Against the Grain

Against the Grain

by Janet K. Nicolson

 

In the hottest part of the summer, when Jenna wanted nothing more than to relax with a cold lager after work, her doctor gave her the test results: she was celiac and allergic to gluten. Wanting badly to talk about the diagnosis, and with her mom away on business, she drove to visit her gram in the nearby small town of Pense. She didn’t look forward to the conversation; her family was mostly Ukrainian, and wheat and barley were a dietary staple at every family event.

“Banana bread,” Jenna ranted, as she turned off the Trans-Canada Highway onto the grid road. “Fettuccini. Muffins. Cakes. Shortbread. Stuffing. Cereal. Beer.”

The grid passed between two green wheat fields. Jenna usually didn’t pay them attention, but their existence now made her ears burn. It was like they were mocking her newfound inability to eat food.

“Even the Christmas Kutia. She’s going to kill me.”

Her gram’s farmhouse was a quarter kilometer north of town. Jenna sighed in relief when she saw the fields there were ripe with canola. Pulling into the farmyard, she parked beside her gram’s old Cadillac, stepped out, and fished a handful of letters from the nearby tarnished steel mailbox.

Her gram appeared at the sound of the car door.

“You’re not at work!” Gram Olga trotted down the stairs, then wrapped her in a hug so strong Jenna felt her ribs pop. The woman was a good three inches shorter, but she managed to leverage Jenna off the ground. “Is this what happens when your mother leaves town?”

Jenna grinned and handed Olga the letters. “I had an appointment. I took the afternoon off.”

“I didn’t know your doctor worked here. I thought his office was in Regina.”

“Gram!”

“Just helping the tension, dear. Your shoulders are tight.” Wrinkles spread across the older woman’s forehead. “You wouldn’t drive for a visit unless you needed me.”

“You know I’d come more often.”

“You’re busy. I work here, you work there. Now tell me, what’s wrong?”

“I’m celiac,” Jenna blurted. “I’m allergic to wheat and stuff. It’s why I’m sick all the time.”

Eventually Ogla said, “Not that I’m surprised. It’s a bit like eating family, isn’t it?”

Jenna’s stomach knotted, and she absently massaged her gut. “I’m sorry gram, I don’t really know what you mean. But I know how much you love to cook. I mean, your Kutia is legendary.”

Olga propped her fists on her hips and scrutinized Jenna intensely. “I always said you looked like my mother. No one else thought much of it.”

It’s like we’re having two different conversations. “I really am sorry. I needed to tell someone. I don’t even know what I should eat.”

“Rice,” Olga said, without missing a beat. “Corn. Tapioca. Sorghum. Buckwheat. That new fangled quinoa. The world is full of carbs. You’ll eat what my mother ate, when she could find it.”

“Great, so it really is genetic. Mom never told me.”

“She was young when your great-grandmother died. Perhaps times have changed since then.”

“It has. There’s lots of gluten free food. The doctor said I can buy it at the supermarket.”

Olga closed her eyes and sighed. “That will help. But you don’t need much. Just listen to your body, that’s all.”

Jenna also closed her eyes. The highway rumbled in the distance, like a low thunder. The weather vane creaked on the home’s roof. A swallow trilled. Grain fields cascaded in sweeping waves, like the patter of rain against a window. She resisted tapping her foot, because there wasn’t a real heartbeat—just the implied rhythm of the natural world.

“I wish I could stay here,” Jenna said, opening her eyes again and gazing around the farmyard. “Help you with things. Keep the vultures away. Is that what all those letters were?”

“The usual. Some big boys and their companies trying to steal my land. But don’t you worry. I’ve got the other locals out here to help. They do a good job on the seeding and the harvest. You’re a city girl.”

Jenna glanced to the east. Regina’s office towers peaked over the edge of the canola, like glittering silos thirty kilometers distant. They seemed out of place amidst the natural beauty, but Olga was right. They were her home.

She sighed. “Just like always, gram. You’re right.”

“I’m sorry,” Jenna said for the fourth time. She closed the digital claim file, while the farmer glared at her from across her desk. “I really mean it. But we can’t offer insurance for that kind of thing. It’s not in your coverage.”

“Damn well should be.” He pulled an envelope from his breast pocket and tossed it to the desk, where it spilled open, kernels scattering. “Wheat’s supposed to grow from seed. These are good for eating, but they’re inert. Can’t grow squat from ‘em.”

