Spring had finally come to the Biddies, but only because Marietta had said it had.
No one knew precisely what it was Marietta was looking for, but starting in the middle of March she would be out there, walking the fields that had once been an open space park. She would poke at the dirt. Watch the sky. Listen to the wind, maybe. Some of the new people would watch her and think there was a screw loose. Make a wind-up motion next to the head and whistle. Until Birdie or Wendy or Henry would catch them and tell them off but good. They were alive because of Marietta, there just wasn’t any bones about it. She could be out there using pure science or she could be water-witching, whatever it was it was keeping them all alive.
She was thirty-five years old when she’d found Broken Hearts and the Biddies, and she looked it. Hers was the face of a woman who had taken the world head on and survived through sheer force of will. She was made of angular cuts obviously carved from years of physical labor, from her calves to her glass-cutting cheekbones, and she was crowned with a mad tangle of strawberry blond curls trying in vain to burst their banana clip bonds. Her brown eyes had a glint not from the sun but from a wild vindication of the life she had chosen to lead.
She had grown up on farm in Wisconsin that made its money off the dairy cows but also grew a few crops here and there to feed the family and the neighbors. She knew how to take care of everything from the fields to the barns by the time she left for college in Nebraska and it was in an environmental politics class that she had met her husband Donnie. They fell in love through a dangerous combination of mutual lust and a shared passion for changing the world. They had married in a small, outdoor ceremony directly after graduation that had left no footprint, except of course for the physical ones left by their bare feet in the dewy grass. Donnie became an environmental lawyer who worked more for spirit than for pennies and she became a lobbyist who after six years felt she’d done more harm than good. Surrounded by the TV and desktop computer and the lamps and the on and off hum of the fridge and the urgency of the bills printed on the clean, newly made paper, with her feet and her head drumming to the same beat and her spirits hovering somewhere below the earth’s mantle, she sipped at her white wine and sighed.
“We can’t keep living like this.”
Donnie nodded sagely without really looking away from the TV, for it was a conversation they had often, and said, “Someday people will come to their senses – one way or another.”
“No, not people – us. I’m sick of waiting for the world to get it. I’m sick of getting nowhere or, worse, going backwards. Fuck the world, Donnie. Let’s fix ourselves.”
And because Donnie loved his wife very much, and because he’d daydreamed about doing it for years, he agreed. They sold everything they owned, emptied their bank accounts, cancelled their cards and bills and subscriptions, moved out of their apartment and fell off the grid. They purchased a plot of land in Colorado in the foothills north of Denver and became survivalists.
There were missteps. Their first cabin was not leak proof and they became soaked as their roof sacrificed them to the dark god of storms. Their first crops failed, leaving them to an entire winter of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee and Spaghetti-ohs. And improperly sanitized water led to a tremendous case of the shits that left them both immobilized in the latrine for days. But by the time the Blues found them they had lived seven of the happiest years they could have, living off their own wit and hard work and leaving little impression on the earth behind them.
In fact, they were so cut off from the world it was a full twenty-five days after the world had died before they noticed anything wrong.
It was Donnie who first noticed and Marietta almost walked into him as he sat at the doorstep, watching the sky.
“Staring at clouds?” she asked, because things could still be funny. But Donnie only needed to get two words into his sentence before Marietta realized he was scared to pale and by the time he finished terror was creeping down her spine as well.
“Do you know I’ve been out here all morning – that’s three hours, now – and I have not seen a single airplane?”
Marietta sat down next to him and reassured him that surely he’d just missed something and that they’d see something eventually, anything, and there they sat for the rest of the day and on until the night and when they couldn’t even make out an international flight skimming the atmosphere against the starry backdrop they both knew something had happened. They put the emergency batteries into the radio first and when they got nothing but static they got their bikes from the shed and rolled into town except town was dead and there was no one left alive to tell them why everyone was dead, or that just because they were dead didn’t mean they weren’t contagious, so they learned first-hand why it was called the Blues. Donnie lasted a couple weeks. Marietta never even got the sniffles.
Marietta buried him in his favorite spot in the woods and kept on with her life because what else was there to do? They had become completely self-sustaining, fuck the world, and her lonesome life could have continued on indefinitely if a thunderstorm hadn’t lit up a tree and set fire to the whole forest, a fire that smacked up her crops and her home and forced her out into the chaos. She was coming south down the foothills, trying to find the freaking highway so she could get down the mountain without breaking an ankle, and she managed to come across the Biddies without ever going through Broken Hearts.
It was only John and Birdie, then, living in the Rockby. It had been a month since Birdie had managed to crawl out of her house looking for help and still she didn’t have much strength, so John had been the one to step outside. Birdie stayed inside, just at the shadows of the door, holding a rifle.
“Morning,” John said casually, leaning against the wall. Marietta turned quickly and surveyed John for a few slow seconds.
“I guess this is your place, huh?”
“The whole thing just for yourself?”
A pause. “No.”
“Well, you’re letting some good earth go to waste, here.”
“Am I, now?”
“Sure. Good sun, good water source. You could be planting here.”
A pause. “You know about gardening?”
Marietta smiled. “Tell you what. Give me a place to stay tonight and I’ll tell you all about it.”
She was armed, but she was the first stranger since the Blues that had spoken to John like they were both sane, so John let her in. By that night the three had planned out the fields and the next few months and Marietta had chosen a room, one on the second story that she chose not because of its size, but because its window overlooked the parks.
Three years ago that had been, and if Marietta was careful she could go a whole season without thinking of Donnie. Over the winter she thought of nothing else. Every second, it seemed, was spent reliving another. The day they met. The day he died. They day he really died and they didn’t know it yet, biking into the Springs without a clue of the invisible villain waiting for them. The little bits in between. A day came back to her frequently, and she never knew why. There was nothing special about that day. They were living in the cabin. Donnie had caught fish, and she had made some version of ratatouille. She remembered them laughing, laughing so hard she had to sit sideways in her chair and bend all the over, so every time she breathed in she could smell the dirt and dust on the wooden floor. But she couldn’t remember what they were laughing about. Maybe if she could remember, she’d know why she kept remembering that day. It had been five months already.
Winters she was as dead as Donnie.
That’s how she knew. It was water witching. It wasn’t quite science, either. Oh, sure. She paid attention to the winds and the sun. She felt the earth and smelled it, made sure it was ready. But as she walked through the park and back to the Biddies in search of John, feeling the way her heart quickened and not thinking of Donnie at all, there was really one reason Marietta knew it was time to plant.