Amid the Green Corn- Part Sixteen
by Cooper Young
“The Men of March go hungry because they don’t know what to eat. Not because they don’t know now; because they’ve never known. We’re thirty years past the Bond and they’re still letting it kill them. Kill their children. Kill their parents, because their parents don’t know either. They’d have taught them if they knew.
Mine didn’t teach me. I was raised like the others, sure that as long as I had the skills to make money–as long as I did work equal to the work I would have done to find or grow or catch food–I’d eat. But I wanted to be able to eat if something happened, so I tried to learn to garden. It was terrible. I was terrible. I’d been raised in an a cinderblock tower. I didn’t know the earth. No one did, really, no one who didn’t farm for a living. We’d been raised so far from the earth that all plants were either grass, weeds, flowers, or food someone else grew. There was nothing in between. No gray plants.
You don’t remember the first house, the house before the Bond. We just had Alastair, your dad and me, and we lived in this little–well, you wouldn’t know what that means. It was a house. It had a patch of garden in the front that the landlady had decorated, and a patch of garden in back of it that was mine to do with as I pleased. Half of it was meant for vegetables, half for a lawn–a grass field. She seeded the grass, and I watered it like I was told. I tried to put in corn and onions and peppers and…something else in the vegetable patch.
You couldn’t make dinner with everything it gave me the first year. I boiled it all regardless and called it soup. There wasn’t enough for even just me and it was awful, but I ate it. I had grown those things, and most people in the world who grew things to feed themselves had only those things to eat. I wanted to understand that–the hunger. The lack.
I wanted to show myself how lucky I was to be able to fail.
That was at the end of the droughts that came before the Bond. We had one last good rainy summer before everything went to hell, and so the potatoes I’d planted did reasonably well. Not spectacular, but better. That summer I didn’t water the lawn at all. Things kept catching on fire, and it felt greedy to take the water for something so unnecessary as grass. My landlady kept telling me to water, and I kept saying I’d done it and that the seeds must’ve just died in the heat the previous year. I felt a moral obligation to not water–not that, anyway; I watered the potatoes if they needed it. The potatoes were food. They counted. Weeds took over the lawn. The landlady said she would have them sprayed with herbicide, but she got around to doing what she said about as much as I did.
So one day I was leaving the house with your dad and he says to me ‘I like that. It’s green, but it’s not a lawn’. He’d always been a real wilderness-loving man, and he’d hated the idea of lawns since before he met me. The whole thing was just covered in pretty much a single type of plant, and he said he wanted to know what it was. I looked it up; turned out to be lambsquarters.”
“And your landlady was going to just poison them all?”
“Mhm. Whole field of lambsquarters.”
“That’s…” Hunts by Night shook his head. “I grew up on lambsquarters.”
“Why do you think? Nobody around there thought of it as food back then, though. They thought of it as a weed. You were supposed to pull them up and throw them away.”
“Messed up the grass.”
“The inedible grass.”
“Mhm. Just like dandelions. Purslane.” Triumphed Justly Warring laughed. “I love when you look like you want to punch your ancestors. So, I realized that if I was going to grow things, I’d be better off growing things that wanted to be grown there. I kept watering those potatoes, but I ate a hell of a lot more lambsquarters than I did potatoes that year. I started reading about ‘weeds’ in the area. I learned where the secret foods were, the foods that wanted to come up out of the dry, barren clay and feed me. The things that wanted to be there.
The Bond came that winter, and come spring the weeds were back. Nobody could get their saved peach pits and their pepper seeds to grow, and people starved. Me and your dad and Alastair didn’t. Neither did anyone who asked how we managed it, because while I’m a fan of protecting my own above others I consider making it so you don’t have to inbreed part of doing so. Anyone who asked me I taught. They looked at me like some kind of shaman for knowing there was food to save their babies under their feet–food they were pulling out of their shriveled tomato beds. Over and over: ‘where’d you learn this stuff?’ ‘How do you know?’
I read. I read, you asses. I asked. I was taught because I asked to be. I learned because there was something left to learn, and if you stop listening before you run out of things to hear you may as well die right then. You’ll die because of what you don’t know in the end anyway. Shut your ears hard enough and it’ll kill the things you’d die to save, too. ”
“Lay down, Ma.” He reached out to take the bottle of dandelion wine and held it as though he intended to drink without ever doing so. “You look tired.”
“I am tired.” She laid down by the fire, resting her head on a tight-wrapped bundle of bleached felt, and watched the stars creeping along above their camp. “I’m so goddamn tired. I’m tired of being angry. I’m tired of watching this hell we build. I’m tired of people who make me say ‘there but for the grace’ getting mad at me for not going with them.”
“Can I ask you something? Why didn’t you teach the Men of March? If they knew they had food, wouldn’t they leave ours alone?”
“They never asked. I swear, Bridei, in twenty years not one soul ever asked and I can’t fathom why. I’d have told them if I knew they were listening. They…I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s killed their children for twenty years. Now it’s killing mine.”
He poked at the fire with a stick, pretending to notice how she pawed mutely at her eyes. “You should get some sleep, Ma. We’ll keep watch for a bit, me and Al. You get some sleep. We made good time today.”