She absently massaged her temple with a thumb. “Sir, I’m not doubting the contamination. We know cross-pollination occurs, and frankly, they’re supposed to keep their test crops sealed off so it doesn’t happen. You could take them to court, but it’s outside our jurisdiction. It’s a legal issue, not an insurance one.”

He grunted, turned away. “We were better off with the damn wheat board. They would care if this ate into their profits.”

Jenna kept her eye on him as he left. She really was sorry. At the same time, contaminated seed wasn’t something they could insure. Beyond not being written into the current contracts, it was hard to prove in a lab, let alone in a courtroom.

“Sorando, again?” Deb asked, from the closest desk.

“Yep.” Jenna sighed. “That’s the fourth report this month. I’m pretty sure it’s the field along the Trans-Canada, by Belle Plain. All the reports are from there.”

“Same thing? Lack of germination?”

“Sounds like it. Sorando’s crops are single use. High yield, disease resistant, but they won’t germinate after the first harvest. Makes the farmer buy new seed every year.”

“If I’d spent my life developing seed crop, and that crap got into my field, I’d be pissed too.”

“Tell me about it. You know, Sorando keeps trying to buy my gram’s land. She’s got a full section out at Pense. They’ve been hounding her since granddad died.”

“Buggers. Hopefully someone takes them to court.”

“Court costs money,” Jenna said. “Gram doesn’t have money. Sorando does. It’d be impossible to win a case.”

“Not to mention if any farmer won, we’d be screwed. Could you imagine how many payouts we’d have to make?”

“Yeah. I don’t need conflicts of interest. It’s hard enough to be impartial as it is.”

Jenna almost set her hand down, before remembering the wheat kernels scattered across her desk. She frowned, wondering if there was a Lysol wipe nearby. She wasn’t supposed to touch the stuff, especially since she hadn’t eaten it for several months. The reaction multiplied the longer she was clean, and even dust licked from her fingers was too much to digest.

“You have any clean wipes?” Jenna asked.

“No, I think they’re in the lunch room. Why?”

“Never mind.” She could wash her hands, she figured. She grabbed her waste basket, positioned it beside the desk, and brushed the seeds into a little pile. They tickled her skin, then prickled in an odd burning way, which she figured she was imagining.

Then there was a light passing briskly overhead, replaced by darkness and the soft glow of stars. Panicked, Jenna tried to move, before discovering she was bodiless. She tried to breathe, realized she couldn’t. Yet, there was no pain, no apparent threat. She forced herself to relax, and watch.

Around her, the light cycle continued, revealing sprawling acres of dirt, scattered brush, and prairie grasses. The pattern sped up, until her eyes adjusted, and she saw seasons passing before her. Ivory snows, wild flowers, buffalo grazing.

Buffalo? She thought. There weren’t buffalo on the prairies.

More seasons, then. Rushes of people, tribal. A small sod house. Gardens, an outhouse. And then, regulated, symmetrical fields. Wheat. Barley. Rotating, varied, as the buildings grew amidst dust storms and blizzards.

To the west, the sky grew red. A wheat field was on fire. It overtook the horizon, until it towered over the soil and engulfed everything in flames.

And she heard it, the heartbeat of the land, growing louder and erratic, as the crops withered and died. A deep sickness overtook her gut.

“Jenna.”

She tried to scream, but wheat had no voice. It was a plant, defenceless. Prey.

“Jenna! Are you okay?”

She gasped, fingers trembling as the kernels tumbled from the desk into the waste bin. She raised her hand and stared, but all she found was sweat pooling in the creases of her skin. No indication she’d had an allergic reaction. Nothing that could have been so hallucinatory.

“Are you okay?” Deb asked again. “You were shaking.”

“Yeah,” Jenna said. “Just worried about my gram. That’s all.”

What the hell, she thought. What the serious hell was that?

Christmas arrived, and her gram took the Kutia issue in stride. “More for the rest of us,” Olga declared happily, as she bustled about the cramped farmhouse kitchen, preparing the Christmas Day supper.

Jenna’s mom, aunts and uncles, cousins and partners, assorted nieces and nephews, and family dogs rushed in and out of the kitchen and adjoining living area. The great-grandkids were young, no more than four, yet even so, Olga had them delivering bowls of jello and rice salad to the oak table.

Eventually, they all sat around the table, which was covered in turkey, potatoes, pumpkin pie, cabbage rolls, perogies, stuffing, paska bread, and the other trappings of a Canadian Ukrainian Christmas. The Kutia was set on a small pedestal, its bowl painted with gorgeous red Slavic patterns.

