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Unexpected Harvest
Terril Shorb

Georgia Slade entered the proper numbers on the keypad affixed to the gate.  The lock buzzed and she and Jamal stepped inside.   Georgia closed the heavy-gauge chain-link gate behind them and started down a gravel path to a community garden hidden behind a hulking city storage facility.  "Back here," she chirped to her boyfriend.  He didn't seem too happy about being here.  Georgia's pulse quickened in anticipation of what would now come into view.  "Here we are!"  Jamal moved up beside her and they gazed over a circular patch of plants growing within a 30-foot diameter.  Vegetables crowded the spiral path made of concrete chunks salvaged from a demolition site in south Oakland.  Other veggie plants clung to bamboo trellises along the rear of the building and to the chain-link fence that marked the perimeter of the lot.  One vine had threaded itself through the curlicues of barbed-wire atop the steel fence.  "Check out those delicious little Marrow Squash on the vine up there!"  Georgia pointed to the leafy stretch of fence where the maturing squash fruits glowed in green and yellow stripy splendor, even in the foggy morning light.  Jamal shrugged indifferently.  "Do they go with ribs?"   She saw a hint of humor in his dark eyes and she gently tugged one of his dreads.  "Not for us vegans."  His eyebrows flexed suggestively.  "Baby--it's been a LONG while since you could call yourself  that."  She not-so-tenderly yanked his dreads.  "What's the matter, carnivore man, you afraid to even say the word, vee-gan?"  She kissed him and he pulled her tightly to him.

    "Oh hey guys--didn't know I have company."  The husky voice startled them and Jamal instantly went into a self-defense crouch, pulling Georgia behind him.  A tall man with bushy hair and beard appeared in the door of the greenhouse, saw Jamal's martial arts pose, raised his hands slowly.  "Sorry, bro--didn't mean to startle you."

    "Clancy!"  Georgia moved from behind Jamal and crossed over to shake Clancy's hand.  "How goes your--"  She hesitated.  "Recovery?"  

    "Still recovering.  Always recovering, Miss Slade."  He pumped her hand, stepped out of the small structure to greet Jamal.  "Hey Jamal, Georgia's talked you way up as a community force."  Jamal didn't offer to shake hands and Clancy let it go.  Instead, he bowed slightly to Georgia.  "Well, Miss Slade here is a force of her own in community gardening here in the East Bay."  Georgia waved away the compliment, diverted the conversation to ongoing projects.  "Are we going to be able to shore up the west side of the greenhouse?"  Clancy appeared happy to defuse the apparent tension of the moment.  He motioned them to the back side of the structure, showed Georgia where he had replaced a section of the concrete footing and was beginning to rebuild the lower wooden supports.  "If we get some sunshine I'm going to whip up a batch of cob and plaster that whole section."  Georgia could hear the trace of pride in his voice and knew it had been a long journey for Clancy through his nightmares about his long-ago service in Viet Nam and alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse.  He seemed to flourish here, just like the garden vegetables.

    Clancy noticed Jamal standing back, glancing around, seeming disinterested. "Um, Jamal, would you like to help with the cob application?"  Jamal summoned a wan smile.  "No--we've got a march tomorrow in a security company and I've got more training to do.  Georgia's joining us for that, right?"  She stiffened, flashed Jamal a strained smile.  "Well, I've got those meetings at city hall tomorrow--remember?"

    Jamal didn't pretend to smile.  "I remember and I thought you were canceling those to march with us."  His tone was sharp and  Clancy gave a self-deprecatory wave and backed around the corner out of sight.  Georgia whirled and stood on tip-toes to place her face inches from Jamal's.  "We've been through this.  You've got important work there and I've got important work here."  Jamal appeared flushed.  His voice was higher pitched with annoyance.  "Right.  You've got to tend to your veggies and your old white allies here."  Georgia was astonished.  She turned anxiously to see if Clancy was out of earshot as well as the view.  She hoped he was.  "That was just mean.  Where the hell is that coming from?"

    Jamal no longer tried to disguise his anger.  "From you thinking you can solve the problems of our community growing tomatoes and rehabbing a Casper-like that."  

