Highly Commended, 2020 Green Stories Competition
Table for One
by Kimberly Christensen
by Kimberly Christensen
Leave it to Terry to be at the cutting-edge of the latest Millennial trend – killing the death industry. No corpse flambé for him. Nope. He picked the newest in death technology and got himself composted, leaving me – a newly-minted widow – suddenly in possession of a cubic yard of dead-husband/dirt. Thanks, Terry.
As there was no place to plant Terry in our condo and I hated being there without him, I searched around for one of those new senior-focused pod-living high rises. A tiny apartment for myself, active neighbors nearby, and a memorial garden where I could plant Terry. It was the rational thing to do. Except that rational doesn’t exactly keep you company in the shared cafeteria. How can a room full of people be so damn lonely?
Day One of pod-life I sat at my own lunch table, no one to talk to, imaging Terry making sarcastic remarks about the sea of gray hairs diligently stopping at the clean-up station to sort their lunch-time waste. There was a system to it. An overwhelming system. I considered hiding my lunch tray behind a potted plant and sneaking out the back.
“You’re new here, aren’t you, love?” Damn. I’d been spotted. But at least the woman’s voice was kind. Warm even. “Have you figured out where everything goes?” Before I could answer, she took the tray, scraping most of the food waste into a bin labeled “compost” but depositing an apple core into a separate tub with a picture of a red earthworm taped to it.
She leaned toward me, conspiratorially. “Can I tell you a secret? The worms love apples, but watermelon is really what makes them happy.”
“I’ve never considered the emotional state of worms.” Great. The first words out of my mouth to this kind woman were sarcastic. I flashed her a weak smile.
“Oh, you’re a funny one,” she chuckled. “The emotional state of worms depends entirely on food. Come on. You can see for yourself.”
She exited the cafeteria through a side door into a shady and sparsely vegetated area. After hoisting the lid to a wooden bin, she dug around in the fruit scraps to retrieve a red worm. I hadn’t touched a worm since I was a kid, but I thrust my palm out so that she could tip the worm into it. It flopped and wiggled, moist on my dry palm. I was going to put it back in the bin, but then I had an idea.
“Would it be OK?” I jerked my chin toward the memorial garden.
Terry’s tree was so newly planted that the mulch around its base still formed a perfect ring. I knelt, lifting the worm to eye level. “Tell Terry I miss him.” I set it on the mulch, where it poked around until it found a tunnel into which it disappeared segment by segment.
The woman waited at the bin for me. “See you tomorrow?” she asked.
I nodded. “I’ll bring the watermelon.”