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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 4
The Princess and the Gardener I
I wash the dinner dishes and lay them on the counter. There are large containers of supper food in the refridgerator. I'll eat lunch out. I don't cook all my meals, and I won't tomorrow which is nearly here. It's a bit after midnight on a Sunday, still early if I had somewhere to go or something to do, but I won't until late morning. I'm tired. I'll bathe and sleep. I don't even feel like reading. I think of finding the comm center and sending a computer letter to some of my colleagues, but I'm not in the mood for a long walk back to the mall, now that I have the privacy. I'm not sure who watches the service entrances here, but I'm not naive enough to believe that no one notices me. Call it an inflated ego if you like.
I walk down the hall and off to my area. I tell myself tomorrow's shopping trip will be pleasant. I want to buy some stuff for the kitchen, school supplies. I'll probably have Mama Buttercup with me or be running errands for her as well. She runs Just Lee as far as I am concerned. That means it really pays to stay on her good side...for as long as I possibly can. I push the ugly thoughts out of my head.
I think about Edith instead and feel very glad that I was never tempted to try her dark path. She'll leave it when she realizes that those who teach her also want to exploit her. Hopefully, she'll have the good sense to walk off and turn in to one of tomorrow's working types. Perhaps Edith is a younger version of Fenix, but somehow that doesn't fit. There is a lot I don't know about the general run of humanity, despite growing up in close proximity to them. The kids who fell under the Teacher's sway (Yes that was what we called her, just as people in Statesboro call me Far Traveler), had a section within one of the areas. We had two rooms, one of which was our own sleeping space. We also had a front room that we used as a study lounge/play room. We had kitchen rights no questions asked. Academic types make for a messy but orderly kitchen full of legal activity. We had our uses. The administrative types, even the small scale ones like Mama Buttercup here in Statesboro tolerated us.
In Ithaca there were lots of academics and some of us lived in regular housing because it was cheaper, because we didn't mind it, because.... I know why I did it. It's the same reason I'm here in Statesboro. In Titus Flats, we had a partitioned off area of a larger room with a big table as well as beds, a kind of impromptu study area. We even had comm access with lovely pillow computers that we stored in cubby holes especially designed for that task. A printer occupied a table by one of several clothes closets.
This is not how most of the general population lives! And this is not how I am going to live in Statesboro, Georgia. Here in Just Lee, I am in with the working women and the older women whose children are either estranged from them, "apprenticed out," or both. Most of these women have men who have left them. Some have lost bond mates, complete with broken bonds and even a few divorces. Most of us have a few pieces of furniture we use to mark our spaces within the sleeping area. A few have curtains they can draw. One or two of us keep them drawn all the time. Curtains are "more homey" than privacy barriers. My curtains are open since I can use my trunks and dressers as an effective barrier.
I so far think my section-mates are polite, personable, responsible, and mature. Major relief! i wonder if any of them have brought a man home and drawn the curtains. They should be so lucky! They are not. Claudette has returned from her shift as a waitress in a cafe in the food court. Mirra and Blakie are missing in action Mirra is probably out with her beau. Perhaps Blakie has found her old friends. That would surprize no one and even make some of us glad. Chloi is also visiting somewhere, and maybe having a good time.
Lori, the laundress, gets ready for her shift which runs from 1am to 9am. It's bulk laundry at night probably, table linens from restaurants, sheets from the hospital, I would guess. She is a big woman with tan skin, and frizzy, uneven, dark brown hair. She is well muscled beneath her aging skin, and has a bit of fat padding. She slips on her work clothes and glances around to see who is present and accounted for. She notices me wrapped only in a bath towel and sitting on my bed.
"Hard day huh?" she starts a conversation.
"Profitable one," I answer. "Got a lot of work done. Not going to be so scaird to go to grad school on Monday."
"I still can't believe you traveled a thousand miles just to go to school. They say all the crazy ones live here, and now I believe it."
"Yeah, well we had to get two really flaming losers at the same time," Claudette complains.
"Lay off Blakie," all but screams a voice of a woman who has just entered the area. It's Chloi. She wears a workers' jump suit in forest green. The suit is worn. On her feet are high top sneakers with brown rubber souls and trim. She sits on her bed and kicks off her shoes. She undones the fasteners of her jump suit one handed, with lightening dexterity. Chloi has pale skin, high cheekbones, striking green eyes, and a flushed, sweet looking long face that is too long, but somehow you don't think about that. Dark auburn hair that is straight and often sweat soaked rims the face, which looks too tired to be young, but too smooth to be old.
When Chloi takes off her jumpsuit, her body reveals her age. She wears hip hugging, olive drab panties and nothing else. Her breasts sag against her chest like two ivory colored pears. Her belly, while not large, is soft. She has three children, two in Just Lee. One is with her bond mate's new mate's sister, and the other is with the bond mate's new bond mate and the bond mate himself. The oldest child is apprenticed out and lives in Pickett. Yes, there is a Just Pickett.