    "Dammit, Jamal.  Would it be better if Clancy were a black recovering alcoholic?"

    He shrugged.  "--be a start in the right direction."

    "I don't get you," Georgia shouted.  He lifted his shoulders and started to walk away.  "You're right.  You don't.  Not anymore.  You'd rather hang out anywhere except joining your brothers and sisters to protest security guards hassling our young kids.  That's your call."  He paused, then as an acrid afterthought, "And it's not a good call, Georgia."  He stomped away.  Georgia started to run after him and stopped.  What was the use?   She and Jamal disagreed on their approaches to community unity.  Her BF could get a bit overzealous at times and this was one of them.  She heard the gate slam shut on the opposite end of the warehouse and it felt like an echo of him slamming the door on their relationship, too. 

    That evening Georgia sat on a big lime-green floor pillow and leaned pensively against the saggy citrus-colored couch that was one of the few pieces of furniture in the small room of the apartment that once was a garage.  IKEA, it wasn't.  But for two people earning modest wages, it was home. Her roommate, Sarah, stirred a hearty shrimp soup at the kitchenette.  Georgia couldn't stop replaying the fight with Jamal and wondering whether their year-long relationship truly was over.  Sarah turned from the steaming stainless steel pot.  "You about ready to eat some really yummy China Camp Heritage Soup?"  

    Georgia roused from her reverie, jumped up and in two steps was beside Sarah, opening a cupboard to retrieve two mugs.  "Sure--yes.  What the heck is China Camp soup?"  Sarah described how her great-grandparents had retreated from discrimination toward Chinese in San Francisco to the finger of land called San Pablo peninsula, in the northeast Bay.  "We should go out there sometime, it's pretty in an eerie sort of way," Sarah said, turning off the flame and preparing to ladle the soup into a pair of mismatched bowls.   "It's a state park now and you have to wait for low tide to cross a pickleweed marsh to get to the little island where my great-grandparents had their tiny house."  

    "So the Chinese people started the tiny house movement way back then!" Georgia enthused. 

    Sarah grinned.  "Most of the shelters were small because resources were very limited. As my Grandmother tells it there was the terrible treatment of Chinese people after some kind of economic meltdown in the late 1880s.  They got blamed for sucking up jobs.  You know they passed an exclusion law to keep most Chinese from coming into the country?"  Georgia rolled her eyes.  "Sounds familiar."

    Georgia filled their mug with hot water, settled green tea-filled infuses into the mugs and carefully placed them on the squatty coffee table that served as their dinette.  Sarah brought the bowls brimming with shrimp soup and they sat cross-legged to eat.  

    "Hope this doesn't spoil your appetite but can we talk about what happened today at the greenhouse with Jamal?"  Georgia's free hand made a tumbling motion paired with raised eyebrows.  "Can't believe I'm asking for this."

    Sarah's eyes sparkled.  "Me either.  Usually, you've got a guy attitude about relationships.  You don't communicate with them.  Yes, please, let's talk."   

    Georgia felt relief.  "Okay, good.  I made a choice not to go with Jamal to the protest tomorrow 'cause I've got three meetings with the city about a proposed residential zoning change in one of the neighborhoods to allow a public garden."  Sarah pursed her lips.  "That the protest about security guards chasing off young kids from the mall downtown?"  Georgia nodded.  "I told Jamal I agree it's important to create some kind of public demonstration to make visible the discrimination,"  Sarah asked what it was that was getting the kids in trouble.  Georgia cooled her tea, sipped carefully.  "Jamal says it's because kids of a certain color don't fit with the decorating scheme of that refurbished mall.  They hang out there after school mostly because it's a safe space to be."  Sarah shook her head affirmatively.  "I've seen that phenomenon before.  Teens congregate and if they wear dark colored clothing and happen to be of a darker hue themselves--they're viewed as some kind of implicit threat just by their presence."  

    "Yeah--that's the way Jamal describes it."

    Sarah sighed.  "I don't want to take sides here but one thing I've noticed over the years is if the dominant culture wants to exclude you--for whatever reason--a way will be found."  She chewed one of the bay shrimp pieces in the soup.  "My ancestors got scraped like bread crumbs off society's table because they were supposedly competing for rare jobs.  Never mind a lot of them were treated as slaves--sorry for the offensive word--by the railroad companies or the wealthy elites in San Francisco.  My ancestors were fortunate San Pablo Bay teemed with shrimp and they could raise other food because otherwise, they would've starved."

