Lock the Light Away: Part 1

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A family of deer nosed around in the weeds at the edge of the parking lot. The thick-shouldered buck -- shaggy and scarred -- stood proud, watching Mary with his stoic glass eyes as his doe sorted through the dandelions and the nettles. Their fawn, knock-kneed and wary, hopped and darted between the buck's legs. It made Mary smile.

"Look at that, Henry," she said, gesturing with her dirty spade. "They don't even care that the sun is gone."

The motion caught the attention of the watchful buck, and his family picked up on the attitude change. They sniffed the air and watched the shadows. Mary felt poorly for disturbing them on such a nice outing, so she backed away from the edge of the roof and knelt by her garden again. She used the spade to work soil free from around a splay of green, and gave the resulting hole a disapproving look.

"All that work," she said. "Lord, Henry – I will never get used to how little a garden actually gets you."

She shook the dirt free from a bundle of twisted yellow carrots, and set them in her basket.

"Zachary, the Goetz boy from downstairs – you remember I told you about him once, he had that nasty pneumonia last winter – his daddy was a green grocer, and he says the garden's going just fine. These here plants are normal – I guess they don't care about this either," Mary waved her hand at the featureless black sky, not glancing away from her work. "But I just always assumed a crop would get you, I don't know, more. But then, I never did have patience for growing. What was that you used to say about me?"

She grunted at a modest pair of radishes, tossed them in the basket, and stood. She removed her gloves and wiped dirt from her apron -- which really just smeared the dirt around – and used her knuckles to work the muscles in her lower back.

"You used to say that even for a black girl, I had the blackest thumb you'd ever seen."

She laughed to herself, but it came out more bitter than she'd intended.

"I'm sorry, Henry. You'd always buy me such nice flowers. Kept them in the pot and everything, 'cause you never wanted to bring me dead things. And I'd have 'em killed for you within a week."

Mary hefted her basket and tried to sigh away the lingering negativity.

"I'm doing better with the ones below, though – ain't I?"

She stepped to the edge of the rooftop and took one more look at the deer family – but the buck startled at her sudden appearance, and the three of them bolted back across the empty highway, into the ragged copse between streets.

"Be that way," she said.

Mary danced through the labyrinth of low wooden garden beds, skirted around the array of solar panels, and cut through the water stills back to where she'd left her cart. Loaded up with half a dozen buckets of water, three baskets of food – counting what was in her hand – and ten freshly-emptied-and-washed waste pails, stacked one into another, grouped by family name and aisle of address. It was all she could safely bring down with her on this trip. She unzipped the tent flap and wheeled the cart onto the elevator. Once inside, she sealed it back up, took her bell from its place on the hook – up here on the roof was the only time she got a break from the damn thing -- and once again hung it from the waist loop of her green summer dress. She grabbed the cable that plunged down below, running through a series of rubber flaps and gaskets to filter out the light, and gave it a few hard tugs. After a moment, there was an answering series of tugs, and Mary braced herself. She slid the elevator's supporting brake out of the way, and the whole thing dropped an inch before reaching the end of its slack. It wobbled sickeningly. She held onto the support ropes with all her might, as Kevin and Andre worked the pulleys that lowered her into the warehouse. Four feet down and the elevator hit its next brake with a stop that practically knocked her knees out from under her. Mary reached up, back onto the roof above, and slid the elevator cover into its place. She felt around in her fanny pack, came up with the four plastic knobs that threaded into the underside of the cover, and tightened them in place.

She locked the light away.

That done, Mary tugged on the signal cable again, removed the next brake, and made the long, squeaky, unsteady descent into the dark below.



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