The Mysterious Poinsettia
A Christmas Tale
From the kitchen Irene spoke in a lovingly raised voice. “Lucy, why are you barking?” she asked as her red-haired Pomeranian-Chihuahua continued to bark near the front door. The aroma of Christmas filled the house as Irene baked treats for her friends and family. This was a lifelong tradition for her. She had oatmeal raisin cookies in the oven as she was preparing the baklava and stirring in the rich, dark honey. Baking was one of Irene’s most cherished activities. It reminded her of her mom. She used many of the recipes that were passed down to her and have been in the family for generations.
To get into the holiday mood, Irene was playing her favorite Barbra Streisand Christmas album. She knew all the songs word-for-word and twirled around in the kitchen as she sang along with Babs, at the top of her lungs. Irene was in her special happy place right at that very moment – life couldn’t be more perfect.
Recently, Irene had a new entry door installed and thought maybe Lucy was barking at the door. Curious about the barking Irene walked over to the living room to see what was going on. “Oh, Lucy, get over here! Let’s feed you some kibble to make you happy.” Irene walked toward the door and rubbed it with her hand. “See, Lucy? The door is our friend. It likes us. This door protects our home.”
Despite Irene’s efforts to quiet Lucy, she continued to bark at the door. Irene became concerned, as Lucy had abandonment issues from the previous owner. The feelings continued even after Irene adopted her from the animal shelter. She thought maybe Lucy felt the new door was a sign of something changing.
“Come, come my dear Lucy, come to Mama,” Irene spoke as she made kissing sounds toward Lucy. “Come on over to your bed.” Irene pointed at the custom-made bed she made for Lucy, a doggy bed made with a thick, soft, foam mattress with Egyptian cotton 1,000 thread count sheets and deluxe covers. Irene will spare no expense for Lucy. Her dog means the world to her. Irene has cried before thinking that if anything happened to her nobody else would ever be able to love Lucy the way she does.
But nothing seemed to work; Lucy remained close to the door and kept on barking. Her bark grew louder and became ferocious. Lucy began growling at the door as if it were her enemy, as if it had done something wrong to her. It was as if Lucy was possessed by some sort of demon.
Irene stood there perplexed and became worried about Lucy. She couldn’t figure out why Lucy hated her brand new entry door. For a second, Irene thought maybe she needed to have it taken down and have the old door reinstalled. Again, she tried convincing Lucy that the door was okay but was unsuccessful; Lucy continued to bark.
Finally, Irene picked Lucy up in her arms and took her into her bedroom and sat Lucy on the bed and told her a story about an old man that had a dog named Charlie. For a minute or two Lucy calmed down, but soon she jumped down from the bed and ran right for the front door and began barking again, scratching her paws against the door.
Once again Lucy began barking furiously. This time she was jumping toward the door as if she were somehow trying to open it. This frightened Irene; she had never seen Lucy act this way before. Lucy was barking so intently, and her breathing became rapid. She began panting and hyperventilating. It was as if she lost control. All of a sudden, she started choking and anxiously panting to catch her breath. Finally, she calmed down and she went to a corner of the house and just lay there; she was very still. Irene was pleased that finally Lucy stopped barking. But a few seconds later she started to hyperventilate again, choking and trying to catch her breath. Irene tried calming her by gently rubbing her back. Again, she calmed down but then started panting. It continued like this for a while and it seemed like Lucy wasn’t going to stop. Then suddenly she went quiet and became very still; then she stopped breathing. Irene didn’t know what to do; she was puzzled and worried so she called the fire department. The fire department made it to her house in a record six minutes. They came knocking on her door – the same door Lucy had been barking at for the past 20 minutes. She opened the door to the paramedics. They moved the poinsettia plant, which was sitting on the doorstep, off to the side. Irene was inside standing over Lucy who was lying curled on the floor, quiet and still. Irene feared the worst. The paramedic took one look at Lucy and said, “Ma’am, don’t worry about your dog.” Irene interrupted and said in a slightly huffy manner, “Her name is Lucy.” The paramedic continued talking. “Don’t worry. Lucy is going to be okay.”
The paramedic strapped a special, pet-sized oxygen mask on Lucy and started her inhaling and exhaling again. He told Irene that Lucy was okay, and that everything would be fine. He suggested that she take Lucy to the veterinarian in the morning.
