Welcome to the Spot Writers. The prompt for this month is based on a Stephen Hawking quote: “The universe does not allow perfection.”
This week’s story comes to you from Val Muller, author of the middle-grade mystery series Corgi Capers. Find out more at www.CorgiCapers.com
Heirloom by Val Muller
They lived like those in Pleasantville or Leave it to Beaver. Or one of those old shows. Not that anyone would know. No one watched television shows anymore, let alone movies. No one had the time or the attention. They were all too perfect to spend so much time sedentary. No narratives longer than the 70-second clips people watched while they waited for their can or train or meal. Their workdays and exercise schedules and social events were all planned to the minute.
Those old programs caused too much thought, and too much thought led to unhappiness, and that was the Unperfect Old Way.
Thomas watched them from the roof, each person an even speck, miniature models in the cityscape below. Each one slim and muscular, the optimal body composition; each one as perfect as the cherry tomatoes he harvested. He opened the crate sent from the grocer. Each tiny bubble in the crate was designated to hold exactly one cherry tomato. Each would be cradled on its way to the grocer. Exactly zero tomatoes would be wasted in transit on the short trip to the city below. The coating on the inside of each bubble meant no early spoilage, either. He placed one tomato into each crate before sealing the crate and sending it down the elevator shaft to the courier waiting below.
Every day, each one of those tiny specks below would be allotted four cherry tomatoes. Or half a banana. Or a quarter of an apple. But Thomas’s concern was only the tomatoes. Thomas couldn’t be sure, since he didn’t leave his rooftop dwelling, but he suspected that the apple and banana and other farmers followed similar processes to create perfect produce.
In the building beneath him, each perfect little speck was allotted 100 square feet of living space and a small bathroom shared by members of the family. In the country, wood harvesters were tasked with building bunk beds and recessable tables that would fit cleanly in the 10×10 space.
When a baby was born, calculations based on life expectancy estimated the exact number of tomatoes that would be required to supplement the human’s nutrition bars These numbers were sent to a screen on Thomas’s rooftop farm, telling him how many tomatoes to harvest on any given day.
Somewhere else, where water was processed, a similar calculation told the engineers just how many gallons of potable water each person would consume each day. Somewhere, tailors received the exact measurements for garments required each week and month and year. Everything was calculated, from the amount of water required to cleanse a newborn to the amount of heat required to turn a person into their final puff of ashes.
It was perfection.
Politicians were required now only to reinforce rules already established. Computers kept birth rates, consumption, jobs all in balance. There was nothing to improve upon anymore. The world was in a state of balance.
The sun was sinking now beneath the tall skyscrapers, and Thomas pushed the button which would cover the plants from the elements of the high elevation that might harm the plants at night. Already, the gossamer film was absorbing radiant energy, converting it to a diffuse light that allowed the tomatoes to grow, even at night. In this lighted greenhouse, the fruit matured nearly twice as fast.
The light on Thomas’s elevator blinked, indicating a delivery making its way from the street below. Sunset. Perfect timing. Thomas smiled and hurried to his corner garden. He chose the largest two tomatoes, two huge ones larger than his fists. Both were roundish but not spherical, with several bulbous excrescences. Their weights were incredible; each seemed to hold twice its volume in water and nutrients.
Thomas brought one to his nose, and instantly the sharp, earthy smell transported him to his grandmother’s garden in the days before The Perfection. He wrapped the tomato in a slice of paper announcing water regulations for the agriculturalists and pulled the opaque black curtain down over the corner garden. Maybe it was just an old-fashioned belief, but Thomas swore that the heirloom tomatoes grew best when they got to rest at night. Same as people.
The elevator had finally reached the rooftop, and Thomas opened the door. The pungent odor of a whole fish hit him as he unwrapped the offering. “Thanks, Bill,” he said. He placed the wrapped tomato on the platform, closed the door, and sent the elevator down to his old friend, who was now just a speck on the sidewalk below.
He started right away, scaling the fish and filleting it. The waste he would grind and use to fertilize the heirloom garden.
The city planners allowed no extra energy source to cook food; the nutrition bars allocated to Thomas and everyone were edible right out of the package, as were the produce supplements he was allowed. They had calculated everything, from lighting needs to water heating needs, most powered by solar energy and man-powered gyms in the building below.
But the city planners and the computers that calculated things had let something slip. The impossibly high elevator required to transport people to their skyscraper dwellings produced an abundance of heat, and this had nowhere to go except to be vented through a shaft to the rooftop garden, where it helped establish a greenhouse under the night’s gossamer film.
Anyone but an expert gardener would require the heat source to produce the required quantity of tomatoes. Anyone else’s crops would suffer if the heat source was used to power the small oven that provided Thomas with cakes and fish and poached eggs and all sorts of contrabands, courtesy of his artisan connections across the city. He’d even rigged the heat source to power a small television screen and DVD player so he could watch movies and relive the time before The Perfection, like the dinner dates of old.
He plucked a handful of herbs from behind his blackout curtain. Freshly-picked was always the best. He wrapped the herbs around the fish and placed it in the oven. The aroma was apparent almost immediately, though there was no way the people in the building below could ever smell it. Thomas placed the other heirloom tomato on a plate and sliced it, salting it lightly just the way his grandmother used to do. Each slice was asymmetrical, imperfect, and delicious. It would pair well with the fish.
Perfectly, in fact.
The Spot Writers—Our Members:
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Millicent Hughes: https://www.danburyonfire.com/