Ravyne’s Nest
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Ravyne’s Nest

SHORT FICTION | SAD CHALLENGE

The People’s Garden

Short Fiction for StoryADay in September — Day 3

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Kierra enters the gates of the People’s Garden for the first time in eighteen months. She’s delighted with the work the professional gardeners have done while the rest of the co-op members were on lockdown. She’d been apprehensive about hiring them, but according to city ordinances, only licensed workers were allowed to work throughout the ordeal. Now, she knows they’d collectively made the right decision. The professionals have done a wonderful job — fruits, vegetables and herbs had been distributed via churches and community centers safely during the pandemic and the flowers had served their purpose at funerals for those they’d lost throughout the entire city over those long, tragic months.

With basket in hand, she strolls along the cobblestone path — raised beds of fresh herbs and vegetables dot the grounds to the left of her, while fresh fruit trees and flowers line the grounds to the right. Tomorrow, the garden will be turned back over to the co-op members. As she bends over to pick some tomatoes, Kierra smiles at the thought. Her hands itch to get back into the soil. Standing upright, she spots one of her neighbors and they exchange waves and pleasantries.

No one had expected the co-op to survive. No one except the members who’d poured their hard-earned money and time into it. The city council had laughed at them when they’d applied for their permits.

She recalls one council member saying, “I’ll give it a month and then we’ll pave over that plot of land you’ve purchased when the bank takes it back.”

They’d not only survived though. They’d thrived. What produce the members didn’t consume themselves was sold locally to grocery stores or given to soup kitchens. Somehow, money always streamed in to keep the garden running.

This is what life is all about, Kierra thinks as she finishes gathering her produce for dinner.

I cringe when the bell rings and look down at my basket. Not enough. It’s never enough these days.

“Time’s up! Out with the lot of you!”

I walk over to the weigh station and hand my basket to the clerk. She places it on the scale, removes a third of my produce and hands the basket back to me.

“You know better, Kierra. This is the second violation in a week. One more and I will have to report you.”

I nod at her and walk toward the exit. Tears well up in my eyes as I stare up at the sign above the gate. Ironically, it still says People’s Garden, but the once shinny brass letters are now tarnished and some of the letters are missing, although their phantoms can still be seen. It now reads Pole’s Gard.

How fitting.

I walk up to the guard station and hand a guard my badge. He takes it and scans it. As he hands it back to me, he taps a button on the console.

“You are scheduled to work at 0700 tomorrow. Don’t be late — again,” he says as he waves me out.

I exit the gate and walk past the sea of people waiting to enter for their shift. Eight hours of back-bending toil for one pound of produce. Gardener’s choice. I laugh at that notion. It’s not much of a choice if you have a family to raise.

I glance down at my basket — one small potato, a bunch of spinach, a carrot and an onion. They wouldn’t even let me keep the half-rotten acorn squash that would have given body to the stew I plan to make for dinner.

“Any peaches left, lovie?”

I turn to old Millie and shake my head. “All gone.”

“Damn, would’ve gone good with the cream I saved from yesterday.”

Old Millie is one of the lucky ones. Her son works at the dairy farm. She gets a pint of cream and a half-stick of butter a day, or a small chunk of cheese. It’s been nearly five years since we’ve had any dairy in our diet. At least my husband works at the granary. I just hope he remembers to bring home rice tonight instead of hops.

Jack will bring home the hops. He brought home barely last night and hid it. He is desperate for beer.

As I round the corner to my block, my mind wanders over the events of the last ten years. It had all started out innocently enough, hadn’t it? We thought we’d beaten the pandemic. Life had returned to normal, or whatever that meant. No new cases. No deaths. And the People’s Garden flourished again. We’d just finished the Autumn harvest and were getting the grounds ready for winter when the pandemic returned — this time worse than before. We’d been smart that first year. We’d spent months canning and preserving everything we could. We’d made it through the first winter, although the loss of life had been tremendous. Each year the pandemic grew more deadly. The vaccines rarely worked. Fewer and fewer people showed up to work the garden or anywhere else for that matter. We’d all become a burden so by the fifth season, the state took over everything — the gardens, dairy farms, granaries, butcheries — to ensure everyone got fed, but there was a catch. If you didn’t work in the state-run operations, you didn’t eat.

As I enter the small apartment that I share with my husband and three kids, I let out a deep sigh. It had all happened so slowly that I didn’t see it coming until it was already here — we are all literally boiled frogs — and Jack is brewing beer.

©2021 Lori Carlson. All Rights Reserved.

I am participating in Julie Duffy’s StoryADay in September. Today’s prompt is by Matthew Salesses

This prompt comes from thinking about point of view and you could use it to write the whole story in two parts.

For the first part create a character who does something that you did during that week: e.g. go to the grocery store and you buy oranges. now. Now write about it in the third-person perspective and fictionalize it.

In the second part move your story 10 years into the future. Change perspective to make it a first person perspective. And it turns out that that non-momentous moment from your life (e.g. going to the super supermarket and buying oranges) ended up being extremely important to this character.

Don’t forget to include how the world has changed from 10 years ago to now and how the character’s world has changed, how they think of the world, and how they move through the world differently.

Lori Carlson writes Poetry, Fiction, Articles, Creative Non-Fiction and Personal Essays. Most of her topics are centered around Relationships, Spirituality, Life Lessons, Mental Health, Nature, Loss, Death, and the LGBTQ+ community. Check out her personal Medium blog here.

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Ravyne Hawke

Writing Coach, Poet, Fiction Writer, Essayist, Artist, Dreamer | “Enlightenment is when a wave realizes it is the Ocean” ~Thich Nhat Hanh