Planting Seeds

She pauses in her slow crawl along the furrow that must yield beans, and wipes a dirty hand across her face. She squints skyward. The jets are in formation again. Practice. It must be practice. Please be just practice. She braces as the rush of the planes’ noise hits her.

She pulls a handful of purslane, an overbearing weed that in years past has been left to wilt between rows. Now she must look at it differently, consider it before tossing it aside. It’s listed as edible in her newly purchased survival book. She nibbles a leaf, tasting the green and the grit. Swallowing bitterly, she looks up again, this time at the sun. This spring is hotter than it’s ever been. Thirst prickles her throat, but waste not, want not fills her mind, overrides desire. There’s so much waste these days. She eyes the distant shade and calculates how long the beloved trees would burn for heat, for light, for primitive life. Ration everything, reuse everything. Question everything.

The baby sleeps in the playpen in the cool comfort the trees now provide. She has no concept yet of public education being destroyed around her, of the future slipping away in stolen choices, of men in suits deciding what’s appropriate for her.

Daddy’s out behind the barn, sweating, swearing at the old tractor. It’s hard for a union man to sit idle. What’s disgusting? Union busting. The phrase has stuck since they protested, way back, before everything even more damaging happened, is happening. There is so much damage, it’s hard to keep track.

The dog stands under the clothesline: jumpy, guarding, waiting, soaking up his people’s anxiety, biting his fur.

Drivers can’t see her, can’t see this secret patch of dirt that may become her salvation or her grave, the bounty that sustains them or the lure that brings the looters, the thieves, the violence.

She freezes as a car passes on the road, invisible from where she kneels. It’s something she wouldn’t have noticed before, but now it sounds like a threat. Drivers can’t see her, can’t see this secret patch of dirt that may become her salvation or her grave, the bounty that sustains them or the lure that brings the looters, the thieves, the violence. Should it come to that. She thinks it will.

Friends have already left, seeking peace and stability across borders, while borders are still things that can be crossed. Others hunker down, assert their right to be here and increase their vigilance. Lock the doors, avert their eyes, zip their lips, pull close their hijabs, lower their rainbow flags, cringe as Confederate ones go up, squeeze their eyes tight as the loud trucks go by, slowly, slowly, taking liberties. Empowered, self-righteous patriots leave tattered Stars and Stripes unilluminated, out in the rain.

The sale of underground bunkers is at an all-time high. Hide or escape now, friends, now, before the walls go up. Go where? Where will there be air to breathe? Water to keep the blood flowing? Food to nourish? The whole damned planet teeters in the tiny hands of he who is the most unstable.

“What of the bears slaughtered while they sleep in their caves? The clear-cut forests?” She speaks quietly now. The seeds don’t answer. “What of the wolf pups, gassed in their dens?”

She pulls her sun hat close to her eyes, looks down at her sweat-stained shirt: RESIST. “God help me, I’m trying.”

Like the jet pilots, she too has been learning, practicing. Practicing how to survive. Collecting rain, buying matches, scoping targets. Practicing simple tasks by firelight: baking, mending, stitching together what they have, deciding what they can keep. Learning to see in the dark. She can’t replicate modern marvels like refrigeration, transportation, communication. Connection.

Since November she’s been heaving the axe, choking on smoke, inhaling ash, burning inside. Summoning the spirits of those who came before, who survived and created today. Can she do the same for tomorrow? Looking around at all the potential, she must believe she can.

With anxious eyes on the sky, she will teach herself to can, to dry, to preserve. To preserve tomatoes and dignity, to conserve spinach and freedom of expression, to serve us, we the people. We’ve been served all right. With corruption, disruption, broken oaths, stupid slogans, dangerous jingoism, red hats, fault lines. “You work for us, you son of a bitch,” she yells toward the east.

We’ve been served all right. With corruption, disruption, broken oaths, stupid slogans, dangerous jingoism, red hats, fault lines.

There are more fighters overhead. Friend or foe? It was never a consideration before. Neither was the daily unease, the fear gnawing her guts. It’s not hard to imagine a mushroom cloud up there, then the fallout, the gritty remains of the Eastern seaboard drifting down. But she’s only trained for tornadoes. Will the sirens go off when he pushes the button? When keystrokes and insults aren’t enough and juvenile leaders trade nuclear warheads like inconsequential playthings, as if someone can win? What then?

Then she’ll grab the baby, call the dog, clutch her husband’s hand and hold on to all the pieces as tightly as she can. Together they will throw open the Dorothy doors and dive into the cellar. There they’ll settle among the bottles of tap water, his liquor bottles that she refills. They will huddle together among the embarrassingly insufficient store-bought cans of corn and peaches and try in vain to comfort the dog, stop the crying, jostle for space in what will become their tomb.

She adds a pinch of compost, covers the seeds as gently as she can. Hope for survival lays in the dirt, multihued and fragile and dormant, biding its time, gathering strength. It hardly looks like a victory garden right now.

But isn’t that the way hope grows? From darkness, from underground, subversive, after the shit has been brought to light and cast about?

She wipes sweat from her eyes, stands tall, and looks around her. Barren dirt has become ground sown with promise. She grabs the hoe. Plans for tomorrow. Starts a new row. Wait. Just you wait and see.

 

Jill Kiesow writes fiction and poetry, and has pieces in The Matador Review, Ariel Chart, and 50-Word Stories. She is a longtime vegan and animal advocate, has worked at a shelter, and currently volunteers for a dog rescue. She and her husband, precocious toddler, rescued cats, and adopted shelter-dogs live in rural Wisconsin.