Poppy

by | Apr 24, 2021 | Wendy Day 1 - Group B | 10 comments

Poppy is a master weaver. Her eyesight is dimming and her fingers are gnarled but they still ferry beauty into the warp and weft. For twenty years she’s worked on this wall-hanging to conceal the crack on the bedroom wall, above where Odin briefly lay in the marital bed he’d carved for her. He’d made it from olive wood because it was beautiful, solid, and long-lasting. She never let on that it was also susceptible to rot and twisting. She’d begun the weaving when her hands were strong and the crack hadn’t yet been a scar. She points to a pirn. Her housekeeper, Mel, picks up another. Poppy shakes her head, betrayed by her now-curved fingers. She adjusts their trajectory, closes her eyes, knows from the pirn’s weight and the wool’s oiliness that Mel’s handed her the gold yarn she wants. She weaves in unrestrained purples, golds, and reds, and grasps the shuttle as if it were a surgeon’s knife, thrusting it back and forth along the shed.

In the early years, Mel argued the wall-hanging should be white, like a burial shroud. Poppy slapped her. Once she’d grown accustomed to Odin’s absence, Poppy gifted Mel with vibrant gemstones and carvings of foxes and owls—despite her ill manners—much as a daughter. She does so not of love, rather in exchange for Mel’s fidelity; Mel guards her secret like precious pearls. Guards it, coaxes Poppy, acts as accomplice. All day, Poppy thrusts, bubbles, inlays; the wall-hanging grows like a weed. Mel tidies and scrubs the garden apartment, assists with the weaving, leaves for a two-hour lunch and returns, cheeks abloom.

When darkness descends the women huddle at the loom and dismantle the day’s work, careful to leave several of the day’s rows intact, buttressing the illusion the project marches ever forward toward its natural end while traveling in reverse, and whisper of a tangled immortality. One spying on them through the apartment window might see their faces in a flicker of moonlight and imagine them as thick as thieves. And each of the women would think that were so. Of the other.

For Poppy believes Mel will take her secret to the grave (even an early one). And Mel believes that if ever Odin returns, her freedom is certain. Both believe that Odin’s far-flung return would not break their delicate alliance. Even if Mel’s trysts with the men eager to date Poppy were discovered. For weren’t her lunch time romps protecting Odin’s dominion? And for her part, Poppy understood her dependence on Mel’s allegiance—something that could tear more quickly than coarse, dyed wool.

Each of the women had these thoughts in mind as they used their fingers like combs to loosen and carefully unweave the wall-hanging, only to repeat these actions again and again. They took no notice of the bearded man in the torn jacket hovering at the window, staring quizzically as they loosened row after row of red and gold yarn.

The man rapped on the window, startling the women. Go away, I’m calling 911, Mel shouted, and flashed her cell phone. Wait, said Poppy. Maybe he needs help. You know how the cops are.

Poppy picks up the scissors and approaches the window. What do you want? she says, scissors aloft.

 A place to sleep. He scratches his head.

There’s a motel up the road. Go there, Mel says.

The man presses his cheek against at the window. I’d prefer an olive wood bed, he says.

Poppy’s heart jerks and grows cold. She cranks open the window, scissors still in her hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Comments

  1. Benjamin Niespodziany

    “When darkness descends the women huddle at the loom and dismantle the day’s work, careful to leave several of the day’s rows intact, buttressing the illusion the project marches ever forward toward its natural end while traveling in reverse, and whisper of a tangled immortality.” — This is such a great sentence, and this whole paragraph is so strong. Love this dreamy, witching hour type talk.

    “They took no notice of the bearded man in the torn jacket hovering at the window, staring quizzically as they loosened row after row of red and gold yarn.” — having this as the final line might be a really spectacular surprise ending with a cliffhanger. I feel like the man at the door is asking to be his own chapter/section/continuation and that there’s so much more here to unpack. Really nice! Also, Odin and Poppy are great names

    • Jan Elman Stout

      Thanks very much for reading and commenting on my work. I enjoyed “meeting” you and reading your pieces this weekend. I’ll keep an eye out for you in future workshops and on social media.

