The Resident (part four)
With Debra, their new friend, they had separated from the influence of the polo tucker with the temper. His baptismal name was Bridge…she assured them…and she, daughter of an Oathbreach counsellor, was engaged to him.
“Engaged, I’m so glad to hear it. At first I thought there was no hope. She counsels, then, your mother,” said Desander, “as to the burials? The green ones?”
“The Walk. We call it that… Because that’s what it is, a setting forth, on a lovely path you’ve created for yourself. The Farm is a learning place. There are so many decisions, whether you want to make your own shroud, for one. No caskets. You go in dressed as you choose, wrapped or unwrapped. Sorry.”
“No, no,” they both said.
“We teach embroidery, knitting, crochet, how to grid out symbolism for the afterlife. You decide whether you want to draw on a pantheistic tradition that encompasses paganism, mainstream faiths, astrology…or whether your views are more…”
“Stiff,” Wissary suggested.
At the pavilion’s rear egress, where at a breathless pace she was urging them, she stopped, catching a sleeve in each hand. “Or, there!”
They turned. “The plants? You said the sale wasn’t offering roses.”
“Oh, we have a whole garden room of roses. Just where I’m taking you! We’ll steal a few slips if you like. Are you in a hurry to see blooms?”
“We have ninety-some years to arrange our things. Although I think climate issues get dreary around twenty…”
“Wiss,” said Desander. “Shut up.”
With innocent sympathy, Debra smiled. “I worry too, and I’m thirty-six. Anyway! If you were one of our clients, here at the sale you’d be populating your horticultural profile. That has to do with the numerological values of your name and birthplace, and a blind sniff test to discover your herbs. And a whole course of things I won’t go into. Your Growth is customized to represent the life you’ve led on earth, and the life you plan for in the next world. Come on!”
She skipped off.
“I am almost dead,” Wissary whispered. “I’m signing up for everything.”
“I don’t like it.”
“I know. But Des… Is Debra too young for John?”
“Of course she’s too young for John! You can’t collect every person you meet.”
Why not, Wissary sighed internally, and sighed again, a happy one, when they passed under a circle arch, and into the rose room.
Ninety years was a sad thought.
You wanted hundreds. The Upheaval, unempathetic to the wants of humans, was recorded arriving in 2111, with an estimated quarter of humans surviving.
You might be one. You might be sorry you were.
The planet would be well dotted with Tithonians, by the time of the lava flow (welling out of a place called Siberia), which had coincided with the earthquake and tsunami (islanding a place called Cascadia). But only listers could find them out. Desander and Wissary had had this conversation often…
Could you advertise somehow? Some scheme too subtle for listers; not for fellow Tiths?
“This glowing, that John mentions…”
Their first night at Chaintree Cottage, they had drawn the curtains, extinguished the lights. Desander had left the room and returned. Wissary, sitting up against the headboard, shrugged.
“I don’t see it.”
“Go outside. Maybe it’s the solar lights. I’ll watch from here.”
Wrapped (having no overnight things) in one of the winter coats, Wissary grumbled down the stairs to walk the lawn. He got distracted by a lonely bedlamp in John’s room, and allowed himself to peer through the shutter.
“He sleeps east-west, instead of north-south, if you get me. And needing his little light, adorable. Clothes folded over the back of an armchair. Closet and drawers all shut. Wedding photo on the dresser. A candy box on a pillow…he wasn’t using them. Pillows, I mean.”
“What sort of candy?”
“Jot that down for an anniversary gift. When we’ve been here a month.”
“Imagine, their eyes can see things ours can’t! Can the listers see? Or have we hit on a…”
“Blind spot, yes. Don’t count on it.”
Looking for someone with that special glow?
Wissary had jotted this line, too, believing in contact more than Desander. And once they’d made it, they could discuss. Does the end of the world make you cry? Do you have plans? Do you know of any lister who is actually helpful?
“The odd part is…” Desander had broken into these thoughts. “John is so incurious. It was a mistake, telling him, Wiss.”
“But, no questions? He doesn’t want to know what is a Tithonian. He doesn’t think time travel is odd. He notes we glow, but goes off to bed without pursuing it. He thinks we’re insane, I can’t put it any more kindly. And yet…”
“He cares for us. We’re insane, but it’s not the sort of thing you mention among friends. Don’t we love John?”
“He’ll come around.” Wissary patted his partner’s arm, used to the cynical habit. “We’ll plan treats and fun for our anniversary party, and we’ll ply him with a little champagne…”
“We won’t. If he doesn’t drink alcohol. Be sensible. We have the gift of our first Back Time friend, and you want to corrupt him.”
“Loosen him up…”
Wissary repeated the words now, under his breath. He loved to watch Des hobnobbing with Debra, so intent on the peaches, and the yellows, and whether a red might mix.
“Hmm. Let’s find out. You can hold blooms from two varieties and keep their names straight, and Wissary can hold two…”
“He can’t keep the names straight.”
“Unfair.” Wissary caught up.
(2022, Stephanie Foster)