A Way Through the Dark

Bree lay on the ground, head aching, as they talked over her. She hated those pious cows. Why had they brought her outside? She wanted another bottle of vodka, not rescuing.

“I’m still not sure why you’re doing it,” said Denna Kinjiun, the resident elderly busy-body, talking to someone Bree couldn’t see.

“I know,” that someone replied. Ann Teranu, cast in much in the same mould as her friend Denna. “But what else have we got but work and hoping the sun still rises?”

Their voices were like thunder in Bree’s head. “Don’t want the sun to rise,” she mumbled. If the sun didn’t rise so much, they wouldn’t be living under a dome in one of the new deserts, for God’s sake.

Ann bent down and glared at her. “We made you coffee. It might improve your mood.” She placed a mug on the ground, just out of Bree’s reach.

Screw fake instant coffee. She didn’t want anything.

“It’s a good start, I suppose,” Denna said.

Bree opened her eyes a little more. They were in some kind of garden: a tiny version of what went on in the food domes. Big whoop. She cared more about what was going on inside her stomach, which was rumbling dangerously. She sat up. Perhaps the coffee was a good idea.

Anna must’ve noticed her queasy expression because she kicked a bucket over to her. “Be sick in that if you must.”

Bree swallowed tentatively and looked around. Ann had dug over the unused bare land behind the block of flats that was their home. She’d rigged up some raised beds from broken crates. Stolen the soil most likely. What was the point? Nothing appeared to be growing yet.

“Why did you bring me here?” Bree asked. She wanted to sleep in a silent, very dark room.

“We found you flat-out in the hallway this morning,” Denna said. “The work enforcers are making rounds. We told them you’re off sick, but if they see you, they’ll breathalyse you. You’ll be thrown outside this dome you hate so much and made to work on the new desalination plant. Your skin will burn up, your throat will close up, and chances are you’ll die of sunstroke before the project is close to done. I’d have left you to it, but Ann thought there might be another way.”

“Which is?” Bree stared at them both.

“Hide back here for the day, and appreciate what we do have,” Ann said, holding her arms out. “Help us build something better.”

Bree shrugged. “But we have food. Okay, so it’s mostly soybeans, but we get by. Why waste energy on growing more?”

Ann sighed. “I’m not growing fruit or veg. We don’t need it.”

“What do we need?”

Denna pulled at Ann’s arm. “Don’t tell her. She won’t understand. I don’t think I understand to be honest, and I’m four times her age.”

Ann shrugged Denna off and kneeled by one of the beds. She pointed at a small green shoot that Bree hadn’t noticed before. “It’s a flower, or it will flower eventually. You wouldn’t believe what the seeds cost me.”

Before Bree could respond, the bell rang. Afternoon shift for the elderly, who were granted mornings off. End of lunch for everyone else.

The old ladies turned to go. Ann shouted behind her, “Make yourself comfortable!”

Soon enough Bree was left alone with a clouded view of the sky, their stale recycled air and the tiny would-be flower.

A thought came to her. The sort of thought you shouldn’t have. The sort where you imagine pressing a red button, cutting your finger on a knife, or setting fire to a garden that was never needed in the first place. They hadn’t taken her empty vodka bottle away. It wouldn’t take much to angle it right, for the sun’s rays to magnify through it. She could burn the whole garden down.

Or she could go home and find another bottle. She could drink the rest and then climb through the Lock into the Outdoors. She could bake into unconsciousness, join her husband in the afterlife if there was one, escape into nothingness if there wasn’t.

There were many reasons she’d turned to the vodka the night before, and they hadn’t gone away just because some busy-bodies saw fit to drag her into a pretend garden. She was used to the gloom inside her. Almost liked it.

The garden was bright and uncomfortable.

She stared at the plant.

It was the one thing they didn’t need. Something new to look after that would never contribute. Something that would require feeding but would never give them food. Something that would require tender care but would never care back. Big whoop.

And yet …

… Didn’t it mean something, for a flower to thrive where it shouldn’t? Despite everything? That beauty could exist, that life always found a way, that maybe things were never as bad as they seemed?

Bree wasn’t sure, but she felt like someone had shone a torch into that darkest place of her heart, on all the cracks and breaks. It felt good, like a sliver of something positive had found its way into her.

She wasn’t healed. But in time she might be. The possibility was better than the nothing she had felt before, and all she’d done was stare at a dumb plant.

By the time Ann came back, hours later, Bree was on her hands and knees, tidying up the borders on the beds.

“You stayed,” she said softly. “Do you feel better for it?”

“My head still hurts,” Bree said, which she blamed mostly on the vodka and only a bit on the women who’d dragged her into the garden that morning. “But I feel a little lighter.”

“Then there’s hope,” Ann replied.

For herself? For the garden? For the community? Bree shrugged and went back to work. “Yeah. I guess there’s hope.”

The sun would set later and the next day it would rise again, and for the first time in a long time, Bree was okay with that.

© Helen French

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