This morning I was feeling some angst and guilt because I have not been able to write or blog every day. Then, I realized, I just have to write in any gaps I can, again. Even with all the time constraints and increased activity, I am being faithful about writing before blogging or going on social media, which can be a huge time sucker; it takes discipline, but the work flows better. The writing also heals my soul a little bit or adds some needed armor because creativity is a great dose to social stupidity. In short, writing, even just a page (which is what I produced today) makes me happy, clunky and embryonic as the work may be.
I was also thinking about how as an organizer I have gotten so busy on every front, and then, I was like, “Duh, that’s because the current political situation is making people get active and participate more.” That need leads to more meetings, more planning, and more actions. This weekend, I am working on my PowerPoint for my students on the Alternative Facts. Other speakers are coming to talk about the Standing Rock situation and the military force used against protesters, and a final speaker will talk about the next steps for activism, in short what will create an America that includes you, not just a ruthless elite.
The talk is called: Alternative Facts, State Terrorism, and Building a New America (That Includes You)
I added that last part in the parenthesis, but may take it out, depending on the other speakers' input.
We will see how many people show up. My students often complain that there are no evening, events, and if it goes well, we will keep the discussions up. I do think there is a need to have a continued conversation about what is going on, regardless of where people are on the political spectrum. There is a huge vacuum that is being filled by garbage fake news or no discussion at all.
This morning, as ever, our household is very busy. We have a belated birthday party for my son today with a few friends, and I have to put the party favor sacks together. I also have a lot of grading to do, and of course, the house needs to be cleaned. I started with the bathroom, kitchen, floors, and hope to sort out the living room, which is a kid disaster zone. It won’t last, but it feels good to get the house looking relatively welcoming, if only for a few days. But, in all this tornado of fun, I always have my writing in mind, even if it's a peek, or the ideas are in the shadows. I guess that's the reason old school writers still carry a little notebook around. Not a bad habit to jot ideas down.
I usually end with a personal writing goal. This week that meta is to get feedback from the editor of my short story collection Down South Where the Water Is Warm. He took a look at another one of my stories, but he hasn’t sent me the feedback yet, because he too, is busy organizing and has his own poetry gig coming up this Sunday: https://www.facebook.com/events/1829986770579351/. My other goal is to keep writing first and to spend more time writing than blogging or engaging in other social media.
Keep writing, keep resisting, and take some time to take care of details, like mopping floors. Fight fascism by doing good for your soul. #Resist, #Resist, #Resist Some More
This post is meant for the writers in my life that are getting demoralized and discouraged. Writing is resistance, and The Real Resistance needs you. (The same goes for those of you who are shutting down and don’t want to discuss all the craziness going on. Putting your head in the metaphorical sand won’t solve the problems at hand or the attacks on us.) I’m not saying writing is therapy, though it can be, but if we don’t get our ideas out, whether it’s through art or our other writing who will? They will with their fascist alternative-facts and rhetoric. Their campaign will be perpetual to get even more support for a fascist demagogue.
So, write and resist. It can’t help but be.
Enough pep talk. Well, maybe that will be an ongoing conversation from time to time, but take courage in your art.
This week, besides trying to write everyday, which as you will note the miracle that has happened yet again, (I managed to get up at 4:45a.m. to write!) I am going to write an article about my educational system. We have been under attack, and one aim is to privatize our community college system that is meant for poor and working class students.
I am supposed to do an interview for The People’s Tribune, which is long overdue. Separate from that I want to write an article because the attacks on education will only get fiercer with DeVos as Secretary of Education. We need to be prepared and inform people on what is really going on before teachers get blamed, even more than they are, and the new rulers wipe out public education and eliminate access to college for the students that need it the most. Education should be a human right, not a privilege for those who can afford to pay. That is my political writing goal for this month.
Now, back to my novel. This morning, I was working on adding some political economy into the Alan section. He encounters The Resistance, but there needs to be some dirt on the rebels. No group is ever pure, and I’m not sure what angle to take. I don’t want them to be insincere, and being ineffective isn’t enough because that isn’t’ a character flaw. But the conditions in their world are desperate, so it will have to be a justified action that they see as noble, but necessary. I’m thinking it will have to be with how they “recruit” children into their organization. We will see.
