Margaret holds many patents: corn, wheat, rice, yams. Things built to be better than they once were, more tolerant of heat and pollution, less needful of sunlight, more productive of oxygen. The things that Margaret builds are beautiful, true masterpieces in the medium, subtle and graceful and bounteous. Wheat that rains down from its stalk in glorious golden abundance, it’s nutritional value so much higher than the wheat of the early 2000s, higher still than the wheat still consumed by most of the world’s population. You see, it’s expensive to switch crops, so why bother? Why bother when your government keeps paying you to not grow soy. The market is flooded. It would screw up the whole game. We’ve invested so much time already. It’s a shame to quit. 3 hours into Monopoly and no one wants to be the first to call it - that last roll was a game changer, you bought a house! Why rock the boat when you’re on a winning streak? And why look like a sore loser when the odds have not been in your favor?
Margaret was a sore loser. Margaret had created miracles and no one wanted them, and she kept getting doxxed by vegan yoga instructors and she was tired of being harassed by the Coalition of Parents who don’t understand what it means to genetically modify an organism. She has known monsters. Ugly, purposeless creations like the Red Delicious Apple. Red, and as undelicious as an apple might be. And therein lies the problem: a world where salesmen make things bust or boom is a world where people let their government be run by people with firm handshakes and a gift for public speaking. Margaret has neither a firm handshake nor a gift for public speaking. Instead, she has lab reports. Research papers. Submissions to academic papers. Applications for grants. Hours and hours and hours spent with her head bent over microscopes. Nights spent talking to plants, watching them, listening to them and knowing how to write something to convince them to behave in a new and productive manner. Margaret knew how to talk to plants. She also knew how to listen to them.
And something wasn’t right. Plants didn’t act like plants should, and even those that did, like her plants, weren’t wanted. People wanted to seek shelter in the familiar, the ancestral, the tried and tested and heirloom, and Margaret didn’t fit into that dream. Not the dream of the people who bought rice and beans and corn and wheat, and not the dream of the people who sold them. And so Margaret slept at the lab or in her car or in the places near work where she could lay down amongst creeping vine and grass and fungus, and be understood.
And so it is midnight. And Margaret is asleep in wooded park. And the dreams begin.
“When Kloskurbeh, the All Maker lived on earth, there were no people yet. But one day when the sun was high, a youth appeared and called him "Uncle, brother of my mother."
This young man was born from the foam of the waves, foam quickened by the wind and warmed by the sun. It was the motion of the wind, the moistness of water, and the sun's warmth which gave him life - warmth above all, because warmth is life.
The young man lived with Kloskurbeh and became his chief helper.
Now, after these two powerful beings had created all manner of things, there came to them, as the sun was shining at high noon, a beautiful girl. She was born of the wonderful earth plant, and of the dew, and of warmth. Because a drop of dew fell on a leaf and was warmed by the sun, and the warming sun is life, this girl came into being - from the green living plant, from moisture, and from warmth.”*
Is she awake? Is this real? She pinches her arm. Turns a light switch on and off. Shakes her head and squeezes her eyes shut. Her lab remains. She peers at the screen in front of her. There is script floating there in a language made mostly of numbers. There are objects made up of words in this language. She moves her fingers and manipulates the pattern in front of her. She is writing, a story, a story in a language that is in shapes and colors as well as letters and numbers. The story is about Corn, and it is a version of a story that Margaret heard when she was a little Girl.
"I am love," said the maiden. "I am a strength giver, I am the nourisher, I am the provider of men and animals. They all love me."
Then Kloskurbeh thanked the Great Mystery Above for having sent them the maiden.
The youth, the Great Nephew, married her, and the girl conceived and thus became the First Mother. And Kloskurbeh, the Great Uncle, who teaches humans all they need to know, taught their children how to live.
Then he went away to dwell in the north, from which he will return sometime when he is needed.”*
Margaret opens her eyes. She is asleep at her desk again. She is asleep and her screen is blank and her lab is empty. Margaret should not have been sleeping, she should have been finishing a research report on the development of a new strain of corn. She should have been working a 18 hour day to process data to produce enough content to convince someone to give her enough money to keep her lab open. Corn. She needs corn.
Margaret knew a lot about corn, more than me and probably you and most definitely a majority of the people solely dependent on the calories produced by it’s most recent offspring.
Corn was broken. And it was breaking people. It accounted for 89% of the world’s calories and provided very little nutrition for all its popularity.
Margaret knew this about Corn, but she also knew stories about the Corn that her grandmother would dry and grind and press and fry. She knew about the stories her grandmother, her real live Grandmother and not just the Grandmother that would visit her in dreams to prattle on about Corn Girl, would tell her about what corn used to be. What it tasted like. What one could do with it. Who one could feed. Margaret had tasted corn, strange, bulbous, brightly-colored and chewy, She had tasted the grey fungus called hongo de maíz that grew, kernel-like, on the crop of a farmer lucky enough for a gift.
