Thursday, February 9, 2017

Rooftop Garden

"Why is it always kale?" she said, biting into the dull, rubbery leaf.

Her mother sighed across the table, "You know why."

"You know why," she repeated in a mocking tone, staring at the bland vegetable in her hand. "This hearty super food will be the savior of the world," she continued, gaining volume. "Solve hunger! Cure scurvy!" She raised the leaf high into the air. "If only the little ones will eat it!"

"If only you would eat it," Micah tossed a piece of kale at her face, "and stop talking to it."

Mira deflated, bringing the kale back to her mouth for another life-saving bite. "I'm not talking to it." She said, chewing thoughtfully. "I'm talking about it. To it's face." Mom tried not to smile. "It's a very bold thing to do."

Micah leaned forward, shoving an entire leaf, stem and all, into his mouth. "I'm sure it is." He stared at her, chewing slowly.

Rolling her eyes, Mira took another small bite. "I feel like a cow."

"W-what?" her mother stuttered. The smile had broken through. "How do you know what a cow is?"

"I barely remember cows," Micah rose from the table. "They were big and smelled bad."

"Oh, so you had a lot in common?"

"Mira," mom scolded.

"Ha, ha," Micah tried to turn away, hiding the way the corners of his mouth quirked up in amusement. Mira watched him take exactly half a cup of water from the dispenser.

"Cows would chew their food until it was a kind of paste in their mouths," Mira continued. "Then they would swallow it. They called it cud."

Mom scoffed, "What a gross-sounding word: Cud."

"Sounds accurate to me. It is gross," Mira shoved the remainder of her kale into her mouth and rose to leave the table.

Her mother caught her arm, "Hold up! I've got someone coming to see the gardens tonight."

Micah looked up sharply, "Tonight? Why?"

"Who?" Mira sat back down.

She looked steadily at both of her children. "The Johnson family."

Shoulders relaxing, Mira exhaled a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding. The Johnsons go way back. To the Time Before.

"Huh," Micah turned back to the window. "What for?"

"Well," mom picked at the frayed sleeves of her sweater. The soft gray one. Her warmest one. "I want them to know how to take care of it."

Mira could practically feel Micah's eyebrows raising. "Mom..."

"The fighting is getting worse," she ran her hand over the well-worn surface of the table.

Dropping his cup into the sink, Micah scoffed, "The fighting's always been bad--"

"Not like this," mom said sharply. "Your father says unrest is growing in the city. There's been more looting, more riots, more..." she waved a hand in air, searching for the right word. "Crime. It's growing. We may need to leave."

"The travel ban," Mira said weakly.

Mom shook her head, "There are ways around that. Your dad's working on it."

"I'm almost 18." Micah spoke with such finality Mira didn't know whether to burst into tears or give him a hug. So she did neither.

Mom spoke slowly and quietly, staring at the table. "They can't have what they can't find, Mikey."

Micah's jaw moved, chewing his words much like a cow chews cud. "Even if dad found a way for me to miss the draft, someone would see me, guess at my age and have me recruited and you in prison before you can say, 'Mira's an orphan'."

Whoa. Mira's eyebrows shot up. Things just got real.

Staring hard at her son, mom said, "I know the risks. I'm willing to take them if it means you stay out of harm's way."

Micah laughed mirthlessly, storming from the room, "Look around, mom, no one's outta harm's way."

They heard him pound down the stairs and open the front door. It slammed behind him.

Mira cleared her throat, standing from the table. She helped her mom clean up breakfast, wiping out each cup with a cloth. She placed leftover kale leaves into resealable plastic bags. Humming the Presidential March, she placed the bags of kale into old repurposed T-shirts.

A blast of frigid air hit them as mom opened the window. "Please sing something else," she said to Mira, taking the old T-shirts. Mira hummed the Youth League Motto. Leaning out the window, mom secured the shirts on hooks as quickly as possible, carefully closing the window when done. She turned a sad smile on her daughter, "You really need a music education. You can't learn that in those books."

Mira rolled her eyes, turning to leave.

"Tonight," her mom said. "I need your help tonight. With the Johnson family. Please be back as early as you can."

"I'll be there," Mira assured her, leaving the kitchen. She grabbed her backpack from the hall table as she made her way out the door for school.

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