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Field Of Poppies
I sit down in that field, the field of poppies, the field of death. I sink to my knees in front of the two rough gray gravestones. It has now been fifteen years since one of them died, eighteen for the other. I suppose I’m a happy man now, with a small family: a wife and a healthy baby girl. We named her Jenna, after my sister. Jenna, the girl who occupies one of the graves in front of me. Jenna, the girl I killed.
It was a dark night. The moon hung low in the sky and little wisps of clouds shrouded it. Everything glowed in a cold silver light.
“Hey, Eddie! You sure you want to go? It’s a night for witches,” I said, shivering.
“Aw, don’t be a sissy, Jake. You never wanted to go, and now you’re making excuses,” he replied.
“We’re underage, Eddie! How’re we supposed to get in?” I demanded.
He rolled his eyes. “See, my cousin works there. Right now, he owes me a favor, or some money. He hasn’t got any money to spare, so he’s gonna let us in to pay me,” he said. Eddie had brown hair and gray eyes, and was always off on some adventure or another. Eddie wanted to go to the Village that night, to go to a bar. I told him it was a bad idea, but my stubborn mule of a friend wouldn’t listen. He mounted his bike and started pedaling.
I sighed and pedaled after him. “Eddie!” I called.
“Yeah?” he replied wearily.
“You wanna know something weird?”
“Sure,” he said.
“Well, I was going down to Farmer Green’s, for some eggs, and I saw this beggar on the side of the road. He looked so poor and run-down that I had to stop to give him a coin,” I said.
“How much did you give him?” Eddie asked. Eddie’s family, the Smiths, must be the poorest family in Iowa. Eddie’s dad works three jobs, and even his momma got to work to support the family. It isn’t right, having a poor old momma work.
“A penny,” I said. “Anyhow, that doesn’t matter. So I give this man a penny, and he offers to read my fortune. I figured he must be one of those gypsies or mystics that Joe’s momma is always harping on about, and I let him. He studies my palm for a while and tells me that I had a very sad event in my life. I say, ‘Yes, my momma died three years ago.’ He asks me what I would give to get my momma back, and I say ‘Anything.’ He looks at my palm some more, and asks me, real quiet, ‘Even your little sister?’ I say ‘No. Jenna’s the one thing I can’t give, not even to get Momma back.’ He says, ‘That’s sad. You’re going to lose her soon.’ Then he turns and strolls down the path like its a regular Sunday afternoon.”
“Jake, why do you even care about her? I mean, Jenna hates you, and you love that girl to death! I don’t get you,” Eddie said.
“She’s just...she’s my little sister, that’s why. When I saw her for the first time, I felt warm and fuzzy, something I only felt around Momma. Now that Momma’s gone, she’s the only one I love! Jenna’s the only one I can connect with!” I cried.
“What about Darren or your dad?” Eddie asked.
“Pa? He’s crazy! He got admitted to the asylum last week, ‘cause he’s not been himself since Momma died, and I hate my older stepbrother: popular Darren Miller.”
By this time, we had reached the Village. There were many pubs and bars open that night, none of them inviting, all of them positively filthy. Eddie led me to the most repulsive bar there, called the Lion’s Tavern.
I chained our rusty bikes to a lamppost in front of the bar. We put our jackets up and walked in.
The bar was dark, cold, and smelled of sweat, beer, and vomit.
“Hey, Eddie,” I whispered, “Only pop, remember?”
“I know, Jake,” he whispered back.
“Two soda-pops, please,” I said.
The bartender popped off the lids of two heavy glass bottles and handed them to us. “Ten cents.”
I slapped a dime on the counter and sauntered off. I stood by myself in the corner, observing. I looked around the bar. There were big, burly men in soiled jeans and red flannel shirts, and lean, tough hoods in leather jackets. One of the hoods looked familiar. I realized it was Joe’s brother, Jeremiah. I heard he was bad news.
I saw Eddie stop and talk to Jeremiah. He said something that made Jeremiah scowl, and say something in return. Eddie’s face turned red, a horrible, ugly shade of red. He yelled at Jeremiah, who shouted back, and soon, fists were flying.
