Since time immemorial, I have been poppy, although my real name was Pophyria. Papie had named me so in a fantasy of his, following the name of some character in some famous poet’s work. But the rest of my family never really understood the use of such a fancy name for a girl of my origins. Humble origins require humble names, thus due to the inevitable, my name was made to spell “easier”, poppy. So Porphyria Margret Francesco became just poppy, nothing fancy or over the top. For the three years that I was at school, which my parents thought was totally unnecessary yet did anyway, all my “friends” there could never pronounce my name and settled for calling me “poppy”, even my first grade teacher Sister Patty called me so as it sounded less “unorthodox”. So forever I was poppy, until one day this lean boy, with freckles on his cheeks, came up to me during recess and tapped his cold fingers on the bare exposed skin of my shoulder and said,
“May I please sit beside you Pophyria?”
I was shocked to hear my fullname; I hadn’t heard that for a while. I nodded anyway, he looked miserable and weepy and it was somewhat out of pity I agreed. I kept on staring at him and he took shy glances at me. After sitting in awkward silence for awhile I asked him in a very inquisitive tone,
‘How did you know my name?”
After looking at me blankly for some moments, he managed to say in a very broken tone,
“I am Arthur Mckingsey Paisley; you are my classmate, Pophyria Margret Francesco”
Hearing the both names together sounded like those official death announcements near the morgue. It was amazing to have someone hear and remember my name, but I didn’t bother him much with this question, I was scared I would scare him away. I smiled and went on with my work. Although we didn’t talk for the next 25 minutes, after which we parted our ways. Oddly, it was surprisingly pleasant, not talking yet knowing someone.
Over the next few weeks, I actually started liking going to school even more, for Arthur. He had this shy way of approach to our friendship, and it was for the first time may be, that someone didn’t consider me inferior or weird or both. Arthur and I had long discussions on the park bench, as two silly teenagers, we were quite mature. I came to know about Arthur’s wealthy family, how he is the descendant of a long lineage of Lords, how nearly all his relatives are “Sir” and how he despises them all. This was a common unifying factor within us, we never really understood our families. It was actually somewhat ironical, I came from very “humble” backgrounds, which was actually a codeword for scrappy people, my papa was the local butcher, not even the fancy one from whom Arthur’s family buys meat from; we are just crude of the street shanty butcher family. My father Peter and his family have been throughout traditional butchers, skinning and chopping pigs and lambs. I grew up amidst the smell of blood and carcasses; I have seen papa chop pigs without batting an eyelid, earlier when I was a wee baby, I used to cringe on seeing the violent chopping and bloodshed, even close my eyes; but over the years, I have become accustomed to this, I even help papa by disposing the carcasses and sometimes help in cutting the pig ears, although I have my own purpose for that, my own selfish morbid gain. I have memorized the whole routine, how he slits the pigs open, throws away their insides, skins them, drains the blood, divides the different parts and then processes them. Sometimes even in my sleep, I see papa chopping meat, only sometimes I see him chopping me too. Mom is very different from us, she married papa when she was very young and had over heels in love, and now that she has “grown” she finds herself stuck, papa quarrels with her everyday and every time they fight my mom sits with her burnt bible which she got off cheap and make me read out verses; it somehow soothed her. Her father, my Papie, never really liked papa, but somehow he had taken a liking to me. He would let make his tie on Sundays and we would go on walks around the city. My father never really supported this, so he was especially happy when Papie fell sick, but still after that too, he used to tell me stories and take on a tour in the wonderland of words. This happened till the day he passed away, entrusting his secret with me.
Arthur on the other hand, was aloof, away from all this pettiness; his family had something which we didn’t, money. And he had something which I didn’t, innocence. But misfits as we were, we bonded over this difference of ours, completing what we lack in each other. So recess became shorter for us and we started to walk back home too. Everything was going good, I finally had a friend.
But then my fate intervened, Papie died, and it was his pension which paid my fees, so I had to be taken out of school. Somehow I felt happy for Arthur; that now he had a chance to forget me and pretend he never knew me, for his own good. But little mould of mush that he was, he offered to help me andupdate me with the studies at his home. In his house was this huge library where I would go every alternate day and we would study what they were teaching at school and sometimes more. Arthur’s butler Maurice brought us hot chocolate and later we go for a walk in the lawn. Arthur somehow made Papie’s passing away easier.
There were huge white statues in Arthur’s garden, I loved looking at them, and each day Arthur would explain the story of a new one to me. My favorite was the Statue of Azazel, the fallen angel who taught deception and warfare; a mighty warrior and shrewd statesmen. He seemed real and within reach, Arthur said that I had a gleam in my eyes whenever we talked about Azazel, the scapegoat or sometimes the deceptive. This duality of his origins fascinated me; someone being deceived can also deceive.
