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
A Garden of Small Hearts 2
By the time the water boils under the green split peas and I have peeled the first two carrots, someone rattles the shutters on the blue pass-through at the end of the kitchen near the huge walk in cooler and freezer, to which I do not have access. There are big stand up refridgerators and freezers that are fine for personal food.
The refectory, unlike the kitchen, is not locked. There is a good reason for this. Several residents of Lee (It is just Lee, not Leesburgh, Lee House, Lee Residece, Town, or County etc...) have businesses serving partially prepared or carry out food from the kitchen through the pass throughs. Barrow provides a kind of shredded roast pork with a spicey sauce called bar-b-que.
I've seen him dishing out his wares twice while I was cooking. He offered m e a free sandwich. I graciously declined. He offered me a taste. I guess the stuff is an acquired taste. I've smelled what I now know as bar-b-que cooking when I went to the Provision Mercantile or the Merk as people back in Ithaca called it. There is a bar-b-que place near the Merk. Bar-b-que smells better than it tastes, but it is a regional specialty. Barrow has a following.
Barrow also has a girlfriend or a partner. Her name is Fenix, spelled with an F. She helps serve the customers and unpack the meat that smells better than it tastes. She keeps track of the clicker that subtracts one meal chit from each customer. She has a very sharp thin nose, and lovely amber eyes with long, black lashes. Her skin is almost golden brown. Her hair falls in luxurious brown curls that might be natural, but which are also frosted a bright,tortoise shell. She favors one shouldered tunic dresses, but hers are in animal prints, which do a good job of concealing that she is a tall, thin woman with a decent shape, but no bombshell. Oh well whether one is a bombshell is all in the mind, but Fenix is all business and customer service.
That is why I open the blue pass through shutters when the voice on the other side of them says. "It's me Fenix!"
Fenix wears a leopard patterned one shoulder tunic-dress, a fairly heavy belt of gold links, and gold sandals on her dainty feet. She bats her long lashed eyes at me. "I'm so glad you're here Far Traveler. Bo said you'd be fixing something to eat this time of day."
"Did Barrow send you?" I inquire.
"Not really. He just went to the hospital."
"He went to stay with Julius. Jason the Gardener stabbed Julius in the gut."
Well that explains tonight's security theater. I wonder if Security caught Jason. "So what can I do?" I began. Julius is under a doctor's care. Barrow is with Julius. Jason is who knows where, and I guess that leaves Fenix with that left out feeling.
"I need you to help me walk to Bo's. I've never been there by myself, and he's probably wondering why we didn't pick up tonight's shipment. We're in big trouble, Far Traveler."
"The name is Yahanna."
"OK, Ya-ha-nah. You're still a Far Traveler."
"Yes, but I have been here all of five days. I don't know where to find Bo's."
"It's on the hill behind the Provision Mercantile. Barrow says you buy food there. I can show you how to get there once we reach the PM, please?"
"I'm in the middle of something. I point to my first two peeled carrots."
"What are you doing?"
"I want to get the soup made and the coleslaw put away. It will take about an hour. Can it wait that long?"
"You're going to MAKE coleslaw?"
"Yeah. These are the carrots. The cabbage is in the fridge. I've also got some scallions and a jar of fried pepper strips and some olives. This is Italian style coleslaw."
"OK..." Fenix answers. "Can I come in the kitchen and sit at least?"
I don't see why I can't let Fenix in since I've seen Barrow do it. I do make her walk down to the one refectory door that recognizes me. I make sure to relock it once Fenix is inside with me. She says she has never seen any one grate carrots before. She watches me cut up cabbage. I offer some of the carrot and some of the cabbage raw. I'm nibbling to take the edge off my appetite. It's going to be a long night. When I get done with the cabbage and most of the carrots I peel a few more.
"All those carrots," moans Fenix. These are for the soup, along with the bottom parts of the scallions and a couple of turnips. I show Fenix the turnips. She winces. She asks where the soup is. I show her the pot on the stove. I lift the lid. "Split pea," I explain. Fenix scrunches her face in disgust. "You don't think it smells good?" I ask.
"Yeah but it looks like..."
