Natalie shifted the two jugs of water and the sack of fruit—plums and peaches, just now in season, and bananas—to her other arm and wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead. It was so humid.
“It’s just been so busy lately,” she was saying, “with Eli’s leg still healing—”
A tug on her pantleg. “Mama.”
“—and after his allergies were so bad this year, too—”
“—and now we’re just getting out of the peak of the harvest—”
“—not now, sweetie—plus, the kids, of course.” Natalie smiled with half her mouth and apologized with her eyes. “I’ll come by later this week, I promise,” she said.
“I understand,” Jamin said. He looked worn out. It was a popular look these days. “If it happens again, just tell me, alright? Don’t avoid me—”
“—I’ll let you go, Natalie. See you soon.” Jamin slipped away into the shade and was soon around a corner.
“What, Agron? My goodness, what’s gotten into you? Mama was talking.” Natalie shifted the food and water again and grabbed her son by the wrist, getting them walking again in the direction of home.
“I have a question.”
No, you can’t have a plum right now, she thought. “Okay, what is it?”
“Why is the sky green?”
She nearly tripped over the question like a log across a trail. Of course, this was a different kind of world than the one she’d grown up in, but leave it to a child to simplify it into a bludgeon.
“Those are the leaves, sweetie. The sky is above the leaves, and it’s blue.”
Natalie reconsidered her stance on plums before supper. “The leaves of the Space Trees. Remember when Mama took you to see the trunks last fall? They were as big as the whole town, and they went all the way into clouds, higher than any building.”
Agron shook his head.
For a moment, she thought he might be done, but as she picked up the pace a little—trying to beat the afternoon fog rolling in—he resumed his questioning. Maybe she shouldn’t encourage this particular curiosity.
“Why are they called Space Trees?”
“Because they came from space.”
“How?” He craned his little head to the world’s dark verdant ceiling.
“Someone bought them by accident. They were just little seeds, but then they grew very fast and tall and covered the whole Earth.”
They walked in silence then, and she was grateful for a time. But then she looked down at her son and saw him wearing the same worn out expression that had become so fashionable over the last few years. Her heart felt suddenly like it was pumping molten lead.
She reached into the sack and pulled out a perfectly ripe plum. “Here you go.”
Agron’s face beamed, and he grabbed the fruit with both hands. For a few minutes, she had her little boy back. But after he reached the pit, he slipped back into a pensive mask as naturally and casually as wiping away drool upon waking from a nap in a sunbeam.
So young, and already he knew his future had been stolen. The fog finally descended, just before home was in sight.