Isabelle was five and a half. You could see often see her dressed in her yellow or blue overalls. Her parents combed her long blond hair into two beautiful braids that danced alongside her loveable face.
She had three big brothers. Bertrand was 19 and a student. Benoît was 13 and loved video games. Benjamin was seven and a half years old. He shared a bedroom with Isabelle. They slept on bunk beds and her brother had chosen the top bunk. Benjamin loved to eat.
Our friend lived with her parents in a lovely village in the countryside. All the way at the end of their yard stood a gate that she didn't know how to open. The latch was super complicated.
Just past it, there was a field filled with flowers, especially daisies and buttercups. She often picked some for Mommy and Daddy.
On this morning, our friend crossed through the kitchen. She was getting ready to go out into the yard.
"Where are you going, my dear?" asked Mommy.
"I'm going to go out into the field of flowers."
"And what do you think you'll do there?"
"It's a surprise," answered the little girl with a sly smile.
"Okay, but don't get yourself too dirty."
Isabelle slipped under the gate and stood up tall in the field. She wanted to find a flower that was more beautiful or simply bigger than the others. It was for her mommy's birthday. The sun was shining bright.
All of a sudden, she spotted a huge poppy. It was at the edge of the meadow, near the pond. It was so big that the stalk was taller than she was. She'd never seen one like it! Its great red petals made a circle at the top of its stem.
Stunned, our friend admired the magnificent flower. Mommy will be so happy!
She went closer to the poppy and tried to pick it. But a plant of such a size has a strong and resistant stem. She didn't manage to get it loose. Too bad!
Isabelle wasn't going to be discouraged so easily. She thought for a moment and took a good look at the flower. Then she walked around, crossed the field, and went back under the gate. All the while, she was very careful not to rip her clothes.
Once in the kitchen, she opened the drawer where they kept the utensils. She picked out a long serrated knife with sharp teeth, then she made her way back to the field of flowers. The poppy seemed to be waiting for her.
With one hand, she took hold of the stem and held it firmly. In her other hand, she sawed at the stem of the great flower.
"Stop, you're hurting me," Isabelle heard.
Surprised, she dropped everything and turned around.
"Who's talking to me?"
She looked to her left, then right. No one was in sight. Our friend was quite alone in the meadow, under the blue sky.
But then, who was speaking? Oh well! Taking another solid grip on the stem, she was about to start cutting it again with her knife.
"You're not going to keep going, are you?"
Once again, our friend stepped back, surprised, curious. She took a hard look at the giant poppy.
"Wait a minute ... can you speak?"
"Yes. Does that bother you?"
"Normally, flowers don't say anything."
"Yeah, well, me, I speak."
"I can talk because I'm a genie," the big plant replied.
Isabelle said nothing in reply. She was flustered. This plant was a genie, a magic being disguised as a poppy. She'd never heard of such a thing.
Our friend thought some more. She wasn't going to be impressed so easily. With three big brothers ... she was far too clever, too mischievous her older brothers Bertrand and Benoît would often complain.
There she stood, in silence, the knife in her hand, in front of the enormous poppy. She watched it intently, with an impish look in her eye.
"So you're a genie ... Nice ... In that case, I get a wish."
"Oh darn" said the flower, annoyed. "Just my luck! I would have to come across a smart little girl like you! Okay, fine. Let's do it. You can ask your wish. Hurry up so we can get this over with ... come on, let's go .... I'm listening ... what do you want?"
The poppy's leaves trembled a bit out of impatience and the petals turned towards Isabelle even though there was no breeze.
Our friend stayed quiet for a bit more. Then, a wide smile crossed her lips, her eyes fluttering, with her hands on her hips, she declared:
"For my wish, I want you to stop talking. I want you to never speak again."
Isabelle walked up to the plant again. She took the stem in one hand and, with the other, she cut with her knife.
Then she crossed the field. She slid under the gate and returned to the house. With pride, she gave her mother the giant poppy.
"Mommy, Mommy, look at the pretty flower I found you for your birthday!"
"Why, it's marvellous, my dear!"
She admired the huge plant for a long time. She turned it around in her hands, touched the leaves, smelled the petals. Then she took her daughter in her arms and hugged her, squeezing her with all her might.
"I've never seen such a beautiful poppy, my darling. Come with me. Let's find a big vase in the basement, put some water in it and put your flower in the middle of the living room where everyone can see it."
Later, Mommy called her neighbours, her friends, her co-workers, and the whole family. Everyone came to see the extraordinary plant her daughter had picked.
Isabelle was very proud and very happy.
The next day, our friend returned to the field of flowers.
"Maybe I can find another poppy. I'll pick it and bring it back to Mommy. She was so happy yesterday."
