The Green Green Grass of Home

Concrete stalagmites rose hundreds of feet into the air. Their human occupants moved in and out like ants. On the outskirts of the city the Outer Wastes boiled in dust storms of parched earth. From the viewing platform, Adam watched the storm forming on the horizon. The old man next to him muttered more to himself than Adam, “When my grandfather was a lad he would have said that it was bringing rain. Now we bunker down and wait for the dust to pass. Don’t think we’ll ever see rain again, mind you.” He looked towards the clear blue of the sky.

“Another sky that looks so pretty but will kill us all.”

Adam shuffled the drink container from hand to hand, wanting the old man to leave him alone. Wandering away to break the chance of conversation Adam moved outside the platform to the gantry where the red earth whipped against the metal framework like an approaching tide. Looking back he saw the old man leave. Crouching down Adam removed the lid from the drink container and scooped the earth until it reached the brim. Sealing the container Adam looked around for surveillance patrols but saw none and headed towards the interior of the city and home.

On the journey home the full drink container reminded Adam of his plan. He imagined passers-by spying his cup full of earth, knocking it out of his hands and spilling soil like blood on the footpath.

At the entrance to his building complex he headed straight for the biosphere. The sign above the gate proclaimed The Botanical and Zoological Ecosystem of this Building is Maintained for Your Existence. The biosphere tweeted to the sound of birds while insects scurried under leaf and twig. Adam walked the perimeter, following the pathways through the landscape.

The biosphere was on the lower level of Adam’s apartment complex, the living heart of the building’s ecosystem. It resembled sculpted parkland with a lush core of rainforest. Every building had one, compensation to the pillaged landscape outside the perimeter of the city’s walls. Animals, plants and humans regulated in synchronistic harmony. Sensors measured carbon dioxide output by the human and animal population and the release of oxygen from the plants. Sewerage and waste water fed into the biosphere where it was treated and returned fit for human consumption. The world outside the city limits no longer supported life. It was a savage beast formed by man, turning on its creator. Humanity controlled what it could and hoped for the day it could repair the damage.

It was Adam’s sanctum where he savoured the wet smell of composting leaf matter, the humidity of the rainforest walk and the smattering of flowers exploding with colour.

An officious voice sounded out. “All residents, please be informed that the biosphere will be closing shortly. You are requested to vacate the area.”

At the edge of the rainforest, manicured lawns carpeted the vista, a relic of agrarian pride. A chain-link fence six-foot high bordered the pathway, periodically chiding “Keep Off the Grass.” He wanted to feel the texture of the grass on his bare feet, to lie down and breathe in the musty warmth of soil, let the grass tickle his nose. Adam bent down and pretended to tie his shoelace at the verge. Looking around him quickly, Adam plucked seeds from the heads of grass from the nearest blades and deposited them into his trouser pocket. In a guilty sweat he scratched the back of his neck. What he was doing wasn’t technically illegal; the theft of a few grass seeds may be considered vandalism. Destruction of the ecosystem was punishable by exile.

At the exit to the biosphere Adam stepped through the decontamination vestibule where a fine mist washed his shoes and a forced gust of air removed loose organic matter. In the solitude of his apartment Adam emptied his pocket onto the kitchen bench. Removing his pants he picked the remaining seeds from his pocket and with his forefinger pushed them into a pile.

Opening the drink container, Adam pushed his finger into the dirt creating small holes. From a cup of water he poured rain onto the dry dirt watching it being soaked up. Between his thumb and forefinger he pinched the seeds and planted them in the soil. Like a womb he covered the seeds with the mud, pouring another cup of rain over the moist soil. Under the kitchen bench he had rigged up a single bulb as an artificial sun. Over the coming days he watched as the grass broke the surface of the soil, reaching for the sun and its warmth. Carefully he added water, not too little to starve his plants, not too much to drown them.

Every few days Adam visited another viewing platform taking another drink container with him, harvesting the red earth. Some days there were too many people and Adam deposited the drink container in recycling receptacle. He gathered more grass seeds and planted them in containers under the bench.

Foraging in the recycling bins Adam found a plastic tub about three feet square and only a few inches deep. A split ran through the centre but more foraging yielded some black plastic and thick tape. After repairs he began to fill the tub with soil. He wanted to carry two drink containers each trip to make it faster but he dared not arouse suspicion. When he had a layer of soil in the base of the tub, Adam began transplanting the grass from under the sink. Kneeling beside the tub Adam dug holes and carefully placed the grass in each hole. Meticulously he spread the spare soil around the tub.

Day by day he observed the grass spreading to fill the tub, sprouting new runners. He ran his hand over the tips of the blades, caressing it. With a pair of scissors he trimmed the blades, turning the cuttings into compost.

