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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
The Stuff of Naked Memories
It takes two classes to know the topic of my term paper for Dr. Drucker's class on educational psychology. I want to find out if there are augmentive/assistive electronics that work well for those skilled in hand learning and naked memory techniques. Both of these have been extremely productive methods for motivated children and adults. Naked memory is simply the way humans have learned for thousands of years. We've only had really good, assistive devices, for the past century or so, if that. Useability is still an open question. Walk around any college campus and you'll see a wide variety of enhancing electronics. You may even see some students who use none at all except a pillow or tablet and a scrawl pad, keyboard, pointing feather etc... These last aren't really assistives. They're just tools as Dr. Drucker would say.
My question is whether someone like me can find the right devices, and by extension someone like Blakie, not that I can't tutor Blakie without enhancers. I'm just a beginning teacher and know the techniques others used on me. Blakie wants to succeed. If she can survive the first few weeks. That is why Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, I make it a point to head to the electronics repair station with a load of scrap paper for printing articles, and an hour or two blocked out after working on my own research. Ostensibly my mission is to print out articles cheaply or freely on scrap. My real job though is to tutor Blakie or act as a tutoring fallback.
Much to everyone's surprise, Blakie is running scaird enough to hold her own in the first week of algebra. It's the other subjects she needs to discuss, history, French which was my foreign language etc... I've got the background for this so it's "my job." Bug Eyes and TomTom, who are mentoring Blakie call me Teacher instead of Far Traveler. I revel in the title. Wednesday night they take me out to eat at their favorite diner. I waffles and fruit salad and cherry lemonade. The sweet drinks make me antsy. Blakie and I both study for a while at the high counter in the back of the store, Blakie conjugating her French verbs and me, reading about device trials. Reading about brain implants makes me feel nervous and violated. I tell myself that is just cultural. I also read that an attitude of fear such as my own diminishes implants' effectiveness. That is hardly heartening.
Late at night I return home and continue studying at the kitchen counter until Chloi asks me to make cashew butter sandwiches for Jason who likes my cooking. He can keep the sandwiches and the hibiscus tea in the ward refridgerator. The nurses will not steal it. He thanks me for the food etc....
Thursday night, I eat the last of my split pea soup for supper and set out some lima beans to soak. I have canned tomatoes and enough leftover vegetables to make a decent pot of stew on Friday. I'll start as Barrow and Fenix toss their disposibles in the recycling bin and take them through the service entrance. The kitchen will grow quiet. I'll read and take more notes. I'll read educational philosophy on which I need to catch up. And first, I will of course tutor Blakie in history, French, and let he demonstrate more mathematics for me. She has questions about school activities. I tell her it will do her good to go out for a few of them.
"What if the kids come from the Heights?" she asks.
"Don't worry. If they get on with you, they get on. If you're unwelcome you can always quit."
I see Bug Eyes shake his head. "Computer club," he gives our mentee two words of advice. I don't say anything back.
Friday night I get into the kitchen and begin cooking the lima beans. Barrow and Fenix have not entirely cleared out. "Even Lori won't eat that," comments Barrow. "Lima beans. What do you do torture yourself Far Traveler? All those people who talk about you should come here and see what you eat. They'd give up their talk real fast."
Barrow is just not making sense. That means he is not his usual hurtful self. "You know people have been talking," Fenix chimes in.
"I thought I was old news," I respond.
"Not among some folks," Fenix answers.
"Like who?" I hope Mama Buttercup hasn't turned into a class one ingrate. I'm taking her shopping on Sunday and I make a mental note to restock her National Cream late Saturday night and...
"Oh I thought you all ready knew," chimes in Barrow.
"Anyway, it's all foolishness. You're not worth any demon's time."
"Academics and demons, that's a new one," I am too surprised to say more, but not even Liam in Ithaca made that accusation. I'd almost laugh except I know enough to know this could be serious. I'm still too proud to pry out of Barrow who said what. I can ask Lori. I can ask Claudette. I can even ask Mirra who circulates all over the place. I make a mental note and go back to cutting up vegetables for the soup pot.