In any case, I added a couple of pages this morning. Yes, the novel is an ever-evolving draft, a third re-write from two previous attempts at this piece, and I am always open to constructive suggestions, even though once I revise the piece, it will be a very different animal. You can read the full text here: The Harvest.
Writers, keep resisting. The rest of you, keep thinking and engaging and staying informed. We need all of you in this struggle.
See the example below from political cartoonist Andy Willis who never stops:
As much as I use technology, I wasn't really familiar with the term gap time. I haven't read The Shallows, but now I want to read it, after the long list of books I want to get through. Well, I was listening to one of my spiritual CD's, and the author (whose name eludes me now) said that boredom leads to creativity.
Obviously that was, and continues, to be true for me. I have my longest escapades when I am bored, and that is when I create the best characters.
The claim made me realize that perhaps part of the reason people aren't writing long articles is because they don't give themselves time to be bored. We have so many gadgets, apps, live streaming, that if we're bored, something is wrong. People just can't seem to sit with themselves and their thoughts.
I was becoming the same way.
In fact, when I was younger, I was a T.V. addict, then a VHS addict, and now a Netlfix/Amazon/Twitter/Facebook addict. I still love to binge watch; yes, every now and then I put on the breaks, but when I binge. Whoo. Does any of it make me a better writer or human being? Not necessarily.
I was also recently introduced to Reddit, which many of my students mentioned. I asked them what they read, and they said Reddit, so I checked it out. There was just a bunch of random posts and videos, none of them lengthy, as far as I could see. But there were thousands of comments in some of the weirdest sections. People were engaging with these random ideas, some of them nonsensical. (No, I am not joining Reddit.)
That is just another indicator that when we write, it really has to capture the imagination of people.
So, my writing goal for this week is to spend more time making human contact (that requires talking to people in their face or on the old school phone) and writing, than being on social media. If I post, I want to at least make one good point.
The Chicago Women's March was so exciting! Here is a sign that I think captures the spirit of what went down. Oh, no pun intended.
Ironically, I discovered that I own no pink, at all, but I guess it's the spirit that counts.
Well, that is all the time I have. I did want to let folks know that I pasted the full text of my novel draft in a new tab that will have the drafts of my ongoing work, the long novels.
I hope you enjoy it, and enjoy the Resistance!
Yesterday was a heavy day of activism and Union organizing. I went around meeting my members at District, essentially our educational systems’ administrative belly of the beast where I have 100 members. Our community college system has been perpetually corporatized despite our best efforts to fight, despite my best efforts to get members organized. (Now, people are awake and doing a great job of fighting on every front.) I met with my members and touched base, and was ever glad to see them because they are so far removed from the main campus.
Later on at the our House of Representatives Union meeting, I was delighted to learn that our new slogan will be, “We are the resistance.” That slogan will be apropos for years to come, and I will embrace it wholeheartedly.
At the end of the day, I was beat, but it was that joyful exhaustion from having done meaningful work. However, that also meant I didn’t do much work on my writing, so guess what I am doing tonight?
Writing, writing, writing.
Oh, but I did make some progress. It turns out, my awesome comadre who happens to be the union grievance chair for my chapter has a teenage son who paints. I asked her to ask him if he would paint the cover of The Harvest. His artwork is so detailed, it looks like camera work. In fact, she showed me one of an industrial building, and I thought it was a color photograph. It is an acrylic painting. I hopes he says yes because I have a number of projects ahead.
That is all I have for now. I am heading off to the Women's March, and I hope to see many of you in downtown Chicago. My local will also be marching, but I will be passing out the Tribuno del Pueblo. Check the site out out. It’s a great alternative press.
Finally, tired of politics or need a short break? Check out my ongoing novel excerpt of The Harvest in the Current Work tab. Scroll down a bit, and give it a look-see. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Today and here on out, resist, resist, and resist some more. We will take our country back.
This morning social media is exploding, of course, but as I pondered the fate of the country, I was thinking about how best to present The Harvest draft to ongoing readers and my #1 reader, my little sister. There will be many days to fight in this struggle, many days ahead, so I say do what you love and makes you sane. The fight will be long and hard. Don't shut down or get stuck in a political depression: That is what they want.
So back to sharing my love. I think posting the full draft within the blog is not so helpful because it is one long stream of text, and I have a lengthy piece going, almost 100 single-spaced pages. I am going to try to play with the file insertion and see if it will paginate horizontally, instead of vertically or to post short snippets, which can be just as interesting.
