Dad was in the kitchen, banging things around like he usually did in the morning. It was Dad's turn to make breakfast. Tomorrow would be Louis's turn. Breakfast was nearly always the same: boiled porridge of whatever grain they received in this week's allotment. This week was corn, and corn porridge was his favorite because it was a little sweet. Wheat porridge wasn't bad, either. But oat porridge... Louis would eat it, of course, but he would hate every single bite.
He had read once about rice pudding, which was like a porridge, he thought. It sounded wonderful. But they couldn't grow rice – the Hunters had never found any growing wild to be able to bring back seed. Besides, they didn't have any sugar, so even if they did find rice, the pudding they made from it probably wouldn't be the same.
Why can't we grow sugar? Louis wrote this on the top of his desk with a narrow piece of charcoal, the best they could come to making pencils. It was getting harder and harder to make out his notes to himself, the ideas that occurred to him late at night, and whatever else he jotted down on the once-white surface of his desk. Now it was a cloudy gray, and the center was so dark he couldn't write there anymore. The next time it was his turn to whitewash Two's wooden doors and stairs and railing, and the bottoms of the trunks of their row of fruit trees in front, he would have to put a fresh coat of whitewash on his desk, too.
He knew, of course, why they wouldn't grow sugar. Rhea, who was both Head Gardener and on the Council, would say that it wasn't a “nutritionally-dense food.” It was why they didn't grow lettuce or cucumber, either. Surely one little row here and there wouldn't hurt? There were beehives by the clinic, but most of that honey went into making pennies, the rest into bread. When Louis and his friend Jeremy were six, they had sneaked over one day when they were supposed to be shelling nuts. They had made it to the hive, but before they could lift out the trays, a bee stung Jeremy on the hand, he had screamed like an Outsider was on his back, and old Miss Hayden had found them. Jeremy got a poultice on his hand, and they both got a switching on their bottoms.
With a sigh, Louis carefully set his charcoal aside and turned to the next page in the Almanac.
How to Get Rid of Deer!
Louis frowned at the page. “Dad! What does a deer look like?” There were pictures on some of the pages in the Almanac, but this section just had a small, grainy photograph of a wide expanse of grass clipped very short, with just a small section devoted to a garden. Louis squinted at the page – there was a bunch of space between the rows of vegetables in the garden. What a waste! He assumed the trees in the back were fruit trees. There were only three, planted haphazardly.
What kind of garden was that? Surely they didn't raise the grass itself as a crop; though maybe that would make sense, considering how short it was. They must have just harvested it. No doubt Before, there were plenty of uses for grass. Not like today, when every square inch of soil inside the wall was precious, and intensely cultivated.
“Daaaad!” Louis yelled again. Old Miss Taylor thumped something down hard on the floor above his head. Probably her cane.
“Um...” came from the kitchen. Louis could smell the charcoal stove burning, and knew that he would have to go in for breakfast shortly. He bent over the Almanac again, trying to read all he could before the day truly began.
Was Dad going to answer? Louis loved him, he did, but the truth was, Dad just...wasn't that intelligent. He was a good Guard, and very funny, and everyone liked him, but it seemed like every time Louis asked him anything, he heard um... and then nothing while Dad thought and thought. Then finally, muffled through the walls: “I don't know. Never seen one. Like a small horse?”
Louis was going to laugh himself, but then another laugh interrupted him.
(It's Mom laughing, sitting at the table, drinking hot water steeped with dried herbs. He will go into the kitchen and Mom will be there, she will be smiling, and he will know that the nightmare never happened.)
The laugh died away quickly. She hadn't meant to laugh, and maybe she'd been planning to sneak out before Louis emerged, but he'd heard it, all right. Louis carefully marked his place, feeling cold all over. He stood and walked to his bedroom door. His head felt funny all of a sudden, like it had been hollowed out and filled with sawdust.
