The Denialist – Justin KB
September 30, 2021
Her phone lit up with a notification. A text from Alyssa, her daughter. The denialist locked her phone and decided she didn’t see this text. At least for now. For today. This was for later. Today she was going to work in her garden, which was her very favorite thing.
She had many beautiful plants in her garden and she’d finally begun to feel she was good at it. Her tomatoes were beginning now to look like the tomatoes she remembered her grandmother growing. The field peas were long, thick, and fading from new green to ripe purple and soon they would be ready to pick and shell. She had sown and soon she would harvest. Today. She would harvest today.
She drifted amongst her tomatoes, spritzing them light as a perfect rain. Not today. Some of them could be harvested, yes, but they weren’t quite there yet. Most more orange than red, and those that were red were small or unbeautiful in a way that made her fingers twitch and her teeth itch. She spritzed and told herself patience. Enough patience and these will be just as she wants them. You had to be patient, you had to try hard, and she always did.
Her cabbages too were less than ripe. She’d struggled there and she wasn’t afraid to admit it. She wasn’t perfect, but she was getting better. Everything you needed was at your fingers now, which was so amazing, because she’d spent her whole life worrying about what she hadn’t learned or had learned but lost, but now it was all there.
This garden came from her hands and the internet. Signals over the air, or maybe through some confused phalanx of cables; she wasn’t sure. Hadn’t learned that yet. When she was young, it was signals over the air intercepted by antenna that were also like hands, so she still liked to imagine the information moving from hand to hand. From this airborne handshake, she’d finally learned to change a tire. YouTube. She even almost fixed her toilet once, but something had gone wrong, so she’d brought in a plumber eventually anyway. Next time.
As she passed through a row of almost perfect blueberry bushes, she wondered why it’d taken so long. It wasn’t that she’d never wanted to learn, she just hadn’t been told she could. Her mother had given her some things, sure, but almost as soon as she was grown, those things became things you could buy. So she had. And she had also forgotten. This made her heart hurt now. She’d let herself lose something. Even though she’d gone and found it again, it was different. It wasn’t from her mother. They were all from a stranger.
The tomatoes were from Holistic Garden Healing, on YouTube. The tire and oil changing were from Next Gen Grease Monkey, also on YouTube. From a man twenty years younger than her who looked for all the world like her father. Maybe that was something; she didn’t know.
When her husband died, it hadn’t occurred to her to blame anyone. He would love what she’d done here. Perfect, blameless Ted. Eleven years gone, he never got to see it, probably couldn’t have imagined she’d ever do it. But she had. Row after row of almost perfect plants.
Her squash was the cream of her crop. Everyone’s favorite. Bright and big and yellow-gold like she’d forced three rows of little suns out of the dirt. She stopped and admired one. Not ready. Not quite. Soon. Ted had loved her squash casserole. You couldn’t buy that. When she first started, it was with these. But today they weren’t there yet.
“I wish you could see them,” she said. She didn’t know who ‘you’ was. It felt like many people. Ted, yes. Her mother, probably. Others, surely. She wanted an audience and didn’t think that was so terrible a thing to want, but today it was just her and the birds.
The birds, a kind of pleasant enemy. Her favorite meme was the one about the birds being robots for the CIA, and there they sat along the telephone line looking down at her. Maybe she did have an audience after all; maybe more than one. She laughed.
Goodness, was it ever hot. But that’s summer for you. She started to give her dear squash a drink, but the can released only a sad trickle. This meant she’d overwatered something. It didn’t matter. Who couldn’t stand for a little extra now and then when it was this hot outside? It didn’t matter. She just refilled the can.
When she came back to the squash of course one of those damn crows was in them. Probably thirsty, but that wasn’t her problem. She ran it off and made a mental note: ‘build scarecrow real working’. She forced herself to rely on mental notes more now than she had these last few years because she read somewhere that reliance on the internet had made it harder for people to remember things, and that felt true to her. So she made mental notes now to help her remember better and she’d gotten better at that again too.
Of course, the crow only landed back among her tomatoes. It perched on the chicken wire scaffolding she’d made for the vines. These she was especially proud of, because she had not gotten them from YouTube or Facebook or anywhere else, she’d remembered her father making them. Everything else seemed intuitive with a pair of pliers, so she’d made them on instinct and was prouder for it.
But there the bird sat, black as the clouds gathering in the distance behind him. When had that come up? She wouldn’t have watered out here today if she’d known that was coming. The bird squawked.
She squawked back.
And it squawked back.
And they went on like this for a bit before she heard the first roll of thunder bouncing around the clouds like God was pacing around His throne.
“Do you like my tomatoes?” She asked with her hand shielding her eyes and her eyes on the distant sky. “You can’t have them.”
The bird didn’t answer and didn’t move. She squawked at it again. It didn’t answer and didn’t move. The sky rolled again, but only faintly and she decided it was no immediate threat and she still had time to harvest.
The crow hopped down lower on the little wire scaffold.
“Don’t you dare,” she warned.
The crow didn’t answer and didn’t move.
“I’ll come over there and you won’t like it.”
