A Garden of Small Hearts
Welcome to A Garden of Small Hearts, a growing dystopian, sci-fi tale that is different from all the rest.
Table of Contents
Fire in the Belly
Blakie follows me to the kitchen early Saturday morning. She had gotten in later than any of us, but she looks anxious to get up and go, even if her destination is only the electronics store where she will study most of the morning and hang out when she gets bored with school work. As for me, I'll probably meet her there later in the day. I don't want to admit it, but I'm tired of the suspicious, superstitious, gossiping, and slightly vicious residents of Bellam Hub and I need a break. I tell myself I need to pick up groceries after I get done taking notes. I want to outline my first paper, but that is a stretch, because I want to try out devices in the enhancement lab. I'm ready to be a human guinea pig. I have educational psychology to read and teaching mathematics to read, and I will just be happier spending most of the day at campus.
I'm so busy having an argument with myself that at first I don't hear Blakie. "There's a contest for America's Coolest Dancer a week from today, and the girls from the different temples are all showing off....Of course Nikita doesn't show off. She just is. It's like she gives off a blessing like sunlight...yeah sure. She plays stupid and dumb and lazy. But even that takes work you know?"
"You prefer Treya?" I ask wtih a straight face.
"Yeah, and Mona, the girl who plays drums for her. Now Mona really has the talent."
"What about Ruthie?"
"Ruthie could win it by bribing the judges."
"Boy that's a lousy attitude!"
"Mine or Ruthie's?"
"I don't know Ruthie, so whose do you think it is?"
"You don't know shit sometimes," Blakie complains. "Ruthie knows every body. She's good at pulling strings, and the girl has her own style. It's not the it style. It's not for every body, but Ruthie will get in good because she's smart and independent. Nothing wrong with that. If I had Ruthie's connections, I'd still be in the game."
"Now I don't know if Lorraine and MIrra warned you last night," Blakie switches topics. "But you need to stay away from Edith."
"You mean the ten year old kid who chases demons."
"Yeah....she can bring every body down and besides, she's in with bad people, you know?"
"Mirra is afraid she'll bring contraband into the dorm," I answer.
"Not just that she's dirty. She gave up and went with demons, understand. She was a smart kid, good looking, why go to the dark side unless there's something bad in you from the beginning?"
"For the same reason any kid 'prentices!" The words come out as a near scream. "Kids want security, respect, safety. They need a place to come home at night that is theirs, and adults who listen and appreciate them for what they can do adn what they want to do. Most parents don't do that good a job of that. Edith's parents probably didn't. Her masters offered what looked like a good deal."
"It was a suckie deal!" Blakie replied. "There were so many good priests out there and temples where Edith could have danced."
"And what if Edith did not want to dance? What if she looked at the older girls and saw the ones who don't make it? What if she had other talents she wanted to develop? What if she didn't like to always have to wash and people always looking behind her ears and under her fingernails because there are more important things than being clean!"
"Shit you sympathize with her."
"Because she runs with demons."
"There's a god on every street corner."
"Yeah but demons!"
"Just one more kind of god when you think about it."
"Well nobody wants a raid here. If there's one we're all going to blame you and you might as well find another dormitory, got that!"
I shrug. I can't picture Edith doing more than cadging food in the refectory kitchen. Then again, some adult could use Edith's reputation for cover. I push all that to the back of my mind as I head toward the mall and then up to the train station. I spend most of the morning studying and around noon head into town. The used book merchants have their awnings out, and the street is mostly quiet. Several have tables with old, beat up, free P-O-Ddies. A lot of poeple won't throw books away, so the free table allows them to be used until they fall completely apart. Free to good home etc....
Part of me does not want to find Edith at any of the tables. Part of me wants to believe that she just told me she reads to get free food and exploit me. It would be easy for Edith to be all bad, but most kids aren't like that, and Edith is at the table under the yellow awning. The sun has turned her filthy face pinkish. She burns easily.