However, I think the real solution is to devote a tab specifically for this novel that is flowing beautifully (except for today. I have a heavy union activism day.) For the "full" draft, check out the Current Work tab.
That is all I have because I have to go organize union members and prepare for a very long meeting this afternoon. Tomorrow, I am also going to the women's march in Chicago and need to get prepared, which means digging for my coolest shirts and thinking up funny, intellectual slogans for the poster I will be taping somewhere on my body.
I wish I could wear this image here. Don't worry Lady Liberty, America will be ours again:
Today, I taught my first creative writing class. I haven’t taught creative writing since 2008, but I wanted to teach it again since I am writing on a regular basis now. Plus, I needed the space and reason, or excuse, to read about creative writing theory, again. Working full time, running a union chapter, with two small children can often be a challenge.
In class, they did a number of activities. One of these was to have them meet each other, while I called them up to the front individually to get to know them better and to memorize their names faster. Already, there are some budding authors, but there are also the students who are struggling with serious writing challenges, the kinds of challenges that kill projects before they even start. Some students can’t produce more than a couple of sentences. Others have severe internal editors that block the flow of ideas.
I spent a good number of minutes talking to one young writer, who said the internal editor prevented him from getting any ideas out, yet he had so many. I really felt for him because I could see the desire to produce and the angst.
I essentially told him to kill that editor, metaphorically, with a large metaphorical gun. I told him that severe editing was mistimed and that he needed to save it for the end of the writing process. I gave him some exercises to do, like to write, just write, for ten minutes without stopping and grow from there. I even threw in some sage advice from Jack Hirschman, poet laureate from San Francisco, who once said to me that in order to write, I needed to “Take a pencil to paper and start writing.”
He is one of my favorite poets and translators of Latin American poets. The man is also an amazing performer, but I hope this metaphor helped this pupil. I also encouraged him neither quit nor drop my class.
All to these students have the potential to write and to love writing, and I can’t wait to read their work.
That is all I have. I have to read a number of diagnostics and evaluate them thoroughly.
Below is an excerpt from the novel I am drafting for the third time and posting in chronological order again. I am not sure if inserting a file into the blog is better than copying and pasting text. I haven’t seen the last post on my phone to see what is easier to read, and no one has really said anything, not even my #1 fan, my sister Diana. However, I did get a lot of Likes on “Little Horny Bird” from some colleagues and poets I respect. (I respect all my colleagues, but some have more street cred than others.)
Here’s to growing that love of words and helping each other along the path. (Also, way down below, I posted the YouTube of the band I listen to while I write.)
An excerpt from The Harvest: A Novel, pp. 1-20, single spaced.
The Harvest: A Novel[ME1]
My mother hands me an old gallon container; this one is grey without a filter. I look out the window and see no Red Guards on the street. No Guards means no Harvest, most of the time.
“Now, Ashley,” says my mother, as if I haven’t been doing this run since I was six years old, “Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t stay out in the sun too long. If you hear the sirens, run to the old bunker. Just last week, Mrs. Lopez’s boy was harvested right before he got to his safe spot. You can’t hide here during harvest.” Her faded grey eyes are still beautiful, and I want to trace that deep indentation with my finger, but caring too much is a sign of weakness.
“Mom,” I sigh looking at her weary face. She is leaner than I remember with ever graying hair and perpetual orange stains on her hands and face from the processing plant. Her hair is a knot over her head with nothing holding it tight but a wispy strand of her own fading hair. I want to give her a biting remark, as really, I should outrank her because I am more productive now, but instead I smile and say, “Don’t worry Mom. I’m the fastest runner in my class and besides, there was just a harvest yesterday.”
Mom hesitates like she wants to tell me something, but even plant workers are not supposed to talk about their trade, and I am always suspicious of the packing plants.
“Just be careful,” she gives me an unusually long hug, “Remember-“
I clamp my hand over her mouth like I used to as a toddler and say in a robotic tone, “ ‘Be productive. Be accountable. Be safe.’” But safe doesn’t mean from the Harvest, but dangerous anti-government ideas. I take my hand off her worried face, “I got the red ribbon again this month. I will be safe.” It’s true. I have gotten the red ribbon award for being productive, accountable, and punishing those who are not true patriots. I am safe.
