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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 World in Every One's Image
At the Mama's Table
By 10:30am on Sunday morning, I have had enough of math. I grab an empty pack, my chopper which I wear on a shoe lace around my neck, and a fishnet bag that I crumple into my pack. If I were simply free to do as I please, I would like to go up to campus and visit the University Book Exchange, both to obtain my textbooks and something to read for leisure. Believe it or not, there is a fine market in used P-O-Ddies, not that I'm much of a collector, unlike Bug Eyes, who is trying to set Blakie on that road. Books are a means to an end and nothing more. That is why we P-O-D them. Of course there are craftspeople who bind their P-O-Dies, just like there are far travelers who make cole slaw from cabbage.
This morning I wish my interest in gardens extended beyond the kitchen variety. I glance at our courtyard with its tall, slightly scraggly pine tree, red leaf bushes, and clumps of decorative grass and one or two century plants, and realize that it is probably more than well manageed, low maintenance, landscape with real plants. It is a careful display designed to look accidental, and most likely the plants are dry weather and appropriate for this part of the country. There are of course flowers in containers near the buildings, mostly various types of black eyed susans, zinnias, and sunflowers. That is what I guess they are. The century plants and pampass grasswith their varigated leaves and interesting spikes and plumes in various shades, are also part of the decorative scheme. It is understated, and if you are not into plants, you are likely to miss all of it. I wish I knew more about plants. I now know something about the man who directed all this stuff to be planted. I pray hard: "Don't let Jason become cursed."
Yes, I know how to pray and what prayers to pray. They come to me without effort and without guilt. I glance at the century plants and pampass grass as I walk along the edge of Just Lee, in the courtyard and then through a narrow breezeway toward the Hub Garden. There are sixteen buildings using the Hub. The Hub garden is more showy and dramatic than that in the courtyard. The century plants and aloes are bigger. There are prickly pear cacti. There are trees with different colors of bark and shrubs I can not name. The flowers mostly in shades of gold, orange, and rust, reside in containers near the center of the hub on the Lee-Maury-Jackson side of it. They adorn the paths that lead to a tennis court that sits folornly empty, a badminton court where two girls and two boys in bright tunics play each other energentically, a children's wading pool, and the "sand pit." This last is a zen garden of rocks and carefully raked sand with benches near it for the weary to sit and pray or meditate. There are no flowers near the benches. The garden is a study in black, white, salmon, and celadon green. Someone probably Jason, I now realize, has chosen carefully colored rocks to light up the plainest and most austere of spaces. I smile at the visual joke. Even I who am tone deaf to gardens can get it. Then my smile turns sad. I am glad I have had almost no breakfast.
I check my chopper for a pointing feather. I like the feather which is a supposed to look like it came from a zebra pheasant. I'm all set. I sit down on one of Jason's sand pit benches and stare at the ridges in the sand and rocks rising from the sand sea. I think of swimming in the ocean yesterday. "When did the fight happen? How far from where I swam and read." I shudder and wish I had brought a sweater, though I can all ready feel the heat of the day.
A misting fountain keeps the Hub itself cool. The Hub which is called Bellum Hub, is a great, granite pit, though there is not much granite in this part of Georgia. Think of an amphitheater and you'll have the idea. There are ramps and stairs leading down. On the sides of the Hub that don't lead back to Lee-Maury-Jackson, the gardens and attractions are different. I can see a large crowd on the other side of the Hub's bowl.
I walk around the Hub edge trying to catch the crowd's smell like an animal. I of course can't make head or tail of the crowd. It is a mix of ages, sizes, tunic colors, with a few patterns thrown in. There are small children present, children old enough to move under their own power, which usually means nothing ugly is happening. The crowd is thick. A herd of white deer and a white unicorn have come to feed and beautiful, young women in knee length tunics that shimmer and sparkle like pearls are feeding them special rations that look like overzie kibble. The women wear flowers in their hair, though one of them has hair too short for flowers. I look for a very tall woman with toe colored hair. No one in this group fits the bill. I search among the adoring faces, but nothing stands out except desire to touch the magic looking animals or be among the blessed.
I walk down the Hub ramp and then switch to the stairs. The food court is part of the bottom two levels of the HUB. There are stands for ordering ready made meals and tables at which to eat them if you don't want to take your food home. The tables are packed today with mainly older women, and mothers with children, and a few fathers. One group of adolescent boys holds down a corner on the second level near where there are games of daring, to keep them busy and out of every one else' way.
