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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
Finding the Right Street Corner
Late Sunday afternoon, I finally get to Georgia Southern. I ride the tram and explore the campus a bit.
I also manage to print off my textbooks and have them put in standard/economy binding with a pretty batik pattern. I have four textbooks for three classes, and each was a different color. They are substantial things. P-O-Ddies nearly always are. P-O-D stands for print on demand. You order your book, the printer spits it out. Then you put it with a binding in the binder. You print out the binding separately. Down it goes and then it falls out the chute, nicely bound, not all that durable, but a textbook only has to last a few seasons. Books, especially P-O-Ddies are pretty much disposible. I know people who make their own bindings and do craft bindings. If you read, sooner or later you meet such people. A standard/economy binding, however, is the way to go for textbooks. The pretty colors for my bindings are enough to say I care. They will also make Security very happy, baffle them, or maybe both.
Because I got out to campus late, and did some exploring before I bought my books, I hope to get home by the time Barrow and the others who procure food from the shacks are gone. I want to eat in peace, to think, to think of what? I know I'll hear news. I just want to hear it softly. I have orientation at 8am and my first classes in the afternoon, and standing on lines for various bureacratic functions that I can only perform in person because they are not available in the Bellam Hub Clusters.
I let myself into the kitchen, and for a change the lights are on. The place feels warm from steam tables set up as a buffet in the open pass through. Fenix and Lori are having an argument. "Of course I saved some for you girl. We know you work hard and sleep late. You work all night long don't ya?..."
Lori laughs. I smell the shredded roast pork that smells far better than it tastes. Barrow who is presiding over his pass through turns to me. "I see you're taking over the whole kitchen with your junk," Barrow is a big man, carrying rolls of tauni fat. His bushy brows stand out. His shaven or bald head just shines with a perpetual coating of sweat. His black eyes are utterly serious, and almost ugly. "Damn!" is all I can think when I look at him. "Damn! Danm! Damn!" Yes, three times for EMPHASIS.
"We need dish drainers and a tea kettle. You are welcome to use them."
"Our stuff is disposible little lady," Barrow replies.
I shrug. "This is not a Far Traveler kitchen. If you're an ack-a-dem-ick you belong up at the University. There are places near there with more like you. You don't belong in a regular house with regular people."
Boy this is blunt! It's also patently ungrateful. "Aren't you going to thank me for taking Fenix up to see Bo last night?" I ask.
"Not really. Bo told me about you. You're the cabbage eater."
I glance at Fenix. I wish she'd set the record straight, but it's Lori who speaks out. "Barrow, ack-a-dem-icks are the same as working people. They're just another kind of working person. They far travel, but that's the only strange thing about them. Most of us working women commute. Yahanna is like us."
"No," Barrow replies and he opens the personal fridge. He pulls out a bag of carrots and other of zucchini. "Right out of the ground, she wants it. She eats fruits like a monkey and vegetables like a rabbit. You want more..."
I watch as Barrow takes my pot of pea soup and setsit on the stove. "This is mashed up peas and vegetables cooked until they are mushy. It's soup. Some people say it tastes good if you can get past the color."
"Is all you can do make fun of the Far Traveler's food?" asks Lori.
"Well, doesn't it tell you somethin'?"
"It tells me she's different but there's lots of different kind of people in any building. It's not good. It's not bad."
"You don't say that most of the time," Fenix reminds Lori.
"I don't say it when folks cause trouble. This one doesn't cause any trouble. I seen her. I live with her.. She minds her own business. That's more than a lot of people do."
"Who're you talking about," Barrow all but snarls. "You got no right talking about people like that. When have the gods blessed you?"
"From the day I realized I wanted to work I was blessed," Lori spat back.
"Pffffft......" snorts Barrow. "PFFFFFFFFFTTTTTTTT"
I smile at the fake fart. It is truely wonderful. "So you can talk trash about the beautiful ones?"
"Beauty is as beauty does," sing-songs Lori.