After the paramedics left, Irene was so relieved, as Lucy was in her doggy bed resting. But then the house began to fill up with a burning smell. Irene forgot about the cookies she had in the oven. She ran quickly to the kitchen and turned the oven off. The kitchen had filled up with a light smoke that made Irene start coughing. She hurriedly opened the windows and kitchen door. It was cold outside but the air needed to be cleared. The smoke rushed out of the kitchen quickly but the smell of smoke remained within the house. Irene was so disappointed and broke into quiet tears over her burned cookies. She already had a list of friends she was going to send them to the next day. But that wouldn’t happen now.
This was such a strange moment for Irene. She felt as if there was a black cloud hovering over her. She sat down for a while to catch her breath and was exhausted from the evening’s activities. She sat back in her plush recliner and spent a few moments meditating on the beauty of the sound of the crickets and enjoyed a hot cup of Japanese green tea. The sound of the crickets and tea calmed her nerves.
The next morning Irene woke up early and made herself a quick breakfast of decaf coffee, a bagel, and a sliced banana. Lucy was awake but was seemingly lethargic. She ate only about half of her morning meal and just stayed in her bed the rest of the time while Irene took her shower and dressed to leave for the vet.
Usually, Lucy is unwilling to get into the car when going to the vet. Lucy has a sixth sense when it comes to the vet. She always seems to know what’s going on. But this time Lucy did not put up a fight; she was drained of her normal liveliness. This time she let Irene put her into the dog safety carrier without a fuss. She was quiet the entire ride to the vet.
Once they arrived, Lucy and Irene waited in the brightly decorated waiting room for about 10 minutes before seeing the doctor. With slight tears in her eyes, Irene briefly described what happened the night before.
The doctor looked at Lucy, took her temperature, looked at her tongue, in her ears, eyes and so forth. “Lucy has a fever,” the doctor told Irene. Irene was shocked and sat up straight as the doctor spoke. “I’m sorry to tell you this, Irene, but Lucy has ticks. The overexertion from last night made her hyperventilate and lose her energy.”
Irene was devastated by this. “But my baby can’t have ticks. I take such good care of her,” Irene cried to the doctor.
“Irene,” the doctor said, “Ticks are tricky creatures. They find ways to get to into your home. Maybe a squirrel or rodents might have been in your yard recently? Do you leave food or water bowls outside for Lucy?”
“Why, yes,” Irene responded in a chirpy manner. “There is a water bowl in the backyard for Lucy.”
“That’s it; the water bowl attracts other animals. I suggest you throw that bowl away and keep Lucy’s food and water inside only.”
The doctor suggested a flea and tick medication to kill the ticks, but also said the most effective way to get rid of the ticks is to take a pair of tweezers and pull them off of Lucy’s skin and fur. He said to do this three or four days after beginning the medication – there should be considerably less ticks.
After getting Lucy settled at home, Irene went outside and threw out that pesky water bowl and swept the area. When she came back inside she said to Lucy, “That’s it, girl! I am never letting you go outside again. No more ticks for my baby.”
After about a week of treatment Lucy was much better. Irene put every bit of her attention into Lucy. She was obsessed with ridding her baby of those bothersome ticks. Everyday Irene would spend four to five hours combing through Lucy’s fur, searching for ticks to pick off her skin. She’d sit there with Lucy with a magnifying glass in one hand and tweezers in another. It came to the point that Irene neglected her household duties such as watering the lawn and tending to the weeds. Dirty dishes piled in the sink and the carpet hadn’t been vacuumed in days.
Finally, when Irene was centered again she decided to go outside and take care of some light yard work. Irene enjoyed pruning her flower garden and gently cultivating the soil so that the air, nutrients and water could penetrate through the soil easier. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon. Generally, Irene would enjoy being in her garden with the sun and the dirt and flowers, but today she wasn’t so enthusiastic, as she did not have Lucy outside with her. Lucy was alone in the house.
After about fifteen minutes outside Irene decided she would get Lucy and put her in her doggy stroller and bring her outdoors. She felt if Lucy didn’t touch the ground she’d be less susceptible to being infested by ticks again.