“Say grace, mom,” Jenna’s mom said. “You’re best at it.”

They bowed their heads. “Lord,” Olga said, “thank you for this time of year. Thank you for family, and for continued good health.”

Jenna tried not to snort, and managed to let her gram finish in silence.

As they passed the food around, Jenna’s stomach began to growl. She’d overseen the making of the potatoes and turkey, and knew they were safe for her to eat. But as she passed on dish after dish, the table grew quiet, until Jenna realized most of them were staring at her. Two of the nephews smeared mashed potatoes on each other’s faces, oblivious to the spectacle.

She glanced at her mom. “I thought you told everyone.”

“Told us what?” her aunt interrupted. “Honey, are you sick?”

“No, I’m fine.” To her dismay, her cheeks flushed. God, you’ve had this conversation so many times already. Just keep your cool. “I found out I’m allergic to gluten. I’m celiac.”

There was lots of nodding, and the awkward clicking of utensils.

Her aunt cleared her throat. “So that’s, uhm, wheat and stuff?”

“Wheat, barely, and rye. Anything related.” She tried to stare at her plate, instead of her aunt. Only, the plate was sparse compared to the rest, and it reminded her again how different she was. “It’s all right. I’ve been much healthier. I’ve only taken one sick day in six months.”

“Don’t be so surprised,” Olga interjected. She gave them all a narrow-eyed look. “Your great-grandmother was the same, and it’s a genetic condition. Could have been any of you.”

Grateful, Jenna nodded, then reached for the nearest dish. She wanted to get the meal moving again. “Besides, like gram said to me earlier, it means more for the rest of you!”

The bowl she’d grabbed was the Kutia. Honey-covered grain slid down the side, spilled from the last use of the spoon. Jenna watched as it dripped across her fingers, tickling, then prickling, her skin.

Oh, no. Not again.

It was the same as last time, with the alternating days and seasons. Except, the ground wasn’t bald prairie but a ravine, with a small stream that curved through the trees. Deer, elk, and packs of wolves darted in and out of the brush. When buildings eventually appeared, the stream changed as well, diverting at one point into a wide dugout.

The crimson glow happened sooner this time. Instead of a wildfire, it was a pulsing flame that ran over the land, covering it from ground to sky. The trees blackened, then fell to the heat. Animals fled. Gradually, the fire lessened, until there was only the movement of the sun and the moon, and a charred, lifeless landscape. Her stomach lurched as if a knife had been slid under her ribs.

Jenna blinked. She was back at the table. She was still holding the Kutia, though her mom had outstretched her arms, offering to take it.

“Sorry,” Jenna said, laughing quietly. “Sometimes I, uhm, I react to the wheat. If it’s a lot. It might be a skin allergy too. I need to go wash my hands.” She stood, the chair scraping loudly against the wood floor. “I’m sorry.”

The sink water was cold; the heater hadn’t caught up since they’d washed dishes. Jenna didn’t care. She splashed it across her face, the chill helping to bring her back to the present. While she leaned over the sink, the bathroom door opened and closed.

She fetched a towel, dried herself, then turned to face her gram.

“What did you see?” asked Olga.

“Hills. A ravine. Deer and elk. Over a large period of time.”

“Mmm.” Olga nodded. “My mother was the same. But I didn’t expect you to awaken. I thought the gift was lost.”

The word ‘gift’ washed over Jenna, ripping another laugh from her lips. “I wouldn’t call it that.” Then she thought about the last time it had happened, of the red flames. “Gram, where did you get that wheat from?”

“A friend, north of here, near the valley. Just like the area you described. I’d usually use my own, but I had to rotate the canola in this year. It’s good for the soil.”

“There’s something wrong with it. What kind is it?”

“Winter wheat, predominately. They had some trouble with it a few years ago, lost most of the crop. Had to buy the seed external.”

“Gram. Did they buy it from Sorando?”

The older woman tipped her head. “What else did you see?”

“Flames. Like a wildfire, but crimson. It burned the land, killed everything.”

Olga shuddered.

“I saw it the first time, too,” Jenna said. “When I was at work. A farmer came in with some of his grain. Said it was cross-pollinated by Sorando. Wouldn’t grow. I touched it, and the same thing happened. But that time, it was prairie. There were buffalo.” She hesitated, knowing that her gram knew more than she was letting on. “What’s happening, gram? Why am I like this?”