"I'm glad this awning is out of the sun," she greets me. I don't have much of an answer.
"Found anything interesting?" I finally ask.
Edith shows me two of her finds. She asks me if I want Roughing It since she'll be done with it in a day or two. I say "sure." Then I ask if Edith is free this afternoon. "I have to run an errand around two o'clock," she answers. I hand Edith a package that contains an extra sandiwch and some fruit. "Here's lunch."
"Thanks, " Edith tells me. "I skipped breakfast this morning." She inspects the package. "Holy shit!" she cries out. It's the other twenty-five dollars from the mall chit she saw me break last night. "You're not serious."
"Yes I am."
"What do you want from me?" Edith's gaze grows hard.
"I want you out of the mess I got you in. Also I want to make an appointment with you some time today, just a couple of hours."
"Today is tight," Edith answers.
"How long does it take to run an erand?" I ask Edith.
"I have to get dinner after I run the errand."
"I thought I was going to feed you at eight o'clock. Does an errand really take six hours?"
"No, I get done about five."
"Fine can you meet me at six pm?" I ask.
"Right in front of the fountain in the town square, by the pizza place near the entrance to campus."
"Yeah...I can do that."
"What do you want from me?" Edith sounds nervous.
"I want to perform an experiment on you. I need to give an educational test to a willing volunteer for my educational psychology course,"
"Will it hurt?"
"Fuck no," I explain. "And you'll get dinner afterward."
Edith shrugs and then agrees. I head to the mall.
Hungry for Something
Edith dioes not no-show. That should tell you something right there. We go to the Ed-Psych lab. There is no one around which is just perfect for us. Edith takes an hour and a half to complete the test. I don't time her. I figure she'll be more tempted to rush through it than give it her best shot. I watch her work while reading sociology of education. I'm not good for much else, and I look up to see Edith working quietly with good concentration. Maybe for her it's a treat to work in a quiet place, or maybe she is well suited to it. She has mentioned that she waits for her masters. She reads while she waits for her masters.
She is curious about her score on the exam and watches while I put it through the computer to get her score. I know I should go over the questions and produce a detailed profile, but I almost don't have to. Her results are not that interesting, and that is an excellent thing. She is slightly behind on mathematics. She can't do long division and says she isn't sure about fractions. She can do decimals and percents, but not fractions, not yet. I don't ask her if she would like to learn. She is as knowledgeable about science and history/social studies as someone in high school. Her reading level is off the test. which has spent over an hour giving her progressively harder and harder material. I show her results as a three dimentional graph. It looks pretty anyway.
It's colorful and right away, Edith notices the blue spots on the red and scarlet shape. "That's your math. You got that for not staying in school."
"You want me to go to school?"
"You want an honest answer to that? You know it all ready."
"It would be good to cipher really well. I could do accounting then, some day. I can't run errands all my life you know."
I checked the clock on the wall. Seven pm. We needed to get some dinner. Still..."Want a practice book to help you learn fractions and ciphering?"
"I'm broke. All that money you gave me has to go to my masters, remember?"
"Not a problem. I'll get you a book."
"I'll owe you then." Edith shifted uneasily.
"No you won't. Just don't lose the book. I'm going to borrow it from the library here."
"Oh...Will they let me in."
"Why shouldn't they?"
"Cause it's the University Library."
"You know what to do," I reply.
Edith tail gates behind me as I use my biometrics to open the security door. We have all ready checked for old math books on the computer. This is a cheap, quick, and virtually traceless way for Edith to learn. She has a good record as an autodictat. When I look at her I will never see a demon chaser again.
Edith picks out three math books. She asks if she can have all three. "For a month," I tell her. "I'll renew them if you're still using them, and if you finish them, we'll get new ones." It really is we. And no, I don't k now where any of this will lead. If this were New Berlin, chances are incredibly good that Edith would have been 'prenticed to the schools. Here the schools are hot beds of social prejudice. I'm not sure that a child with criminal connections can enroll. I'm sure Edith would be intensely uncomfortable. She was not comfortable there two and a half years ago, in spite of having the makings of an excellent student. Sociology of education any one?