Chloi gave up her children so she could move out of the family area for women. It was too painful to be living near her bond mate's new choice. It was too painful to live around happily bonded because she had been cast aside. The bond mate was good with the children any way. Chloi has a job as a gardener under Jason. Chloi has a high school diploma and a technical school certificate in horticulture. She has two big feet on which to stand and she stands and stretches her back like a lazy cat not caring who saw her body that age and three pregnancies had softened and shaped.
"I had to close everything down in the green houses and potting sheds tonight. Jason usually closes down on Saturdays," Chloi complains.
"Jason was a fool!" snaps Claudette.
"You really believe those rumors? Everyone's been wanting to gossip with me all day, all those ladies with more time on their hands than they have life to fill it."
"It's not a rumor, Felix spoke to Bo who runs the upcountry bar-b-que place on the hill. He said that Jason stabbed Julius in the gut with one of his gardening knives."
"Jason's not crazy like that," Chloi replies.
"I didn't say he was," Claudette answers. "If Julius attacked me, I'd reach for a FUCKING cleaver girl. I'd just want it to be a fair fight."
"But Julius has no reason to attack Jason...unless...oh Shit!" Chloi collapses on her bed and then remembering herself draws up her legs and pulls her straw curtains shut with a slam. "I got to get my sleep ladies. I'm probably working tomorrow. Goodnight."
"The show's over," quips Lori.
"FUCK you!" snarls Chloi.
"Boy we're sensitive tonight," Lori rubs salt in the wound. "You see Krysti again?"
"Yeah, she always comes in the garden to complain." Chloi sticks her head out of her straw curtain. "She thinks it should be all butterflies and sugar instead of real plants. It's the xeroscape she doesn't understand. She says it is ugly. It disrespects the gods."
"Krysti, needs to become a fucking priest," sighs Claudette. "She should leave working people alone."
"Any way, she's been complaining to Jason all week," Chloi continues to vent.
"You didn't need to see Krysti today, did you hun?" Lori softens.
"It wasn't so bad today. She was busy with her own drama. She said she wanted to meditate out by the dusty millers and the magnoia, and then she left to go walking in the protected park. Then along comes Daniel. That's Krysti's bond mate. He asks where Krysti has gonea nd he asks for Jason. Jason is out looking for wild cuttings."
"That would explain the knife all right," Claudette is glad of the missing piece.
"Yeah, but people say Jason stabbed Julius NOT Daniel."
"Julius wouldn't know a garden if he fucking fell over it," Chloi continued to rant. "He's as big as a boulder and about as smart or sensitive. No drama for him though. Give me Julius any day over Krysti. At least he would tell me how pretty everything is. It would be the only words he knew."
"Julius was part of the group Daniel hung out with before he bonded to Krysti," Lori filled in a puzzle piece.
"You saying that Daniel had something to do with Jason stabbing Julius, and you really believe the story."
I slipped under a blanket and turned toward the wall. I did not know Daniel or Krysti. I hardly knew Julius except that he was a friend of Barrow and Fenix. I wish that I hadn't arrived in Statesboro around the time of a stabbing. I did not need the security theater. I did not need the drama either. Drama is like a stone thrown in a puddle, and even this ignorant Far Traveler could feel the ripples.
The Princess and the Gardener II
Just then a voice cries out: "Hi Choli, Lori, Claudette!"
"Look who's here," quips Claudette. "Home so early, girl. What happened?"
"The guys in the shop took me out to supper at the Jersey Diner," sing-songs a self satisfied voice.
"What'd you eat?"
"Moussaka. That's my favorite food these days. I was starving."
"Good for you!" Claudette no longer sounds peeved. It's hard to feel anger for Blakie. It's even harder to feel pity for her, but sometimes one does because she is only fifteen. The reason it is hard to feel pity is that she really tried. She almost tried too hard, to snare a chosen one of the Gods, a pretty boy with a bronze complexion and nearly white hair to match her own, only her hair is amlost silver. It is baby fine. Her skin has a perpetual tan, that is only slowly turning sallow. Blakie is small, and she used to wear her hair in a laquered coil to make her appear sophisticated and taller. Now she just ties it back. it is baby fine, fly away, and windblown even when there is no wind.
You can probably guess Blakie's story or most of it. The young man with whom she nearly bonded, dumped her like the trash in Claudette's cafe or Bo's Bar-b-que. Such a dumping of such a devoted young thing often kills them, but Blakie had worked to hard to die easily. She wandered around. She cried a lot, at least according to Lori who never tried and is glad of it. Lori actually did try in her own way, just not to be among the chosen. Work was safer and the women in the laundry better company than "silly girls." Blakie meanwhile even got on Mama Buttercup's nerves. I don't know what Mama Buttercup said to her, but Blakie went missing three days and those who had compassion in their hearts feared the worst. Those who didn't accepted Blakie's fate as the natural order of things.