I try to imagine growing up male. I try to imagine growing up as Jason. I wonder who taught him how to fight. I don't have to wonder about why he had to learn. In all of this, Mama Buttercup is not hard to find. She likes Beaubien's which specializes in Southern dishes, but this morning she has pancakes ala mode from The Original. That is what they call the place. It is two slots over from Beaubiens and near a niche in the second level where plane trees (I think they are plane trees) provide thick shades, and the tables that have orange and white umbrellas.
Mama Buttercup sits at a large table of large women. It is hard to tell their ages. Not all of them are as fat as my Area Mama, but they have smooth, round, satisfied, faces. The faces are complacent. The eyes, if one looks carefully are intelligent. I remind myself of that. Education usually does not equate with intelligence in this environment. It certainly does not equate with wisdom. Actually, this is a fallacy. The fact is that intelligence does not require education. I can be educated and intelligent, but as far as knowing what goes on in the Bellam Cluster, I am as dumb as the rocks in Jason's sand pit and not nearly as attrractive.
A tall, stoop shouldered man in forest green draw string trousers and a healther grey t-shirt stands near the head of the Mamas' table. He has a white beard and a weather beaten face. He is starting to shrivel, but the muscles under the skin are still good. His hands are large and strong looking and just a bit gnarled. He holds them clasped at his stomach. His head is downcast. Instinct shouts: "Back away!"
I am too curious to obey my instinct. "I really don't think you should do anything," says the downcast man in a soft voice. "I think you can wait until the police decide if they are going to file charges. If there are no charges there is no crime."
I back away and lean against a cool stone wall. The man talks for a while longer and then shuffles away. An adolescent girl comes running into the niche and pulls up short. She has nearly chalk-white skin and raven black hair and a few sable brown freckels on high and round cheekbones. Her eyes are dark red. I have not seen her before. She will not be hard to forget. She wears a shiney fire, red tunic tied at both shoulders and shiney black bicycle shorts, and black sandals with many straps and thick soles. "This kid gets around," I think. The Mamas make a space for her. I wonder when my turn at this table is going to come. I feel impatient. I wonder what the kid could want.
I decide I had better take my place in line. "...Are you talking about Jason, the Gardener?" the pale faced girl asks. I stare down at the stone pavement. I dig my fingernails into my palms. I don't really like being invisible, and I am sick of the saga of Daniel, Krysti, Jason, and Julius. Yes, it's Big Julius, but he is only so big as a knife blade. He bit the shit out of Jason on Daniel's behalf. I think of Daniel as Iago to Julius' Othello, and realize no one at the Mama's Table has read Shakespeare.
"We are indeed," says a Mama with dark brown, perfectly straight hair and a lovely, pale, moon face. Her blue eyes, probably natural, connect with the girl's unnatural, red ones.
"Then let me tell you about what I saw. I was a witness to the fight yesterday. Jason pulled a knife on Julius after everyone agreed it would be a bare nuckle fight. Jason couldn't win so he stabbed Julius. He stuck the knife way inside. Julius clutched his guts and collapsed to the ground. He moaned and he cried."
"Enough!" said a Mama with mahogany skin and a face so plump it made her eyes small and oddly sharp. "You're not telling us anything new. There were two men fighting. One fought to get his wife back. The other fought because he was challenged. One man was blessed and the other was a pervert who makes his living by working hard. Am I right?"
There were nods around the table. "Only one problem..." Sharp Eyes paused for emphasis. "It was a fair fight, and the pervert was the better fighter. You can't let someone as blessed as Daniel lose a fight. Being blessed means having friends. Julius is Daniel's friend. Julius jumped in. That makes it two on one, but Daniel is blessed. Daniel is blessed so it makes sense that Julius is two of that little pervert.
"There's only one problem. The little pervert wants to fight and doesn't want to die. He wants to win. He didn't start the fight."
"Are you saying that Jason stabbed Julius in self defense?" asks Mama Buttercup.
"Sure looks like it. That's the way the Sherriff's Patrol is going to think and they're the ones who have Jason, not our Security. Kety and Bill took Jason to the hospital in his truck. The hospital called Sherriff's Patrol. I have a working man in my area who is an orderly in the hospital. He let me know about both Julius and the pervert. At least nobody's going to die and we'll get them both back."
"The question is do we want both of them back," states a Mama with jet black hair and a surprizingly long face with very red lips that remind me of raw meat.
"I want Julius," Mama Buttercup replies. "He does the work of the gods. He did not wrong."