    Georgia's guilt re-surfaced.  "You think Jamal's right that I should join my peeps to march on the mall."  Sarah's temper flared.  "No, GF, I did NOT say that!"  Her anger quickly abated and she reached across the low table and patted Georgia's hand.  "In fact, I way support you in this because I think maybe Jamal was using a bit of sideways pressure to assert his own dominance over you."

    "Really?"  Sarah shrugged.  "He's a hunk.  Tall, dark, and very handsome.  And he exudes a cloud of testosterone when he's in the room.   I find him interesting and--sorry--a bit scary."

    Georgia's hands dipped toward each other and she nodded vigorously.  "No need to apologize.  He's fierce--but mostly when he's engaged in his community activism.  I admit it both attracts  and repels me."  She thought about it some more.  It seemed the times were more fraught than ever with racial tensions.  It felt like the prevailing white society was digging in for a last desperate struggle to maintain their way of life.  And it didn't matter what hue of off-white you were.  She gazed at Sarah for a moment, studying her face.

    "What?"

    "Do you get hassled much for not being white?"

    Sarah considered before she answered.  "Not as much as I think Blacks and Latinas do."  She held her arm next to her white ceramic bowl.  "See--I'm closer on the paint chart to the preferred color scheme."  Georgia giggled, pushing her own arm to the other side of the bowl.  "Oh yeah--my skin looks more like the unfired clay the bowl was made from."

    "Definitely before they applied the pale glaze."  The women laughed, lapsed into silence before Georgia spoke again.  "Did you mean Jamal was being kinda macho?"

    Sarah nodded over a spoonful of soup.  "Look--I don't know him much at all.  But you have a right to decide how you want to engage in community building and your way is through gardens.  I mean, you have volunteers from a real cross-section of the East Bay--people of more colors than the veggies!"

    Georgia grinned broadly.  "Thank you, dear GF.  I needed to hear that.  I was feeling a bit guilty when Jamal yelled at me and said I was more interested in working with white folks in recovery than helping my own brothers and sisters."  A grimace rolled her smooth facial features.  "I truly believe all human beings are my brothers and sisters."

    Sarah hoisted her mug."  That's a necessary perspective in these messed-up times."  Sarah now felt a shadow pass through her.   She had to say this to her friend. "My experience is you can always find another BF.  Once you stray from your heart's work, it's much harder to find your way back."

    They made their way carefully along the ever-curving walkway, stepping gingerly over squash and pumpkin vines that had overgrown the path.  Georgia waved Sarah toward the back of the lot where the solar greenhouse stood.  She wanted to check on the dozens of small peat pots inside where she had started seeds of chard and kale that would be the core of the winter garden.  She stopped so abruptly Sarah caromed into her back.    

    "Oh, my Goddess!"  

    The door to the greenhouse was flung wide open and the lower legs and boots of a prone figure lay just inside.  The women bolted, raced back to the gate and stabbed the keypad, letting themselves out and clanging the heavy gate behind them.  They let their breath calm and soon

Georgia raised up on her tip-toes as if she could see the booted portion of the figure lying on the greenhouse floor.  "Okay, we have a short roster of regulars who tend the garden.  Most are women and of the men, there's only a few who show up regularly enough for volunteer duty to earn the key code.  It's Clancy--got to be 'cause he was here yesterday and was determined to finish that repair job"

    Georgia pictured the lanky, red-haired Clancy who was recommended to the garden project a few months ago by his sponsor.  He was knowledgeable about vermiculture and composting and beyond routine repairs, he was building a worm bin that was partially buried to allow worms to farm and then retreat underground during colder winter months.  Georgia sighed.  She'd been happy with how well he'd been doing.  Just last week he'd proudly flashed a green token. "Three months sober!"

    Georgia had a frightful thought.  "You think that scene yesterday when Jamal referred to him as an alike--think that pushed him off the wagon?"   Sarah thought it could.  "Being in recovery is pressure enough, let alone if you have someone insulting you and hurting your feelings."    

