Why did I think it would work? I mean I guess the flaw in my reasoning seems obvious now, but at the time I didn’t even consider that it might not work.
When I found those two little carrot seeds hidden in a discarded packet on this godforsaken junk planet, what can I tell you, I just thought who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity, you know? I mean, you can’t call the synthesized stuff you get from the Feedos real food, can you?
Those seeds were my babies. I could barely interpret the cheap paper packaging, but I followed every instruction to the letter. I collected all the food scraps I found and put them in a pile to rot and make nutritious soil. I planted the carrot seeds three inches apart. I even hoarded my water ration in an old plastic bottle to pour on them every couple days.
This was where I expected failure. Growing vegetables from seeds wasn’t easy even when I did it with schoolkids back on my home planet. One of those little seeds survived, though. Day after day I watched it grow, terrified another inmate would spot it and dig it up or carelessly step on it. For three months, that’s all I thought about. That carrot kept me going when the heat seemed unbearable and the rising stink of the garbage pile threatened to drive me mad.
It was one day that I heard a washing machine had tumbled off a pile a couple miles away and nearly killed somebody that I couldn’t wait any longer. The future wasn’t something you could count on here. It was still weeks too early, but I dug up the carrot.
It was a sight to behold – small and skinny, bent and with two ends, but vivid orange and sturdy. I couldn’t remember the last time I had something crunchy that wasn’t fried. A real carrot. It reminded me so much of home I wanted to cry. This would be the first carrot Chucky had ever seen.
He was eleven now. Born on the ship, Chucky knew nothing of home. He fidgeted on his chair, black with the yellow foam showing in a tear on the side. “Mom said you had extra rations for me.”
“Yeah,” I said, “check out what I grew.”
He looked at me like I was going to lift my shirt to show him a tumor on my chest. I carefully unwrapped my carrot, and he squinted at it. “What is that?”
“It’s a carrot, buddy. It’s for you. Try it, it’s good.”
I held the carrot out to him, and he stared at it for some time before snatching it from my hand and putting it in his mouth.
“blech!” he shouted, throwing the carrot away into a nearby pile of old socks and takeout cups. He stared at me for a moment, then he said “that’s not carrot! What are you trying to pull?” He scowled, looking paradoxically like one betrayed, and fled. I retrieved the carrot, of course.
At supper time, I went to the vegetable Feedo and swiped through the options until I found the “carrot” option. The cartoon character representing “carrot” was smiling and bespectacled. “I’m good for your eyes!” it chirped in an overwrought falsetto. I pushed the VEND button and received a little orange box with green trim.
“Carrot” was shaped in the platonic ideal of a carrot – an oblong cone with a spiky green cap on top. The coloring was somewhat askew, with the orange of the carrot extending well into what presumably was supposed to be the green stem.
“Carrot” yielded immediately to my plastic spoon, and I scooped it up and into my mouth in the way that one ate most Feedo vegetables. As I expected, it was a sweet mush whose flavor represented only the most distant memory of that of a real carrot.
That evening, I carefully washed the dirty sock smell and ingrate saliva off of my precious carrot and consumed it bite by bite. It took most of an hour to savor that meal. It was the best I’d had in years.
nice! Is it a one-off or, in fact, part of a newly imagined world?
It’s a one-off, loosely based on Greg’s old “Jubilee Pilgrimage” book that follows inmates of a spacefaring prison to their eventual destination exiled on a trash planet.
This story effectively captures the way that people can get so used to what is synthetic and false that we stop appreciating what is real.