"OK, now what about Jason."
"That's hard," sighs Mama Buttercup.
"Why, he's a good worker. Daniel challenged him. If Daniel weren't blessed, we'd say he was just defending himself in a fight. He doesn't start fights. Simon likes him. We need working folks and good ones."
"Then why don't you take him," round face with blue eyes remarks.
"I'm fixing to do just that," sharp eyes replies, "If you don't want him for yourself."
"Your area is in Maury!" Mama Buttercup is taken aback.
"I know, and Krysti and Daniel live in my area. So what... I've got a dorm for working men. Jason is...quiet about things. I can put him in there no problem. The older working guys respect him. You feel better like that."
"Daniel won't like it," moon face with blue eyes reminds sharp eyes.
"Daniel needs to have bondmate talke with Krysti. There's probably something going on there, like it goes on everywhere else, but if his bondmate's got a bug up her ass, then the couple needs to sort it out. Two men almost got killed cause Daniel is blessed and he's not taking care of things."
The table of Mamas sits in uneasy silence. Then blue eyes speaks up again. "You're really going to take Jason then..."
"I'll take him. I said I would."
"What about Daniel and Krysti?" Mama Buttercup asks.
"I got an idea how to handle them." Sharp eyes smiles. she has a mouth that expands like elastic making her whole diamond shaped face expand. Even her small eyes become part of the squinty smile. Then the sharp eyes find me. "Who's this?" sharp eyes asks.
"That's Ya-ha-nah. She's my Far Traveler," Mama Buttercup changes the conversation.
"Where she from?" asks a Mama with blotches on her face and hair that was once some prettier color than its current dull, light brown. This Mama's breasts are swollen with nursing. That means she is one of the younger ones, but she is not aging well or has health issues. Even Mama's can have health issues.
"Ith-ack-a, New York," Mama Buttercup remembers.
"New York...what's she doin in Georgia?" This time it is Sharp Eyes turn to ask.
"I'm from Ithaca, not New York City," I interject. "I'm here to work on an MAT at the Georgia Southern University's Graduate Institute of Pedagogy."
"Bless your heart," sighs the sickly Mama. "Buttercup, you sure got your hands full don't you?"
"It was my turn to take a transfer," Mama Buttercup explains. "I got a working women's section too. Where else do you put someone like her?"
"Sounds like a good spot," Sharp eyes comments. "But why would someone come all this way, all by herself?"
"I told you. I'm in graduate school."
"How old is y ou?"
"Any children or a bond mate?"
"OK, where do you stand with the Gods? I hope some body asked you this all ready?" Sharp Eyes is nearly on her feet.
"They blessed me with a safe journey, kitchen priviledges and fine weather. Blessings are where you find them. Blessings are how you make them."
"So why are you at our table?" asks Moon Face.
"I'm here because Mama Buttercup asked to meet me. I am going to help her with the Sunday shopping. I also need to pick up a few items for our kitchen on the third floor."
"She loves to go out. She's going to go all the way to Georgia Southern four days a week," Mama Buttercup explains. "She brought me a big box of National Cream last night...all packed in special steamy ice. Twenty gallons she sent me in big five gallon tubs. I saw the box with her chop and mine on it outside the pantry and I was impressed. She's a respectful one. I don't think she's cursed. She doesn't act like she's cursed."
"Well you be careful," Sharp Eyes says. "You gonna laugh at me, but you're better off with Jason, the pervert, than with this far traveler."
Statesboro, Georgia USA
Flying on a Feather
Respectful and respectable, that is me for now. It takes another half hour for the Mamas' meal nad meeting to break up. Mama Buttercup keeps asking me if I'm hungry. I tell her I'm saving my appetite for lunch. Mall food is good. I want Sunday dinner. I want my dish drainer and towels. I want a trip in the early evening to Georgia Southern so I know my way around. I want some leisure reading matter to rest my eyes.
Instead, I find myself walking toward the Hub Hall with Mama Buttercup who keeps asking if I want something to eat. I tell her I'll eat later at the mall. Mama Buttercup shakes her main of golden hair. It is good hair if a bit coarse and very thick. She pushes some of it over her ear. The Hub Hall has the People Vator that goes directly to the mall. It has some sit down area like a tram. I insist on using one of the enclosed cars. I don't care if I stand at the back. I just want a roof over me for the ride. I have issues with passive motion and vators.