I put the rest in my Current Work tab. D, let me know if you prefer that format. The blog posts were getting way too long.
(Below, the song I often listen to when I write.)
Today was the first day of the semester at the college where I work. Everything was going great, when I got a text message from my husband, “Can you borrow $100 from someone?” I knew something was up because we had paid all our big bills, so I called my husband after I was finished teaching.
He informed me that he and the baby were stranded in the church parking lot. The van had broken down and needed a fan belt or some belt. Then, I asked my closest friends, and luckily one came through. She even gave me a ride, and when we got there, the tow truck had arrived. That in itself was a whopping $95 dollars. Aaron left to the car dealership, and my friend and I took the kids.
I had already picked up my son at school and then got my daughter, before he left. We went to eat Linner (Lunch-Dinner). I figured Aaron hadn’t fed the baby a full lunch and Antonio pecked at his school lunch, as usual. Linner was awesome, and my generous friend bought it, which consisted of a range of food from hamburgers to spaghetti. We had a marvelous time and went home.
When my husband was on his way, he told us that when he got to the shop, all the mechanics inspected the vehicle. The head mechanic was shaking his head and presented Aaron with a sizable quote.
He said with a heavy sigh, “You are our favorite family, so. . .we’re going to have your van fixed right away.” They fixed it in 30 minutes, and even gave my husband quite the discount.
All that drama ended in a miracle.
Let’s just say that this weekend, those working class brothers are getting a large pot of my homemade mole and possibly a large stack of flour tortillas. I am grateful to them and grateful that my family is safe.
Today, I also finished a funny poem based on real life events. It is mostly funny, but it took a dark turn. I hope to write poetry more often because I want to rekindle that gift and frankly, not lose it. I still have an ear and appreciation for poetry, and sometimes I get into that mode. Poets who write often know what I'm talking about. The music seeps into your thoughts, and the itch to write poemas is coming back, sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic.
Enjoy it and laugh or at least chuckle. Don’t be like my tough students.
Today, will just be a short post because yesterday's novel excerpt from the The Harvest and the day before were pretty long. Really, I have to finish my syllabi, so I can enjoy the company of a new friend and her sons. She is giving me feedback on the first 70 pages of of the novel draft.
This morning I sent the editor of Down South where the Water is Warm a friendly reminder:
"Subject: Friendly Poke. Text: Give Jesu's fledgling collection 20 minutes today. Much love. --Jesú"
Hey, he asked for them. I really just need more content feedback and a fresh pair of eyes, although I am always finding typos, like the ridiculous amount of typos I found in the section I posted yesterday.
On our way to a family's house, I read the Alan excerpt out loud to my husband, and that's when I found all the little mistakes. While I read, ever so enthusiastically, my little son Antonio was eavesdropping. We were on the I-90 going north and got stuck behind a three-car accident, so I had extra time to read. (No one seemed really hurt.)
Even though the story is in a rough draft form, it read really well, so maybe my sister is right about the potential for it to be on SyFy. Ha ha ha. We both share similar tastes and biases. My son also liked it a lot, but I think the cursing was more interesting than the content.
Either way, both my boys were entertained, and my son said he liked the Alan and Strike characters. Yeah, even coming from a seven-year-old, that felt like a great compliment.
Here's to connecting with others through fiction.
I was going to write a long blog post about point of view. I hopped ahead in my sharing and decided to post the second point of view, I am working on now, which is the other main character in The Harvest, the novel I'm drafting. (He is the only main Latino in this piece, but he is vastly disconnected from his roots.)
However, as I was debating what to write, I decided the third person point of view would be OK, as long as the characters were developed well and the setting was different, at the setting will necessarily will be because Ashley will be in the belly of the beast and Alan in the margins for a time. Their pats will not cross for a long while. In general, I find switching from first to third person to be tedious and cumbersome, at least in the novels I have read where authors do this switch, but I did it on accident anyway. In fact, I didn't realize I did it until I read over the draft this morning. The past tense also bores me to no end, so both sections are in the present tense.
Like all of the posts I share, this is a draft, even though as I have written this novel numerous times. It’s a fresh rewrite with echoes of past drafts, and I like it a lot better. It's clunky and simplified, but I like where it is going.
This section focuses on the tattered revolutionaries that are not really all that effective, and Alan's awakening. Let me know what you think.