"You know, maybe I don't have any bar-b-que left. Go eat the Far Traveler's pee soup. I'm sure she has plenty and her cabbage salad too, made from a whole cabbage. Go stink up your beautiful working woman's dorm. Just don't tell her how you never had a bond mate."
"You're wrong Barrow. I was bound for just under two years."
"Yeah and what happened?"
"What often happens."
"And where are your children."
"One's here and one's in Jackson. The twins are grown up now. One works in the Mall at the Fashion Place, and the other...you know what happened to him."
"Ever wonder why it happened?"
"Yeah, he got careless or maybe the gods had it in for him. Gods who give like that also take like that. I tried to tell him to play it safe, but you know how young guys are. People tried to tell me stuff too when I was young and I just laughed. I did the right thing though."
"Would you like some pea soup and cole slaw?" I ask.
Lori oddly enough agrees. I set a table for two of us. "Oh so formal," sneers Barrow.
"What's gotten into him?" I ask.
"Don't know. Folks are like that around here some times. Look, you know, nobody really has much. I don't know when I learned that. Maybe because I was a big girl who liked kick ball and field hockey which is why I liked to go to school. I liked winning and playing for a team. I liked that we were all in class together. I didn't have to be the best student to like school, but school was easy. That's how I remember it. I even sometimes liked the teachers even if we were all just passing through. Around here the teachers want to teach kids from over closer to the University or up in the heights.We were the school of last resort, and they'd let us know it some of th etime.
"Well eventually a girl like me gets three choices. She can try to be beautfiul. That's not easy if you're big and built heavy like I am. You can fight because you're strong. People kind of expect it. They find it amusing. You get hurt, and besides I didn't like hurting people. You can tag along someone who is beautiful and blessed by the gods and hope it rubs off on you which is really dumb, or you can work.
"I never cared what kind of work I was going to do. I knew I did not want to fight and I wasn't pretty...."
"What about sticking it out through high school?" That was how I put it.
"And do what with my life. I told you the teachers didn't really like most of us, and besides, did I want to become a teacher. I never knew anybody who did that. You're the first, and you're not a teacher yet.
"So anyway, I watched the working adults. The models at the mall and the sales women all were tagging after the bottoms' of the gods' skirts. Then they tagged after eachother, and then they'd fight. That was not for me. The same was true for the women who styled hair. If I wanted to wait table or cook, chances are good, there'd be some disgusting boy in my pants before I turned around, so I needed something else, something behind the scenes.
"One day I was walking through the mall and a handsome man was demonstrating a new laundry soap. The priests guarded him because he was blessed. Women crowded around him and I knew what would happen, but Jesse, my big sister she said there was nothign worth seeing. The laundry women were just enjoying the show. They weren't fighting over the demonstrator who was very handsome and used to his pick. Well, they'd all picked him and now no more fight...you get what I mean. When the demo broke up, the laundry women took samples back to their cave. That's what I thought it was, a big basement that smelled of soap and strong things, and it was like a fort that kept the bad stuff out.
"I knew, THIS WAS IT. There were good people here. I could learn this work. I was strong enough for it, and doing laundry was much better than fighting. I started out by offering to run the treadmill. I ran it faster than the fifteen year old 'prentice, and one of the laundry ladies stopped me. She asked me what grade I was in in school. I told her fifth. She said I had to go to the end of eighth grade before they would take me full time.
"So I'd go to school and hang out in the laundry. My friends thought I was nuts. I liked the laundry ladies and I liked the treadmill. I ran it every day. I even ran it when I got pregnant with twins. It wasn't my ninth month, and I wasn't spotting, and it was just running. The twins were born just fine.
"And I finished eighth grade in school which was more than most of my friends did. And I paid attention because the laundry ladies gave me P-O-Ddie books to read on doing clothes. They even gave me books with a heritage binding, and then they asked me questions to see if I understood what I read. They'd make me get out of the treadmill and measure soap and bring different kinds of brushes. They took me out to breakfast at the end of one of my first shifts when I was fourteen and really working for them full time.
