KJ Hannah Greenberg
and Cathy Stevens Pratt

Cathy Stevens Pratt
Inspiration piece

If You Call Me Again
By KJ Hannah Greenberg

“If you call me again, I will report you,” I say with impatience, as I press the disconnect tab on my phone. I haven’t ordered pizza since The Big Change. What’s more, I certainly don’t give my credit card information to anonymous callers.

I shake my head and return to my puttering. It’s probable that the individual, the one who was phishing for access to my funds, failed to realize that his number showed up as “private,” rather than as a serious of digits, and that he failed to realize that my threat was as real as was his intent to secure a large, pineapple and cheese-covered, pie for me. It’s probable, too, that he was tasked by Jake.

I shrug as I rearrange another scoop of dirt in the closest window box. That container houses rosemary, basil, parsley, and celery because it sits in our southern window. In our northern aperture, my sister and I grow chives, mint, sweet peas, and radishes. The radishes, alone, are useful in their entirety. The other plants’ roots don’t get eaten but get added to our compost bucket.

Sis and I need those green friends as much as we need the cherry tomatoes, rainbow kale, and curly lettuce that are growing under heat lamps in our main room. Fresh food has been otherwise unattainable to us (and most of the rest of the world) from the time of the blight. Simply, outdoor horticulture is impossible.

Whereas the planets’ princes can access greenhouses, the majority of us inhabitants can do so only in our dreams. More exactly, the corporations that run the world’s indoor, vertical farms are almost as avaricious as were pharmaceutical companies of the Twenty-First Century. Last century, people died of cancer even though most forms of the disease were curable. This century, people die of malnutrition despite the fact that sufficient tons of crops are grown to feed everyone. Scarcely one per cent of civilization ingests wholesome eats.

I look up at the temporalmeter. The screen indicates that Vangerline will be home soon. Her shift at the tiny house manufacturing facility will be over in less than one hundred and fifteen minutes. Sis, who is a floor framing expert, enjoys a great job security.

These days, everyone lives in tiny houses. Sure, I’ve seen pictures of, and remember Mama and Papa’s tales of houses large enough to swallow up five of ours, but I don’t remember ever walking around inside such behemoths. Even wealthy folks, those people who can regularly purchase the fresh produce grown in exclusive hydroponic high-rise buildings, don’t own homes more than thirty feet long, more than eight and one half feet wide, or more than one and one half stories high.

I almost married the scion of one such family. In addition to their thirty footer, his parents own a compact car! That young man never travels on buses, trains, or via the subway. He never crowed to me or to his peers about his family’s transportation extravagance, though, in view of the fact that his best buddy’s parents own a full-sized sedan. Allegedly, his best buddy constantly brags about it.

How could anyone, no matter their fiduciary status, afford to fuel such a large conveyance? Even among the elite, among those individuals who can afford fresh salad, daily, few can likewise regularly buy enough grain to manufacture biofuel.

Anyway, that blackheart’s name is Jake, Jake Kingsmaker. He took me to homecoming and to prom during our senior year and offered to pay my tuition if only I’d attend the same university as he.

Mind you, literal free ride or no, I had no interest either in being someone’s embellishment or in attending classes that I couldn’t replicate online. Besides, I had heard that Jake’s older brother had gotten several girls pregnant in succession and then had promptly abandoned his resulting progeny as well as deserting their mothers. Seeing as Jake already dressed, smoked, and gambled like his older sibling. I presumed he’d similarly style himself after him in the intimacy arena.

Moreover, I’m as handy with power tools as is Vangerline. After I finish my associate’s degree, I plan to exploit her connections and to attach myself to a vapor barrier crew. Although I’d love to train as a plumber, for the reason that most of them make enough money to buy twenty footers, I lack the resources necessary for apprenticeship fees.

At any rate, Jake didn’t take kindly to being rejected. He asked his parents to make me a persona non grata at all of the online schools, having forgotten that my uncle founded one of the original correspondence colleges. Uncle Mac had seen the wisdom, long before the advent of copycat institutions run by affluent parties for rapacious reasons, in making learning nearly free for the impoverished majority. Before he died of scurvy, Uncle Mac had made sure that a school, where ordinary youth could learn about medicine, farming, and all of the other civilized arts, existed.

True, his school’s initial offerings were relatively primitive studies such as graphic design and coding, but as various technologies became available in shareware, Uncle Mac’s institute was able to offer more and more majors. At present, his college’s catalog rivals those of brick and mortar universities and of for-fee online choices.

It’s amazing that someone can become a veterinarian or a gardener through online training. However, I wouldn’t waste my years studying landscape architecture unless I could make sense of working for minimum wage in a museum. I’ll leave animal science to others, too, as I seem to be allergic to various sorts of dander. For two weeks after my senior class trip to the state controlled animal husbandry park, I was sneezing and rashy.

