked so beautiful and unique? He just smiled. Maybe they were just flowers, and there were still a tree missing for him, there would always be a tree missing for him, but looking at Ellie and those eyes, and the little star tattoo in his hand he couldn’t help but agree.
Who could ever possibly hate poppies? They were kinda awesome.