Poppy Is My Half-Sister But That’s Not the Whole Story
Poppy is my half-sister and she has a whole lot of nerve. When I was twelve, Poppy tried to poison me by baking me a cake that had laundry detergent in the frosting. It took me hours to get the taste out of my mouth. Poppy offered up an apology by baking me a new cake. I threw it in her face. It was half-baked anyway. My dad said I should be more forgiving, but people usually say that to excuse their own mistakes. Poppy and I have the same dad, but we don’t have the same mom. My mom’s spirit died when she found out about Poppy. Poppy’s mom died during childbirth.
Poppy is my half-sister and she doesn’t use her whole brain, but I’ve been told that no one does. When I broke my leg climbing a tree during my freshman year of high school, Poppy brought a hibiscus plant to my hospital room. After she placed it by my bedside, she turned around and her backpack knocked it over. The bulky plant fell directly onto my bad leg. I had to stay in the hospital for an extra week because of it. I could’ve sworn Poppy knocked it over on purpose. She probably enjoyed having the house to herself. My mom salvaged the hibiscus plant. She’s more forgiving than I am. Or maybe she just really likes plants. After I left the hospital, we brought the hibiscus home. It’s actually quite beautiful when it blooms.
Poppy is my half-sister and she’s full of surprises. When I attended my junior prom, my date ditched me midway through the dance. While I was hiding out in the hallway, wiping my mascara onto my turquoise dress, wondering if it was possible to die from humiliation, Poppy was puncturing the tires of my date’s car. The entire incident was caught on the school parking lot’s security camera. I asked Poppy why she did it, and the only thing she said was, “I was feeling spicy.” That night, Poppy was expelled from school but accepted into my heart. Poppy is my half-sister and I miss her a whole bunch. When I left for college, Poppy decided to help me move into my dorm, but only after I promised to bring the hibiscus plant with me. She even helped me decorate the drab walls. My mom and dad come to visit me at college, but Poppy never makes the trip. My dad always says Poppy isn’t feeling well. When I came home for the holidays, Poppy wasn’t around. My dad says she’s staying at a friend’s house now. But I think friend is a generous term. The late nights of studying feel extra lonely when I’m worrying about Poppy. I take good care of the hibiscus plant. It’s dormant right now. But just when it seems like it’s done growing, it always seems to bud again.
The Mallards of St. Catherine
Stewart came from a town where the water was abundant but never clean. Lillian came from a town where there wasn’t enough water to keep the wildfires at bay.
Every Sunday morning they’d meet at a lone, wooden bench by the secluded pond at St. Catherine Trail. In the middle of the pond sprouted a fountain. On those hot days, the wind-blown mist from the glorious spout would make them feel reborn again. A set of weeping willow trees stretched over the east side of the pond, their leaves always on the verge of taking a dip. Wildflowers painted the perimeter, and sometimes, Stewart and Lillian were lucky enough to see a monarch butterfly flutter by.
A flock of mallard ducks made the pond their refuge in the warmer months. It was a frenzy of wet feathers, powerful splashes, enthusiastic quacks, and deep dives. Stewart and Lillian became so familiar with the mallards that they could point out the unique quirks of each one. There was the one with the white spot on its breast that looked like a cloud. There was the one that hopped instead of waddled. And there was the one that quacked in a remarkably deep pitch that always made Stewart and Lillian laugh.
When they sat on the bench, time seemed to halt and zip by in a flash all at once. Some days there were no words were needed, and other days all the words were needed. They shared what they wanted to share, and left out what they wanted to leave out. Sometimes, they’d squint their eyes and see a pair of turtles poke their heads out from the pond and greet the sunshine.
Stewart and Lillian thought about carving their initials into the bench, but they ultimately concluded that it would be too cliché. They never exchanged phone numbers, for fear that it would take away the magic of their time at their sacred place. Before the winter showed its harsh might, the mallards would disappear. Stewart and Lillian would say their goodbyes, retreat from the cold, and dream of meeting at the pond once again.
As soon as the snow cleared and the ground thawed, they’d be back sitting on their beloved bench together. Shortly after, the mallards would return. Stewart and Lillian always wondered how the mallards found their way back to the same little pond after being so far away for so many moons.
One sunny March day, Stewart showed up to the bench, his face glowing with a peaceful smile. But Lillian wasn’t there. He showed up the next Sunday, but she wasn’t there. April, May, June, July, August, September, and October passed, and she wasn’t there.
After the winter, Stewart came back to look for Lillian every Sunday. Years slipped by. The mallards returned every spring. And the weeping willows wept a little more.
Zach Keali’i Murphy is a Hawaii-born writer with a background in cinema. His stories appear in Reed Magazine, Maudlin House, The Coachella Review, Raritan Quarterly, Another Chicago Magazine, Still Point Arts Quarterly, and more. He has published the chapbooks Tiny Universes (Selcouth Station Press) and If We Keep Moving (Ghost City Press). He lives with his wonderful wife, Kelly, in St. Paul, Minnesota.