Barrow and Fenix clear out of the kitchen. The stink of their roast pork still fills the air or could it be the smell of something else? I decide to read on my elementary math pedagogy reading while the smell of the soup displaces the smell of gossip, when I hear a pounding at the pass through screen by the blue door, the only one I can open.
Blakie is out at the Electronics Repair Store, with Bug Eyes, Blackjack, and TomTom. "Who is it?" I ask. I'm not ready for this. Not at all. "Let me in!" shouts a young, female voice.
"Tell me who it is first!"
"It's Edith until I get initiated," the angry voice answers.
I open the door, and Edith bursts inside before I change my mind. She sniffs and shakes her head. She is dressed in a purple velour tunic with a boat neck and a bit too much material and knee length matching purple velour shorts that hug her thighs which are skinny enough to look just fine if the child's hair weren't all mussed, her face were not caked with a layer of sweat-soaked grime and her ankles and feet were not...well they're scuzzy even inside the purple and silver flip-flops. Even good clothes look awful on this kid.
"You're going to eat that shit?" Edith asks pointing to the stove.
"It's lima bean sou, not shit," I reply.
"It's shit. Now what would you have for supper if you could have anything in the whole world?"
"You mean like a last meal?" I ask.
"Well it won't have to be your last meal. I want to take you out to eat."
"That's generous of you, but I was going to get some reading done."
"Please...You can eat that tomorrow night."
Edith flings herself on a stool and swivels it. That's when something falls out of her tunic. She dives down to the floor to retrieve the object. It's a book, a tattered p-o-d-die, cheaply made, but I recognize the title. Roughing It by Mark Twain. I feel something ache inside me. "Is that a gift?" I ask.
"When I finish reading it,you're welcome to it. I usually put the books I finish back on the table."
"In front of the used book stall up by the University."
"When do you get the time to read?"
"When I have to wait around for my masters. It helps keep me quiet and out of their way. They like me better than and the God of the Crossroads sends his blessings."
Edith hugs her book. "So what do you want to eat tonight?"
"Why are you taking me out?"
"I just want to. I'm not as bad as people think you know?"
"OK, tomato salad with blue cheese dressing and either cherry or grape tomatoes and fancy pizza with some kind of vegetable topping and a thick Siciilan crust," I order an imaginary meal.
"Is that really what you want to eat?"
"OK, we'll get it for you." Edith's name is suddenly legion. I want to laugh, but she wiggles on the stool and asks me how much longer until the soup is done enough to put away.
"Who's paying for this feast?" I ask Edith who has probably had no dinner and who is probably flat broke if her masters are at all like I suspect they are.
"My masters and I are splitting it," Edith smiles and rests her chin on a grimey fist.
"Are we eating with your masters?"
"Yeah," Edith replies. My mouth dries and my stomach tightens. I know what comes next. I think of what Barrow and Fenix said about people talking, but how could a bunch of nihlistic demon chasers whose craft is...well there's always a dark side of life and I suspect it's smuggling contraband, extortion, recreational chemicals, and maybe more sophisticated forms of theft, have any interest in an Academic Far Traveler? I'm beneath them? I'm a pot of shitty, lima bean soup simmering on a stove. They're....well they think they are all going to get rich as long as they stay the big fish who eat the little fish. They're fine until bigger fish come along or until the little fish don't grow up. I glance at Edith. Why don't her masters tell her to wash her feet, I wonder. It's a strange thing to wonder. I ought to be thinking of a way to get out of this dinner date. The trouble is my mouth is watering and my mind has gone to cheese from too much studying.
Spell Caster for Hire?
We take the service tunnels to the mall. We must be gooing to the mall or beyond it. I notice that these are different tunnels than the few I know which are the ones near Malka's bone yard and store room, but we have no need to visit these places. Every building complex of any size has service tunnels. If you don't like the Vator, need to sneak in late at night, or smuggle, you are going to know about service tunnels. There is nothing amiss in any of this.
