“Do you think we can trade in some of these old books at the marketplace during your two days off?” Pappy asked. “It would be nice to find something new to read.”
“I don’t see why not,” I replied. “Have you picked out some books that you want to use for trade.” Pappy grabs a few books from the stack next to his chair and brings them over to the table for me to inspect.
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. Pappy had charged through the house with a broom handle (a makeshift sword) in his hand as he reenacted a scene during a retelling of this story. I had cried when he told how the Witch had slain Aslan and cheered when Edmund had been rescued.
“This book has many good memories, Pappy. Are you sure you want to part with it?”
“It is time sweet pea,” he replied. “All good things must come to an end. But always remember that their endings are merely the beginnings of a new adventure. I have read these stories more times than I can count.” Pappy picks up the next book in the stack—The Iliad of Homer. “I have experienced the lives and trials of the characters written between these bindings. I fought alongside Achilles during the Trojan war. I felt his pain when Hector killed Patroclus.”
Pappy picks up the next book. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. “I had tea with Alice and sat beside the March Hare at Hatter’s table listening to the rantings of the Dormouse.” He puts that book down and grabs another from the stack.
Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare. “I fell in love with a Capulet and sought revenge for Mercutio’s untimely death.” Pappy sets the book down on the table. “I have lived their lives many times and many times more. It is time for me to let go so others can experience the joys of their adventures.” Pappy smiles widely with a glint in his eye. “Besides, the market might offer a new adventure these old bones. Maybe we can find a book about Paris or about pirates. I have always wanted to travel the open seas with Blackbeard and experience the life of an aristocrat. Who knows what we will find.”
“A new adventure. We will find a new adventure, Pappy.”
“Yes,” Pappy replied before opening the door for me. “You are going to be late. You should hurry along.” Grabbing my lunch from the table, I kissed Pappy on the cheek and headed out the door towards the nursery. It has been six weeks since my last relief time. I am looking forward to spending my two days off with Pappy. Shopping at the marketplace will be fun. Who knows? Maybe I will find something for myself alongside Pappy’s new books.
The day continued like any other. The whistle blew for lunch and I ate alone on the rooftop, looking out over the city. Dark clouds rolled in the distance. Another storm was coming. Hopefully, it would not rain until after I get back home.
Walking home in the rain is not something I am fond of. If I had an umbrella to keep my clothes from getting soaked, that would be nice. But as it is, I traded my only umbrella for a handful of summer squash from one of our neighbors. The food rations seemed to be getting smaller as the harvest season draws to an end.
Val worked on a row of tomatoes while I weeded and harvested green beans from an adjoining line. The nursery has many lines of vegetables, each in their own raised beds. Row after row, we tend and harvest crops for the Consulate. They take the best of the harvest and divide what is left into rations for the lower class.
The air inside the nursery is humid and thick with the smell of plants and dirt. Sweat fell from my brow and I wiped it away with the sleeve of my shirt. Plucking another green bean from the vine, I placed it into the basket at my side. My nails were caked with dirt and I smelled of sweat and earth, but I couldn’t complain.
Work for humanity’s preservation.
That’s what the Consulate would have us believe we are doing. I don’t know if I believe that. It is more like we are working to maintain the life of luxury the Consulate enjoys. But working in the nursery, using my own two hands to grow the food that could feed a hungry child of the lower class, that is a job worth doing. Children are precious, pitiful for being born into the city, their plights already drawn for them, but precious because they are children—gifts from God.
“Hey,” Val whispered as she moved closer to me down the aisle so as not to be heard by the boss. He walks across the catwalk above our heads keeping an ever-present eye on all of us workers below. “What are you going to do during your relief time?”
“Pappy wants to get some new books,” I replied. Boss Gage glanced in our direction but continued his circle around the catwalk. “I think we will spend most of the first day at the market.”
“Your Pappy and his books,” Val whispered through a laugh. “You could fill a closet with as many books as your Pappy owns.” Pappy does have a lot of books. Stacks among stacks line the walls of our small apartment. But his happiness is my happiness. If books can make him happy then I am more than willing to get them for him. Gage turned and circled back down the catwalk in our direction. Val and I placed our heads down and focused on the job we are doing hoping that we weren’t discovered.
“Hey, you, what are you doing?” Boss Gage called from the catwalk above causing Val and me to jump. We both looked up to see the boss’s menacing gaze. His brown eyes can pierce through a person’s soul. He is no different than the Consulate, always thinking he is better than the rest of us. We are the peasants in his kingdom (the nursery) and mean no more to him than an insect under his shoe. “Stop gabbing and focus on your row or else don’t expect to go home when the last bell rings.”
Staying after the last bell is not something either of us wants to do. It is hard enough trying to get home before the sun goes down.
The rest of the day continued on as normal. Dropping my last basket of beans at the turn in, I noticed Val still had not finished her line. It won’t be long until the last bell rings. Grabbing an empty basket from the stack, I returned to help Val finish her line. She looked up at me from the bottom of a rather large tomato plant. Dirt was smeared on her face and sweat fell from her brow as she continued to weed and harvest her row.
Dropping the basket at the end of the row, I started to work my way towards her. Boss Gage made another round above us but did not say anything as I help Val to finish her work. It doesn’t take long before Val and I are close enough to speak to each other without boss Gage seeing.
“Thanks for the help,” Val said as she wiped away a bead of sweat from her brow. Her fingers, like my own, are caked in dirt and grime.
“That’s what friends are for,” I replied. “Do you have anything left after this?”
“I still need to spread fertilizer,” Val replied pointing to the stacked bags of fertilizer sitting at the end of the row.
“Go ahead and move on to that. I will finish up here.”
Val smiled widely and pushed herself up off her knees. “You are the best, Pheebs.”
“I know,” I replied. “Don’t tell anyone. It’s our little secret.” Val covered her mouth with her hand as she quietly laughed.
“You two finished talking yet,” boss Gage called down from the catwalk above. I jumped as I had not noticed that he was watching us. “It doesn’t bother me if you want to stay here after the last bell, but don’t expect me to stay with you. I have other things I need to do than babysit you two after hours.”
“Yes boss,” I replied. “We will be done by the last bell. Don’t worry.”
“Who’s worried? Who could possibly worry over two nothings like you?” Gage turned on his heel and continued down the catwalk finishing his circle.
His words echoed in my ears as his footsteps moved further away. Who could possibly worry over two nothings like you? Two nothings. Even if we are nothing, there are still people that would and do worry about us. I have my pappy and Val has Danny, her younger brother. Since Val’s parents died, she has taken care of Danny on her own. Without us, our families would be cast out of the city walls. We are nothing to most, but we are something to them.
I turn back to the row and pluck another weed from the soil.
Val’s screamed. At the end of the row, Val laid on the floor with several bags of fertilizer pinning her legs to the floor.
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