Issue #15 |

Tapioca

The botanist made a lot of money breeding soybeans that would grow in dust.

He didn’t care much for the money and had no interest in knowing how much of it he had.

He lived in a cheap motel and wore clothes from second-hand stores.

His advancement in soybean horticulture came through a combination of seed science and shamanism.

He was self-taught in both fields.

He did not own a car.

He took his meals in a nearby cafeteria known for its mediocre food.

He did the same things every day in the same order so that he did not have to think about those things and could reserve thought time for things that interested him.

He was not against variety.

In certain frames of mind he had the battered cod with tartar sauce instead of the roast beef with gravy the black eyed peas instead of the green beans and the mac and cheese instead of the mashed potatoes.

He always had the tapioca pudding.

One day at lunch he learned the cafeteria was closing.

Cafeterias were going out of style.

The lease was up and the owner of the cafeteria could no longer afford the payments.

There were rumors of developments in the area and the property owner wanted to cash in.

The botanist bought the cafeteria and the land it stood on.

He had to outbid many interested parties and pay a ridiculous price.

He didn’t care.

It wasn’t about money.

It was about a place to eat.

He kept the entire staff in place and gave everyone a raise.

He told the manager he didn’t want to change a thing.

One day a representative of a developer approached him as he carried his tray from the service line to his accustomed table.

The developer planned to build a major residential and retail environment that would swallow everything in sight and the cafeteria occupied a tiny fraction near the center of its intended footprint.

The representative powered up her tablet and explained how transformative the development will be.

This entire section of the city will be made anew.

Eyesores will be eliminated undesirables cast out jobs created lives fulfilled property values will explode economies will boom.

She showed the botanist pictures of glistening jewelry counters au courant restaurants splendid homes beneath benevolent sunsets skywalks skytrams palatial malls children on amusement rides with parents drunk on happiness parks soccer fields ice rinks.

Imagine all that here around us.

How awesome how truly unbelievably awesome it will be.

The representative was authorized to present an offer on the spot that would bring the botanist a far far more than handsome profit on his investment in the property.

She touched the screen to reveal a page covered with a supersize dollar sign and a long line of tall numbers divided by commas.

Wasn’t that exciting.

The botanist said thanks for coming by but the cafeteria was not for sale and chewed another mouthful of his mac and cheese.

During the presentation he had realized a new way to encourage a seed to ignore conditions it might have otherwise abhorred and imagine a life for itself on its own terms.

The representative noticed that the botanist ate each item on his tray separately and did not partake of another item until he was finished with the first.

The developer sent a series of escalating offers and the botanist turned them all down.

The developer couldn’t believe it.

Soon all the land necessary for the development was in hand except the tiny portion that held the cafeteria.

The developer’s machines were busy knocking things down and excavating holes across the landscape.

It was good old-fashioned plundering with better tools.

There were only a handful of regular patrons left anyway but even these could not come near the place because all the streets were blocked off and to walk among the machines was to take your life in your hands.

In an epiphany the developer realized the problem.

The botanist must not know who he was dealing with.

He told his assistant to send the botanist links to the many pages of online information about himself his accomplishments and his company.

But the botanist did not own a smart phone or computer and had no use for the internet.

The developer sent the assistant to the cafeteria with a glossy brochure that told his life story in heroic prose with accompanying photographs of his developments and himself at various life stages.

The assistant had to pick her way around the giant machines which resembled lumbering and dutiful exoskeletal creatures with excellent work ethics.

The botanist was now the only customer in his cafeteria.

The assistant joined him at his table.

The noise of the machines at work outside bombarded the walls in a way that made it hard to carry on a conversation.

The botanist glanced at the brochure.

He wasn’t out to judge but he did have opinions.

In his opinion the brochure was waste of trees puffery about a mindless transient busy trashing a small but previously lovely planet orbiting an unremarkable star in deep space.

Ants who spit formic acid to coincidentally or perhaps in an intentionally helpful way improve the pH of soil and meet the needs of orchids were more interesting.

Photosynthesis was much much more interesting.

The botanist offered the assistant a bowl of tapioca pudding which she declined.

The developer increased his offers by twenty percent each time the botanist said no.

He went up fifty percent to no avail.

He threw in a small ownership stake in the development.

He thought the botanist was playing him.

The assistant said she was happy to keep making the increasingly difficult trips to the cafeteria but she really really thought the botanist would never sell no matter what.

The developer fired the assistant.

He sent new offers to the motel via Certified Mail.

The botanist refused to sign for the envelopes.

The developer drove his Maserati to the motel himself with an offer of obscene proportions in his pocket.

The botanist looked out from behind a curtain but would not come to the door.

 

To read the rest of this story, please purchase a copy of issue #15 or subscribe to the magazine. Photo courtesy of Bob Swanson; view more of his work on Flickr

Kirk Wilson’s story collection OUT OF SEASON will be published in early 2023 as the winner of the Elixir Press Fiction Award. His poetry collection SONGBOX was released in August by Trio House Press as the winner of the Trio Award. Kirk’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry are widely published in literary journals and anthologies. His …

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