An Excerpt from The Harvest: A Novel
Before Alan’s disappearance, the streets are clear from vagabonds and stray dogs. Cats roam abundantly hissing at people who walk by because they know their place in the food chain has shifted.
Alan kicks at one when no one is looking, and he rushes down the street. If he doesn’t get home in five minutes his mother will beat him. He carries a heavy package wrapped in brown paper. It is about three feet long, and Alan doesn’t want to know what is inside because it smells like bad meat. He also carries a gallon jug of water.
The wheezing is so loud now, some people avert him with suspicious glares. I am just sick because I can’t afford lung mods, he wants to scream, but instead he walks onward. After all, he doesn’t want to get processed illegally. Alan knows something he has kept from his friend Ashley: People do cannibalize. It has been happening more and more, but nowhere as bad as Junk Town and places way out on the outskirts of town where government meat is scarce. He has known for a while, but has kept that from his best friend.
“She worries too much as it is,” he says out loud smiling at the thought of her. He thinks about her fighting style. For someone her age, she is a battling genius, and she is his, for the moment.
The rattling in his right lung forces him to pause. He looks up to the sky and his vision grows snowy.
As he drops to the ground, he wonders, “Did my Mom drug me?” The gallon stays intact and the package falls also in unison with him.
The neighborhood where he has fallen used to be an auto industrial area many years ago. There are abandoned factories that have been gutted of everything useful. Not even homeless people sleep there because the floors have rotted.
A man emerges quietly. He wears rare clean army pants, a Hawaiian shirt, a baseball caps with an Indian on it, “Well, what have we here?” he asks, inspecting the package and water.
“Awe, come on Dad, really?!” Exclaims a young man, not much older than Alan. His head is shaved, and he wears a mismatch of dirty sweats and a military jacket with patched ups sneakers, the old kind with rubber soles.
The man puts his hand up, “Shut up Strike. I’ve been watching this one. He is smart and agile. Plus, his family is shit, pure shit.”
“What? You can’t know that from watching him run errands. Fuck Dad, we are already starving, and I am sure as fuck not eating that whatever is in that package. I can smell it from here,” he stands firmly.
His father smiles warmly, “It’s goat idiot. And to your point, you can tell a lot from watching a person walk in this dehumanizing world, what they do—“
“Damnit, stop preaching,” says the young man holding up his hand, “You carry his ass. I got the goat leg and water, murky shitty water.” Strike walks away continuing to mumble to himself.
Mr. Brown chuckles, “That’s my boy.”
The old man picks up the stranger as he would a baby. The boy is wheezing hard and weighs almost nothing. Still, the man struggles as he puts Alan over his good shoulder. He calls to his son in a weak and disingenuous appeal, but he knows Strike will not be moved. With his left hand he grips a makeshift cane made out of a mop, bat, and a lot of duct tape, hard. As he walks, he hums an ancient song his father taught, “Summer of ’69.”
They go to their secret place and vanish.
Alan wakes up with a pounding headache. It is hot, blinding black, and it stinks of shit and rotting things. He realizes he is upside down.
“Don’t be afraid,” Says a deep comforting voice, “We found you passed out on the sidewalk.”
They are going to process me! He starts to fight, but the man is strong. He whips up and starts to slide down, but the man hugs him awkwardly. Alan bites hard.
“Strike,” he says calmly as Alan punches his captor in the face. The man drops Alan, but before he can run, Strike punches him in the stomach and twice for good measure.
An angry voice says, “Hurt my dad one more time, and I’m leaving your ass down here! Do you understand?!” A beam of light hurts his eyes. Alan still can’t see them, but he also knows running will be pointless.
Alan tries to catch is breath and nods.
“Can you walk, son?” asks the old man.
He nods again gripping his stomach, “Please, I don’t have much meat in this sickly body. Not worth the risk. Besides, I think I ate bad rat.” Alan fakes puking, like girls area taught as a last defense, but nothing comes out because he hasn't eating in days.
"You nasty fucking worm!" cries Strike, "What are you doing?"
Mr. Brown says, “We are not eating you son. We are liberating you.”
“What?” asks Alan between labored wheezes.
“Oh shit,” grumbles Strike, “Here we go.” Strike fumbles around in the dark.
“Put the light against your face. This fucker bit you hard Dad. And if you try to run way, I will beat you until you piss blood, you sick dick hole!”
