Well the response to this writing contest can only be described as something else! All in all we had people from Ph.D. atmospheric scientists to executive chefs submit stories.
Unable to decide between the top two entrants, Scott and I, after arguing a good 5 or 10 minutes over email, decided to call it a draw and declare both finalists as winners.
Stay tuned for more fiction contest action from i am indisposed with even more premierness…
So here, for the first time, Winner #1 of Indisposed Fiction, October 2009. Stay tuned for the story from winner #2…
by John Sagebiel
“Come on, let’s get out of here.”
“Not yet, the lady said that guy is down here somewhere…”
“I really don’t care where she said he was, this place is creeping me out.”
“The drawings, the pictures and mostly those eyes.”
“You’re kidding, right? Admit it, you’re bored.”
“No. Now, ‘cmon, let’s go.”
Sandra realized she was beat and decided to go with him. Jim’s always been a pain this way, she thought. He knows what she does, or at least he thinks he does. Half the time he doesn’t want to go on her expeditions, but this time he was really excited. She remembered the day she told him she wanted to go and look in Morocco.
“Morocco!” He’d said with genuine excitement, “Hey, I’ve really always wanted to go there.”
So she agreed. Now she realized what was up. “Casablanca” had always been his favorite movie; he fancied himself a Bogart-esqe character, had the hat, the trench coat and could quote practically every key line from the movie.
Movies aren’t reality she realized, probably too late. Now what. She had tried to find a good bar where she could dump him and let him drink gin and smoke if he wanted to for all she cared. Just like his damn hero in that damn movie. No such luck. He’d wanted to be with her, claimed it was for her ‘protection’ since this is a predominantly Muslim country and they wouldn’t think much of a woman in western dress wandering around talking to unsavory characters. He’d really said something like that, and it just pissed her off more and more as she thought about it.
The truth of the situation was that he wanted her with him. She was much more comfortable than he was traveling in all kinds of countries, and she could handle herself here as well as she had in Jordan, Iraq, and any number of other counties. The reality is that this is the ground-zero of the origin of agriculture, the home of the first people to domesticate plants and very likely the only damn place on the planet where some of these foundation plants were still grown, harvested and eaten.
Not that any of these people would know that term, not that she would ever mention what she does or why she is here. Better just to say you ate the most fabulous thing and had to get the seeds so she could grow it at home. Never mind that she didn’t have a garden at home, never mind that the business card she carried “Associate Professor, Vegetology and Pomology, University of California, Davis” was as fake as Jim’s excuse for leaving that subterranean labyrinth of passages and shops. How do you explain to people?
Mostly she doesn’t. Mostly people are too wrapped up in their small little lives to understand anything beyond the tip of their nose.
“Do you want the reality or the myth?” No, she never really said that. What an answer, though. ‘So, what do you do?’ is such an off-the-cuff question so many people ask at parties. Well, do you? People want the myth, not just about what she does, but about their lives, their existence and the food they eat. Hybridized shit is what she thinks of it. Hardly any of that stuff is going to survive. If people only knew how fragile the system of agriculture we depend on is. Inbreeding is as bad in corn and wheat as it is in dogs and people. Not much strength when the gene pool is shallow. But these few strains are all that’s grown. One hit and game over.
Way back when the people who domesticated wild plants and grew the plants provided not only the food, but the seed to propagate them with. Agriculture was thus born. These so-called ‘foundation’ plants are those that form the foundation of modern agriculture. From these, centuries of cross-breeding and hybridizing produced very productive and very fragile plants many of which cannot reproduce. The Idaho russet potato. Sterile. Commercial bananas. Sterile. The list goes on and on. Finding and saving these foundation plans before they disappear is not just a matter of scientific inquiry, it’s about the survival of humans on earth.
But the gardening story is good cover, like the job. Seed savers, perhaps the last in a very long line of people in that work sometimes can be convinced to part with some of their precious genetic material for a smile and the equivalent of a few dollars. Academics get a fair hearing, if the ‘home gardener’ story doesn’t sell. Good cover, never blown. And, it’s half-true because she has the academic background and the mind for it. Plus someone grows the seeds she brings back, carefully and gently in the finest greenhouses.
Second generation seeds are carefully collected and some are cold-stored. Two years and then back in the ground to be grown, seeds collected and stored again. For how long? Might be a long time, but the science is clear: it’s not a matter of if, but when we will need to go back to the foundation and rebuild agriculture as we know it. Only these people, all sworn to secrecy, all working with cover jobs, all very clear in the mission of their agency, will know how. Like some kind of odd government-run priesthood.
Now that’s kind of funny she though to herself. Not nearly as damn funny as Jim’s excuse for dragging her away from her work, she thought as she slowly ascended the stairs. The small red bag empty for now, but not for long.