Irene brought Lucy out to the front yard as she worked on the flowerbed just to the side of the front door. That’s when Irene discovered a poinsettia plant sitting on her lawn just off the cement porch at the entryway of her home. Irene thought to herself, “Well, this is nice! I wonder who left this here?”
Irene searched through the plant to see if there was a card. She even poked through the dirt thinking maybe whoever left the plant may have been tricky by burying a card in the dirt – but still no card. Irene looked at the bottom of the pot – maybe a card was taped to the bottom. But nothing.
Irene became fixated on discovering who left the poinsettia plant. She went to each neighbor on both sides of her home and asked if either of them had left the plant, but neither of them had done this. She contacted one of her Facebook friends and again no luck. She asked the lady who walks the neighborhood daily – not her either.
Irene could not get this off of her mind. She had to know who gave her this plant! The curiosity burned deep into her thoughts. She even lost a few nights of sleep thinking over and over about this. She thought, “Do I have a secret admirer?” Every possibility went through her mind. She even considered consulting a psychic to find the answer.
First she walked around the corner to the Behzadi’s house, her Persian neighbors, to whom she had given a box of cookies and a dozen of her homemade baklava recently. Irene visited with Mrs. Behzadi for over half an hour talking about the neighborhood, but it wasn’t the Behzadi’s that left the poinsettia plant. Next, she tried calling her friend, James, a Facebook friend that lives in the next city. Last month she gave James a bucket of lemons from her lemon tree. But it wasn’t James either. Irene spent about an hour on the phone calling different people asking each of them about the poinsettia plant, but it wasn’t from any of them. Irene could not figure out who might have sent it. She even stopped the little old lady, Irma Bjornssen, as she was walking her dog past Irene’s house. It wasn’t Irma either. This mystery consumed Irene’s mind so much that she was unable to sleep.
The next morning Irene called Kimberlee, a psychic and palm reader located a few miles from her home. She made an appointment to visit with her that day at 2:00 p.m.
Knowing that she was going to see a psychic excited Irene. She hadn’t visited one in about two years. During a ten-year period, Irene visited a local psychic on a monthly basis to get advice on fashion, style, job decisions, family members, even contacting departed friends and family. Today Irene was going to visit the psychic and this put a spark in her step.
Irene chose a dazzling gold dress with a multi-colored scarf to wear and finished it off with her red, low-heeled pumps and a small red clutch purse. It was like she was dressing up for a date. That’s how exciting this was for Irene; she was beaming with joy.
When she finally arrived to the psychic’s place she walked into the dimly lit front office and spoke with the receptionist, a young, dark-skinned man with a heavy British accent. He introduced himself as River and let Irene know that Kimberlee was finishing with her prior client and that it would just be a few minutes. Irene sat down in a big, cushiony chair and enjoyed a mini chocolate Hershey bar as she waited. Irene gazed around at the various crystal and stained glass artifacts in the waiting area that included a beautiful tiffany lamp. Irene has long been fond of tiffany lamps and has a few at home.
After waiting several minutes, River called Irene and let her know that Kimberlee was ready for her. Irene stood up and for a second felt a tinge of nervousness knowing that soon she would be face-to-face with Kimberlee the psychic.
River led Irene to a big, solid-wood barn door with a distressed walnut finish that hung on a sporty, no-fuss sliding hanger. Irene was so impressed by the door she gasped at it. She had to touch it and feel the aura of the door. Irene said to River, “I feel a sense of oldness in this door.” River just smiled and slid the door open. Kimberlee sat in the middle of the room at a big round black table, which had a crystal ball positioned in the center. The room was dimmed even more than the waiting room. Kimberlee had long blonde hair that was braided and tied up on her head. She wore a thin black veil that covered her face, and wore a long, black, flowing gown that draped over her chair. In a calm and quiet voice and with finger pointing toward the chair across the table she said, “Sit.”
Irene walked across the room and sat on the chair. Kimberlee sat across from her, not saying a word, just staring directly into Irene’s eyes. This frightened Irene. She felt uneasy and started to babble about her dog, Lucy, and how she had been sick and how she burned some cookies in the oven. Irene just kept talking. Kimberlee said one word to her, “Relax.” At that Irene stopped talking and sat there as Kimberlee continued to stare at her.