“My mother didn’t tell me everything. I didn’t have the gift, and she died before you were born. But this is what I know. The gift runs in families. For every plant on this Earth, there is a group who watches over the stock. Makes sure it stays sustainable.”

“You mean there are others. Like me. Everyone who’s allergic to something?”

“Not all. Just because you have the genes, doesn’t mean you have the gift. You have to wake up, Jenna. You have to care.”

“It’s like eating family. That’s what you said.”

“It is, mostly. The wheat is your children. The barley and rye, too. The illness is meant to be a sign. Centuries ago you’d have been raised as a medicine woman, or burned as a witch. But the fact remains, you are intertwined with the grain, and through that connection, you can see where it’s been and where it will go. It comes from and returns to the land, and those memories are preserved in the seed.”

“No way. That’s impossible.”

“Humans were gatherers first,” Olga said, “then farmers. These grains have been staples in our diet for thousands of years. It’s why the gift runs deeply in many families.”

“No. No it’s not.”

“It does, dear. I know it’s a shock, but you would find others, if you looked.”

“No. I don’t mean. Just, no. It’s not a gift.” Her eyes burned. She hadn’t cried for months out of sheer necessity. Keeping it in had kept her together. Had made her appear normal for anyone that mattered.

“I don’t want this,” she continued. “I don’t want any of it. I mean, at the time, I was happy. I was happy it wasn’t cancer, or some other thing making me sick. But now, it’s forever. I can’t go have a beer with my co-workers. I can’t bring a good tasting sandwich to work. It sounds stupid, but it’s part of everything everyone does. I can’t eat it. I can’t drink it. And now you’re telling me I’m supposed to, I don’t know, be its guardian? I can barely take care of myself!”

Her eyes watered, causing her gram’s image to wobble. She wiped them quickly, but more tears came, until she hid behind her hands. “I feel so much better, and it’s because I’ve lost so much. No one understands.”

“My mother would have,” Olga said softly. “I’m sorry that I don’t, not as much as I should.” She stepped forward and wrapped an arm around Jenna. “Dear, you don’t have to do anything. I was hoping when you told me about your doctor that he was wrong. Or that you never would awaken. But it isn’t a death sentence, and it requires nothing of you. Let’s go eat. I’ll give you all the potatoes you want. Even the sweet potatoes. How about it?”

Eventually, Jenna nodded, and followed her back to the table.

They were all very polite, though few offered Jenna hugs at the end of the night, as if they were scared she was contagious. She was happy enough they’d stopped staring. They’d gotten through a few rounds of cards and board games, enough that her nieces and nephews were sleeping, and the adults were ready to succumb to a turkey stupor.

On her way out, while her gram and mom were speaking, Jenna passed by a stack of letters on an end-table. The one on the top was opened, and unfolded.

“Sorando,” she mouthed. She pulled out her phone and snapped a photo, moments before her mom arrived at her side.

“All ready to go?” Jenna asked.

Her mom smiled thinly. “Never, but there’s things to do. Are you sure you don’t need a ride home?”

“I’m fine. Not dizzy anymore. And I can’t leave my car here, anyway.”

“You take care of yourself,” Olga said, slipping in between them. “Remember what I said.”

“Of course,” Jenna said, but her thoughts were on the letter.

At home, Jenna pulled out her phone and opened up the picture. It was blurry, but good enough she could read. Sorando again, offering more money. A veiled threat, too. That eventually Olga would grow old, the farm would trade hands, and Sorando had plenty of time to wait for the land that should be, would be, theirs. Next summer was when their offer would expire. Jenna shrugged. So, let it expire. They couldn’t do much.

“She’s stubborn,” Jenna said aloud. You underestimate her. She will wait you out, she will find a way, to keep that farm out of your grubby corporate hands.

She deleted the photo to be safe, then curled up with a book and a mug of tea. Olga’s words echoed: “You don’t have to do anything.”

That was what she wanted. She’d given up enough, already. And the world was bigger than when her ancestors had tilled the fields. There were courts and government designed to protect people’s food. The laws often took time to catch up to reality, but they did, eventually. Besides, she was a better insurance agent than she was a wheat wizard.

Still, when she finally slept, she dreamt of sprawling fields, and a crimson wildfire that overtook the land and turned the earth into charred ash.

“Miss Werenich, there’s a client who wants to speak with you.”