    They waited.  Nothing was heard but distant traffic and the raffish cries of seagulls.  Georgia tried again, louder.  "Clancy--Georgia here, at the gate.  Sing out if it's you in here."

    No response.  

    "Well?"  Sarah stuck her cell phone under Georgia's nose.  Georgia turned away, then back, her eyes wide with excitement.  "Here's what we're going to do."  She held up both hands as if to preemptively dampen any protest from Sarah.  "I'm going back in.  You stay here and keep your finger poised over the emergency call icon."

    Sarah, of course, did protest.  "What if the guy comes out of some kind of drug-freak thing and is all out of control?"  

    "Sarah, please--it's not like I've gone through life without being very alert to the fact people can come after you for what they think are good reasons."  she stopped, then said, "Or no reasons at all." Sarah's facial features scrunched into a mask of uncertainty.  "You mean because you're a person of color?"

    Georgia nodded.  "That and I'm a woman and I give people who are lost in their own fertilizer some room to find their own way out."  

    "Okay, okay--I get it."  Sarah flashed a rueful smile.  Georgia nodded and punched in the code, ducked back through the gate and closed it behind her.  Sarah pressed her face to the fence, shook her head.  "I wish you had some kind of, ah--"

    "Weapon?"

    "Well something you could use for your own defense," Sarah said plaintively.  Georgia dug in her front jeans pocket and pulled out a leather-holstered canister.   "Pepper spray, okay?"

    Sarah brightened.  "Okay."  Georgia moved away from the fence.  "I won't need it."  Sarah shrugged.  "Maybe not.  But I'm keeping my finger poised over the emergency icon on my phone anyway."

    Georgia threaded her way back through the garden, trying not to be distracted by glimpses of the bounty peeking through the dense, dark green foliage.  Her ankles brushed the heart-shaped leaves of a patch of Hopi scarlet runner beans that had climbed up on skinny trellises.  The fruit gleamed like dark green scimitars and Georgia knew the pods would soon turn a deep violet color.  A few steps more brought her to the carrot stretch and she could see poking out of the soil round medallions of maturing orange-fleshed root veggie.  Now the spiral path brought her to the back of the garden and her gaze was stolen by a veritable hedge of cherry tomato plants punctuated by clusters of dark green and ruddy fruits that would be picked upon ripening and dried for use in salads across the neighborhood all winter long.  Georgia was so pleased with the bumper crop she was startled to turn her gaze ahead and see the still open greenhouse door and the black boots and lower legs of the figure just inside.  Oh yeah, that.

    She took a cautious step closer, then another.  Instinctively the hand bearing the pepper spray rose into firing position.  She had to admit, Sarah had spooked her with her own fears.  Calm yourself, girl, Georgia counseled.  She grabbed a slow, deep breath and felt steadier.  Another step closer.  She studied the boots, saw one of the high-tops was swaddled with  Duck Tape.  The pattern of the tape was bright curlicues of rainbow hues. Unmistakable.  The feet and legs did belong to Clancy.  She allowed herself an internal curse word.  A mild one.  Her daddy had taught her to keep her anger well in check.  She was barely four when he began that part of her education: "Good Lord got his hands full to keep us black folks safe," John Slade said one humid afternoon when she played in the clingy, red Georgia soil while John worked a field of cotton plants.  "We gotta help the Lord--keep our anger inside no matter how righteous we think it causes if we show our hurt and get mad, what happens?"  He would wait for the young Georgia to respond, "We give the person something to hurt us!"  

    "That's right, little girl.  Say it with me, "We smile not frown so the other person won't knock us down."

    Georgia smiled at the memory.  All during her childhood and especially since her mother died when Georgia was 14 John Slade had done a good job of raising her.  She did cling to his lessons and that usually pointed her in a helpful direction.

    Okay, so Clancy must've been hurt badly by Jamals' outburst.  Or, maybe he has just fallen, Georgia suddenly worried.  She moved to the doorway, looked down on Clancy's face which looked peaceful enough.  She could see his chest rise and fall beneath his winter coat, felt a flood of relief that he wasn't dead.  But the challenge remained.  Now what?