I avoid both the Vator and the crowd at the hub by taking the outdoor route home from the mall. Edith tags along beside me, not complaining about being out in the dusty trail and tall grass as the sun goes down. She has done this before, I think. "How'd you find out about the trail?" Edith suddenly asks. "I followed it from the service entrance?" I answer.
"Ever use the tunnels?"
"Only to go to the bone yard or see Malka."
"Malka is an old busy-body."
"Malka worried about you."
Edith makes a wonderful fake fart.
We climb the stairs to the courtyard and cross to Just Lee. In the second floor lounge, Mama Buttercup greets me. To Edith she gives a dirty look and then she shakes her head at me, probably for keeping such bad company. "I'm glad they delivered the National Cream. Thank you for thinking about me. I really need the stuff. You don't know what kind of a day it's been?"
"Yes I do," Edith pipes up.
Mama Buttercup scowls. Edith shakes her head.
"What happened?" I ask.
"A fight," Edith steals Mama Buttercup's story.
"Who was fighting?" I ask. I don't need this. I'm tired. I'm hungry. I'm glad the groceries have been delievered even if Brian noted everything that went in my box before he sent it down the service tunnels.
"Daniel and Ben the Slushy-Man," Mama Buttercup explains. "Krysti got too friendly when ordering her Super Slushy this morning and Daniel thought Ben was messing with his bond."
This sounds old even though I am hearing it for the first time. I wait for the usual refrain blaming Krysti even though it sounds like Daniel has a hair up his posterior. "So now Daniel is with the healing priests because he injured his pretty face," I finish the tale.
"Krysti needs to take care of her man and her bond. What she's doing is getting on every body's nerves! Krysti is too old for drama. She needs to keep the peace."
"Why is it always Krysti's fault?" I ask.
"Isn't it obvious. Who else' man acts like that?" Maybe Mama Buttercup has a point. I don't want to run into Krysti so I head to the kitchen behind the refectory. At least I haven't lost my privileges though it takes a good five claps to get the lights going. I start fixing Edith dinner. Blakey is eating with her future employers. Barrow and his pulled pork show is either over or canceled, due to the short lockdown due to Daniel's fight with Ben, the Slushy Man.
Edith and I eat in silence. We are both ravenous. The day has been long. I need to think and...There are several sharp knocks on the yellow pass through window. "They could be looking for me," Edith jumps up. I tell her I'll answer the summons. I open the window and there is Krysti. I don't need this! "What can I do for you?" I inquire.
"Can you walk me to the hospital?" she asks.
Adventures in the Middle of the Night
Of course I try to refuse. First, I'm tired. Second, I have studying to do. Third...well there is no third. I really don't mind the walk. I can study while Krysti visits Big Julius who will be home early in the week. She says she wants to plan some kind of Welcome Home celebration. I let her talk. I could care less. I have a paper to write, readings to read, and I want to think about how I can get Edith and Blakey to make a truce with each other. Blakey is a much better role model than I can ever be because she is younger. If Edith and Blakey become close, Edith might return to school. Yes, this would be a double recruitment, not bad work if I can pull it off.
Krysti deposits me in the "family lounge" at the far end of Julius' floor at the hospital. I work for several hours. I am surprized at how late it is when Krysti returns for her trip home. It is after two am. That means it is Sunday. That means that I'll be helping Mama Buttercup with the shopping soon. It feels strange to see how much effort I expend staying on everyone's good side.