I feel every jolt and bump. I think about walking with Fenix to see Bo last night. I can smell the summer dry grass and the breeze from the distant ocean and the protected beach. I think of star fish. We enter the mall through its very center. I know because I've seen its exterior. That means we emerge in an inside garden with six inch ruby, emerald, and saphire butterflies all of which are irridescent and which have six or seven variations in wing shapes soar amid red roses and blue irises. I'm glad somebody remembered the irises and the little blue, tufted flowers. I wish I knew their names, but you can not know everhthing.
Though we have not walked far, Mama Buttercup sits on a rust colored wooden bench with no back and rough, white, concrete supports as if she were tired. She looks around. A figure on a cream colored hang glider soars over head with several more gliders chasing him. On the dance platform, boys practice fighting with bo-sticks. Other boys whoop and holler. Girls stand in groups. One group clusters around a makeup table on which lies one of their number receiving a treatment to smooth and sculpt her face. Girls love to look lovely if they feel they are blessed or want to be.
"I hate going to the Merck," sighs Mama Buttercup. "I remember when I was young and could just have adventures in the mall. That was before Johnny and way before Shane." Mama Buttercup, from what I gather, has been bonded twice. Shane is her current bondmate. Johnny is the love of her youth. We walk under trees with leaves larger than my arm spread. The leaves are emerald colored, glossy with wax, and waxy to the touch. A water fall runs at the base of the trees and we have to take a broad wooden bridge across a shallow stream at its base. What looks like two families swim naked in the pool at the base of the fall. \
Behind the falls is the entrance to the actual business part of the mall. It feels strange to be indoors. Mama Buttercup sighs. One level above us, a fashion show is in progress. Mama Buttercup shakes her head at the volunteer models. Another merchant displays holographic entertainment that users can control by gestures and a wristband, and probably also by implants, but temporary wrist bands are best for demos.
Boys and men gather around four wheeled vehciles on display. Some are for transport. Most are for work. All are shinier than they'll ever be in the field. Men in draw string pants and work pants smile and pat each other on the back. Several hold cups and bottles of stimulant drinks. Saturday night is not far behind us. A woman sits by herself on a bench and holds a baby in a sling on her lap. Could her bondmate be betraying her for a shiney mate on four wheels?
The Merck, which is what they call it here, is behind a glass entrance behind tall poles. It smells of ready cooked food. There is a food court of sorts in the left side of the building and one floor up. We need actual food, or rather Mama Buttercup does. I have written down what she needs. I take the list out of the pocket of my pants. The dark pencil marks on paper towel do the job and don't attract electronic sniffers. I fly under the radar as a matter of habit. The list reads almost like medicine, nutritional drink in various flavors, various types of nutritional bars, frozen pound cake and layer cake and two red velvet cakes, dietetic soda, vitamin laced soda, dissolving drink pellets that create nutritional drink. There are old people in Mama Buttercup's area that can barely eat. She buys food for those who do the actual caring. She does this to be spared the dirty work. She explains this to me.
"At least we don't have to get National Cream here today," sighs Mama Buttercup. "I can't believe you took care of that last night. I wish I knew why you did it?"
"I want to make sure we stay friends."
"Why shouldn't we...I mean...I don't know why you are a far traveller, but I'm not Trina. I have nothing against far travelling. Trust me."
I don't have anything to say. I help get the boxes for Mama Buttercup's groceries. We have several carts worth and six boxes. Mama Buttercup fumbles with her chopper and sets the size too small at first. Then she gets it right. Mama Buttercup's chop is a female fairy clad in a knee length yellow tunic, and presumable something underneath. The tunic like Blakie's ties on both shoulders. The fairy has green hair that flows in amazing waves and small yellow flowers in her hair. She is thin with nearly white skin and one knee lifted high in a dance and both arms raised. Her left hand holds a buttercup blossom. The fairie's features remind me almost of those on a fox's face, a sharp upturned nose, tiny dark eyes, a single pointed ear. Hair conceals the other ear.
We get a delivery receipt for the groceries and then Mama Buttercup asks me if I want lunch. I tell her I need to get some things from the kitchen at the Fab Shop. This means a trip to the basement of the mall. I let Mama Buttercup know she can stay upstairs or even out in the garden. I suspect there are places she doesn't go or hates to go. I don't want to drag her into anything unpleasant.
She says she doesn't mind. We ride walk through a door between a store selling colorful tunics and down two flights of stairs and then out into a hallway that is quiet. The Info Store, the Fab Shop, the Electronic Repair Center, and half a dozen other merchants of the utterly useful and mundane live here. The lights are harsh and white. The air is cold.