The light shines on the man. Mr. Brown is wearing camouflage like men used to in old military photos and a strange shirt with bright colors. He he has short cropped hair and a perfectly groomed beard. The left check sports a bloody wound Alan made. Still, the man’s eyes are kind.
Mr. Brown explains about the social conditions and oppression of men, which Alan already knows about, but is never supposed to say out loud. By the time Mr. Brown is done lecturing, Strike is finished.
They walk on for what seems like forever in the heat and stench. They reach an area where it doesn’t smell so bad and when they emerge, they are in a cool building.
“Where is this?” he asks.
“Junk Town,” answers Strike, “Stay close. If anyone asks, you’re my cousin.”
Alan takes in his surroundings. People come rushing to meet them. Some children hold out their hands in expectation, both boys and girls.
“Gosh, you really stink!” says a redheaded boy.
“No fair!” says a blonde girl, “I worked harder than he did.”
“What happened to your face?” asks a little brown boy. Alan has never seen a brown person in real life. He takes in the short tight curly hair and amber eyes. Mr. Brown passes out small gifts to each of them, trying to be equal in the distribution.
Then, Alan freezes. In the distance two teenagers are kissing, a boy and a girl with near level three mods, but the mods are odd because only part of her skin is covered in fur, the neck area. He stares for a long time.
Strike sneers, “Those two assholes just got married. Wait a few months ‘til they start hating each other.”
“But she’s. . .”
“She was an elite or going to be one,” says Mr. Brown, “We’re working on making her normal again.”
“What?” asks Alan, “Why?” Who are you?
“Great, ask more fucking questions,” spits Strike.
“A conversation for another time. Let me show you around,” says the old man.
Everyone is staring at him. Some people smile others avert him.
There are more men than women, most of them working together. The building actually has multiple floors. The second floor seems to be the scavenging room where they sort through goods. There are shoes on one pile, clothes on another, and plants in the center, which are the main focus of the sorting. The third floor holds an indoor garden, and Mr. Brown gives Alan some strawberries.
He lets them sit there for a long time. They are small and sweet, intensely red like the color Ashley hates. They are delicate with a little green hat. Then, he eats them until they fade into his mouth, except for the green part, which he realizes too late he is not supposed to eat.
“The next floor is the dorms, and the top floor is for grown ups only. You must never go there, or you will be thrown out of my compound, if you want to stay, that is. . .”
“Are you kidding me?” Asks Alan, “I don’t care if you’re processing people upstairs. I’m staying. I can work hard—“ A painful cough stops him.
“Come on, let’s get you to Nurse,” says Mr. Brown, nearly carrying Alan, “I have business to attend to.”
Slowly, they reach the sleeping quarter,s and Mr. Brown puts him on a soft bed, “He’ll be by soon. Strike will keep you company until then.”
“He?” asks Alan.
Mr. Brown laughs as he walks away, “Yes. He.”
“I’m supposed to be scavenging not babysitting this dead fucker!” cries Strike. He glares at Alan who smiles at him, “What the fuck are you smiling at?”
“I’m not dying now, for sure,” answers Alan.
“What? Is that supposed to be funny, you Annoying Fuck?!”
Alan laughs but then he starts coughing. Warm mucus is on his hand, and he inspects closely. He starts to cry, not from the pain but because he is coughing blood.
Strike curses and grabs a towel from a shelf, "Here, you idiot."
A man in his mid-forties, unusually confident and built brings an old generation Med Unit. It is loud, and the writing is faded. Strike grabs the towel and holds it up.
“Hi,” he says, “I’m Nurse, just Nurse. Let me take a look-see.” He examines Alan and scans his lungs, “Strike bring me the new machine.”
“For this puny asshole?” He leaves in a huff.
“I like him,” says Alan.
Nurse smiles, “Yeah, Strike is a great guy, once you get past the façade. He’s had it rough, rougher than most.” Alan waits to hear more, but Nurse offers none. Nurse works intensely and finally lets out a long whistle.
“Look son, I’m not going to bullshit you. You’re dying, and unless you get some mods, you’re fucked. Best I can do is alleviate the irritation and give you pills.”
Before he can ask how long he has, Strike returns.
“Put the little fucker on suicide missions,” he says.
“Wow,” says Nurse and punches Strike on the arm, hard, “Go get some carrots and make him some juice, and tell me to fuck off, and he gets your dinner. Go.”