At the edge of the meadow, at the same spot as the day before, she found another giant flower. Again, it was a poppy, every bit as big as the first one.
Isabelle went running back to the kitchen. She took the same knife and returned to the field. She set about cutting the stem.
"You're not going to start that all over again, are you?"
The girl stepped back.
"You can't talk. Yesterday, I made wish that you wouldn't talk anymore."
"This doesn't count. Today, I'm a different flower," the genie pointed out. "So, I can talk as much as I like."
"Cheater!" Isabelle cried.
"All genies are cheaters."
But our friend was very smart, likely because they told her so many stories ...
"Last night, I looked in my book of stories with my big brother. When we find a genie, we can have three wishes. I have two left then."
"Yes," sighed the poppy. "You're right. Okay. C'mon, let's get on with it. Make your second wish, so we can get it over with."
Once again, the little girl thought hard about this.
"My wish is that you no don't grow here at the edge of the meadow but in my yard, near the kitchen window. That way Mommy will see a new flower every day."
The poppy disappeared.
Isabelle turned around and returned to her yard. What luck! The giant plant was growing there, in the sun, easily visible from the house.
"Thank you, poppy. I'm very happy."
"Good. Third wish? Let's get it over with," said the flower, irritated.
Isabelle was silent. She considered her options.
You, who are listening to this story, what would you have asked for?
"I'm not sure," said our friend quietly. "Wait for me here. I'm going to go into the house and ask my parents. They might have an idea."
The little girl went through the kitchen and into the living room. Her three big brothers, Bertrand, Benoît and Benjamin had returned from school. She asked Mommy and Daddy.
"Come to the window. Look at my giant poppy. It's a genie. I've already had two wishes. I can have a third one but I don't know what to ask for."
Daddy thought for a moment, then he said:
"Yes, I think I have a good idea. Ask your plant for this. Every morning when I wake up, I find a piece of gold under my pillow." Everyone agreed that that would be a good way to start the day.
"Too easy," said Mommy. "I have a better idea. Get your poppy to give me a magic wand, Isabelle. That way, when my children come back all dirty after playing in the woods or in the mud, I don't have to touch their clothes and they'll be instantly washed, ironed and put away in their closets. And with the same magic wand, when I am making dinner, I can simply wave it over the meat or the fish and the vegetables and the meal will be ready and served on the table."
"Dad! Mom!" Bertrand said. "You're so lame! Nobody makes that kind of wish anymore today! What you've got to do is ask for a pen from your plant, Isabelle. The kind of pen that never makes any mistakes when you write. That way, I can always get ten out of ten, twenty out of twenty, at school. I'll pass all my exams the first time."
"Oh, no," said Benoît, who was thirteen and a half. "No. I totally disagree. Try to get the latest gaming console or computer. And a colour printer to go with it."
"Don't listen to them, Isabelle,” begged Benjamin. "Ask for a big chest for our room, and that the chest is always full of candy and chocolate and cookies of all different kinds. We could eat from it as much as we want and it'll never run out."
"A piece of gold under my pillow every morning," Daddy repeated.
"The magic wand," added Mommy.
"Think of my exams, the pen," Bertrand said.
"The computer and the gaming console," Benoît cried.
"The candies, the candies, the candies," chanted Benjamin.
Each person started shouting without even listening to the others. It was a chaos of voices competing to be louder than the next.
Isabelle left and they continued arguing. She returned to the yard, beside the giant poppy.
"I think I know what I want for my third wish. They're all fighting because of you. So I'm asking you to leave, so that they won't argue any more. I wish that you go very far away and that you never come back."
The plant disappeared.
"Silence," said Daddy firmly. "Stop this!" We must let Isabelle decide. It's her flower.
The door to the house opened. Her parents and her three big brothers came out running, close to the little girl.
"We've all agreed, my dear," said Mommy. "It's up to you to choose."
"Too late," replied our friend. "The poppy has gone. It'll never come back."
"I think that's for the best," Daddy agreed. "We could never have gotten along otherwise."
"Yeah," said Benjamin softly with an air of regret, thinking about the chest of candies.
"I agree with you, Dad," Benoît added, making peace.
"I think you're all very wise. We were all bewitched by that genie," Mommy concluded. "I find myself here and now, with my family happy and together."
Isabelle jumped up into her mother's arms and hugged her with all her energy. Daddy hugged Mommy with Isabelle in the centre. The big brothers surrounded the parents and their sister and hugged her one after another. Our friend took advantage of this welcome and extended moment of tenderness in the middle of her family.
"We'll never argue again." The giant poppy had fulfilled the third wish.
Isabelle was very happy.
And she never saw it again.
Translation : Andrew Gordon Middleton