Jenna turned from her computer spreadsheet and considered her student assistant. The poor woman was frazzled, which wasn’t surprising; it was harvest season. When Jenna had escaped the front desk and moved into management, Deb convinced them to hire someone from the local university. Partly because it was good experience, but also, Jenna suspected, because if they started anyone else during the harvest, they’d quit in a week from the stress.

“Did you ask Deb to take care of it?” Jenna said.

“Yeah, I mean yes, but she really, really wants to talk to you. I mean, insists. Do you have time?”

She sighed. “I have a few minutes. Show her in.”

Jenna expected many things. Frost claims, crop loss due to insects. She didn’t expect her gram to walk in, eyes red and swollen, with a box in her arms.

“Oh my god,” Jenna said.

“She’s a good girl,” Olga said, nodding at the door, after the assistant left. “Your new helper.” She set the box on the desk.

Jenna’s chest tightened until she could barely breathe. “What happened?”

“They bought the land around me, and by the time I planted, it was too late. It’s dirty, Jenna. My entire crop. Every few grains are theirs. The plants grow taller, fuller, than mine. But it means it’s dead as a seed. I’ll have to buy next year. I can’t risk planting it, knowing at least half of it won’t grow. I’d hoped I was wrong, but the difference in the plants is obvious.”

Olga opened the box, withdrew a small Ziploc filled with wheat kernels. “These are Sorando’s, from my field.” Next, she withdrew a picture frame that housed a square shadow box, within which were mounted three wheat heads and stalks. Jenna had seen it previously on the farmhouse wall. “I have newer grain they can test as well, but this is old. It’s my mother’s crop. We took this off the year she died, had it preserved. It will show the genetic lineage.”

Jenna ran her fingers along the frame as a pounding overtook her ears. “Gram, I can’t do anything with it. They’ll deny the claim outright.”

“Sure they will. I’m going to submit it anyway, and then I’m going to take Sorando court.”

“No!” She stood, fingers splaying across her desk. “You don’t have the money. They’d sink you.”

“I’ve lost the farm. I can’t afford to buy the new grain. But while I have that collateral, I can take them down with me.” Her expression hardened. “I’m your customer, Jenna. I know what you’re going to say, so say it.”

“No. It’s always easier when it’s someone else,” Jenna said, softly. “You know, I always said governments will figure it out. They’ll regulate GMOs, make things normal again. Even if there’s mistakes along the way.” Her voice broke. “But it’s you. And you’re just you, and they’re big, and they have so much money. I can’t let you do that. My work won’t even let you.”

“They might deny my claim, but I can involve them as a partner in the lawsuit. I wanted you to know, so you can do what you need. God help me if I drag my granddaughter into something that would cost her a career.”

Their eyes met, briefly. They looked so much alike, Jenna realized. She wondered if someday her eyes would carry the same wrinkles. Or if they already look that tired.

“I’m going to see your mother,” Olga said quietly. She moved to the door, leaned heavily on the frame. “Can you take care of it, for me?”

“Of course,” Jenna said. She repeated it over and over, as Olga left, and as she sank onto her chair. “Of course.”

Her ears pounded. It wasn’t the heartbeat she wanted. She needed a healthy one, from the soil, that told her that her gram’s farm wasn’t tainted.

Fingers stiff from blood pressure, Jenna took the frame and pried open the back, exposing the sealed shadow box.

You wake up because you care. You wake up. Wake up, Jenna. It’s real. It’s here. It’s not other people’s lives. It’s you. Your family.

She opened the shadow box with a letter opener, grimacing as the glass pane cracked then separated. The wheat, now exposed, released the faintest whiff of stale grain.

She hadn’t touched any since Christmas. She’d been desperate to keep her life as it was. But things were not the same. And through denial, she had split herself from the people that mattered. Like her gram, who hadn’t felt comfortable seeing her at home, or calling her, or doing anything other than showing up at her work as a customer.

Jenna withdrew the wheat, felt it tickle, then sear, her fingers. She gasped at the power. It wasn’t watered down, but something original, pure.

An image, then. A field. The dirt was cracked; the sky, a dusty taupe. The plants were wilted, limp shadows of what they should have been. A woman in a pale grey dress stumbled through the wheat, her eyes closed, hands grasping at the stalks.

The plants were dying. Jenna felt—no, she was the woman—as she took the grain in her hands, ran her fingers up and down the stalks, whispered to their life-force. The land’s heartbeat was weak, worse than it had been in many years. She fell into the soil’s memories and looked back through its history, to what had been done before in times of drought. She saw others like her, centuries past, as they enacted their duty.

