Gather around the fire for a little story…

After a relatively mild December, January brought snow and colder weather. As hubby harvested beautiful veggies from the greenhouse beneath a blanket of snow, it reminded me of a speculative fiction story I wrote when I took the Sci Fi I class from Gotham Writer’s Workshop in 2010. It’s a story that my classmates loved and led to my being asked by Russell James to be a part of the Minnows Literary Group.

Today, I’m sharing this story with you as a New Year’s gift. 🙂

kale over-wintering in the greenhouse

A Dream of Midsummer Day
© 2010, Teresa Robeson

Used to be the seed catalogues start arriving in November, or sometimes as early as October. Those companies knew gardeners champ at the bit for spring planting even as the last of the fall crops were being harvested. 

I flip through old copies of Johnny’s Select Seeds and the Territorial Seed Company catalogues, my favorites of the lot, both pretty worn from my enthusiastic thumbing. My wife teases me that I’ve already committed all the pages to memory.

This year, I dream of eggplants. The bottom-heavy Black Kings, though perfect for eggplant parmesan, are too pithy for my tastes. I like the sleek, sexy lines of Machiaw. I tell Lydia they remind me of her. She replies that she likes Twinkle because the name makes her think of my eyes, and the mottling reminds her of my age-spotted hands. I smile.

“What about you, sweetheart? What are you dreaming of for this year?” I ask.

Lydia blows into her hands and rubs them together. She stares out the window at the snowflakes swirling in a manic, modern dance.

“I dream of popcorn this year,” she says at last. “We’ve not had popcorn in so long.”

“No,” I say. “We haven’t.”

She turns some pages in Territorial. “Early Pink would be nice. Look, it has a short growing season.”

I put my hand on hers but play along. “How about Miniature Blue?” I point to the variety in the Johnny’s catalogue. “Such a deep, velvety indigo, yet pops out white instead of blue.”

Lydia studies them, then glances at the next page. “Ornamental corn. I can’t believe anyone would waste time and energy to grow something just for looks.”

I shake my head. “Incomprehensible.”

Lydia gets up and pulls on another sweater. “Do you want a cup of tea?” she asks.

“Sure, thanks.”

“Mint or nettle?”

“Earl Grey” leaps to the tip of my tongue out of years of habit, but I bite it back. Instead I say, “Mint sounds great.”

“There’s a bit of valerian left if you want some.”

“It’s all right, sweetheart. You save that for your bedtime drink.”

Lydia takes the kettle to the back door, opens it just wide enough to scoop up some snow that had drifted and piled next to the house. She quickly closes the door and puts the kettle on top of our trusty old Napoleon woodstove, purchased a mere twelve years ago. It seems like a lifetime.

“Happy woodstove-buying anniversary,” I joke. “I bet you don’t remember shopping for it.”

Lydia pulls out a mug for my tea. “As if I could forget even if I tried. The sales clerk must have thought we were insane to argue about the HearthStone Phoenix versus the Napoleons for half a day!”

“We were discussing, not arguing,” I say. “I think he was worried we’d keep them from closing shop on time.”

“I never saw someone so relieved when we finally bought the expensive model.” She smiles at me and pinches some dried mint leaves into the mug. “I also remember being completely baffled when you first brought home that Countryside magazine.”

“And when you left the house without a word, I thought you were going to get a divorce lawyer,” I say, chuckling. “Instead, you came home with an armload of books about homesteading.”

“I had my doubts about your sanity and the whole back-to-nature, self-sufficiency idea.” She wraps her arms around my shoulders. “I’m glad you coaxed the country girl in me to come out.”

I kiss her arm. “You weren’t so glad when we processed our first chicken.”

Lydia breaks into her beautiful laughter that I don’t hear often of late. She laughs so hard, she has to dab at her eyes with the back of her hand. “I thought our headless-wonder rooster was going to keep running forever!”

“Then I got my hand stuck inside of it while eviscerating,” I add in a tone of mock injury. 

“That’s your excuse for me doing the gutting from then on,” Lydia teases me.

The kettle sings, and I get up to pour the water. “I plead guilty.”

“But you do the beheading for which I’m grateful.” She shudders. Even after over a decade of homesteading, the killing part bothers her.

It feels good to reminisce to the more innocent days, the better days. I raise my cup of tea. “A toast to us and our surviving this off-the-grid adventure.”

She lifts her mug and tilts it toward me. “Surviving…” she trails off. “Speaking of the chickens, we should go check for eggs and close up for the day.”

I get up. “I’ll go. My tea’s still too hot to drink.”

“Thanks, honey.”

I pull on my parka, slipping the hood over my head which is rapidly losing what little graying insulation it has, and trudge over to the chicken house. 

We call the chicken house “Fort Knox.” It was a detached garage once, but we reinforced it over the years with 2x6s, metal siding, and double-paned windows barred with galvanized poultry wire. Our priority is to keep several steps ahead of the clever raccoons that are as interested in the chickens as we are. Keeping ahead has the added bonus of an occasional greasy meal of raccoon meat.

The girls, alerted by the sound of the turning locks, run toward me, making throaty chicken noises. They probably expect more of the greenhouse chickweed I threw in for them this morning. Dude raises his frill and does his rooster stomp. He’s four years old, and still sees us as a threat to his flock supremacy. We’ll need to keep more than one rooster alive next time one of the hens hatches out a brood. If anything happens to Dude in the meantime, we are in trouble.  

I collect four eggs, our main source of protein, and bid the girls a good night. The belligerent rooster attacks my boots as a parting shot.

I stop by the storehouse on my way back to double-check that it’s also locked up. It’s as fortified as the chicken house since it holds our root crops, canned goods, and seed bank. Collecting seeds is such a fussy task and I am not fond of doing it. I’m thankful Lydia has more patience and does a good job. Since we started homesteading early enough before the Impact, we have a decent supply, adequate for another decade, maybe two – through even rougher spots perhaps, and, Mother Nature willing, through better times. We’ll never have a summer long enough to grow popcorn, but we should have food for a long while.

I close the door tightly behind me, and stare at the sky. The thinning clouds reveal a late afternoon sun, pale and tiny like a sesame seed, through the haze. The day the Earth shook beneath our feet, reminding us of our precarious place in space, was the day the sun began to shrink, slowly and steadily, as we drift ever farther. Here in the secluded hills of what once had been northern Kentucky, we await with hope the forty days or so of relative warmth each year to replenish our food supply. 

The seed catalogues used to arrive in November, but they haven’t arrived for the past five years…and they never will.

If you’ve enjoyed this story, then you might to check out my other stories in the anthologies published by the Minnows Literary Group. Every penny earned goes to Doctors Without Borders!

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  1. Pingback: The Power of Negative Thinking | Teresa Robeson

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