A terracotta head sporting a thick mane of tiny plants caught her eye, and she stopped to watch the commercial. Dull orange pottery shapes of all sorts were soaked in water, and then parts of them smeared with what looked like a gelatinous substance that sprouted into a full head or body of a fluffy, living mat.
Amelia glanced down the hall. She could just barely see Stan’s bald head as he sat on the floor, one of the pipes from her sink in hand. Imagining what he’d look like with a thick, lush chia bed on his shiny dome made her smile.
“Wouldn’t it be fun if humans could grow plants on their heads?” she murmured, turning her attention back to the TV. It would be a wonderfully symbiotic relationship, like the bone meal she harvested for her roses, though that was more of a sacrificial relationship.
Stan came out of the kitchen, toolbox in hand. “There you go, Amelia. All fixed. Do I need to lecture you about washing off your gardening tools in the sink again?” He raised an eyebrow, looking stern though they both knew it was all an act.
She shook her head and coyly flipped her wrist down. “You know better than that, dear boy. But I’ll try to do better this time. What do I owe you?” She got up and went to the table by the door and got her wallet out of her purse.
“For you, twenty-five. And I want you to know that’s a special rate, so don’t go telling your friends.”
She laughed and pulled out the cash, handing him two bills. “It’ll be our secret. You’re too good to me, Stan. Now skedaddle so I can go make dinner. I still have some things to attend out in the shed tonight.”
He took the money and waved as he walked out the door, and she waited until he pulled out of the driveway to lock the door behind him. Checking the clock, she went to the kitchen and took the brown pitcher out of the fridge, then let herself out the back door.
When she reached the shed, Amelia set the pitcher on a table next to the door while she got the key out of her pocket. Glancing around to make sure no one had come into the yard, she opened the padlock and hooked it through the metal clasp before grabbing the pitcher and going inside. Pulling the door shut behind her, she used a slide lock to ensure no one could enter, and then turned to what she liked to call her “garden brigade”.
“Hello boys,” she said with a smile. “It’s time for dinner!”
There was no response, but that was a good thing. Moving toward the first stall, she poured the thick concoction her husband had perfected into the feeding container and watched it run down the feeding tube and into Number One. The man twitched a little against his bindings – they all did at first, but the flow was regulated to go slowly so it wouldn’t gag the poor things.
She checked the bandage at the bottom of his left leg, where she’d harvested his foot two days ago. It hadn’t bled through, which was a relief, but she’d need to change the wrapping and make sure it wasn’t getting infected. The IV was still dripping steadily into his arm, delivering the herbal recipe she’d gotten from an eastern gentleman one year when they were traveling. It kept the brigade in a semi-comatose state, unaware of their surroundings for the most part and free of pain. She’d added extra garlic to Number One’s mixture, to inhibit infection, and so far it seemed to be working.
Moving on, she fed the remaining three brigade members and then set the pitcher by the door. Picking up a small rake and shovel, she raked the small piles of excrement from each stall and put them into a bucket. Spreading fresh straw underneath the specially-made pallet beds, she tidied up each space and then helped each brigade member to lie down.
Early on in their studies, she and her husband had determined that changing positions during the day improved circulation and bodily functions, enabling the brigade members to live longer and be more productive. So every morning and evening they were repositioned, though she wouldn’t be able to do it for much longer. Her strength seemed to be waning and it made her want to cry. Her husband had left his work to her, but who would take over when she was gone?
Shaking off the depressing thought, she went to a desk at the far end of the shed and sat down, opening the log book and marking down her notes for the day. She thought for a minute, bringing the end of the pen to her lips. Scanning the entries again, she finally made a new notation for Numbers Two and Three before closing the book. Her last experiment would begin tomorrow. And after it was over, she’d write up her findings and lay the brigade to rest, once and for all.
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