She fell to her knees, stirring a cloud that clogged her lungs. She dove her fingers deep into the dirt, until she felt the hidden pulse of each plant that screamed for her aid. She shuddered as the plants put their burden on her body, and the soil used her energy to give up its last nutrients to the grain. In a world painted brown, the leaves became a vibrant green.

She repeated the act crop after crop, season after season, until the long years passed and the rains came. Until she was too sick to visit the fields. Until her heartbeat faded one night, in the bitter cold of winter, in a farmhouse bed.

Jenna returned to the present weeping profusely, her hands still clutching the wheat.

She saved them, she thought. She healed the crops when there was barely enough water. And she kept doing it. She was so sick. They had no medicine, nothing to save her.

She didn’t think she could be that magnificent, or that self-sacrificial. But she didn’t have to. It wasn’t a dozen fields she needed to fix.

It was two.

The night was enveloped in a brisk harvest wind that came from the arctic as the season changed, and which tore the leaves from the trees and numbed flesh. Jenna pulled on a toque, and left her car at the edge of the field furthest from the farmhouse. She shivered as the breeze rushed through the zipper of her coat. She was just in time. In a week or so frost would hit, and the crop would be lost. But it wasn’t going to come to that.

Closing her eyes, she stepped into the field and ran bare fingers over the grain. The touches echoed in her mind like bursts of gold and crimson, as she felt out the healthy and unclean plants. She walked and brushed her fingers on the wheat’s beard.

Ba-dump. Ba-dump. Her vision clouded with red mist. She slid her hands down the stalks, until the effect intensified, and she was close to succumbing to hallucinatory memory. Hissing, she fought it, focused on the plant. It was a sick plant, a Sorando seed.

“Come on,” she whispered, urging the ground to use her energy. But it wasn’t enough. The seed was infertile, and no amount of growth could overcome its altered genetics.

Genes. The wind seemed to howl the word. Jenna’s eyes widened. Her genes were changed, too. They’d changed thousands of years ago, when humans had domesticated the plants, when some overarching natural process told her ancestor that it needed to be a guardian. What sort of guardian would she be if she couldn’t heal all illnesses?

Inhaling deeply, Jenna sank to the ground, buried her fingers in the dirt, and felt for the roots. With one hand, she touched her gram’s plant. With the other, Sorando’s. Her consciousness shrunk and watched as the DNA unravelled and reformed, the golden strands absorbing the red, until the latter caved, and she began to win.

In an instant, she felt the plant remetabolize as enzymes began to carry nutrients through the stalk. For a farmer’s purposes the wheat was dead at harvest, but that wasn’t quite right. It was still buried in the dirt, still drawing life from the planet. With that energy as a kindling, and the soil as a kiln, she rebuilt the kernels until they carried the genes of germination.

Her stomach tensed, then shuddered as if the wind had ripped right through her. Crying out, Jenna let her mind spill through the field. She brought the heartbeat with her, let it rush through each plant, until the prairie sang with the rippling wheat and the howling fall gale.

And there, on the edge, she saw it. The wall of fire, Sorando’s domain, spreading like a quiet death. She reached there too and rewrote its genetic code. She worked until the field was barren of Sorando, replaced by the life her gram grew. She worked until she collapsed on her side, fingers numb, stomach throbbing.

Her gram found her that way hours later. Olga wrapped a blanket about her shoulders, then settled in beside her.

The older woman raised a disapproving eyebrow. “It would be awfully embarrassing to tell your mother you froze to death in my field.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Jenna said, teeth chattering from under the blanket. “Besides, it’ll be a good harvest this year. Won’t it?”

“Hmmm. Yes. It will.” And, softer. “Thank you, Jenna.”

“You said lots of people have the gift. I don’t think a lot care. I do. It’s not a lot, and I know I should have told you, but—”

“It’s enough. It’s a beginning.” Olga gave her a denture-white smile. “It’s a future.”

The wind quieted, momentarily. In the silence, they watched the stars together, as their shoulders brushed the wheat that rose to a consistent, healthy height around them.

________________

Janet K. Nicolson is a technical writer superhero who rocks video games and reads too much science fiction about Big Dumb Objects. Her fiction has appeared in Abyss & Apex, Andromeda Spaceways and their “Best of 2016” anthology, On Spec: The Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic, and Tesseracts 18: Wrestling with Gods (EDGE Publishing).

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