The little green man appeared. Poppy wandered across the road. Thronged about her was a crowd of people, jostling and shouting. Warm sunshine caressed her legs. A breeze fluttered her skirt and wafted her hair into her eyes. Spring had risen out of the earth, lifting with it the spirits of many people. But all Poppy felt was an incredible loneliness. It was as if her spirit had sunk into the earth, to be frozen over and chilled, in place of the spring that had escaped out of it.
On the other side of the road was a park filled with blooming flowers of all colours and trees sprouting their first tender green leaves. Poppy sat down at one of the benches. The warm aroma of flowers and leaves and grass faintly tinged the air. Bees droned around, flying from one flower to the next. Poppy felt she could almost smile. It was peaceful and serene here. She thought of all the happy times she’d spent here with Liam. Sometimes, she could almost believe that he would round the corner at any moment and sit down next to her and spend the afternoon quietly drawing with her. But then cold reality would cut through her warm fantasies and the garden would become painful, instead of soothing, to be in.
On the blocks on one side of the park was a shopping centre. The large sliding doors opened onto the edge of the park. This section of the shopping centre was devoted to entertainment; casinos, rooms with gaming machines, cinemas. Poppy could see the large sliding doors from where she sat. Liam spent a lot of time in there nowadays.
She opened her sketchbook and began to draw. As her hand flitted across the page, her eyes flickered towards the large sliding doors. The scenes of many joyful hours spent drawing with him, sitting on this very bench, wafted across her mind’s eye. Those had been such peaceful, quiet times. A tear splashed onto her sketch.
Once, Liam had put down his pencil and sketchbook and taken her chin in his hand and asked, looking deep into her eyes, “Do you know what you remind me of?”
“No,” she’d said, drawing her shoulders together in embarrassment, the hints of a sunrise colouring her cheeks. “What?”
Liam’s eyes had sparkled. “A little kitten,” he’d said. “So tiny and tender and timid. So cute.” And he’d given her a gentle kiss. As the leaves overhead danced in fire, so did their hearts. Then they’d sat in quiet thoughtfulness, leaning against each other, gazing at the dappled golden and crimson and caramel world around them.
But all that was gone. He’d left her for a wild girl, one who gave him fiery kisses and whirled him to exciting late-night parties. He didn’t think she knew. He still came and sat with her at their bench sometimes and he never talked about the wild girl. But Poppy knew. Even if she was only a quiet shadow in the world, the world wasn’t a shadow to her. Timid and quiet did not mean dumb and unobservant. Always, every afternoon, Poppy came to the bench with her sketchbook, but he came less and less. And when he did come, he wasn’t himself; distracted, fidgety, no longer content to spend a quiet afternoon doing nothing but drawing. He was more attracted to the whirlwind of thrills and vibrant colours of the wild girl. It was as if Poppy was fading out of his life.
Even as she thought, the large sliding doors opened and a group of rowdy teenagers poured out. Liam and the wild girl were among them. So they’d gone to the casino again. They came hand in hand, skipping, laughing loudly and unrestrainedly. Poppy watched quietly from the side. She wished she could stand up right then and stride up to them and say to the wild girl, “No, he’s mine. You can’t steal him that easily.” But she didn’t have the courage. True to Liam’s words, she was only a tiny kitten. She could only watch helplessly from the side as Liam was lured out of him and Poppy’s tranquil bubble into the addictive atmosphere of excitement and adrenaline. The wild girl was very pretty too. Like a blooming lioness shining through her grace and beauty. While Poppy was only a thin, tiny kitten. Of course Liam would be drawn to the wild girl.
The pair skipped down the path to the road and rounded the bend out of sight. They hadn’t seen Poppy. She was hidden by the flowers and trees. She sighed in disappointment and frustration. But what could she expect? She was fading out of Liam’s life and couldn’t do anything about it. She closed her sketchbook and got up as well. She only came back to the bench to wait for him. Now that she knew he wasn’t going to come, there was no point staying. She tucked her sketchbook under her arm and treaded the path back towards home.
As she walked, she wondered at the absence of tears. All the past days, she would cry noiselessly. But today, she felt curiously calm. It was as if her store had frozen up. She shivered despite the lustrous sunshine splashing onto the ground and the warm air that caressed her.
She reached her house and let herself in. It was eerily quiet and also chilly and dim. The radiant rays of sunshine from outside pierced the windows only a short way then fell dead on the ground. No, the house wasn’t dirty or neglected, the windows weren’t covered with grime; it lacked a sense of life was all, with no one inside from early morning till late afternoon. Poppy’s parents both worked till late and she had no siblings. She shivered again. She felt so lonely.
She flitted into her bedroom and opened up the cardboard box where she put all the drawings she didn’t do in her sketchbook. She flipped her sketchbook to the sketch she had done just before and placed it inside. It was a sketch of Liam. Then she padded into the kitchen and took out a knife. Its sharp silver blade glinted. She brought the knife up to her chest and sliced into her flesh. Dimly, she felt a great pain, but it seemed distant, like she was watching her body from the outside. No blood came out. She took out her heart. It was blue and cold and beginning to freeze over. Her fingers numbed over from holding it. Only a few drops of blood dripped out. She floated back to her room and placed it in the box. All the drawings froze under it. She closed the lid and wrote on top,
“Only thaw when you have truly come back to me. I don’t need to freeze a second time.”
Then she slipped into bed and sank into a deep sleep.