A Rose in Winter

Part two of Grandma was an Alien

She was cold all the time. Marcin shared his sweaters and explained how wool would keep her warmer than her Daltana plant-fiber clothes. She rarely went outside except to walk the dogs. The tiny apartment was heated by blasts of air from the ceiling that left her skin dry and itchy, and her neck and shoulders ached from constantly tensing, pulling into herself.

But that was to be expected. The thing that made Rose crazy, that she pined over, was the lack of color. The apartment had pocked cement walls, which one was forbidden from painting. The carpeting was the gray of a long dead wood fire. The narrow bed they shared, its blankets, the chair — all came in varying shades of gray, matching the stainless steel kitchen table and chairs. There were no flowers, magazines or fresh fruits to place on the table. The station provided linens in a choice of black or gray.

She cursed her choice of jacket, hanging on the back of the kitchen door. Why had she picked white? Hadn’t there been a red one at the outriggers? But she’d been advised when she made the journey alone to this planet that she should try to blend in with the snowy landscape.

She looked down at Moort. He wagged his tail as she drank in his crystal blue eyes; the only thing in the room that diverged from the monochromatic theme. Even the narrow window let out onto a constantly overcast sky.

Marcin blustered into the room. “Hello darling, I’ve got a surprise—”

He broke off, seeing her hastily wipe her cheek, and put his hands on her shoulders to look in her eyes. “What’s this? Whatever is the matter?”

“Oh,” she laughed shakily, “nothing, I was just… uh, translating something that made me emotional”

“Ah, my sweet Daltana girl, so warm and caring.”

He kissed her forehead and took off his backpack. “Look what I got us for lunch today!”

He opened the worn canvas bag and, with great care lifted out a mass of frilly green leaves. ”Carrots!” Rose recognized them immediately. “How did you get those?” Rose reached out her hands, longing to hold them.

“I agreed to let Konrad use the dogs.”

“Why is he so keen on using our dogs? Doesn’t he have his own?”

“He does, but Moort is special. He’s one of the strongest pack leaders. When he’s in front, the other dogs work harder, and he never gets lost up on the pass.”

“And where did the carrots come from?”

“Ah ha! That is the fun part. Come with me. Leave the dogs.”

Marcin set down the greens and took Rose’s hand. He led her out the door into the hallway. The old shuddering fluorescent lights flicked off and on as they walked through the corridors, down several flights of stairs and into a high security area that Rose had never visited. After a long walk they arrived at a steel door with a muscle-bound man in uniform standing in front of it. Marcin flashed his badge at the man and handed him a paper. The guard examined it carefully, then flicked his eyes back and forth between Marcin’s badge and his face.

Next, he looked at Rose. “Are you Rose?” She nodded, then snapped alert and searched herself for her badge, which turned out to be hanging around her neck. He scrutinized it and, satisfied, stepped aside to let them pass.

The door opened into a gigantic room. The smell of moist earth wafted over her, and she relaxed as a current of warm humid air caressed her face. In front of her, tables full of green sprouts extended as far as she could see, each lit by golden sun lamps.

She ran along the one in front of her. Was that, could it be? A bed of yellow marigolds! After that she could see purple pansies and something red.

“What is this place?” She shouted back to Marcin, who remained by the door, a goofy grin spread across his face.

He waved at her to return. “It’s the station greenhouse.” He said. “I told them about your background on Daltana. They could use your expertise. You’ll have to pass a few security tests, but how’d you like a new job?”

Joy suffused her. Her view of Marcin blurred as her excitement overflowed in tears.

“Hey now,” he said, the grin still lighting his face, “That’s the wrong idea! No crying now…” He wiped her tears gently with his thumbs and looked in her face with so much love and tenderness she had to brace herself.

“But how did you swing it? The waiting list for the janitorial job is six months long. I haven’t even heard of this place, how did you —”

She stopped. His expression had changed. There was something he hadn’t told her. Then it hit her.

“Moort.”

“Rosie, it’s for the best. He’s a working dog. He’ll be—”

But she’d pushed his hands off her face and ran to the exit. She struggled with the heavy steel door and he put his hand on her shoulder.

“He’s gone, honey. Konrad picked him up as soon as we left. I wanted you to understand why before I told you.”

“No!” She had turned and beat on his chest with her fists.

“Stop. I love him too, and he was mine before we met.”

She took a look at his face and saw the anguish.

“You need this job, you’ll love it! And, well, there’s another reason.”

“What.” She heard how childish she sounded and but didn’t care.

“We need the fresh produce you’ll be allotted.”

“We get on fine without it,” she said, looking down.

He lifted her chin gently.

“Yes, but it won’t just be us much longer.”

She looked at him, her brow furrowed.

He took her hand and placed it on his forehead, pressing her fingertips against the bone. Her eyes widened as she recognized the unmistakable divot of an early pregnancy.

How had she failed to see it? His eyes, usually brown like hers were flecked with gold and the telltale ring of iridescent purple glowed around the iris.

“Why didn’t you—

… How long have you—”

She couldn’t decide or finish a thought.

Marcin grinned and hugged her. Letting go, he said, “Come on, Farmer Rose. Get to work. You’ve got a family to support.”

Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/1dcKqHVEOVk  – from Vicente L Ruiz’s weekly photo prompt, which weirdly and coincidentally used the same photo as part one of this story.

 

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