I have a size four mouth; it's the same size as my shoe. I know because I frequently put my foot in my mouth, as the old American saying goes. Why don't I think before I speak? It's like my heart does all the talking while my brain sits back to observe and take notes on just how idiotic I can be.
I practically invited myself to the Morgan farm. I think it was because for some reason I felt like Will didn't want me there, and that made me determined to make him invite me. I'm contrary. I have been since before I was born. Mum says I was born three weeks late just to make the point that I didn't have to show up until I was good and ready.
I do want to see the Morgan farm, I thought, nodding my head in firm agreement with myself. The way they live is—hard to believe. Will is looking less like a brain-damaged cowboy and more like a man who has left a dying world behind to start a new one. I want to see it—that's all.
Will and Ramona went back to class, and I went back to my dorm room to work on a paper I was writing under the guidance of my supervisor, Dr. Meir.
Unlike most of my professors, Dr. Meir was a free thinker and an advocate of independent research. My latest paper covered the glyphosate levels in open water sources within fifty miles of GM crops. Incidentally, that is pretty much everywhere east of the Mississippi river. I had spent last summer flying around the Southeastern states, visiting cotton and soybean fields where I took physical samples from every stream I came across. I returned home paranoid about how much pesticide exposure I'd had during those six weeks. I swore I'd never move to the southeast, or to any industrial farming area. However, because Dr. Meir had co-authored the paper with me, it was published in a respected science journal which gave me an opening to publish again.
But today I found it difficult to concentrate, and I was relieved when my phone rang.
“‘Lo, Dad. What's up?”
“Mol, your Mum's making a stew and black bread9. She wants you to come home and eat with us, Luv.”
“That sounds great, Dad. I'll be there in twenty. Should I bring anything?”
“Just yourself, lass,” Dad answered. I was reminded again of Will, who had said the same thing.
When I pulled into my parent's driveway for the second time in twenty four hours, I looked at the cheap little house with the eyes of a stranger.
Dad had painted the house pale yellow and the trim gray blue, Mom's two favorite colors. The colors were cheerful, but the overall effect was depressing because the house itself was so old and shabby. The houses on either side were a nice rose-brown stucco. Their yards were xeriscaped with red and black rock patterns and ornamental plants. Ours was, and always had been, a work in progress. Which means there's a patch of gravel with noxious weeds growing along the edges.
I closed the car door and walked across the concrete, then paused to set a knocked-over potted plant upright. It was dead anyway. Mum had always wanted a garden. There were flower pots everywhere. She'd dug through the thick gravel landscaping to plant a tree, which promptly died. It had been replaced multiple times by new trees. The last one we planted, I apologized to, even as we put it into the ground.
“Why are you saying you're sorry to a tree, Mol?” Dad asked me, leaning on his shovel to mop his red face with a handkerchief.
“Because we're killing it,” I answered, and Dad laughed.
“Don't tell your Mum that,” he cautioned and continued to chuckle periodically as we packed the dry dirt back around the small pear tree.
I smiled at the memory and lifted the screen door carefully before opening it, to avoid cracking the frame more than it already was.
“I'm here, Mum!” I called, and entered the living room. “Oh, wait. . . I'll be right back!”
I returned to the car to retrieve a beer from the Morgans, to give to my dad. I had to tell him about the Morgans eventually. The best way would be over a beer they had brewed themselves. I hoped it was a good one.
The table was set, and Mum was taking the bread out of the oven. The rich smell of that black bread was one of the most familiar and comforting things of my life. For my sake, Mum had purchased real butter instead of a tub of margarine.
“Sit down, Molly,” she said, kissing me quickly on the cheek as she passed by. “You left so early this morning I felt cheated out of a chance to visit with you. So come in, come in and sit down and eat some bread.”
“Thanks for having me, Mum.” I slid into my old seat against the wall. “It smells wonderful. Here Dad, I brought you something special.” I put the dark bottle on the formica table top next to Dad.
“Ah. . . what's this, Mol?” Dad asked, leaning back to squint at the label. He needed bifocals, but would not admit to it yet. “Mountain Ale. . . ” he read aloud, and reached behind him for a bottle opener. “Where did you get this, Mol? The label looks hand-writ.”
“‘Tis, Dad. I met some people recently that brew their own beer and wine. They make sodas too. And they bake their own bread, Mum—like you.”
“Well now. . . it's not bad. Not bad at all. Bit light, maybe, but quite nice,” Dad commented, passing the beer to Mum, who tried it as well.
“Who are they, Molly?” Mom asked, sipping the beer. “Are they Irish?”
“No,” I answered, buttering the crusty heel of the hot loaf of bread. “They're from here. They've a farm a few hours west of us in the mountains.”
“Not Irish!” Dad exclaimed disapprovingly. “But they brew their own beer,” he argued with himself. “What's their family name, Molly?”
I hesitated, and answered, “Morgan.”
“Morgan! Bloody English!” Dad roared.
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “No, Dad. Not English. Just the average American that's got a bit of everything mixed in.”
Mom was ladling up the stew, and Dad began to butter his own slice of bread.
“Well, they do make a good brew, anyway,” he confessed, finishing off the beer.