There was a time when plants appeared, miraculously, and we would fee giddy with our good fortune. When the rain foretold a good harvest of strawberries or the death of a whole field of asparagus and after that strawberries never tasted the same, nor did asparagus, but now Margaret could order either by drone delivery and neither tasted like much of anything. Sweet. Big. Pleasing to the eye. Difficult to digest. Margaret's stomach ached like everyone else’s did these days although less-so because Margaret was a scientist, and she knew how to make potions.
Margaret learned to make potions from her Grandmother, the one in real-life who was dead now, and the Dream Grandma who would visit her now with increasing frequency. The Dream Grandma was always going on about Healing. Healing meant many things to the Dream Grandma, some that Margaret remembered from her real-life grandma, like garlic for sickness, and warm socks when it gets cold, and some that didn’t seem to make sense. Sometimes the Dream Grandma wanted Margaret to listen, but Margaret couldn’t understand her. Sometimes she would be shouting but Margaret couldn’t hear her, or she was separated by water or mist or darkness. Margaret would wake up with a start from these dreams and then the discomfort of confusion.
And she would work. Turn her face and attention to a screen and draw stories about Corn in pairings of letters and numbers, arranged in shapes, pulsing with light and color and hope.
And the screen stayed on even when Margaret was near sleep, filled with words and pictures and sounds about a time and place before even her grandma was born, when Corn told a different story. Corn, much like people, has changed over its lifetime.
“Now the people increased and became numerous. They lived by hunting, and the more people there were, the less game they found. They were hunting it out, and as the animals decreased, starvation came upon the people.
First Mother pitied them.
The little children came to First Mother and said: "We are hungry. Feed us."
But she had nothing to give them, and she wept. She told them: "Be patient. I will make some food. Then you little bellies will be full." But she kept weeping.
Her husband asked: "How can I make you smile? How can I make you happy?"
"There is only one thing that can stop my tears."
"What is it?" asked her husband.
"It is this: you must kill me," she said.”*
Remember, says the Dream Grandma, about Corn Girl. And her flowing hair, and her tall form, and her need for structure. Remember about the rainbow. About the size of kernels and the texture. Remember tortillas, and chapparado, and tamales. Remember a Metate, rough and heavy, rubbed with dry corn, the feeling of a palmful of course meal, and hot fat, the smell of it heavy and heady throughout the whole house, and then dinner, and laugher, and the satisfaction of satiation.
Sometimes the Dream Grandma shows this to Margaret, and she wakes with her mouth full of dream-tastes, and those strange, just-out-of-reach memories of things witnessed while sleeping, brain processing a whole day full up with thoughts and feelings. Margaret wishes that she had a break from it all during the brief hours she finds time to sleep. She would smoke pot, or drink beer, and will herself into the blank, restorative, dreamless recharging she pined for. And instead, the dreams.
The dreams started the night she spent in Golden Gate Park trying to hide from the police. Margaret did a lot of hiding from the police in Golden Gate Park, which required no small amount of intel, which Margaret collected through her abuse of her position as a researcher at USF. She knew the folks at the Botanical Garden through her volunteerism through her lab at USF. When she wasn’t staring at a screen, she was talking careful meansurements of any of the thousands of plants housed at the Park accross the street from work. And so she knew the security gaurds, and when and where they checked the premis, and what she didn’t know from them she learned from the beatnicks roving around the Park in search of an unsupervised bush to camp under and drink 40s. Margaret did her share of drinking 40s under a bush and so she knew the inside scoop about which bushes were best for unsupervised consumption. And so one night, under a bush, after a 40 and a joint, Margaret fell asleep and the dreams began.
"I could never do that," he said.
She said, "You must, or I will go on weeping and grieving forever."
Then the husband traveled far, to the end of the earth, to the north he went, to ask the Great Instructor, his uncle Kloskurbeh, what he should do.
"You must do what she wants. You must kill her," said Kloskurbeh.”*
It had been 6 months, and what had started as an annoyance had become an obsession. The Dream Grandma was relentless and increasingly upset. She appeared every night now, sometimes barging in mid-scene to ruin a perfectly good sex dream. Nothing was sacred. The pot didn’t help, the sleep meds prescribed by her doctor didn’t help, and it was getting worse. Margaret found herself nodding off at more and more these days. At her desk, on the Lyft home from work, in the middle of eating dinner and watching Netflix, It was inconvenient. Embarrassing. People were beginning to notice.
“Are you ok?”
“You coming down with something?”
“Gluten makes me super sluggish, have you tried going paleo?”
Margaret would nod and explain she was just working too much, and it wasn’t a lie, and they mostly just left her alone. With the dreams, and the Dream Grandma, and her frantic stories about Corn Girl and her sisters.
To be continued.
*From Corn Girl, A Penobscot Legend - https://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/CornMother-Penobscot.html