    "Hey, Clancy--what's going on in here?"  She saw his finger twitch on one hand.  His arm flexed and the other hand rose to scratch at the stubble on his chin.  Odd, she had always seen Clancy clean-shaven.  His eyelids bounced open, closed, then opened and he stared at his surround with a confused expression.  He raised his head and saw her in the doorway.  A slanting smile appeared.  "Hey Georgie girl, how's your garden growing?"  He rolled to one side, angled up to a seated position, then struggled to stand.  He braced himself unsteadily against the door frame, shivered.  "It's cold!"

    Georgia asked him if he had been here all night.  "Uh--not sure.  What time is it?"  She told him and he seemed surprised.  Wow--I was really into that repair job.  Got everything done 'except the cob.  It's gotta wait for a warmer day."  He motioned vaguely to a corner of the greenhouse.  "Weird--I must've laid down for a nap and overslept."

    Georgia nodded as if she understood but despite all the faith she had shown in Clancy through his climb out of his own self-imposed rut, she was now dubious.  She considered asking him directly if he was drinking again.  Maybe she'd work alongside him for a bit and if he exuded alcohol fumes, she'd have her answer.  She called for Sarah to let herself in and join them.

    Clancy seemed confused, kind of loopy. Georgia asked him again what he was doing and Clancy frowned, obviously trying to remember.  "I-I can't remember.  Ain't that a hoot?"  He turned toward her, stumbled, went down on one knee."  Georgia leaped in to help him back to his feet.  "Something's going on with you Clancy."  She carefully kept any judgment out of her voice.  

    "So I--I'm way darn thirsty"  He paused, shook his head, reached out with both hands to prop himself on one of the planting benches.  "Got to sit."  His knees buckled and he went down.  Georgia couldn't hold his weight and she toppled over, too.  Clancy sagged against one of the bench supports, breathing hard. His forehead was sweaty.  Georgia was sure now he was drunk.  "You been drinking, Clancy?"  He fought to keep his eyes open, to focus.  "Nah--I don't need a drink."  Then, "Yeah--maybe some water.  Dang, I'm so, so thirsty!"  

    Georgia helped pull him to a more comfortable seated position.  She stood over him and heard Sarah come up behind her.  She turned and whispered, "I think he's been, you know."  She gestured with an upright cupped hand angled to her mouth.

    Sarah clicked her teeth nervously, whispered back, "What can we do?"  Georgia shook her head helplessly.  In a hushed voice, Sarah said, "We better watch him for a bit, make sure he doesn't pass out and get hypothermic or something."  Georgia sighed, watched Clancy's expression which was changeable, like the gray skirts of a fog bank playing hide and go seek with the sun.  Much as she wanted to be mad at him, she reminded herself of the progress he had made with his recovery process.  But another part of her was disgusted.  She had always managed to get through tough times in her life and Goddess knew there had been some tough times!  Clancy had once said his life had been a roller coaster and he kept getting pitched off.  "About the time I almost get my seatbelt buckled I get tossed out again."  He would not go into detail but said there were a trail of bodies--not real dead ones but people who got crossways with him or he with them and all of his old friends had abandoned him.  Mostly because of the drinking but some because they wanted to drink even more.  "Paisanos we ain't," he said one afternoon recently, and Georgia had never heard such sadness in his voice.  Again, she felt indecision ripple through her.  To forgive?  Jamal had made that horrible remark.  Surely, Clancy had heard it.  He was too polite to say.  But if he was drinking, Georgia knew there had to be consequences.  She could not endanger the whole garden project by having him acting out in front of some of the other volunteers.  He seemed to sense her inner turmoil and said, "I promise I didn't have a drink, Georgie girl."  He shook his head.  "I need one--I'm so thirsty."  He seemed to realize the confusion that statement might cause.  "No-no, I don't need a DRINK.  I need to drink water."  His lips did seem dry, Georgia thought.  He closed his eyes and then opened them with what seemed an effort.  "There's something else but I can't tell you that."  