I had tried to keep Arthur away, from my world, from me, but somehow he seeped in; and now that he had seen me, he wanted more, he wanted to know my world. Whatever we were, I didn’t want to scare him away, so I always avoided this conversation, until that day; he came unannounced to my part of the city and found his way to our shanty little shop, and there I was, standing in a bloodstained apron, skinning pig ears. I wanted to runaway, lest he was disgusted of me. But he just giggled away, after I cleaned up, he gave me a present; it was my birthday. No one ever celebrated it, even I had forgotten about it, almost. I opened up his present, it was doll; oh how mistaken he was!
My neighbors Sarah and Rose saw this from across the street, they came with their greedy little hands to see the doll, I was even more detested. Then they started eyeing Arthur like our clients eyed our produce. So I did what I had to; I broke the doll’s head and gave it to Sarah and gave the body to Rose. All were stunned and poor Arthur couldn’t make out what was happening. They can keep the petty doll, leave my Arthur alone!
Arthur, this poor little soul, eager to figure me out, belonged to me and I finally to pity to him. He must know me and it was time. I took the bin that contained the disposed of part of the animals and I asked Arthur to follow me. We walked through the convoluted lanes and dark alleys and reached the dumpster beside the church graveyard. Arthur offered to help me with the disposable, that’s when I told him, “I don’t play with dolls, I play with these”, pointing at the carcasses, after all, I never had the luxury of dolls and carts, my playhouse was made up of butchered rejects.
Arthur didn’t ask further me, he just wanted to know me. So I showed him, and like little children we played with the bloody guts and broken bones and rotten skins. I kept staring at the churchyard in the distance.
“What’s the matter?” Arthur asked.
“I have a secret and I will tell you someday about it”
Arthur nodded and reassured me, that he would wait. I looked at the church yard and sighed, for once I felt, in a long time, that Papie was here. We went to Arthur’s house and Arthur was delighted than ever, like a little kid having solved a riddle. It had started to snow, and how Arthur loved the white snow, the cold flakes on his nose and eyelashes. Nevertheless, we rushed to his home and Maurice as usual gave us our hot chocolate and we went to his parent’s room to watch the snowfall from the balcony. Arthr, even though 15, seemed a lot big and matured in this mellowed gleam of the light bulb. I could sense something was to happen, I saw him staring at me in a new way, like I had opened gates of an unknown dark castle with him. We went inside, and Arthur made me sit on his mother’s dresser. He took the red lipstick and smeared it over my lips,
“Red suits you Porphyria” he said, and leaned over and kissed me slightly. My whole body quivered, for the first time in my life I had this strange urge, the urge of not wanting this moment to end, wanting to end everything here, forever. It was my first kiss and Arthur’s last sane one.
As luck would have it, his puny body got an infection from those carcasses and he was bedridden for days. He had become miserable in his last days, I would visit him every day and we would go on walks in the snow, but he had become delusional; He started to call me Azazel, and looked at me like a dying man sees his savior, I couldn’t see him like this anymore. I had already seen Papie suffer like this. I couldn’t bear to see that too Arthur. Each day Arthur begged for mercy, for some peace, his pain was eroding him from within.
I did what I had to, we went on our daily walk in the snow, and Maurice said he would be waiting for us. As we went for a stroll, leaving wobbly footprints in the snow, through the way Arthur spoke of his favorite things and called me Azazel; his eyes were gleaming like an angel, he pale skin was flawless, scar-less. We went to church graveyard, a thick blanket of snow had fell over it, every grave look the same, except for the unmarked one, the isolated un-glorious grave for the so called imbeciles of the society, Papie used to bring me here. We stood before it,
“Do you still want to know my secret Arthur?” I asked.
He nodded curiously,
“Papie left me with a secret, on our walks every day, we would see this leper, infested with wounds and sores, he was in great agony; Papie felt sorry for him. So one day we offered him some water, it had poison in it. The leper smiled and went into deep sleep, then we both buried him here, he was Papie’s lover, papie buried him with a tear, I had never seen him cry. Papie that day had asked me to, to provide relief to the one I loved, he had freed his love that day, and I could never have enough of this place. I came here, as it reminded me of him, and also of that poor man, whom I had provided a sanctity, his calm eyes still haunt me, making me crave for more…”
Arthur held my hands and asked me,
“Would you give me peace, my Angel?”
It was easy, I had seen papa do it a million times, I took papa’s knife, slit Arthur’s puny pale neck and saw the thick red sanguine stream flow through, my hands were smeared with his blood, the pale snow got stained with blood, spreading in streams and dots. I lay him on the cold ice and curled up beside him, even I had turned pale now; my blue hands had clotted dark blood on it. There was still some fresh blood over by his throat, I smeared the warm color over my lips and kissed his frozen lips; Red suited him too. I lay curled him in the snow, amidst spots of red, revering in his warm blood, looking at his peaceful sated face; I had given peace to my love, he is free now…