When he stepped into the kitchen, she was sitting at the table as though she belonged there. Chopping carrots, probably for the porridge. Anna looked up, a sheepish look on her face, and she smiled at Louis. “Good morning. I think Ingrid's seen deer. You should ask her sometime.”
Louis stared back, something twitching in his cheek just under his right eye. Anna looked back down at her carrots.
“I didn't hear a knock at the door this morning,” Louis said. One of his hands was tapping against his hip, and he was aware of it as though the hand belonged to someone else entirely. Something passed over Anna's face, a shadow, he thought, and she set the knife down next to the half-sliced carrots. Louis felt like saying more, getting more and more sarcastic – you must have got here really early, or I missed the Council assigning someone else to this apartment – but instead he just kept his mouth shut. He had said enough.
“Louis,” Dad began, and then he made a stuttering sound and didn't say anything else. Anna raised her eyes and looked at him. Louis didn't like Anna's eyes. They were very light, sometimes the clear blue of a sunny sky, but today they were a crisp gray. Louis and his dad and just about everyone else had brown eyes, but there were still a few people like Anna with those strange light eyes.
“Peter didn't want me walking back to Building Twelve by myself last night,” Anna said, her voice as smooth as warm cream. “You didn't hear a knock on the door this morning because there wasn't one.”
Louis shook his head, unable at first to even think of what to say. “There are laws,” he finally managed. “Decency laws...”
“Oh, kid, give it a break,” Dad said, rolling his eyes. He took the spoon he was using to stir the corn porridge bubbling away on the stove and gestured with it in the air, flopping corn mush all over the floor. “Spending the night with your beau doesn't break any public decency laws, and you know that.”
Anna was by his side; Louis didn't even realize she'd stood up. She put a hand on his shoulder, and Louis wanted to hug her just as much as he wanted to shove her away. “I know this is difficult for you, but--”
“Just never mind,” he choked out, his voice thick. “Do whatever you want.” The absolute last thing he was going to do was cry in front of Anna, so Louis spun and hurried back to his room.
He could hear them talking to each other in the kitchen, but their voices were low, and he couldn't make out any of the words. Maybe if he stuck his ear against the door, but he didn't feel like it. Louis took off his nightshirt, folding it neatly and putting it under his pillow. He made the bed. Then he got dressed – thick knitted socks, ugly denim jeans patched a dozen times, snug cotton shirt. The shirt had been sewn together from pieces of three other shirts, and one of the seams was starting to come undone. He'd have to stitch it up soon. His shoes were starting to get too tight around the toes, and the soles were a little thin. But Louis thought they'd hold up till it was time for him to pass them down to someone younger.
Finally, he picked up the pocket watch from the shelf above his desk. It was gold, and Louis carefully cleaned it with a soft cloth and a small metal pin once a week. No matter how little he handled it, there always seemed to be dirt and grime, especially in all the little nooks and crevices between the lid and the body, and around the face.
Louis opened the watch. Seven eighteen. He carefully wound the watch, as he had done every morning since Dad had given it to him, a week after the last breach. A week after Mom died. Why had he given Louis his watch? The watch had belonged to his father, he said, who had gotten it as a gift at his high school graduation, ten years before the Outsiders were born.
He had to do something while waiting for Anna and Dad to leave the apartment – he wasn't going to walk back out there and talk to them, that was for sure – so Louis sat back down at his desk. There was a note in the top right-hand corner of his desk top, rising like a sigil from a cloud of dark smoke. Louis usually tried to make his handwriting as neat as the printing in books, but he had been in a hurry when he had scrawled this note; the letters slanted hard to the right, no space between them, as though he'd written the words faster than he had thought them.
Find another city. Build a new wall. Expand!