The restaurant we visit is part of a pleasure complex hidden in a grove of trees outside the mall. Foot trails lead to it. There are no signs, but any one who hears about the placecan find it with ease. The restaurant is red velvet and soft, dark lights inside. The carpet feels plush and not quite clean beaneath my shoes. Edith leads me to a huge banquette in an alcove in the rear. This is not exactly a private room, but the place is not busy and Edith's masters wait for her at a private table. There are four of them, a tired looking married couple, a man with a wisened pink face and bald head, and some kind of scalp condition and white hair that hangs in lank strands, and a plump woman/girl whose age I can only guess. They are a sorry lot, despite the middle aged man's black leather vest and satin shirt, and his consort's black velvet and sequinned gown, adn despite the crisp white shirt on the old guy with the skin condition and the old fashioned glasses on the pale, plump girl.
"What took you so long Eed-ith?" Middle aged female draws out her name.
Edith who hates her name inspects the carpet.
"She had to cook beans," I disappear. I like being invisible. Something inside me really does want to make a break from the door, but something here also realizes the place smells of decent food. My stomach aches with hunger. I dream of the kitchen and hear Edith pounding at the pass through.
"What sort of beans?" the old man asks.
"Large lima beans," I can be quite precise at times.
"What were you going to do with the beans?" It's middle aged man's turn to question.
"Make soup enough to last a few days. I like to cook vegetables."
"It's not a potion," Edith offers her explanation. "I saw it. The ingredients come from the Merpeh."
"What about the runes, did you draw any of those tonight?"
"What runes?" I think and then it hits. I pull out my pillow and set up my scrawl as a large screen/demo board and begin to show Edith's masters what has fueled the gossip. I try not to look at Edith, but the sooner these benighted losers throw me out on the street the safer I will be.
"Since you have asked for a demonstration of my powers, I'm going to show them to you."
Adolescent girl looks toward the kitchen. "Don't you think you should draw a circle of protection."
"Not really," I smile. "These runes work a most beneficial and useful magic."
"Now I ask, when you walk through the tunnels making a delivery or when one of your minions makes a delivery, does he or she always walk at the same rate of speed?"
"She moves fast if we have any say about it," cackles the old man.
"She stays safe," the girl contradicts him. "Doesn't matter how fast or slow he or she moves."
"OK, then she does not move at a constant rate of speed. Now suppose you want to calculate the distance that your minion travels. Maybe you pay her by the mile or the kilometer."
"We don't do it that way?"
"Fine let's look at another issue. Let's say the amount of water that the material that cuts cocaine absorbs varies with how much is there all ready. If you graphed it, it would look like this. Your cocaine has been sitting on the shelf for eight days. You want to know how much water is there."
"YOu could weigh it?" Edith cut in.
"Yes, but you don't want to bother. My runes explain how to do this. What they do is measure the volume under a curve that represents the amount or distance covered by a process that moves at a rate that is not constant. The name of this magic rune is an integral."
I go on to explain how multiple integrals and Fourier series explain the amount of distance covered by radio waves or water waves or any other kind of waves. I explain about optimization and the hill of happiness. Then I switch to derivatives, but the food arrives. It looks fantastic. There is a huge Sicilian pizza with green olives, a caprese salad, and cold drinks including apple juice of all things.
I am hungry and surprised I have lasted this long.
"Are you saying your some kind of professional calculator or accountant?" asks middle aged man.
"I'm not quite a mathematician I confess. I have only a bachelors in mathematics from Cornell. I'm working on a K-12 license to teach mathematics in high school so I can spread its beauty and power to others. You can see it is quite useful."
"Yes it is," answers middle aged man. "It is a good thing I believe you are telling the truth. Also, you haven't really tried to deceive any one. People saw the symbols. You had no reason to hide them. Edith had no way of knowing what they were, and we alas can use all the supernatural help we can get. A good spell caster can knock those stupid priests on their asses." Every one around the table laughs, even Edith who had nearly burnt her mouth on hot pizza. Edith is going to get shit canned by her masters after she walks me back, but they don't make a scene in front of me. We finish our Friday feast making polite small talk.