    Once before, early in the trial run when she offered Clancy a volunteer position with the community garden facilities crew rather than face more jail time for public drunkenness, he hinted at some deeper mystery.  Refused to disclose, but asked Georgia to please, please believe him that it was a factor in his sometimes wacky behavior.  She decided then to go along.  Now, though, she felt it was just another manipulation by an alcoholic who had much experience in manipulating his way out of trouble.   

    "Clancy, you know we can't have any trouble at the garden.  Too many donors would freak out and--"

    "Uh-oh," he said, gasping. 

    "What?"  Georgia felt annoyed at first, sure this was another ploy.  "I feel like I'm burning up."  She noticed a rash on his neck.

    "I think I'm...."

    "What, Clancy?"  Georgia's tone was curdled with indignation.

    "....gonna....pass..."  He crumpled sideways, lay in the wood chips on the greenhouse floor.  "Clancy!  Come on."

    Sarah pulled at Georgia's sleeve.  "Wait, GF, there is something else going on here."

    "What?"  Sarah reminded Georgia that she had taken a Wilderness First Responder course a year or so back when she was leading short treks for regional school kids into nearby parks as part of an initiative to get kids exercising more.  "His symptoms--it reminds me of when someone forgets to take their insulin."

    Georgia was alarmed.  She shook Clancy gently.  "Clancy--are you diabetic?"  He seemed to awaken, smiled and nodded affirmatively.  Closed his eyes.

    Sarah was on her phone, punching in 9-1-1.  She told dispatch they had someone who might be slipping into a diabetic coma.  "Address?" she yelled at Georgia, who gave it to her.

Sarah asked Georgia to try to get him up in a sitting position and they managed to prop him up against one of the planting bench posts.  Georgia was crying.  "I'm such a fool!"  She grabbed Sarah's hand.  "Is he going to die?"

    Sarah tried to sound reassuring, said the paramedics would be here in a moment and they'd probably give him an injection of glucagon." But she wasn't sure.  Clancy's kidneys likely were already damaged from his years of drinking.  He must have worked through the night from what Georgia had said.  Probably ignored his body's needs for fluids and the proper kind of food.  It wasn't good.  Then they heard the siren and she reminded Georgia she needed to open the gate and show the EMTs where they were.  Georgia jumped up and disappeared.  Sarah stared helplessly at Clancy who seemed to be sleeping peacefully.  She tenderly stroked his cheek.

    They fell asleep in the ER waiting room after a long and serious conversation.  Georgia was convinced she was responsible for Clancy's dire situation.  "Sarah--my boyfriend insulted him and he knocked himself out finishing up that repair, like he had to prove to me he wasn't a, well, what Jamal called him."  

    Sarah tried to tweak Georgia's perspective, to help her see there were other factors to consider.  "Georgia--you gave him that opportunity and he loved it.  Said so yourself.  Even if he did hear Jamal's unfortunate remark and even if he did throw himself into that project, that's not what got him in trouble."  Sarah grabbed Georgia's hands and squeezed them as if she could will her GF to realize she was not to blame.  "He distracted himself and got off his med schedule.  It happens."

    "We gave him a huge distraction."

    "You said Clancy saw action in Viet Nam.  Trust me--he's seen far worse." 

    They argued to a draw, Sarah thought.  Inside, Georgia still could not absolve herself from responsibility.  She should have never said aloud her doubts.  How would that have helped the situation, anyway?  Driving someone into guilt was likely to push all their insecurities to the fore, and that was not a foundation for clear thinking or action.  

    Georgia felt worse because they were not family and were not allowed to go into the ICU where Clancy was receiving treatment.  A San Leandro Hospital docent assured them she would let them know if there were any change, asked if they knew of any family members who could be called.  Georgia recalled Clancy once saying he had a sister somewhere up north, but she hadn't been in touch for years and who could blame her.  