  2. Sara Comito

    Wow, Jan! This dropped me into a secret language of fingers and tradition and women. When the mention of 911 happened I was defibrillated! This is amazing, for the tightly woven language, the intimacy of the women, even in its sudden eruptions of cruelty, its allusion to antiquity. The only time I felt taken out was when I had to look up the word “pirn.” Probably more to do with my late-day attention span. This whole thing vibrates with warmth and urgency. I love it very much.

    • Jan Elman Stout

      Thanks very much for reading and commenting on my work. I enjoyed running into you here and reading your pieces this weekend. I hope to see you again in future workshops.

  3. Wendy Oleson

    Jan, this opening paragraph is tremendous. I’m especially taken by the lines that give me a visceral sense of the weaving: “She adjusts their trajectory, closes her eyes, knows from the pirn’s weight and the wool’s oiliness that Mel’s handed her the gold yarn she wants. She weaves in unrestrained purples, golds, and reds, and grasps the shuttle as if it were a surgeon’s knife, thrusting it back and forth along the shed.” Between the wonderful sensory details–pirn’s weight, the wool’s oiliness, the “unrestrained” gold weaving into the other vibrant colors—and the violence of the knife, I’m rapt. And that idea that her fingers “still ferry beauty into the warp and weft”—there’s so much musical language.

    The relationship between Poppy and Mel is wonderful. I loved that we learn right away that Poppy has no problem slapping Mel or even gifting her with gemstones and carvings—to keep her confidence. I was delighted to read about Mel’s strangely protracted lunch hours: “Mel tidies and scrubs the garden apartment, assists with the weaving, leaves for a two-hour lunch and returns, cheeks abloom”—I loved the mystery of that, but then I was even more surprised to read “Even if Mel’s trysts with the men eager to date Poppy were discovered.” I couldn’t figure out if these men are still trying to date Poppy given her very clear, longstanding, and single-minded devotion to weaving, or whether this was something from the past. I’d like to have a stronger sense of the answer to this—especially because it could help me further contextualize the man at the end of the story (whom I took to be Odin but then wondered if he were another suiter, one of those men mentioned whom Mel tended to have trysts with).

    All in all, I so enjoyed “Poppy,” and am grateful you shared her with us!

    My best,
    Wendy

    • Jan Elman Stout

      I can’t thank you enough for this terrific workshop. The wealth of resources (i.e., stories, essays, prompts) was fabulous. I will definitely look for other workshop, etc. opportunities with you. Fyi, I’m working on a flash collection that includes some historical fiction and this piece was meant to be a contemporary riff on Penelope (and Melantho and Odysseus) from The Odyssey.

  4. David O'Connor

    “ferry beauty into the warp and weft”–What a beautiful image, so lyrical! There is a fairytale-like quality to this, perhaps the weaving, then realism sinks in with the 911 and cops… I love how it floats between the timeless and the weaving of time. Excuse the pun, but what an excellent yarn! Well done and thank you for sharing!

    • Jan Elman Stout

      Thanks very much for reading and commenting on my work. I enjoyed “meeting” you and reading your pieces this weekend. I’ll keep an eye out for you in future workshops and on social media.

  5. Judy Bates

    Jan, this is marvelous. I’m in with your first sentence… “a master weaver”. Your description of Poppy (gnarled fingers) works so well; I see her clearly, bent over her loom. You create tension right at the beginning, and it just keeps coming: the crack over the bed, susceptible to rot, a burial shroud, guards her secret, acts as an accomplice. I can’t read fast enough.
    Then, wow, they dismantle the work? Brilliant twist.
    A few stunning lines: “weaves in unrestrained purples, golds and reds”, “traveling in reverse”, betrayed by her fingers.
    The change of tone and mood at the end of the story (911 and “the cops”) felt abrupt to me. I found that it changed my perception of time and setting.
    Thank you for sharing this piece.

    • Jan Elman Stout

      Thanks very much for reading and commenting on my work. I enjoyed “meeting” you and reading your pieces this weekend. I’ll keep an eye out for you in future workshops and on social media.

Submit a Comment

Pin It on Pinterest