“Break it up!” I bellowed, but no one heard me.
I rushed over to see Eddie hit Jeremiah over the head with his pop bottle. Just before Jeremiah fell, however, he hit Eddie over the head, hard with a piece of lead pipe. I watched them both crumple to the ground in a heap.
Soon, fistfights were breaking out, one by one. I was pushing my way through the crowd, when a fist connected with the side of my head. I fell to the ground, my hands over my head, as the world went black.
I blinked my eyes open. I was in a clean, sterilized room, with white light so bright it hurt my eyes. Two figures loomed over me. When the figures swam into focus, I recognized my little sister, Jenna, and my stepbrother Darren.
I raised my hand an inch off the bed and croaked, “Jenna...”
She nodded. “Jake.”
“Will..will he make it?”
“The doctors are still checking up on him, Jake,” she said.
That meant Eddie might not make it. I tried imagining life without my best friend. Eddie made the lamest jokes, and kidded around a lot, but he was a good worker, hauling logs for Farmer Jones and Farmer McDonald to make extra money to take home. Eddie wasn’t bad with a rifle either. He could spot and hit a rabbit a good fifty yards away with Pa’s beautiful Savage 99. Eddie was more a brother to me than Darren. We hunted together, worked together, went to school together, and sometimes we even finished each other’s sentences. Life without Eddie would be unfathomable.
“How’s Jeremiah?” I croaked.
“Dead,” said Jenna.
“Dead?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“Yeah. Your friend there killed him,” Darren sneered.
“I asked Jenna,” I snarled.
“Okay, then. Let me answer for Jenna. She will not answer any of your questions if she values our... friendship,” he said nastily.
Jenna looked from me to Darren and slowly closed her mouth. Darren smirked triumphantly. I turned away, disgusted and disappointed.
When Jenna was little, she used to hang around me more than Darren. I used to play with her and take her everywhere. When she was about five, however, she realized that big, blond, football player Darren Miller was more popular than his adopted younger brother; tall, skinny, black-haired Jacob Evans. I had black hair, and olive green eyes, with tanned skin from working in the fields. Consequently, Darren had blond hair, brown eyes, and pale skin – a result of not working in the fields half as much as I did. My body was built like a runner’s, tall, wiry, and lithe. I was on the school’s track team, and had the fastest mile time in the history of Pioneer West High School. Darren was at least a head shorter than me, big, and muscular. Darren and I were both relatively good-looking, athletic, and were the same in all but two things: grades and popularity. Darren was an attention-seeking parasite. Anything that would get people talking about him he would do. His highest grade ever was a seventy-five percent on a project in second grade. I was definitely the smarter one. I made A’s on almost every single assignment. However, I was not popular. I was they shy, quiet kid on the school’s track team, my only moments of fame being when I won a track competition. No one paid attention to me, no one knew me. I was alone.
“Hey, Jake, stop sobbing into that pillow. There’s someone here to see you,” Darren said.
I looked up into the angry face of Joe Smith.
“Hi, Jake. Happy to see me?” Joe smiled a twisted, menacing smile.
“Jenna, can you and Darren give us a minute, please?” I asked.
Jenna nodded wordlessly and led Darren out the door.
“What do you want, Joe?” I asked wearily.
He grabbed the front of my shirt and pulled me up. “Listen, punk. Now you’ve crossed the line. I’ve tolerated all those pranks you pulled on me, but you’ve crossed the line now. You were there when Jeremiah died, and you didn’t do anything to stop your precious friend from killing my brother, so you’re gonna pay. I can’t harm Eddie now, can I? After all, what revenge is there in killing a doomed man? I’ll tell you. None. So you’re like his brother aren’t you? You’re the next best thing. So you’re gonna pay. Oh, you’re gonna pay the ultimate price,” Joe laughed a wild laugh, and I saw a mad light in his eyes.
“Get away from me, Joe!” I exclaimed.
“Don’t worry Jake. I won’t forget. I’ll get you one day. Oh, you’re gonna pay,” he said as he walked out of the room, “You’re gonna pay.”
