Thursday, October 20, 2011
The kids talked among themselves, sitting on the front porch of an empty house, waiting for Jason to arrive. They kept their voices low so the others couldn’t hear.
“So Tim’s been staying over since Tuesday,” Ashley said. “I guess he’s gonna be my new dad.”
“Wow, you’re lucky,” Ben said. “You’ll have a mom and a dad. Tina’s nice, so’s Kelly, but…” he shrugged.
“You think they’re doin’ it?” Sheldon asked, smirking. Lily blushed and tittered, Ben and Caitlin snickered.
“Yeah,” Ashley said, rolling her eyes. “They keep it quiet, but sometimes you can hear ’em.”
“That’s why Jennifer moved us out of #107,” Caitlin said, looking up and putting her hands on her hips. “‘Jeez-zus Christ you two,’” she said in a good parody of Jennifer’s voice, “‘it’s not gonna kill you to give it a rest.’ I heard Jennifer say lots of stuff like that before we moved. I guess Cody and…” she trailed off. Nobody spoke for a few moments.
Lily broke the silence. “You still love Cody, don’t you?”
Caitlin blushed behind her freckles. “No I do not!” she bit off each word.
“If he asked you, would you do it with him?” Sheldon leered.
“I don’t know!” Caitlin sputtered. “Maybe when I’m older —” she clapped a hand over her mouth and looked over toward Cody, talking with the grownups across the way.
“We’re gonna move into #116,” Ashley said, rescuing Caitlin. “Me and Caitlin will have a room, and I guess Tim and Sara will get one. Jennifer will get the other one. I think Tim and Sara are trying to have a baby. I heard them talking about it.”
“That sounds cool,” Ben said. “That’ll be like having three parents. Four, if Jennifer gets a boyfriend.”
“Four parents?” Sheldon shook his head. “You’d never get to do anything!”
“We get to do lots of stuff,” Lily said, “and it’s like everyone’s our parents now. We don’t have school like we used to, and this is kind of cool, getting to do real stuff like helping with the gardens. Cody’s teaching us how to skate, Kelly’s teaching us basketball, and we don’t have to worry about getting run over in here. I just wish mom and dad were here too.”
The others nodded, even Sheldon. “When’s Jason gonna get here?” Sheldon asked.
“Sooner or later,” Ben said. “I’m not in a hurry anyway. Maybe he had another dream and it kept him up.”
“Have you guys had any dreams since that one with everybody in it?” Caitlin turned back to the others. “The one where Cody threw his shoes?” The others shook their heads. “Me neither. Not those kind of dreams, anyway. It’s spooky, how we all were in each other’s dreams like that. You think we’ll have more?”
“Why don’t you ask Cody?” Sheldon said, without the leer. “All the grownups think he knows everything about the trucks.”
“That’s just dumb,” Caitlin said. “Why would he know more than anyone else? I mean, he’s smart and all, but he didn’t make ’em.”
“Hey,” said Ben, “here comes Jason.”
Jason looked over the gardening crew: all five kids, Cody and Sondra, Tim and Sara, Palmer and Stefan, and Kelly as the only singleton over age ten. The kids and teens were regulars, pulling gardening duty three days a week as a break from more traditional schooling; the adults were volunteering. Sondra divided her time between gardening and learning what Rita taught about first aid; Johnny was helping Rita as well, but he smiled as he thought about Johnny’s true intentions there. Of all of them, only Jason and Johnny did any gardening before the Truckalypse, but the others were learning. “Anyone remember the motto?”
“Nothing goes to waste,” Ashley said.
“That’s right,” Jason replied. “You pull a weed, or a dead plant, it goes in the compost. If we were mowing grass, it would go too. But we’re gonna be raking leaves pretty soon. Why is that important?”
After a moment, Kelly spoke up: “Grass clippings, weeds, and leaves provide carbon. Kitchen scraps provide nitrogen. You need both to make compost.”
“Right. So why is compost important?”
“It’s like…” Sheldon twirled a finger in a circle. “Stuff comes out of the ground — uh, the soil — and compost puts it back in.”
“That’s not the whole story, but it’s good enough,” Jason smiled at the kids. “And it’s nutrients that come out of the soil, in the food we grow. Well, let’s get started.”
Jason watched the crew, moving from group to group to check on their progress and thinking about how much work they would have to do next year. Even with Ben’s confidence about foraging, and Johnny Latimer’s stated intent to “do some huntin’ now that it’s cooler,” growing enough food — and more important, enough nutrition — was going to take more effort than any of them realized. Before, barely six weeks ago, a crop failure in the garden was a disappointment and meant a few extra trips to the grocery store. A year from now, it might mean starvation and some hard decisions…
Especially with mating couples forming up. Palmer and Stefan couldn’t reproduce, but Jason figured that Cody and Sondra — not to mention Sara and Tim — would be expecting before the winter was out. Johnny and Rita too, if Johnny had anything to say about it. A new generation would be important, but feeding them would be just as important.
“What’s this?” Lily said, picking up something soft from under a tree.
Jason looked it over, then looked up at the tree. “Oh… a persimmon tree,” he said. “It’s a fruit, but you have to wait for a frost before you eat them, or they’ll be really sour. We’ll probably have a frost in the next week or so. Good find — and a good reminder to not look just at the ground. I’ll bet there’s an apple tree or two around, too.”
Lily picked up another persimmon and sniffed. “They smell good,” she said. “What can you do with them?”
“Most people make preserves with them. I guess you could make a pie too, but I’ve never heard of anyone doing that.”
“Oh.” She ran to join the other kids in the garden.