MARIGOLD WOMAN: In Which the Narrative Takes Another Turn

Incipit Liber Tertius

1. New Year's Day.

The Assistant Under-Gardener at Chicken Hall arose late and with a headache, perhaps owing to an unaccustomed half-pint of pilsner drunk the night before on the strength of the year's end. The Head Gardener had been up and about for hours, as Head Gardeners are, and announced the afternoon's plans as soon as the Assistant Under-Gardener put in an appearance.

"IT IS TIME," he said. "FOR THE WINTER SOWING."

The Head Gardener had been a Sperm Whale, once, and had never entirely recovered. The Assistant Under-Gardener, who had been and still was many things, nodded, ate a bowl of cereal, and was by degrees revived sufficiently to regard the prospect of the Winter Sowing with some enthusiasm.

The gardeners took their collection of plastic tubs, collected for months beforehand, and retired to the workshop. There, with the tools somewhat alarmingly called ice picks (which actually resemble scratch awls), they put holes for air and drainage in the plastic. The Assistant Under-Gardener placed the holes in a careful pattern. The Head Gardener said repeatedly, "THERE'S NO NEED TO ACHIEVE METAPHYSICAL REGULARITY" and the Assistant Under-Gardener tranquilly ignored this, as the Head Gardener no doubt expected.

Then it was time for the Mixture. Compost, soil, and fertilizer, mixed in buckets and tipped into the plastic containers with a grand mess and a certain number of minced oaths. This ended the Head Gardener's involvement, for his paws were too large for what came next. This was the one thing that the Assistant Under-Gardener did best, with delicate nails on clever fingers.

This is the way of the children of God: take a seed, consider it well. A chip of burnt sunshine balancing on your fingertip, a minuscule pearl of nothing disappearing into the creases of your palm, a pale dry wedge of regrets and promises.

The wind will eat at your skin, scuffing it white and flakey, crackling your knuckles and squeezing out the red blood that runs thinly into the irrigation channels formed by each line across that joint.

Find the tag written in a neat almost-copperplate, and remember well the instructions you have been given.

Place it in the soil. Do not dig--at most you may press the seed in and pull tiny clodlets of dirt over it.

Now, it is snowing. Now, the seeds are sleeping. Now, there is no telling what will happen. The Assistant Under-Gardener stares out at the rows of plastic boxes, incubators for these silent children. Who can say if they will survive? The odds seem against anything good coming out of those immobile, inanimate miniature coffins. And yet the earth is good.

All we can do is wait and see.

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