"Peas," I fill in the sentence. Fenix almost laughs but then she sulks on the stool as I peel and cut. She asks where I learned to do all that. I tell her that the older kids and teachers taught me back in New Berlin, New York which is my home town. Some of us even kept gardens and grew the very vegetables. Carrots emerged filthy, but we had them in four coulors and various shapes and sizes. It was the youngest kids' job or the kid being punished's job to wash them. I liked washing carrots so that kept the teachers and monitors as we called the older kids from punishing the little ones by making them wash vegetables. The carrots were too dirty for our kitchen sink so I'd borow a plastic bucket from the gardener. After a while we got our own bucket. I'd fill it at the outside faucent and stir the water. Then I'd dump the water and fill the bucket again and hose the carrots off and put them in. Then I'd bring them inside and really scrub them. One time when I was about ten, and really too old for the work, I scrubbed eleven pounds of carrots in a single afternoon. It was better than doing homework, and I claimed to be teaching the little kids. The scrubbing left my hands red, but I enjoyed it in a perverse kind of way.
Adina, who was like a second mother to me, took me aside and asked me what I got out of washing carrots, and then made me write an essay about my thoughts. She said I had insight and depth of soul. Later she tried to have me taught mechanical drawing, but that didn't work out. An art class worked a bit better. I was more suited for theoretical things on paper, but that is just me. "You need to be grounded with simple hand work if you're going to learn advanced things," I explain to Fenix who has no interest in "advanced things."
I finish with the turnips for the soup and start the hot peppers. I have two of them, and I do them last because their flesh can burn. I let Fenix sniff them, and then cut them up for soup. Then I wash everything. Fenix asks if I mind washing dishes. I say, not particularly. I have to leave most of them on the counter to air dry, because even with making soup and slaw, I still don't have enough for a full load for the dish machine.
We need a drying rack for the hand washing. I make a mental note of that. I mix up the dressing and Fenix exclaims that "It becomes cole slaw!" She's never seen this before. I remind myself though I don't really need reminding that there are things I have never seen before either or only seen peripherally or only barely remember from being a lot younger.
I wash some more dishes. Put the cooked soup in the refridgerator along with the cole slaw, and we are good to go. I make a detour to my area to get a cotton sweater and put on long pants. Nights this close to the sea are not that warm, and there may be bugs in the grass.
I help Fenix find the stairs to the service entrance that DOES NOT lead to protected land, and we are off. We walk through a lot of tunnels and then up by the highway in the tall grass that grows from clay or sandy soil, and then past the pine trees and magnolias. The mall has an overhead tram way leading into it. I can see its poles, black with early evening shadows and white white moonlight. We cut through the fields that surround the mall. It is an old mall, or part of it is because it once had a parking lot. You can see black stones that are bits of asphalt that have melted and recoalesced amid the weeds and grass during the day time. At night, and we are traveling at night, the stones are a hazard for open toed shoes. I walk carefully in my flip-flops. Fenix knows to be careful in her sandals.
Finding the PM or the Merk is easy enough. There are trucks behind it, offloading all mannre of food, and workers, many from commercial restaurants and eateries and some places where the Parents-in-Charge feed the residents all making orders inside. The PM or the Merk is a busy place. We don't go in through the front or side entrance or even the mall entrance. Instead, we pass the loading dock.
I can see the bank of trees on top of one of the few hills in this flat, southern, coastal country. It's not really a hill, just a modest upgrade, a lump of dirt too big to be a lump and not large enough to deserve any other name than little hill. There is a dirt trail walked into the grass and between the trees. The Eastern United States is not that different even though this is nothing like Tompkins or Chenango Counties which is the area I know intimately.
We duck under the trees. There are a collection of shacks or shanties (What do they call them here in Statesboro?) decorated with lights. There is even a bottle tree in front of one of the shacks, and another shanty with bird's house gourd houses bleached white in the hot, Southern sun. The bottles in the bottle tree are blue. I wonder where the person putting it together got them or if any one even remembers. I make a mental note of it. I'm not sure why.
Our shack has neither a decorative bird house gourd nor bottle tree. It has tables covered with scarlet oil cloth with a pattern of varied white stripes on it. At the center of each table is a citronella candle in a small, galvanized bucket complete with a handle. There is no sign over the shack door or the pass through counter where two beefy men work. "Are you hungry?" one of the men behind the counter asks both of us. Fenix says she is a little hungry and he gives her a pulled pork bar-b-que sandwich. I refuse the food politely though I would not mind a cold drink. The man gives both of us Cokes. I like the old fashioned, brown beverage. I drank way too much of this stuff at Cornell. I wonder if a toast would be appropriate.
Fenix saves me from that blunder. "I want to say we are sorry for not picking up our order tonight," she begins.
"It's OK. I heard something awful happened to Julius. Security came here looking for Jason. Crasy world huh...Who brought you out here?"