Louis had written that the last time he'd had a fight with Dad. He had spent the night dreaming of finding a city, something not too terribly far away; they would be ruins now, in horrible shape, but they could clean the buildings up. If there were some that were in too bad of shape, they could just tear them down and use the materials to build the wall, and they would make it higher and thicker than this wall. Louis planned the new city in his head that night, and for quite a few nights after that: a latrine on each floor of the apartment buildings, instead of just one on the ground floor; one big farming complex in the center, instead of bunches of little gardens all over; rain troughs in the streets and not just on the buildings. But mostly he dreamed about a library, a huge library, absolutely stuffed full of books.
What had that last fight even been about? Louis couldn't remember.
He couldn't hear anything from the kitchen. Apparently they were done talking about him, talking about how much of an idiot he was. Foolish, sentimental.
Back to the Almanac. He would just wait till they were done – or at least until Anna was done, and had finally left – and then he would eat. He'd be late for morning instruction, but Mr. Nadir would just make him dust the shelves or sweep the floors and that was fine. That would be better than sitting and eating with her.
How to Get Rid of Deer!
For many regions, deer can be the most destructive natural pest your garden may face. Some will “sample” your produce; other deer will sharpen their antlers on your tree trunks, stripping the bark, killing the tree. While a tall, solid fence is the best option to keep Bambi and her brethren away, that may not be practical for everyone. We've compiled a list of surefire ways to protect your peppers, defend your dahlias, and safeguard your salads.
(Louis didn't even look away from the Almanac, just reached out blindly and grabbed the stick of charcoal. And he didn't look when he jotted down a new note: Who is Bambi? A mythic deer? Goddess?)
Prune your fruit trees. Trim the lower-hanging branches of trees.
Set up outdoor lighting. Solar lanterns, citronella torches, and even Christmas lights establish your garden as a place inhabited by humans. Deer will want to steer clear.
Shred some soap. Grate a bar of soap – especially Irish Spring – and spread it around the garden's perimeter.
Spray something strong. Dilute hot sauce, rotten eggs, or bleach in water, then spray around the perimeter, or even on some of the foliage.
What kind of tips were these? Prune away limbs still producing fruit just so these deer didn't eat them? Waste fuel on lights just as a deterrent? And wasting soap? The idea practically made him shudder. He only got to bathe with soap every Sunday, and those were the greatest ten minutes of the whole week.
The article continued on the next page. Probably just more of the same; a bunch of stuff that just didn't apply to the world anymore. Stuff from Before.
Louis heard the front door open and close. He slid his marker into the Almanac, tiptoed to the door, and put his ear to it. He didn't hear anything. They must have both left.
But when he walked down the hallway, Dad was down on his knees in the kitchen, cleaning up the porridge he'd spilled on the floor. Sunlight streamed in through the window behind him, and for the first time, Louis noticed the gray in Dad's hair. Just a few at the temples, and at his hairline, but they stood out against the otherwise thick, black curls. Something in Louis's stomach clenched.
“I miss her so much,” his father said, sitting back on his ankles. He stared down at the rag in his hand as though it held the answers. “And I'll always miss her. But I can't just...” Dad flopped the rag about in the air. How could Louis know what he was thinking if he didn't say it in the first place?
Louis knew what he should say. He should be supportive and understanding, tell his father that he was sorry about this morning, that it wouldn't happen again.
But then Louis thought of the way he'd wanted to hug Anna, when she'd put her hand on his shoulder. The way that he'd wanted her to stroke his hair, and tell him everything was going to be all right. The way he'd wanted a mom, just for a second.
How could he betray his own mom like that? Anna couldn't replace her, not just by showing up. So Louis just stuck the Almanac in his back pocket and shrugged at his dad, who had twisted around to look at him. Louis could see the moment when the arrow struck, and Dad turned back around, head bowed. What did he even care if Louis approved or not? He was going to do whatever he wanted to do with Anna anyway. (Louis did his best not to think about it.)
“It won't even matter in a year,” he said, taking the arrow in hand, twisting the shaft. “I'll be an apprentice and won't be living here anymore. Then you can just do whatever you want.”
Louis waited a moment, but Dad didn't say anything, didn't even seem to breathe, so he left.