On the way home, I give twenty-five dollars cash money to Edith who recognizes it. It's half the market value of a mall chit. She watches me break the chit and redeem it at an ATM machine. She says "thank you" quietly. This will absorb a large part of the money that her masters will fine her. "I'm sorry," she tells me. I can see she is almost ready to cry. "I really thought you had powers."
"You saw my powers."
"Yeah," Edith snarls. "You really think you're hot shit!"
"Edith, I'm sorry."
"I hate being Edith."
"You'll get to change your name in a few years. Your masters aren't going to beat you."
"No, they don't do that kind of thing. They'll make me work it off. I'll pay some of it, now so there won't be so much they can stick me with, thanks."
Edith rocks on her feet as we stand in the hall between the kitchen and the working women's dormitory in Just Lee. "I think Ivor and Delanie thought you were pretty smart. They'd love to have you work for them. Maybe they could even find some calculating and ciphering. Not everybody likes that stuff. A lot of kids hate math while they're in school."
"Did you hate math?"
"I liked everything. The teachers were another story. They had they're noses so far in the air, they were up their assholes."
I don't reply. I tell Edith that if she's free around 8pm, I'll give her supper. It can be soup or a sandwich or even bread and butter. Money is going to be very tight for Edith for the next few weeks, but I think I have just the thing in my bag of tricks to help her.
I say good night and slip into the working woman's dormitory. Chloi has just gotten back from the hospital visiting Jason. She pokes her head out of the curtains of her bed and says: "Don't tell me you were where I think you were?"
"Where do you think I was?" I ask.
"I saw a little prentice demon in the hall outside and you were having a real friendly conversation with her."
"That's not a prentice demon. It's a ten year old who should be in middle school."
"Edith was born bad," Lorraine let's me know from her snug nest of covers. She has turned in early even though it's Friday. The gossip in our dormitory is really pretty good entertainment.
"She's just a kid," I responded "and one with what she thinks is a good gig. Her masters probably don't beat her, and they listen to what she has to say. I think they are as fair as many of the gods, not that that is saying much."
"Her masters chase demons!" Mirra responds. She has red hair she has just washed. Her face is almost blotchy with freckels, but it has a lovely oval shape, fine high cheek bones, a pretty aquiline nose, and green eyes with lush lashes. Mirra had one unhappy bond that lasted less than a year. She is looking to do a better job the second time around. She works in the mall in the pedicure parlor. She has hands with long, skillful fingers. The hands are now balled into fists.
"People can chase anything they want," I answer. "There's a god on every street corner, thankfully. It's how they treat each other that concerns me a lot more."
"I think I know what you're saying," Chloi cuts off Mirra, "but you have to understand. Edith's masters don't just worship demons, they do stuff, bad stuff."
"Crime," I answer. "They're fagans."
"They're what?" asked Mirra.
"Adults who train and recruit children to help them commit crimes. It comes from an old musical play called Oliver. Edith's masters use children to make deliveries of contraband or carry messages or as lookouts for illegal gambling or prostitution. Am I right?"
"You got it one hundred percent-o!" crows Lorraine.
"Now you understand why we don't want Edith any where near this dorm," Chloi adds.
"But when the child is not on an errand for her masters, isn't she harmless?" Nothing works or fails like logic.
"Not really," sighs Mirra. "If you hang out with people like Edith, Security lumps you in with them. Then when there's a raid, they tear the dormitory apart and leave it a mess, or when they block the building they give you a naked pat down and feel up. None of us wants that, understand?"
I don't understand, but I leave it alone. I am going to be feeding Edith for the next few days if all goes well, and let's just say I have ideas of what I can do for her. In New Berlin and many other places in the Southern Tier or Central New York, Edith would be in middle school. A Teacher (capital intended) would have intercepted her at age six or seven, and in less than a year she would have been 'prenticed out to the schools. She would have had her share of dirty work to do in the academic dormitory and around the kitchen, farm, or garden, and her studies would have at times been hard, but like her present masters, the teachers would have rewarded her efforts, and yes...listened to her. And in spite of what my dorm mates believe, ten years old is not too late. Sometimes it can be, but not always, and probably not even most of the time.