Nurse smiles at Alan, “He’s my newest apprentice and has to do what I say.” He hands him three pills, which Alan swallows after three tries. They feel like boulders going down.
Alan waits and three things happen: First the pain nearly vanishes; second he is able to breath better than ever; third he starts to hallucinate and begins to see her. He talks to her and lets her know everything is fine. Nurse vanishes as he tells Ashley about Mr. Brown and Strike.
“Boy has a big heart, but he’s screwed,” says Nurse.
Mr. Brown walks behind him, “Ye of little faith.”
Nurse lists all the problems wrong with the boy, “Harry, you can’t keep using her for medical favors.”
Mr. Brown waves him off, “We’ll see.”
Strike returns carrying four ounces of juice, “Shit sticks! He is high. What the fuck did I make this for?”
“Give it to him with a straw. Before long, he won’t be able swallow.”
Strike pulls a straw from his jacket pocket and glares at them both, but he does his job well, pacing Alan, and tilting his head.
“Get him well enough to take to her,” Mr. Brown says calmly.
Nurse tries to plead with him, but it’s not use, “He’s a boy! What is she going to do with a boy?”
“She doesn’t care,” he asserts, “Plus, they denied her right to adopt, those merciless bastards.”
Strike eavesdrops, “He won’t be free there.”
Mr. Brown pauses for a moment, “Still, he will die here.”
Just then, a woman comes in screaming, and Nurse and Strike move fast.
“What happened?” asks Nurse.
Between sobs she tells them they were scavenging and attacked by a gang of children.
“Strike, prep for surgery and get Betsy to scrub down. Grab the morphine,” Nurse gives one final pleading look towards Mr. Brown, but the conversation is over.
The injured man is missing part of his left leg and his right ear, “Jesus.”
He ties the man down with straps, and shoots him up with an injection.
“Hold the light closer to the leg,” Nurse tells Betsy, “Steady.”
It is only her third operation, but Nurse knows talent when he sees it.
Strike has gauze, and the blow torch ready, “We have to cut parts out?”
“Nope. These savages made a clean cut on the leg. Ear, not so much,” he sighs through the mask, “Pat, bite down.”
Even through the haze Pat keeps saying, “I’m worthless now. I’m worthless now. I’m worthless now.”
“Nonsense,” Assures Nurse, “You’re great at math and cleaning guns.”
“Yeah, we’re going to hunt down the fuckers who did this to you,” promises Strike.
“Practice mercy, Strike,” mumbles Betsy, “They’re feral and don’t know any better.”
“Shut the fuck up. They’re a damn infestation,” answers Strike and he holds the man down.
They wait a few more minutes as silly smile passes over Pat's face.
The torch burns the cut clean, and Pat screams so loud, Nurse is sure the Red Guard will come at any moment.
“You want me to knock him out?” asks Strike.
“You just like to punch,” says Nurse, “Louis, give him the sleeper.”
“What? Why’d you wait so long,” asks Strike.
“Seriously, have you learned nothing from me? It makes you bleed,” he shakes his head in disdain, “Now, patch up that ear, fast.”
Strike stitches the mess expertly and covers it with gauze, “We don’t have that much penicillin left.”
Louis takes a small device with an needle and sticks on the side of Pat's head. The needle pulses inserting the liquid rhythmically, ten times.
“I know,” says Nurse, and watches as the sleeper puts Patrick in a long restful sleep.
Strike sighs, “I’ll do the run.”
“Like hell,” says Nurse, “I’m not training another asshole to do your job. We’ll send Scoots and Junior.”
Strike wants to argue, but he knows better.
In Junk Town penicillin is worth more than fresh meat and soap combined, so the only place to go is the city. The city is a two-hour walk, but they know Mr. Brown will walk himself if they don’t send a scavenging party.
Over the next two days, Alan grows well enough to walk around, and no one bothers him. He catches them staring at him and talking about him behind his back, but he feels welcome anyway.
He finds Mr. Brown with wiggly bugs he has never seen before arms deep in earth from time to time. Without saying anything, Alan tugs on the man’s large green jacket and says, “I can sort or help you with those, things.”
Mr. Brown smiles warmly at him, “These are earth worms.”
As usual, the old man uses every moment to teach and explain. He explicates how the worms help the plants grow.
