TCE Fiction: A Home That Works

The soft light of the lantern flickered faintly. Its reservoir of vegetable oil was running low, but Marta hardly noticed. She was bent over the kitchen table, studying the series of charts in front of her. GARDEN PLAN — 2080 SEASON, each one read in bold, clear letters, and in each diagram Charles Street could be seen running down the left-hand margin.

She hardly noticed Faizal enter the room, either, until he was standing behind her with his hands on her tired shoulders. ‘Still working?’ he said gently.

‘Mmm, yes. Get that knot, will you? Right between the shoulder blades.’

‘You could turn on the light, you know. It’s well into off-peak hours now.’

‘Oh, I know. The price of electricity’s so variable though, you never know what they’re going to charge you once you flick the switch,’ Marta grumbled.

‘These are the interns’ drawings?’ asked Faizal, reaching past her for the desk lamp. The pool of warm, incandescent light that flooded the tabletop seemed dazzling.

‘You’re right, that is better.’ She rubbed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. ‘I keep telling them, keep your soil covered! Either with mulch or with dense enough plantings that the leaves give enough shade to keep the moisture in.’

‘But their rows are so pretty when they’re spaced out like that,’ said Faizal innocently, his hands gently working away at the knot.

‘Maybe they could afford to plant like that back in the twentieth century, but summers in southern Ontario were about four degrees cooler then, and a lot less dry. And it doesn’t help our fertility retention that we tend to get flooded almost every spring. Winters, too, more and more. The less exposed dirt, the less we risk losing in the runoff.’

‘Why so many flowers? I thought they were training to be market gardeners.’

‘Flowers can be a cash crop too. But these are wildflowers to attract pollinators: goldenrod, purple asters, milkweed. Gardening’s about more than just plants, you know. You need the beneficial insects and birds to help combat pests and invasive species.’

‘I suppose you know best,’ said Faizal. He left off the massage and slid into the chair next to hers at the table. ‘Listen, I’ve been thinking,’ he said.

‘Have you, now?’

‘Very funny, Miss Marta. But I’m serious. Ever since I met you, you’ve wanted to have your own place. You know what I mean — a bit of land to work the way you want it. We’ve got a great setup here, but you were never meant to live in a townhouse across from the Parkade Gardens.’

‘Hard to imagine a setup that could beat my one hundred-metre commute.’

‘How about a ten-metre commute? A kitchen garden for self-sufficiency — you know, corn, beans, potatoes, squash — high-calorie crops that store well through the winter. And then a market garden for income: leafy greens, heirloom tomatoes, herbs, fancy courgettes, that kind of thing.’

‘I see Mr. Faizal has studied carefully the difference between homesteading and farming.’

‘Hard not to, living with a know-it-all like you.’

Marta smiled, then turned in her chair to face him directly. ‘But Faizal, what if there’s another drought?’ There was worry in her eyes.

‘What if, what if? At one point people worried about a seven or eight degree climb in summer temperatures over twentieth-century averages, or worse, and look where we are today. Data over the last ten years have stayed consistent: emissions have finally levelled off.’

‘But it took fifty years of hard pushing just to slow the runaway train to a standstill. We’re nowhere near being able to reverse course yet.’

‘All the same, I don’t feel that I’m living in a train wreck of a civilization, do you?’

Marta smiled despite herself. ‘No, I don’t.’

‘And imagine if we were still relying on petroleum-based fertilizers for our daily bread, instead of locally sourced organics,’ Faizal went on. ‘Every political tremor in the Persian Gulf would send the price of food soaring. I mean, they’re never, ever going to find a cheaper fuel source for cars and lightbulbs, so our choices in that department are expensive gas and electricity or no gas and electricity. But compost is abundant and free, if you know how to make it, and it powered almost every major empire in history.’

‘Agreed. Okay, I admit it, the risks aren’t nearly so bad as they could be.’ She looked at the wall for a moment, thoughtful. ‘If we moved away from town it’d be hard for my mom, now that she’s all alone.’

‘She can come too!’

‘She’ll never quit working, Faizal.’

‘She doesn’t have to. There’ll be plenty of chores for everyone — the kids too, when they’re old enough. We’ll have a home that works, not just a home where we occasionally spend time together.’

‘I’m sure my mom wouldn’t mind working for her grandchildren instead of a foreman,’ Marta mused. ‘You’d have to keep some paid work though, at least until I could get the farm on its feet.’

‘I’ll do it,’ said Faizal, placing his hand over his heart. ‘No indignity of paid employment will deter me, if it means I’ll be able to come home to my family once you’ve got your ducks in a row.’

‘Can I put the ducks in a row?’ said a sleepy voice. Marta and Faizal both turned toward the foot of the stairs, where they saw a four-year-old in blue pyjamas printed all over with yellow submarines. With one hand, she dragged a stuffed squid with button eyes, and with the other she rubbed her face, yawning tremendously.

‘Yes Rosa, you may,’ said Faizal. ‘Come here for a minute, will you?’ He hoisted the little girl onto his lap. ‘How would you like to live on a farm in the country, with Mama and Baba and Ali, and maybe Abuela too?’

‘Okay,’ said Rosa. ‘But only if Abuela comes too.’

‘There we have it!’ said Faizal, looking at Marta. ‘A direct mandate from the board of directors. Do I have permission to start hunting for real estate?’

‘Permission granted,’ said Marta. ‘But start your hunt in town. A long lot like those ones next to the Iron Horse Trail would do quite nicely.’

‘I’m not bored, I promise,’ said Rosa, squirming a little. ‘I’m really, really…interested…’ This time her yawn would have tipped her right off Faizal’s lap, had he not been holding her close.

‘Okay, sweet potato, time for you to go back to your garden bed.’ Faizal stood, bouncing her a little as he shifted his daughter to a carrying position.

‘Ancona, I think,’ Marta murmured, looking at the wall again.

Faizal stopped halfway across the kitchen and turned back. ‘What was that?’

‘What? Oh, I was thinking about ducks. They’re the best breed for laying. They produce high-quality fertilizer, too.’ She reached across the table and switched off the lamp, plunging the room back into lantern-light.

‘What did you do that for?’

‘Practicing. If we do find a place outside the city limits, we’ll be lucky if it has any kind of grid connection. And like I said, electricity’s not cheap, and we’ve got loans to think about.’ She gave him a look. ‘You’ll have to start cutting back on coffee, too.’

‘And we’ll all have to start getting to bed earlier,’ he said, returning the look.

She grinned. ‘I’ll be there in a minute. Good night, Rosa.’ But the bundle in Faizal’s arms was silent as he carried her back up the stairs.

Marta turned once more to the garden charts and the soft pool of light on the tabletop. Her eyes wandered absently over her young students’ plans for the future. But it was her own plans that filled her mind as the lantern guttered low.

With thanks to Kim Bell and the authors of the Ministry of Natural Resources’ Climate Change Research Report 44 (CCRR-44).