Finally, after about five minutes Kimberlee broke her silence. “Welcome, Irene, I have been looking forward to meeting you.” Irene smiled and commented back, “As I you.”
“So let’s get started, Irene.” Kimberlee directed Irene toward the multi-colored wall behind her. “Take a look at the wall behind me and tell me what you see.” Irene stared at the wall for a few seconds. “I see a horse leaping over a cloud and a dog kissing a flower,” Irene answered. Kimberlee said, “I see you are a creative woman, Irene, and you love art, classic art. You are also an animal and nature lover.” “Yes, Kimberlee. You’ve got me spot on,” Irene replied.
“So let’s move on.” Kimberlee looked down at the crystal ball. “You are here because you want to know who left the poinsettia plant on your front lawn.” “Yes, Kimberlee,” Irene answered. Kimberlee waved her hand over the crystal ball and looked at it deeply. Irene also looked at the crystal ball and marveled at its deep, deep blue color.
“I see family, Irene. I see a close family member,” Kimberlee said in a slow and low-pitched voice. “I see your mother with a beautiful poinsettia plant standing in front of a white-frocked Christmas tree. She is holding it with both hands.”
Irene looked on and listened. Kimberlee looked at the crystal ball and waved her hands over it again. She looked up at Irene and the lights in the room went on bright. “That’s it Irene. Your mother left the poinsettia plant for you.”
Irene left Kimberlee feeling dissatisfied. She thought, “I just paid this lady $75 for nothing. My mom isn’t even alive anymore. She’s been gone for two years now. This really upsets me.”
Irene drove back home feeling empty and saddened thinking about her mom and how much she misses her. When she drove up to her driveway she noticed a lady knocking on her front door. She wasn’t able to make out who she was as her back was facing her. Irene quickly parked her car and started up to the front door to greet her.
“Hi,” Irene said. “Can I help you?” As soon as the lady turned around Irene recognized her. It was a neighbor from her childhood neighborhood, a few counties over. “Shirley Walters, I haven’t seen you in more than 25 years! How are you?” She ran up to her and gave her a big hug and invited her into the house.
Sitting in the living room and enjoying a cup of mint tea and finger cookies, Shirley said to Irene, “I came by a week and a half ago and rang the doorbell and knocked on the door. Your car was in the driveway but nobody answered. I heard a dog bark and bark quite a bit but still no answer.” “Oh really?” Irene said. “I am sorry, Shirley, but I didn’t hear you knocking and the doorbell doesn’t work. I think that is the day I was in the kitchen baking cookies and playing my Barbra Streisand CD at full volume.” “Well, that’s okay, Irene,” replied Shirley. “But I came by today because I wanted to make sure you got the poinsettia plant I left on your doorstep.”
Irene just sat there as her eyes welled up with tears. She was so moved that she was unable to speak. Shirley grabbed Irene’s hands and held her hands tightly. “Don’t cry, sweetie.” “Oh Shirley,” Irene replied. “You don’t know how much this poinsettia means to me. I wondered the last few days who left this for me. I lost sleep over it.”
Irene stood up and walked toward the poinsettia, which was sitting on a small table next to her front door and brought it over to the living room and set it on the coffee table in front of Shirley and herself. “I love this beautiful plant, Shirley. Thank you for this special gift.”
“You’re welcome, Irene. But this is not your ordinary poinsettia,” Shirley said with a bit of sentiment in her voice. “This poinsettia was grown from clippings from another poinsettia.” Irene’s eyes grew big and she smiled with an emotional look in her eyes. “Thank you, Shirley, thank you,” Irene said. Shirley continued to speak. “The poinsettia the clippings came from was from a plant that your dear mom gave to me as a Christmas gift back in late 1980s. I planted it in my backyard and it is now the height of a tree. Last year I clipped a few branches from the plant and grew it specifically for you. I have been planning this day for over a year now. I wanted to give you this plant. A gift from your mom.”
≈≈≈ This story is dedicated to my friend Irene Economou and her baby Lucy!!!
About the author
Writing is a distraction for me. It takes me to places unknown that fulfill my need for intellectual stimulus, emotional release, and a soothing of the breaks and bruises of the day.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
Expert insights and opinions
Arguments were carefully researched and presented