The Gardener(2)
Author:S.A._Bodeen


    Most of us either shook our heads or didn’t respond at all.

    With a remote, he turned on the projector, starting a black-and-white PowerPoint. The first grainy photo showed two old women wrapped in loose, robe-type garments. “This is India, 1936. The woman on the right is Giri Bala, born in 1868.”

    Jack Meacham sat across the aisle from me. We’d been best friends since kindergarten. Kids had kind of shied away when I stopped speaking, but Jack talked so much he didn’t seem to notice I wasn’t saying anything. And when we started doing stuff at my house or his, he realized I did have things to say. But in school, he spoke for both of us until fifth grade, when I finally started talking again. I’d gradually outgrown him, and everyone else, by about eighty pounds and six inches. Two pairs of his Levi’s sewn together might just encase one of my thighs. He raised his hand. “Who was she?”

    Hogan grinned. “You mean who is she?”

    Jack glanced at me, and then lines appeared between his eyebrows. “If she was born in 1868, she’d be, like…”

    I could see him doing the math in his head. Although Jack had high aspirations to become a doctor, he struggled in school. Not for lack of trying. He was really smart but just had some kind of mental block on test days. He shook his head slightly. “Well, she’d be way over one hundred. Impossible.”

    “Maybe not.” Hogan clasped his hands together. “At the time this photo was taken, Giri Bala had not eaten for fifty-six years.”

    The class erupted with sounds of disbelief. I even let loose with a “No way.”

    Holding up his hand for silence, Hogan explained. “She supposedly used a yoga technique that allowed her to get her energy from the sun. The leader of her province actually locked her in a room for several days with no food or water, and she was perfectly fine. And some people say she’s still alive.”

    The next picture came up, a view of Moscow and the Kremlin. “There’s a group of people living in Moscow who claim to be autotrophs. They started out as vegans, gradually stopped eating all food, and now claim they neither eat nor drink.”

    I shook my head as someone called out, “That’s crazy.”

    “Maybe so.” Hogan nodded. “But one scientist claims he can take a human, put him in a tropical climate, and turn his body into a living solar cell within two years.”

    Jack raised his hand. Even in classes like Hogan’s, where we were allowed to just speak up if we had something productive to say, Jack still raised his hand every time he had something to say. “But why would you want to do that? Save your lunch money or something?”

    Hogan smiled. “Think about it, Jack. Imagine having an army you don’t have to feed or water.”

    The bell rang. “Don’t forget, quiz on Monday!” A few groans erupted, and before I could get up, Hogan called my name. “See me after class.”

    I asked Jack if he could give me a ride home.

    He nodded and said, “Meet you in the parking lot.”

    Everyone filed out and I went up to the front. Hogan held up a sheet I recognized, the application form for the TroDyn summer science program. He shook it at me. “You know the deadline is coming up for this?”

    TroDyn Industries was a huge scientific complex on a hundred acres looking over Melby Falls. Mainly working on environmental sustainability projects, the company supported the town. Although they didn’t employ many townspeople at their lab facilities, TroDyn owned most of the businesses, including the nursing home where my mom worked, and they paid for a lot of equipment and supplies at the school. I’d read about the summer program, and Hogan had told us about it several times. “My mom would never go for it. She’s not a TroDyn fan.” It might just be a case of not liking the company responsible for your sucky job, but she had no lack of bad things to say about them.

    Hogan tapped the paper with a finger. “If you do the summer program, you’ll have a good shot at the TroDyn scholarship.” His eyes met mine, but not in a forced way. I mean, some people stare at my scar. I don’t mind, at least it’s honest, and when they’ve seen enough, they meet my eyes. But the ones who lock eyes with me, those are the dishonest ones. You can almost hear them chanting to themselves Don’t look at his scar, don’t look at his scar. Hogan’s eyes met mine the way his eyes met anyone else’s.

    I shrugged. “I’m not really sure about college.”

    “Mason, come on.” Hogan waved the paper. “You’re one of the smartest kids I’ve ever had in class.”

    “Miranda Collins is smarter.”

    Hogan rolled his eyes. “I suspect Miranda Collins gets A’s because she spends three hours a night memorizing textbooks. Probably polishes a lot of apples while she’s at it. A potato could do that and get A’s. You actually understand this stuff. You get it. You need to go to college and learn more.”

    I didn’t say anything.

    “They’ll cover all your college expenses through grad school. They would pay for Stanford.”

    I rolled my eyes. “Like I’d get into Stanford.”

    “I’ve seen your standardized test scores. On the SAT, you’ll smoke kids like Miranda Collins. You’ll get in.” He flipped the paper onto the desk, where it settled next to the stapler. “All they ask in return is that you commit to working five years in their labs.”

    Other than getting my mom on board, I didn’t see the problem with that. I looked around at his biology room, my favorite place in the school. The shelves were lined with not only glossy books but pristine specimens in glass jars of whatever the liquid was that replaced formaldehyde. I’d always been drawn to the framed glass cases that housed expensive collections of bugs and butterflies and spiders. A bank of desktop computers lined one wall, and I knew them to be loaded with more biological research software than most college libraries held, courtesy of TroDyn.

    I’d be lying to say I didn’t want to go to college. I’d also be lying to say I didn’t really really like biology. Going to Stanford to study biology, on a full ride no less, would be a dream come true. But it wasn’t easy for me to put my dreams out for everyone to see. I preferred to keep them to myself so only I was disappointed when they didn’t happen. That way, Ididn’t have to have people telling me how sorry they were for me. I’d had enough of that to last my entire life.

    Trying to shift the focus, I asked, “Do they bribe you to talk kids into this?”

    He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “You’re right. I mean, you can probably get a scholarship another way. Not to Stanford, but you’re the best offensive tackle Melby Falls has seen in a while.”

    I saw his point. “Yeah, that just might pay for my books at a junior college.” I picked up the application, pretending to read as if I’d never seen it before, when actually there was one half filled out in my locker, plus three extras at home, hidden in my copy of last year’s yearbook.

    He leaned back. “Think about it.”

    “Okay.” I smiled.

    He shrugged. “Come on, Al Gore gave them that award last year for making progress with global warming research. They do a lot of good things up there. You could save the world someday.”

    “Yeah, right.” I shoved the application into my biology book.

    “Due Monday!” he called after me.

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