Krysti is mostly quiet on the way home. We walk out of doors because I want nothing to do with the mall. I'm not sure what goes on in there late at night, but I suspect that it has to do with priests, and that means DRAMA. Nefarious characters may roam the night time paths, but they have business of their own, or so I reason. Krysti really does not like to walk at night out of doors. Suddenly though, she pipes up. "Why don't we take the service road?" I don't know about the service road, but I suspect it goes around the other side of the mall.
"Trucks," I answer. "Big trucks," that I have no desire to dodge. That is probably why I avoid it. Also I'm not sure about the trails that lead from the service road to a service entrance. I ask Krysti if she knows them. She says she does.
"You should have told me," I answer.
"It's OK. You're right about the trucks," she replies. "I wasn't thinking about them."
"Is the service road less busy in the day?" I inquire. With the right trails, it might be a faster way to the mall with its train station. I could use a shortcut to campus. Krysti shrugs by way of an answer.
We walk the rest of the way home in silence. I am glad the shower in my area is empty. I enjoy the privacy of a lonely shower. I slip quietly back into the sleeping area and nearly bump into my fence of furniture on the way to my bed in a dormitory filled with the breathing and groaning of four or five lonely souls waiting for the next day that is only a short time away.
Blakie gets me up on Sunday. She asks where I was. I tell her I was at the hospital with Krysti. "They let you stay that late?" she inquires. I shrug. I think every one forgot about me, is my reply. I grab some fruit and head toward the Hub. The Mamas have staked out a table near Beaubien's and there is a line to consult with them.
"...You're little Chloi is like a regular nurse to Jason, the gardener..." I overhear Mama Trina from Just Maury. "She's making him these special sandwiches and taking extra shifts and split shifts and what not because Big Julius hurt Jason very bad. He nearly lost a lung and he's still recovering with broken hips. He can't lift heavy things or nothing, so Chloi does his dirty work and they're always talking...I never knew our gardens were so complex."
"They wouldn't be so complex if they did them like everybody else'" snarls Mama Buttercup.
"They're not going to do them like everybody else," Mama Blotchy-Face interjects. "They're ed-ji-kated gardeners. They been to tek-nik-al college. I wouldn't complain though. It keeps them busy and it's not per-verzion."
"I guess... I heard Krysti was at the hospital last night seeing Big Julius," Mama Buttercup changes the topic.
"Yeah...it was a long visit. You know," sighs Mama Trina. "It's a good thing Big Julius is blessed and does the work of the gods. That kind of changes everything you know."
A Mama with a long face shakes her head. "Big Julius and Daniel and it would be over, ugly, but over. No more troubles."
"You don't mean that!" Mama Trina all but thunders.
"I half do. I mean comes a point in every warrior's life where they have to either burn out or settle down. Sometimes the Gods take care of it and there's an accident. Sometimes it just takes a little longer because it has to take care of itself. Sometimes the warriror 'comes to Jesus' and gets out of trouble, but that's not always."
I feel the fruit go sour in my stomach. "Yes," Mama Buttercup notices me.
"It's OK," I suddenly do not want to be noticed. "I can wait." Can I wait forever?
"If it makes any of you feel better. Krysti and Daniel are together this morning," Mama Trina tries to calm things.
"Maybe the Gods are going to work slowly," long faced Mama replies.
"Maybe not at all..." answers Trina. "Krysti went to the hospital on her own last night."
"So.... Big Julius can finish the job," long faced mama drives her argument home.
"No, don't you see. She went on her own? That's taking responsibility. That's trying to clean up."
"And if my bondmate were gone all night long..." blotchy face Mama asks.
"Depends how and why. Krysti was trying to fix her man's damage."
"Seems a funny way to fix it," Mama blotchy face joins the argument.
"I think I need to go shopping. My as-sis-tant is waiting for me," Mama Buttercup excuses herself. I try to imagine Krysti and Big Julius together betraying Daniel. One challenge would be all it would take to rid Bellam Hub of an over-jealous husband, and he would not even have to die. A serious injury might be just enough to teach him a lesson. I don't have to tell you that the thought makes me shudder.