Alan inspects the worms, “Can you eat them?”
“I suppose, but this tastes better,” the old man hands him something long and green.
His own garden has tomatoes, a lot of tomatoes, but this green thing is new.
Without rinsing it, he takes a bite. It is tangy but good.
“It’s a zucchini, and you can cook it with onions and tomatoes,” says Mr. Brown, “I’ll reheat some chicken drumsticks. You make this.”
Alan gapes and stammers, “What chicken?”
The old man squeezes Alan's should and pats him on the head, and earth trickles down his face. He follows dutifully cradling the zucchini. It is cool against his skin, and he can’t wait to cook it because amongst his many talents, cooking is one of them. In fact often when his mother would be off, which was most of the time, he would cook for his three sisters. When she wasn’t around, they were nice to him, giving him hugs and many compliments because he could make just about anything taste good, even near-rotting food.
The onions are sliced into big pieces, in case some Mr. Brown doesn’t’ like onions. His sisters were allowed to be picky, and they always complained about the onions. Then he takes a tomato and scoops out the seeds for drying later. He cuts that into squares and blends them with the other ingredients. At the end, he adds salt.
There are no stoves in the building, but small burners on a battered table and a few pans everyone fights for, before meals. They are the last to cook, so they can choose whatever they want.
Alan takes the zucchini and cuts it into even cubes. The oil Mr. Brown gives him is green in color and not the government issued oil that is murky and disgusting. Just for good measure, Alan tastes it, “Mmm.” Then, he adds some to the pan, not too much, because oil is also precious.
He turns the burner on medium and lets the pan sit for a few minutes and adds the zucchini, then onions and tomatoes. The smell makes his hunger pangs more fierce. To his left, Mr. Brown is searing some chicken legs.
“This will be done a little after your dish, so keep the flame low,” says the old man, as he whistles a foreign tune.
Mr. Brown takes a taste of Alan’s dish with his right hand, “Delicious.”
Alan waits in anticipation. He thinks he remembers having chicken as a child, but he can’t remember.
Mr. Brown takes two legs per plate and scoops up the leg. Out of nowhere, he pulls out some dense black bread.
He waits for Mr. Brown to start, but he is muttering quietly to himself, something he remembers his father doing long ago.
“Mr. Brown, asks Alan, "Are you talking to yourself?” Or worse, thinks Alan Are you hearing voices?
The old man laughs and so does a woman who sits next to them. Between hard laughs he says, “No.”
Alan looks at the old woman, “He’s not crazy. Well, not when he prays anyway.” Alan has seen the brown woman before, but hasn’t been properly introduced. The woman has feline eyes, but that is all. Her long dreadlocks reach her back, and her skin is the color of coffee with milk. Alan likes better that way.
“This is Louis Jones. Louis, this is Alan. Just Alan, won’t tell his old city name.”
The woman chuckles, “That is alright. We’re all trying to reinvent ourselves down here, or return to what we used to be.”
Alan doesn’t understand, but he nods, “Alan was my father’s name. He was a lot like you, Mr. Brown. Real smart and kind.”
The woman guffaws, “You have this one fooled. I’m the brains of this camp. He just totes a gun. Isn’t that right, comrade?”
Mr. Brown eats quietly, “Whatever, Louis. I’m not the one with a revolver strapped to my leg." He turns to Alan, "She sleeps with it."
“A lady can’t be too careful,” she winks.
The old man smiles, “Well, keep keeping those ladies safe at night.”
Louis gives him a friendly kick under that table, “Oh, that’s not very comradely, you bitch.”
Alan nearly falls out of his chair. Louis looks at him and laughs so hard, she does fall out of her chair.
Mr. Brown simply says, “Things are different here, but just here. We are all equals Alan, real equals. Not like the way they tell you in your arm-port or vid-screen.”
He looks at Louis, “Give her a hand son.”
Alan knows what to do. He has done it hundreds of times before getting his drunk mother off the floor. He braces himself, hooks his arms around her shoulders and pulls. However, Louise is not as thin as his mother. In fact, he is shocked to find that she is quite hea.vy, despite her small frame
On cue, Strike emerges, “Scoot over squirt.” He gives Louis a hand and she gets up still laughing, “For fuck’s sake. What is so funny?”
That sends her into convulsions, and she explains between breaths what happened.