Since he was stymied by my academic protexia, Jake tried to hit back in other ways. Once, he managed to provoke town officials into dropping in on Sis and me and serving us with papers that would let the officials condemn our home. Those bosses were defeated as we are up to code or well past most minimums for eighteen footers (Vangerline knows a lot more about home construction than just the specifics of foundations. It’s a point of pride that our home is superior to kindred dwellings.)

Further, one of the inspectors that had been induced to make Sis and me homeless turned out to be a fellow who had grown up with my parents and who had been sweet for our mom. As a sort of compensation for the grief he had caused, that man left behind two tickets for a hamburger joint. He had received those vouchers when another powerful denizen had bribed him to perform yet another “important” assignment (Bung keeps the families of many middle managers afloat.)

To cut a long story short, Vangerline and I saved up those coupons for her birthday. That year, when celebrating her newest number, we indulged in synth burgers topped with real (!) pickles and served with sides of real (!) carrots. After our once in a lifetime entrees, we splurged and bought slices of real (!) apples, for dessert. Sometimes, it’s okay to blow an entire month’s pay on a single folly.

After a short span had passed, Jake tried again to sprinkle misery on my life. I’ve become increasingly surprised at the amount of time he’s been able to devote to such treachery as the school he attends, allegedly, is demanding.

To be more precise, one day, while I was hanging laundry, a mean cuss of a dog came running into our yard, directly toward me. In response to his impending attack, I began to sing dog music.

The pup abruptly stopped, tilted its head, and then lay down. It began to whimper. I had never told Jake that I possessed an affinity with animals He was always too busy trying to get his hands inside of my clothes or asking to copy my calculus notes to care about the details that comprise me. I’m no horse whisperer – I’ve seen only the horse at the state controlled animal husbandry park, but I have a certain empathy with smaller animals. No, my communication skills don’t extent to squirrels, rats, pigeons, or anything else hunted to near extinction, but is limited to the domesticated brutes owned by the rich. Don’t ask – my discovery of my ability is a story in itself.

Many months went by without any new challenges from Jake. Come springtime, though, I received a snail mail stating that by visiting a nearby resort, i.e., by stepping into a lauded one hundred plus-sized camper, I could claim my prize. The letter declared that my lottery ticket had won the popular vacation destination’s jackpot.

The problem with that missive was that I no more buy lottery tickets than I eat wheat toast or oat cereal for breakfast. All I can afford is synth flakes drowned in artificial juice. I crumbled the letter into a ball and tossed it to Mouse, the former attack dog. Mouse responded by trying to lick my face. I countered with an offer of a belly rub.

A few weeks later, rumor went wild that the fancy place, to which I had been directed, had collapsed and then had been declared a hazard by the fire marshal. There’s a reason that even our skyscraper farms top out at thirty floors.

More recently, I hear that Jake is getting married. He’s decided to cinch up, according to local gossip, with Penelope White. Like Jake, her parents own a thirty footer. Unlike him, she grew up riding in a station wagon; her parents are wealthier than even Jake’s bestie! I heard that her family is in a stratosphere of holdings that enables them to not only eat daily salads, but also to drink daily smoothies.

Additionally, unlike Jake, Penelope spent time in the armed forces and then in the Peace Corp. She trained military working dogs and then spent a few years in Scarsdale, where she tried to help the indigent grow greens.

I do know what she sees in Jake. Even if philandering is common among the men in his family, so, too are dreamy blue eyes and golden manes of hair. I’m guessing that Penelope handles misbehaving with silent commands, fur, and teeth. I’m guessing, too, that she won’t be reliant on Jake or on her own family for sustenance. If she wasn’t going to become Jake’s bride, I’d be happy to get to know her better.

All in all, I’ll never know whether or not the credit card phisher was one of Jake’s thugs. The kid was pretty unsavvy, so it’s highly possible. On the other hand, maybe Jake’s association with Penelope is forcing him to turn to people who are more sophisticated than common hoodlums.
Somehow, I doubt it.

There’s now fewer than fifty minutes until my sister’s due home. I pick a few leaves from a basil plant and pinch off a few sprigs of parsley. I plan to chop those herbs and then sprinkle them over the synth meat I will sauté for our dinner.

Before I start fussing on our camp stove, I take an envelope out of our kitchen drawer and turn it over in my hands. Inside of that covering are the seeds from the apple slices we ate at the fancy restaurant. I was able to salvage four of them.

Maybe if I started with a deep pot, I could grow more than herbs and vegetables. If I sell one of our two chairs, I could make room.


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