Calochortus kennedyi

Desert mariposa lily

Elizabeth Frankie Rollins



The Magic Flower


Once upon a time, Mary read an on-line article. This article said that rare flowers were just like magic beans, or gold in fairytales, and that if you ate a rare and special flower, it would grant your dearest wishes. Mary hadn’t read fairytales in some time, and did not remember that a special person, preferably a small, wizened old man, was supposed to deliver such advice, not a website with poofy pink letters on a black background.


Mary didn’t know, exactly, what her dearest wish was, but she knew didn’t have it yet. She wasn’t in love, for one thing. She was still new to town. She set about studying the rare flowers of the Sonoran Desert, where her parents had moved during the winter, for her father’s new job at the U. Spring was just beginning. A good time for magic flowers.


She decided that she would find, and eat, a Desert Mariposa Lily. This lily only appeared after a year of good rainfall, and though it had not been a year of good rainfall, Mary was hopeful. She knew that magic was magic. She joined a hiking club but after the first two steep and long hikes, her toenails started to fall off. No princess loses her toenails, plus they were climbing too high to find any lilies, so she quit. In truth, she didn’t want to eat a Desert Mariposa Lily next to someone scarfing down a lumpy peanut butter granola bar.


She asked her mother to drive her to trailheads and drop her off for a few hours. Her mother encouraged this. Mary needed more fresh air.


So Mary spent her weekends walking. She grew strong and brown and knowledgeable. She saw coach whips, rattlesnakes, gila monsters, infinite lizards, Red Tails, Cactus Wrens, and Mourning Doves. The desert, in spring, was full of flowers, even after a dry winter, but not her flower. She told her parents, over meals, everything she’d seen, but not what she was looking for. Her father bought her identification books. She made some friends at school who liked to hike in the desert. Sometimes they all went together and marveled over sunsets. She never told anyone about the lily. She didn’t forget to look for it herself, but she did sort of forget why she wanted it.


There was a burst of early and unexpected rainfall a few days in a row. Mary could hardly stand to get out to the desert and walk. Her mother dropped her off at a trailhead. Mary could feel that her mother was tiring of the chore.


First, it was only a bright spark, and too low to be Ocotillo, so she picked her way through the cacti and found it, a cup of fragile red light. She knelt before it. She picked it, tenderly, at the bottom of the crisp stem, hands shaking. She held it up to the sun as if to bless it, but no words came to her. She really didn’t know what to wish for, because she’d developed a crush on, well, a couple of boys at school. Things were kind of great. But she reasoned that she must want more, and something she didn’t even know how to want, perhaps. She closed her eyes, and placed it on her tongue, folding the stem in neat zig-zags after the bloom. She chewed. It wasn’t very bitter, but a bit bitter. It was quite a mouthful. The desert was its usual quiet, sun burning down all around. She didn’t feel any different. She went back to meet her mother.


Riding home, she thought about the Desert Mariposa Lily, how it had stood there with its long, arcing green arms, trembling bright before she’d plucked and ate it, and she began, uncharacteristically, to cry.




Elizabeth Frankie Rollins has published work in Drunken Boat, Conjunctions, Trickhouse, The New England Review, and The Cincinnati Review, among others. She’s received a NJ Prose Fellowship and a Special Mention in the Pushcart Prize Anthology. She teaches writing at the University of Arizona Poetry Center and Pima Community College, and is on the board of Casa Libre en la Solana.