"I'm Yahanna Typha," I introduce myself.
"Bo," the hospitable, sweaty, fat man introduces himself back. Beneath the yellow, bug light, I can see he has fat, fuzzy eyebrows and small black eyes. He is nearly bald. His fat conceals his age well, but I don't think he is all that young or that time has been unjust to him. "And this is Bo's bar-b-que, real Upstate South Carolina with mustard not that sticky ketchup stuff or the just vinegar kind you get here and around Savannah. Real whole hog with mustard sauce."
I wonder how to politely tell Bo of Bo's Bar-b-Que that I don't eat pork. I just stay silent. "Ya-hah-nah makes her own cole slaw."
"T'aint nothing to that. We serve coleslaw here," commented Bo's assistant who could have been his twin except for an ugly scar high on one cheek.
"Yeah but she makes it up from the whole cabbage. I saw her do it."
"Really," asnwered Bo. "Then you must be that new Far Traveler in Just Lee."
I smile. "How did you know?" I ask. I close my eyes just long enough to see a huge, tangled mind map.
"Bryant delivers the boxes from the PM to the places in the buildings. He noticed a box with an odd chop going to just Lee and he opened it. He always opens the boxes, wants to make sure no contraband is going out. Sometimes people are making whiskey or hooch in kitchens. Don't know why when we can buy beer or liquor but they like the home made stuff better. That's the big one and there's other bad signs. I think Security pays him, but he could also be just nosey, and he saw a whole cabbage and a big bag of carrots going to just lee and the new chop and the name which is on the chop.
"He asked his boss to search the name, and came up with a Far Traveler from Ith-ick-a New York who buys whole cabbages on her food chit...Interesting...Takes all kinds."
"The world's a small place," I reply. I hate when people admit spying on me and expect me to smile, still I manage a pretty good smile.
"Have they caught Jason yet?" I ask. For a Far Traveler who arrived five days ago, I know a few things too.
"No," answeres Bo's companion. "Jason's a sharp one and a sly one, a keep to himself type," Bo lamented. "Not a regular here. Got other ideas, strange ones. Comes from being ed-uckated." Bo sighs.
"Security was checking every body coming in this evening," I explain.
"Hah...do you expect Jason to just go meekly through security like a pig at a processing plant."
I shake my head. This isn't going to blow over any time soon. I go to school in two days. My life is going to be massively inconvenient.
"But suppose he should feel guilty?" I ask.
"Still I'm not facing Seck-ur-it-ee," Bo's companion explains. "Just not the way to do it. Turn yourself in, and MAYBE-oh they treat you kind, just may-bee, but would you trust their tender mercies?"
Fenix and I both shake our heads. "OK, so Jason is doing the right thing hiding. Nobody's going to dispute that? And Julius."
"I don't know anything yet. He's in the hospital. Barrow went to see him. That's all I know," Fenix confessed.
"I seen Jason a few times. He likes the wings at Eli's down the road or that whiting,. He'll walk five miles for a plate of whiting and potato salad. Each to his own," Bo's assistant explains. "He's half of Julius. I'd almost say it was self defense,."
"Depends how bad he got Julius and how many times he stabbed him," Bo kicks the argument back.
We let the conversation go. It's over. It's time to walk back. I take Fenix into the PM through the side door. She blinks. "Don't you want to eat your puke, I mean pea soup?" she asks.
"Not yet," I reply. "I want to get something for Mama Buttercup."
I pick up an insulated box for shipping frozen goods. I then make my way to the pack your own ice cream department in the basement. I have to ask where this is. Mama Buttercup's brand, National Cream, is. I know she likes several different flavors. I get vanilla, pink bubblegum, chocolate decadence, and key lime. I put the containers in the insulated box and then haul it up to the dry ice chest. I take gloves off the shelf and pack my order in dry ice. I then stamp it with my chop which is in my electronics. I put it at the delivery desk and suggest a walk through the quiet late night mall to unspring our nerves and help me get back my appetite.
I had not counted on a near-murder when I came here or when I even thought of coming here. I'm not sure what if anything it does to my plans which are all long range. The National Cream will travel by express delivery and since we are taking our time, it will beat our way home. I let Fenix loiter and look at the jewelry. I'm in no mood to shop. I wish I was on the beach reading.
If any one asks, we went out to buy Mama Buttercup a gift. It was my idea. Fenix who was bored went along for company. I really don't want to be involved in whatever sordid business made Jason stab Julius in the gut.
Statesboro, Georgia USA