"I still like the laundry. It's real work. It's good work. There's no fighting. And cause you work, you can spit in your man's eye. Sometimes you need to do that. Jimmy, he's my exbond, he was fooling around. See it happens, and it's not drama. He wanted someone small and real pretty. Why he bothered with me, I don't know, but he gave me twins. See what I say about being blessed. I was twenty and the twins were three and a half. I came home and you know the rest...
"Maybe you don't know. Some women would have beat their man over the head. Some hot blooded ones would have pulled a knife. If you're the real evil type, you have a gun or you know someone who knows you are blessed and can do the work of the gods. That's not the way I operate. I came home, greeted her. Then I packed my stuff and the kids' stuff. I went to Malka who runs the Bone Yard, and asked me to lend her a transport cart, and I hauled all our stuff back to Lee where I grew up. I said that Jimmy and I were through and that's all there was. He could have whatever. I'm the one who broke the bond, but somebody had to, understand?"
I nodded. "That was twenty years ago. The twins are grown. My boy, Niklaus, just had his bond broke by his mate. That hurt. It hurt worse than when he broke his back last year. At least Niklaus can walk, not that he can do the kind of things he used to, but he can walk. I used to go down to Savannah regularly to see him when they put him in the rehab house. I knew people at the hospital and they took care of my Nickieboy.
"I knew Nickieboy's bond was going to break when Shiela wouldn't come down to Savannah with me. She said it was too far. I said it's your man. She had his kid, a girl child. She's really blessed. It never stops, but gods that give are gods that take. I just want to keep what's mine, understand?
I understood. In another state, I'd be doing Lori's work. I remembered myself washing ten pounds of carrots at age ten or eleven. I'd probably have ended up working on a farm. I liked vegetables, or maybe I would have been a cook in one of the more upscale restaurants, a salad and soup maker. Unless of course...I formed a close relationship with a teacher.
Statesboro, Georgia USA
A Traveler who did not get Far
"We had a teacher who lived in our cluster," I explain to Lori. "Her name was Adina, but we called her The Teacher."
"Did she look like a teacher?" Lori asks, a lopsided smile caressing her cheeks.
"Yes, very much so. That's probably why we called her that. I'm kind of glad she looked the way she did. I might not have believed she was a real teacher."
"And you liked her....Why was she living in the...."
"Because she could and because New York State law gave her the right to come through all the buildings in our cluster and the neighboring clusters if she wanted, and rcruit. The school had its own prentcing prgram for any kids who were interested. You can see she was a little blessed, maybe a lot blessed."
"I wouldn't want to be that kind of blessed Teacher?"
"Well she didn't mind, and I was one of those girls who liked to read."
"I was too," Lori answers. "Of course I got bored with it and...well it's a phase."
"Not for me."
"I see that."
"Well, I knew it was something I could do really well, and Adina got me started with math and said I'd learn more things like science and social studies and more math. Hey it was mine. No one else could do it as well. The other gods liked the pretty ones, the athletes, the ones who would do anything. I had the school that liked me for being a good student.
"You have to go where you belong. When I was seven, I told my parents I was ready to be prenticed out to the school. That's how we said it. My parents were horrified. My mother made costumes for special festivals and helped the younger girls with their makeup. My father coached fencers and wrestlers. Both had been very blessed when they were young and still had plenty to do, and the gods gave my mother seven children by the time I was sixteen. I was the first. They wanted me to have their good life.
"They told me I would end up old and ugly like the teacher, but I was seven years old and most adults became old and ugly. I was sure I would never be that way."
Lori laughs. "Of course then they got serious. They told me that the Teacher would take me away to another building and that I'd be made to travel away so far I would never see my parents again. My parents lied. The section for apprentice girl students was in was two buildings over. I could come home every weekend. My parents realized I'd have to go my own way. I had what was mine."