“They invited me to see their farm,” I said, introducing the idea. “I want to document their before and after results with land management techniques—maybe for my thesis.”
“More of that land-lover crap?” Dad asked, surprisingly mild in his response.
“It will cover the things I've learned for my degree as well.”
“How old are these people, Molly?” Mum asked, more astute than my father.
“It's a family,” I equivocated. “A grandpa, a mum and dad, and their five children.”
“Five children! They must be Catholic,” Dad approved, shoveling in the hot stew. I didn't answer that question, glad to have him think the Morgans were at least of the right religious affiliation.
“How old are their children?” Mum persisted, removing her apron and sitting down at her place, opposite of my dad.
“The eldest is twenty three, the youngest is five, and the others are spread out between.” I paused to blow on my stew to cool it down.
“Is the eldest a young man?” Mum asked, reaching her goal with impressive precision. Dad looked up from his stew, catching on at last. I hesitated again, and nonchalantly reached for my bread.
“Yes, actually. The two that I've met are the oldest brother and sister. They gave me the beer to bring to you,” I added. I was playing my cards carefully. Mum and Dad looked at me over their bowls of stew and said nothing.
“Molly,” Dad said. “How serious is this?”
“As serious as a PhD should be,” I answered, meeting his eyes squarely. He shrugged and went back to eating his stew.
“Fine then,” he said. The subject was over. I heaved a sigh of relief and fell to enjoying my stew.
Dad was always pestering me to date; but at the same time, any young man he saw me with got a frightful questioning. He had to be Irish, Catholic, well educated, a fan of the Bruins, and somewhat wealthy. Otherwise, Dad would see to it that young man was history. Honestly—does such a man exist?
Besides, a trip to the Morgan farm really was about my education. It was not about Will Morgan at all. No, it had nothing to do with Will.
“Bring them over sometime, Mol,” Dad said, without looking up from his stew. I smiled wryly at the formica tabletop; Dad was smarter than I sometimes gave him credit for.
I spent the rest of the meal trying to think of a way to introduce Will and Mona to Dad that would not end badly for us all.
After that mid-afternoon lunch with my parents, I decided to find Jeremy, who I hadn't seen since the beginning of Spring break. I drove to the bakery first, looking for his friend, Chris, who might know where Jeremy lived.
“Here,” Chris said, handing me his phone. “I called him and it's ringing—just answer.” Chris turned away to keep working, while I stood in a corner, holding the phone to my ear.
“Hallo,” Jeremy said.
“Jeremy—this is Molly. Chris gave me his phone to call you. Are you busy?”
“Hi Molly. No, what's up? Are you okay?” Jeremy's voice sounded concerned.
“Yes. Oh, yes, I'm fine.” Suddenly I felt awkward about calling Jeremy. We weren't that kind of friends, and I didn't know how he saw me—who I was to him.
“I—sorry—I hope you don't mind me calling. I met some people at the Holistic Management classes that would really like to meet you, Jeremy. They're staying at the KOA campground in Bernallio and I'm going over there after the classes tonight. I told them I'd invite you. Do you think you could come?”
“Oh, that's nice. Um. . . maybe.”
He hesitated on the other end of the call for so long I asked, “Are you still there?”
“Yes. Yes, just thinking,” he said.
“Do you have a ride? Can I give you a ride?” I asked.
“No. Do you mind? Will it be okay if I drive with you?” Jeremy answered, sounding hesitant.
“Yes. That would be fine,” I replied firmly. “Where should I pick you up?”
“Oh, I'll be there—at work place, okay? What time?”
“Seven o'clock. I'll see you then, okay?”
“Okay, Molly. Thank you.”
When I picked up Jeremy a few hours later, he was quiet and seemed to regret his decision to come with me. I talked, like I always do, to cover the awkwardness. I was glad when we finally reached the campground and saw Will waving at us. He and Ramona were alone by the fire, and I was glad there wouldn't be any competition for their attention that night. I wanted to know what they thought about the classes, and if they were going to apply the principles they were learning. I also wanted to make sure I really did have an invitation to their farm.
I was wound up from a day that felt unproductive, and from the stressful drive with Jeremy. I felt a sudden impulse to run a few laps around the KOA. Instead, I got out of the car and introduced Jeremy.
Will came over and put out his hand. Even across the car I could see that his grip was firm and his smile was broad. He wasn't as tall as Jeremy, but there was something similar about the two of them; it was a kind of strength, or perspective. If I didn't know better, I would have guessed that they knew each other already.
“Thank you for coming, Jeremy,” Will greeted him. I saw my friend Jeremy relax and smile with relief and gratitude. “I have so much to ask you,” Will continued. “You have a lot of experience, and that's exactly what I need.”
I don't know if Will meant to hack me off, but he did. I felt belittled by his statement: “You have experience, and that's exactly what I need.” All the research I had done was dismissed by Will Morgan without so much as a chagrinned glance in my direction.
That evening, I made it plain to Will and Ramona that I believe in the power of education to change this world. Our success as a planet depends on knowledge. One guy, doing his own thing off in the boonies is not going to save the world, but knowledge can—and eventually will. And I, Molly Flynn, am going to help save the world, no matter what it costs.
Later on, I regretted not having followed my impulse to run a few laps around the campground.