    The docent lady was gently calling Georgia from her uncomfortable slumber.  "There's someone here who says he knows your Mr. Clancy."  Georgia rubbed her eyes, straightened in the chair, nudged Sarah awake.  The two watched as the docent talked to an elderly gentleman and pointed to them.  He was a distinguished looking black man dressed in suit and tie.  He introduced himself as Davis Samuels, one of the outreach volunteers in the East Bay Disabled American Veterans.  He said Clancy was someone he had been in contact with over the years because he was a member of DAV due to his service in Viet Nam at the end of that war.  "His was one of the last choppers to take fire and go down.  He pulled six guys to safety before he was brought down by sniper fire.  He had head and chest injuries but our medics pulled him through."  Davis smiled.  "He's a good guy but he forgets the self-care he's got to maintain with for type 2 diabetes."  Georgia gasped.  "So that's what was happening to him?  It wasn't--"  She blushed, embarrassed now at her rush to judgment.  Davis' mellifluous voice calmed her.  He reminded her in some ways of her late father.  She found she instantly liked and, yes, trusted him.  

    Davis seemed to read her mind.  "Young lady, Clancy has been on and off the wagon for a decade.  I've been there a few times when he fell prey and I get a call from our AA chapter rep to DAV.  I show up, we talk.  We're two old vets speaking the lines to a play we've rehearsed too many times."   He grew silent for a moment, ducked his head, wiped a tear from his cheek.  "At least Clinic is still with us.  I've attended too many military funerals of guys, and a few gals, who never could come home again, if you get my drift."

    Georgia gently asked Davis directly if he thought an argument she had with her boyfriend in which he spat out an insult about Clancy's drinking might have knocked him off his sobriety.  Davis nodded 'no' firmly.  "Miss Georgia, I assure you as one who fought the demon liquor since my own days in Nam that each of us is fully equipped to bump ourselves off the wagon." 

    She hesitated a moment, then decided she needed to have this wise, compassionate man's perspective on something else.  "Mr. Samuels, I don't want to assume anything, but I'm of African heritage and I wonder..."  He seemed amused.  "Yes, that's me, too.  Why?"

    Georgia explained the scene when Jamal accused her of abandoning the good fight for justice among people of color, particularly hers.  "Do you think I should've gone with Jamal, been in that protest?"  Davis grinned, shook his head slowly.  "That's something you as an individual human being has to decide.  For me, I never was one for public demonstrations.  But I'll tell you I'm grateful for those who do that."  He lapsed into a thoughtful silence, then continued.  "You've got this garden thing going and from what I understand you feed all kinds of poor people here in the Bay Area, vets and white people and some folks from countries I don't even know the name of.  Clancy said his work for the garden project has saved him from despair which can be just as dangerous as a sniper, young woman.  We've lost too many veterans who couldn't find a reason to believe they were needed anymore.  That's as bad as anything we confronted in war, often more deadly.  I'm with you in that I'd rather be in a situation where I'm passing the hope rather than the ammo--any old day"

    Georgia thanked him for his observations but privately she made a pledge to work on taming her rush-to-judgment impulses as hard as she worked on perfecting her botanical expertise.  I can't be growing nutritious crops on one hand and pulling people up by their psychological roots on the other, she thought.  She then got quiet, closed her eyes, and offered up an affirmation to Mother Goddess--her version of the prayers she had been taught in her youth.

    She fell into another fitful doze and then Sarah was shaking her, grinning widely.  "Davis just returned--they let him into ICU.  Clancy is awake.  They stabilized his sugar level.  He's going to be okay."  Georgia offered up a sequel to her silent prayer for that unexpected harvest of goodness.  She and Sarah hugged when Davis appeared again Georgia asked if she could hug him.  He said okay but maybe she ought to save up her hugs for Clancy.  "I've got plenty for you both," she enthused.      Davis said the ER doc gave permission for them to visit Clancy briefly so the three of them held hands and walked slowly into the ward.  Georgia had already decided she was going to plant a small butterfly garden in the corner of the lot in honor of Clancy.  Let him know in the best way she knew how that he was appreciated.  That he would always have a home in the garden project. And a friend forever.  White, black, yellow, red, tan--wherever people were on the paint wheel of life, Georgia would do what she could to help, inviting plants and people to grow to their potential, whatever that might be.

I teach Sustainable Community Development at a small liberal arts college, Prescott College, in Arizona. My life work includes ranching, journalism, and mentoring people in communities to support sustainable ways for the community of all life. Work has appeared recently in publications including Kudzu House, Cargo Literary Magazine, bioStories, Green Teacher Magazine, and The MacGuffin.