I thought about those words a long time. They haunted my dreams during my fitful bouts of sleep. More than anything, I wished to get out of the hospital. I’m what Momma called a “free spirit”, I hated to be restrained or confined anywhere. Though I would not admit it to anyone, I was also troubled and disturbed by what Joe said. He was a bit touched in the head, there was no doubt about it, but Joe said with such conviction, it was hard not to believe him.
I was let out of the hospital the next week, as I was not seriously hurt. Eddie was still there, and I was afraid he wouldn’t make it. I needed him next to me to make me lighten up when I’m being to serious, to bring me down to earth when my head is in the clouds. I needed him because he was my best friend.
I trudged down our little country road, remembering how things were before the night in the bar. Eddie and I would be laughing our fool heads off, racing our worthless bikes, or making our way home, moaning about the impossible amounts of homework old Mrs. Dubois assigned. I wished with all my heart we could go back to those times.
When I got home, it was high noon, the warmest part of the day in Dawson, Iowa. I pried open the screen door and it screeched as it fell against the house. I stepped inside and shuffled into the kitchen, thinking I’d fix myself something to eat. What I saw left me stunned.
Darren was reading a college acceptance letter from Iowa State, a malicious smile growing on his face as he read every word.
“What is that?” I asked, my voice trembling with anger.
“Oh. It’s you. Y’see, Jake, I have a college acceptance letter. It’s from Iowa State. Seems as if I got accepted on a football scholarship. I’m going, Jake,” he replied.
“What? You’re not supposed to go to college. I’m supposed to go in three years. You’re supposed to stay here to take care of Jenna and Stevie!” I exclaimed.
“Ah. But they’re not my family. I don’t care about them, and I especially don’t care about your wishes.” With that, he turned back to his letter and shut me out of my life forever.
I ran. I could not bear to see Darren’s smug face again. I could not be reminded that all my dreams were crushed, ground into the Dawson soil. There was a saying in Dawson: Dawson born, Dawson raised, Dawson dead. No one got in, no one got out. I had a chance to escape the town, and my awful stepbrother took it from me.
I collapsed in the field of poppies Pa planted for Momma. I laid there for a while, gasping, taking long shuddering breaths to calm myself down. Everything was going wrong.
Suddenly, a high shriek cut the air. Jenna’s!
I raced toward the sound, my feet slapping the ground, my heart pounding in my chest. I willed myself to run faster the entire time.
I stopped at the riverbank and crouched behind a bush. Jenna was cornered my two burly men and a boy with a switchblade. I recognized the two men as hoods, and the boy was Joe. They were growling at her, asking her questions.
“Where is Jake?” the first hood asked. “Tell us and we won’t hurt you, little girl.”
Jenna firmly shook her head. “No.”
Almost too fast to see, Joe grabbed her around the waist and pressed the switchblade to her neck. “Tell us, Jenna.”
Jenna screamed again, but it was cut short when Joe slapped a hand over her mouth. Her black hair was knotted and cascaded over her back and in front of her face, tangling in Joe’s switchblade. Her face was streaked with tears.
I burst out and bolted down the hill, screaming for them to let go of Jenna. One of the hoods caught my arms and pinned them behind my back. I fought and kicked, but to no avail. The other hood punched me in the face, and knocked me over the head with a chunk of wood lying on the ground. The last thing I heard before I blacked out was a single gunshot, resounding in the air.
A week later, I was at a funeral for my sister. I was told Darren meant to hit a hood, but instead caught Jenna on the arm. She fainted from the pain, hitting the base of her skull on a sharp rock. She died of blood loss, but her death was always my fault.
Joe was thrown into an asylum soon after, and the two hoods served twenty years. Darren went to Iowa State, but was died in a car crash in his second year.
I never left Dawson, Iowa. I stayed there, managing the Evans farm. I met a pretty girl, married her, and we have a happy home in the same place that holds such bad memories.
I get up from my place between the two graves. I walk to my farm, not looking back. I can only hope Jenna is proud of me.