"And you just stayed with it even when your friends got blessings?" This time Fenix asks the question.
"Yes. I began to drift away from my friends after third or fourth grade. Most of them weren't serious and well, I had other friends I went to school with and we stuck together. We kind of had to."
"Didn't it make you sad?"
"Yes, but I felt sad for them as well as me."
"It's kind of like when I decided to work," Lori explains. "Only I was older. The first time I prenticed out it was to a mixed group that played sports and ate a lot. Just right...but that doesn't last. I knew where it was going for big girls. It hurts to see your blessings kind of wash away. It's better to be 'prenticed right on the first go."
"I sometimes think of half the kids I grew up with...and what they're doing now," sighs Fenix. "I'm glad I met a m an with a business. It didn't feel like a blessing at the time, but long term, it's a good thing. Maybe I'm just getting older."
"You got a good head on your shoulders, Fenix-girl," Barrow tells her. "As for you," he turns to me. "There's no where for you to take our children. We don't have Teacher sections here, understand?"
"How is Julius?" I decide to kill this converation. Being here for five days didn't qualify me to steal away one child even if I want to. That's not how recruitment works. Besides, I'm not even a teacher yet, and I think I need that. Of course students can help one another. I think that would be a better place to start.
"He's fine. They had to sew his wounds up with stitches, and he can't eat anything," Barrow sighs. "That fool Jason.At least they're kicking him out of this building. Mama Buttercup doesn't want him any more. Serves the stinking pervert right. Some day the gods will get him!"
"That pea soup OK?" Barrow asks Lori.
"It's quite good, want some?" she asks back.
"Not really...OK, so why didn't you stay in the teacher dorm. Why did you travel all the way to Statesboro to make trouble?" Barrow will not be derailed. That's fine with me. It's not really fine, but this has to happen sooner or later. It has to happen multiple times.
"There were too many of us in Titus Flats. That's the cluster near where I went to college. And I recruited the wrong child."
"Well, someone did the work of the gods with you." Barrow smiles.
"You are so right," I smile back. "His name was Andrus. He was a warrior r still in his straength, and one smart enough to move from the field of mock battle and entertainment to building politics. He was an admin. He had a big smile. He was sharp. He had a seven year old girl."
"Just the right age." Barrow licks his lips in an imitation of me. "And today's lesson..." he begins in a high falsetto, "except you don't look like the Teacher."
"No. I was just an exstudent," I sigh. "Liza though had the spark. No question. I talked school with her, showed her a few things. That's usually all it takes. It's all it takes with me. Liza wanted to be successful like her father and his exbondmate. Yes, he was divorced.
"And Liza did 'prentice out. If it hadn't been me, it would have been somebody else, but it was me. I didn't have a job and wasn't in school any more, so I was an easy target. Andrus had an office with a big, gold shield on the wall. I think it was real gold plate. He told me that it wasn't in him to do the work of the gods with a woman, but he'd use the powers he now had as an admin to banish me."
"Good for him," replies Barrow.
"Not so fast. I went back to New Berlin to my old cluster. It takes a few months to get into graduate school. I decided it would be better to get out of state. Apparently, people thought it was quite a feet that I made a student out of Andrus' daughter. That made me a bit too hot to handle as a Teacher in New York State. I figured why not get a challenge."
"Well the gods are going to crush you." Barrow folds his arms.
Fenix shakes her head.
"It takes all kinds," Lori reminds the assembled. "What would be wrong with a Teacher and her 'prentices being in the cluster. It's not like they chase demons."
"Because..." Barrow stops.
"What if..." Barrow begins again.
"I wouldn't have minded seeing either of my twins 'prenticed to a Teacher. But here," Lori reminds me. "The Teacherse live in the heights and up by the University."
"I'm not protected by law here, but I wasn't in New York State either."
"What makes you think the gods will bless you here if they didn't back in New York?" asks Fenix.
"All I can do is have faith," I reply.
Statesboro, Georgia USA