Without taking its black seed eyes off hers it sidestepped over to a runty little tomato that clung to the second highest rung of wire. It was one those ugly little red ones that had gone ripe before it got big and she’d planned to let go over on the vine. But it occurred to her now that that would be wasteful. Maybe she could turn those into homemade ketchup. Surely there was a video for that. Must be.
“Get away from my garden, crow. Go on now.”
It didn’t answer and it didn’t move. Of course. It was a crow, it couldn’t understand words. She took a high, long step over a row of squash, careful not to damage it. The crow pecked the tomato.
“Quit that,” she said. “Go on.” At that moment, she heard her mother come through in her voice. The long drawl on the round vowel. The sharp cut of the i that almost turned to what felt like a y. Queeyet. Something like that. Made her cringe a little, but the bird didn’t care. It pecked the tomato again.
“I said quit it, those ain’t yours!” She yelled. This made the crow stop and pay attention. More of the birds had gathered along the telephone wire and seemed to watch with a shrugging but unmoving interest.
The one on the tomato plant squawked and turned back to its little prize, ugly and red and heart shaped. It nipped and pecked and she almost fell over herself to get at it. But she’d no sooner gotten through her cabbages than the greasy little animal plucked it free and took off away toward the sunset. Away from the clouds, the garden, herself, and his flock.
She now eyed that flock as sharp as she could. Thunder rolled closer than before and now it felt like God was with her. They watched.
She yanked her phone out of her pocket and decided she’d handle this right now, today. No more crows. Her fingers were all flexed to punch in her mental note, but there it was.
We can’t talk anymore.
She locked her phone and went straight to the field peas. Oh, bless God.
“Bless God,” she breathed and smiled. They were ready, bless God. They were huge and had gone all the way to their ripest purple, the better part of them anyway, and now she could harvest.
As she reached down to them, she felt the first kisses of rain on her hand. The purple pods were as long as that hand, dark as the clouds and the crows. Perfect. And so many. She hadn’t realized how full they were. She’d need another basket.
Inside, she was disappointed to discover she didn’t have one. So she pulled an old plastic grocery bag out of the cupboard instead. That would do. No need to be fancy. Not everything can look ideal, and the important part was that they were ready and perfect.
And covered with birds.
Her whole garden was. Squawking, black, bickering birds. She screamed. She ran at them like no one was watching, her arms scraped the boiling sky. Her hat flew off her head and she crashed headlong into the whole flock, tore through her cabbages and even her squash and birds flew everywhere and for these few seconds it was like the black clouds came down to earth and then they were gone. Back to their telephone wire. She’d fallen through them. Her face was in the damp dirt and the first thought that came to her was that it was somehow hotter down here with all the vegetation covering her. Little black rainbow feathers drifted among the leaves.
She was startled to discover how bad moving hurt. You never expect to feel your age, or she never did. But moving hurt bad. Could she do it?
No, not well. She pulled her phone out of her pocket with the arm that hurt the least and let her face open it. She hated that, but she was glad she’d set it up now. Or had Alyssa set it up. Of course, between that thought and the message still open on her unlocked phone, her real situation greeted her once again.
“Not for today,” she reminded herself. She tried to swipe it away. It didn’t move. Delicates cracks like thin, ugly veins ran all across the face of her phone. It didn’t seem to respond to her touch. She locked it. She tried unlocking it with her passcode, but it wouldn’t respond. It opened only for her face.
The crows came back. Rain fell now in a spritz as light as a tissue, but as steady as her mother’s hand. She heard the birds hopping and squawking all around her.
Then she remembered the phone could talk. Bless God. “Hey, Google,” she said. A little blue bar lit up to let her know it was listening and the water-dappled screen distorted it so it appeared swollen and dimpled, but bless God, it was listening.
“Call…” she stopped. Who? Not an ambulance. This wasn’t worth all that. Not Alyssa. Certainly not her. Not for today. The little blue listening bar pulsed as if alive and the raindrops that gathered and ran across the screen made it look like Christmas lights.
“Ghostbusters,” she breathed, laughing. The tiny speakers blasted the theme surprisingly loud and she laughed even harder. Which hurt. She was not surprised this time when it hurt. Alyssa had loved that movie when she was a kid. Long before Jason and the kids; long before she’d stopped seeing how hard her mother tried.
Finally, one of the little crows hopped close enough to notice her predicament. It cocked its head and stared, adjusted, and stared again. She squawked. It squawked back. She wondered if this was the same one, come back to haunt her for not wanting to share.
“Make yourself useful,” she said. “Go get somebody.”
It didn’t answer and it didn’t move.
“What? Can’t you see I’m in trouble here?”
“Can’t you see I’m trying?”
Quiet hop, it seemed to smile in a crowish way.
The rain came harder. It was no longer gentle. Now it insisted. Her garden would be well overwatered now.
She turned on side and let it hurt, let herself feel every ache and all the little fragile sharpnesses so pointed she thought she’d pass out. She looked up through the raindrops rolling off the leaves. Her peas were perfect, just as she made them.