We stride into the Fab Shop. I examine a few of the models and take my seat at a catalog station. The seat is a stool with no back. That is fine with me. I remove my feather and begin using it like a stylus on the small screen. Then for fun, I flash images on the big wall-size screen in front of me. Mama Buttercup shakes her head. "You like?" I show her a medium size dish drainer made of coated plastic. Mama Buttercup shakes her head.
"We can change the color. I'm not buying it in white. That is for sure."
Mama Buttercup shrugs.
"I choose a bigger model. Then I start altering the color. I settle on a nice, bright, Chinese red or true red. One of my trunks is that color with black trim. Mama Buttercup glances around the Fab Shop. An attendent comes over to her. She's a chunky looking woman with a square head and shoulders and medium brown skin. She offers Mama Buttercup a test pointer. This part of the Fab Shop specializes in household implements. It's a great big P-O-D shop for them. You pick it. You order it. You pay for it and out it comes and gets delivered to your area a few hours later or over night. Mama Buttercup tries flicking randomly around her screen and even on the wall, but she clearly has no interest in what she is viewing.
I decide to get the second dish drainer in lemon yellow. Then I sleect a tea kettle. Since it comes with a painted-on design, I decide to get it in faux pale green marble with a century plant on it. "Matches the outside garden," I tell Mama Buttercup.
"That's not going to change any time soon," Mama Buttercup replies.
"You don't approve of Trina taking Jason."
"I hope Security locks up Jason forever. He's a cursed pervert. He doesn't belong with decent people!"
"What if they find it was self-defense?"
"They won't. Julius and Daniel are blessed."
"We'll get a really beauitiful garden then," Mama Buttercup goes on. "Like they have near the Hub or down here in the mall, only better."
"You think Chloi would create one."
"I'd bring in someone who was super blessed for Jason's old job," Mama Buttercup explains.
"Our water consumption will go through the roof."
"So what...we can get more water. People need gardens, real ones! Jason never listened to Krysti. She'd stop by to give him good advice and he would tell her just what you said. He didn't understand about blessings. He was a fool, a fool and a pervert. That's why he got in that fight. Julius should have killed him. It would have been better."
I do not reply. I remind myself that I have lived in a semi-protected environment since around my eighth birthday, and I was a child before that, small enough to be protected. The Teacher liked me. I had a calling. The Teacher had legal rights to roam the areas looking for promising children. Such things happened. Everyone accepted that. That made me neither cursed nor blessed. Statesboro, and most places outside New York State are different. I remind myself of that as we head toward the mall food court. It is time for lunch and then the tram ride back. I'll stand with my head down. Later, I may help Mama Buttercup unpack the food. The nursing ladies will thank me. Probably they will have more news about Big Julius and Jason, the Gardener.
And there will be plenty of time to make my trip to Southern so I show up Monday morning looking like I've always lived there. Yes, that's a plan, and my tea will taste fresher, and there will be somewhere to put my dishes to dry other than all over the counter.
"Blakie's really going to that high school tomorrow," Mama Buttercup picks up a conversation as we walk under the tropical trees and amid the red roses laced with butterflies and smaller blue flowers.
"Yes," I answer. "She wants to learn electronics."
"She wants to run away from a curse."
"It's probably wise."
"You really think she can do it!"
"What would you have her do," I feel my cheeks grow hot. I think I know Mama Buttercup's answer. I dig my fingers into my palms. I'm not sure she hasn't figured out how much we disagree. Maybe she has, but she has much more to learn about me, and she won't like it when she finds out.
"I'd have her throw herself upon the gods mercies. There are people who can help her."
"She wants to do electronics not be a drudge!" I spit.
"She needs to go back and repent. I was hoping she'd realize that when I put her in the working womens section. I was hoping she'd hate it there. I wish Bug Eyes wouldn't put all those ideas in her head. Did you see the crazy book he gave her."
"Mama Buttercup," I address my Area Mama. "I know you are not going to believe this but mathematics is one of the languages of the gods."
"Well, why should they teach it to a loser like Blakie!"
"Because she is willing to learn. With some gods, one need only ask. It is said that there is a god on every street corner."
"Yeah, but not a good one," answers Mama Buttercup. Above usa woman with wings and ribbons flies over us like a human kite. Several young girls crane up their heads to watch and groan with pleasure and wishing. "Deadelus only flew once, and Icarus crashed into the ocean," I remind myself.
Statesboro, Georgia USA