In reality, Blakie slept in the mall because the young woman's section was too painful for her. That was all. Somehow in her wanderings she found the electronics shop, watched the men at work, ran small errands for them, and tried not to get kicked out. She told them she wanted to learn to fix electronics. The head of the shop told her she needed to return to high school and learn math. That should have meant the end, but it didn't. Blakie registered to return to high school on the same day I am going to graduate school. Black Jack who runs the electronics repair shop printed out a business math book for Blakie and paid to have it bound with a heritage cover. It was his gift to her. When Blakie does not run errands for the workers in the shop, she studies math.
She says she sucks at it. Claudette thinks Blakie has set her sites on a working man for a bond mate. Lori thinks Blakie has chosen to hard and long road to the world of work. At least Mama Buttercup put Blakie in the working women's section. At sixteen she is our mascot if we had one, but she is an awful mascot. Alternately risible, and still filled with bruised pride, she is just not cute. Even with her hair just tied back, she looks like a reminder of her first rank self, a self fallen from grace, but not crushed. It is hard for me not to look at Blakie with relief and think: Thank God I did not go through what you went through at sixteen.
"Good evening Far Traveler," Blakie deigns to greet me.
"Evening Blakie," I pretend to wake up and greet her. "How was dinner."
"Delicious, but I saw Stefan on the way home."
"I knew this was coming..." sighs Claudette.
"It's not what you think," Blakie retorts. "We're through. I'm mature enough to know that!"
"OK, then why are you bothering telling us?" asks Chloi. "Most of us know about love and how it ends. It's not a novelty any more, got that?"
"Yeah, but you don't know how I saw Stefan."
"Let me guess, he dumped number two. He wants the perfect princess and Noni wasn't it either," Chloi shakes her head and almost laughs.
"He was with Daniel!"
"Now that would be interesting," Lori speaks up.
"It's not what you think."
"What was it?" asks Choi.
"They were celebrating. Daniel got into a fight with Jason the Gardener, and Jason had a knife. Daniel didn't know Jason had a knife. Jason is old. He's little. He's ugly, but he was very fast. He also wouldn't go down even after Daniel gave him a black eye and a bloody nose. The fight just kept going on...."
"So why did Daniel celebrate?" Chloi smiled her face weaving in and out of a space in her straw curtain like a snake's head, eyes trying to avoid Blakie's triumphant features.
"Well, Julius ended the fight. Daniel he's just cute, but Julius he's strong. He's also huge. You don't pick a fight with Julius and win."
"Unless you have a knife," Claudette steals Blakie's thunder.
"I'm getting to that part. Julius came in with Daniel to end the fight, and Jason pulled a knife."
"FUCK," sighed Claudette. "Daniel admitted it was two against one! That's not a fair fight. Even if it were Julius it wouldn't be a fair fight, but two against one and one of the two Julius."
"Yeah...I guess it was self defense," Blakie sighs.
"Well security showed up before Jason could stab Julius again. He didn't even pull the knife out. He just ran away. Security is still looking for him. Julius is in the hospital."
"How many times did Jason stab Julius?" Claudette asked. "Do you know."
"Yeah, I know. Once. He didn't even take the knife out. Daniel wanted to pull it out, but the medics who came with Security stopped him. OK?"
Chloi shoves open her bed curtains. I wonder if she is going to beat the shit out of Blakie, but instead, she grabs her discarded work clothes and begins dressing on super fast autopilot. Then she puts on her shoes and picks up a small pack. "Can you help me Far Traveler?" she asks.
"What you goin' to do?" asks Blakie.
"If I wanted to tell you I would little girl," Chloie replies.
"What do you need?" I ask Chloi.
"Let's go out in the hall and talk."
I'm in over my head. I know I am in over my head. Still I listen. Chloi knows I have kitchen privileges. She asks me to make her some sandwiches with whatever I have and give them to her, and to fill her bottle with ice tea and sugar. I have no problem with any of this. "If I'm not back by noon, can you tell Chris at the green houses that I had an emergency. Don't give him any details to check out. He's nosey as Hell."
I nod. I don't tell Chloi that at noon, I'll probably be in the mall with Mama Buttercup. Actually, I'm torn on this. Chloi is educated or more educated than most. That should make her an ally in the long run. I wish her luck as I walk her to the end of the hall. She doesn't have to tell me where she is going.
A few minutes after Chloi leaves, Lori takes off to go to work. She says if she hears anything, she'll report it back. That means someone from the hospital is going to deliver soiled linens. I wonder how many men arrive at the hospital with a knife in their guts on a Saturday night. There is just one question, why did Daniel want to pick a fight with Jason or vice versa? I don't know either of them. What was the problem between them? Oh well, I just hope Chloi shows up at her job in the morning.
Statesboro, Georgia USA