Flower Bugs

So I’ve got to tell you about these two sisters that live in my hometown. Mom says they’re two flower-children who didn’t know how to get on with their lives once the sixties ended. She thinks they’re stuck in time, but I’m not so sure. Surely they were once younger than they are now and at the very least their cars are definitely not from the sixties. That’s the first thing most people notice about them, their cars. But let me back up.

The sisters go by Poppy and Mae, but they say their real names are Karma and Janis. Mom works for the town lawyer and she says those are fake names they gave themselves in the sixties to show their commitment to the movement, like some counterculture altar call. According to Mom, their real names are Penelope and Margaret. The fact that the names everybody calls them nowadays are so clearly tied to their real names is another reason I don’t think they’re actually stuck in time. I don’t think they think it’s the sixties; I’m not even sure they wish it was the sixties. I think they just like to hold onto the best parts of the sixties. Like the clothes. And their cars.

Like I said, their cars aren’t from the sixties, but the only reason I know is because I’ve been inside one of them and the interior was too fresh. If a car had been around for fifty years, you’d think the seat cushions would show it. But those cars are new in every way besides the smell. The smell isn’t the reason people notice them, but it’s tied to it. You see, Poppy and Mae each have a Volkswagen Beetle; Poppy’s is a pale yellow, Mae’s is bright orange. And every summer, they paint their cars.

You can smell the paint and turpentine for weeks on end, from May to the end of June if the winds are stagnant for too long. The cars always remain their native yellow and orange, the sisters just add on to what they started long before I was born. They paint flowers, more of them every summer. Poppy’s car is like a meadow, with green grass and long stems, while Mae’s is more psychedelic, with blossoms of all colors, shapes, and sizes. She let me add a little sunflower when I was little. She’s never covered it up, either, just brightened the yellow from time to time. Mae likes to say it watches over her when the sun isn’t shining. I painted it right under the handle of the driver’s side door.

One Christmas I asked for colorful, flowy pants like Poppy and Mae wear. My mother just about had a stroke, but my older sister Julie found me a pair in a thrift store the next town over. When I told Poppy and Mae about it, they said they shop there so often they know the owner by name. I think that’s another thing they miss about the sixties or just the past in general — I think they miss the times when things were slow enough and consistent enough that you learned people’s names. 

Everybody knows everybody’s names around here. Our town has a population of less than a thousand. Most days, I want to run away from it the moment I turn eighteen. But the sisters always make me pause. 

“This town is the closest thing you’ll ever have to the days of love and flowers and lazy summers,” they like to say. “The breeze in these parts is fresher than in any other.”

And I trust them on that second part because if anyone knew the breezes of the earth, it’d be them. Their flowered bugs have carried them all over. I think they’ve owned seven different ones between the two of them — all the colors of the rainbow duly reflected in their purchases. Julie says when she was little, Poppy’s was bright blue and Mae’s was red and she called it Lady. Lady was the only bug the sisters have ever owned that wasn’t painted in flowers; Mae wanted it to have polka dots instead. But that car broke down between the time Julie was old enough to remember it and the time I would have noticed, so it doesn’t seem like it lasted very long. Maybe the decision to not let it bloom into a garden strangled its roots.

Either way, Poppy and Mae always smile. They say life is too short to frown. They tell me that if people could smile and love and sing when the Vietnam War was going on, nothing ought to stop us now. That’s what I tell myself on the days I hate this run-down town the most. Nothing ought to stop a smile from blooming on my face. On those days, I go out in the yard and lay down on the hammock Mom bought the one time she left this town — a school trip to Mexico when she was in the eleventh grade — and I let the wind touch my face and restore my soul. And I lay there rocking and smiling until happiness blooms.