Weeks passed before he dared fulfil a dream. Adam sat on the dining room chair surveying the patch of grass he had grown. With deliberate purpose he untied his laces and removed his shoes. Socks were peeled off and tucked into the mouths of the shoes. He wriggled his toes, anticipating the texture. Standing to his feet he looked down on the square of green occupying the linoleum. Holding his breath he raised his right foot and lowered it onto the grass.

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22 responses to “The Green Green Grass of Home

  1. there were lots of delicious echoes behind the main theme of this. Vacating the building was like a library or museum closing annnouncement. The sinister ‘for your own existence’ also had nice echoes and hims stealing the seeds for a very modest pleasure of feeling real grass under his feet, reminded me of Winston Smith in “1984”. All by way of saying this is a densely layered story, extremely well crafted.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Green Green Grass of Home « A Fullness in Brevity – Adam Byatt -- Topsy.com

  3. I love this. It’s such a simple thing to do, made all the more powerful because he’s not supposed to do it. It seems a small ambition, but I’m glad he managed it. You’ve created a quiet yet resourceful rebel here.

  4. I really enjoyed this one! Even though Adam’s situation is far from mine, I can relate to him and wanted to see his dream come to fruition. Very beautiful in its simplicity.

  5. In the Hebrew language, Adam means “man” or “earth.” I thought it a fitting name for the main character. Adds a whole series of overtones.
    Sci-fi/spec fic is not a genre I normally write, but this little idea developed over the past few weeks. It has overtones of 1984 and Brave New World, but not totally dystopian literature.

  6. Oh I loved the ending, what lengths people will go to hey? Beautiful.

  7. Been so tired that it took me three readings to register what happened in the opening paragraphs. Am now certain it is all my fault and not yours, Mr. Byatt. Really dug the way you flipped the world around, including that one big step for man at the end.

  8. I was riveted. What a simple yet impossible wish. Well executed story.

  9. Excellent story! It’s amazing the lengths people will go to to achieve their desires. Seems like such a simple thing to us, but it is quite a difficult task in his reality.

  10. Breathtakingly well realized, Adam! So real, so touching. I could feel his fear at what seemed such innocent acts, and then the ending! Great work.

  11. This was beautiful. It reminded me of a Stephen King story, about a bunch of boys who tried to grow grass on a rooftop. There’s something about grass in a sterile urban environment… it just speaks of earth and life.

    Nice one.

  12. Very nice, a beautiful plan — and like the story itself, well-executed.

    I could see that kind of thing catching on in this world — everyone having their own mini-yard to tend and touch with their bare feet. Do you plan to write more in this particular world? I think it could be an interesting place.

    • I hadn’t thought of developing this world as I’m not a sci-fi writer as such. I love reading it but find it hard to write. It does have potential for more so I will give it some thought.

  13. Beaultiful story, Adam. It reminded me of an anime (Japanese animation, in case you didn’t know already) from Ghibli studios called “Nausicaa of the Valley”. In the anime the soil is supposed to be poisonous and the context is completelly different, but the care your MC took with the harvesting connected the dots with an ellement of the movie.

    Just so you know, the Ghibli animes are a great source of inspiration and solace. When I’m down I watch them and feel better, when I’m blocked I watch them and get ideas. This is how impacting was your story to me.

    Oh, now I want to dig my toes on grass too. 🙂

    • Thanks Mari, I’ve heard of Nausicaa, but it reminds me of Greek epic poetry. I haven’t watched anime since the days of Astroboy, Starblazers and Voltron. I need a few lifetimes to be more geeky, I mean, pop-cultured. 🙂 Should put in some quality time with some anime.

  14. I love the tension that runs through the whole story of the dire implications if he gets caught – yet to him it is worth it. Ah to fulfill the longing just to feel the grass beneath his feet again. Good thought provoking piece here. Let’s hope it never gets to that point.
    ~jon

  15. Loved the dialogue ““Another sky that looks so pretty but will kill us all.”” Everyone deserves a scrap of grass to walk on. 🙂

  16. I focused on the name Adam too, but as the last man. I kept wondering where the water came from. I thought too about the movie Eraserhead; the clumps of earth and weeds in Henry’s apartment are very poignant, as the grass is here.

  17. I love post-apocalyptic stories where it’s the little things that matter.

  18. The ending was perfect. We take something like that for granted, but in the future, that may very well be something worth all of that effort. Great story.

  19. I love the ending, too. If the world should ever come to this point, it will be the little things we miss the most, like the feel of grass or the ozone smell of rain. You added a great detail on the approaching storm, too. Living out in West Texas, I can sympathize with the effects of a dust storm. On days like that, staying in is the best option. Thank you for sharing.

  20. A timely reminder that we should all enjoy simple and natural pleasures right now. I’m already looking forward to the spring.
    There is poetry in this story, in the rythm of Adam’s collecting of earth and increasing his little patch of eden.
    I really enjoyed it.

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