Rays of Hope: Chapter 10

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My post about systemic racism is still fermenting around in my brain.

I took a little time out this week to talk to Tony Collins who helped me immeasurably with research for my next novel. My blogger friend, Carol Cassara, introduced me to Tony. Carol writes at “Heart-Mind-Soul.”

My next novel is a sequel to A Ship of Pearl.

So many people fell in love with Ephraim that, of course, he is a major player in May His Tribe Increase.

For today, come join me on Marla’s and Ray’s adventure.

If you’re interested in starting at Chapter 1, click here.

Chapter 10

“What’s the tallest plant you ever grew?” Ray sprinkled wheat germ over her bean curds.

“Corn,” said Marla. “At this time of the year, corn grew so fast, on a still night you could hear it growing.”

“You’re just making that up.” Ray held her spoon in mid-air, her mouth still open waiting for the bean curds.

“It can grow six inches in a day. Imagine what it would sound like if you grew that fast.”

Ray let out a bellow of laughter, spraying lunch over the tabletop. She jumped up to get a cloth so she could wipe up the mess, but Marla was a step ahead of her.

“My clothes would burst off of me.”

“Buttons would fly around the room.”

“But,” Ray’s laughter all but evaporated. “What happened to the corn?”

Marla let out a long sigh. Her whole body seemed to deflate like a party balloon.

“It’s a long story, starting with a little grub that bothered the corn.”

“Is it a for-real story? Or a make-believe story?”

“It’s a for-real story. But, I warn you, it’s scary. Get your notebook, so you can write down the parts you want to remember.”

Ray scrambled over to the book shelf where her things rested. The Visual Dictionary, a long-forgotten Where’s Waldo and a novel about a horse named Black Beauty, and another about a dog named Lad and another called Jonathon Livingston Seagull, which had a bird that seemed to think a lot about life. The novels, except for the one about the seagull named Jonathon, had no pictures, so she relied on the Visual Dictionary. She pulled out her notebook and fetched a No. 2 pencil from Marla’s desk.

“Maybe we should wait until after you eat.” Marla nodded at the bean curds.”

“Noooo. I’ll eat while you talk and write in-between.”

“Okay, okay,” Marla smiled and leaned back in her chair, a cup of lavender tea cradled in her hands. Despite the heat in the room, the warm aroma of the mug seemed like a comforting balm.

“Well, it started with a little grub that eats the roots of the corn.”

“What’s a grub?”

“Maybe you should get the Visual Dictionary so you can look things up as we go along,” said Marla. “And finish your curds. I’ll collect my thoughts, so we can proceed with fewer interruptions.”

Marla felt a prickle of irritation. She plugged her left nostril and breathed in reciting to herself, ‘all things are possible.’ She plugged the right nostril and whispered her exaltation, “you can do anything you set your mind to..”

“No one can do everything at once,” Ray completed the sentence. “I know. I know.” She sat at the table, Visual Dictionary beside her, shoveled in the last of her bean curds and pushed the bowl toward the middle of the table.

“The grubs ate the roots of the corn, which caused the corn stalks to fall over. A scientist discovered that a certain type of nematode liked to crawl inside the grub and lay its eggs. When the eggs hatched, the baby nematodes ate their way out of the grub, killing it.”

“Gross.” Ray sat up straight, eyes wide. “So the nematodes helped the corn?”

She picked up her pencil and draws a bunch of worms inside a worm. Not exactly the right rendition, Marla noted to herself, but the right idea.

“Yes, good for the corn. Bad for the grubs. The scientist thought they were geniuses. If there were no grubs, the nematodes would die because they needed the grubs to reproduce. Dead nematodes would just decay and add to the organic matter in the soil.”

“You and Trumble are the smartest people I know,” says Ray.

“Well, you don’t really know that many people.” Marla walked to the sink, rinsed her mug and studied Ray writing frantically.

“So?” Ray paused, pencil in mid-air. Marla waited for her to form her next question.

“So, that was good for the corn, right? So, what happened to the corn. What did the scientists miss.”

“The law of unintended consequences.” Marla retrieved a metal box from a top shelf that Ray couldn’t reach.

“The law of what?”

“Unintended consequences.” She put the box on the table and opened the lid.

“Dominoes? No, don’t change the subject. I want to know about the corn. Tell me about the corn.” Ray pulled the box toward herself and snapped the lid shut.”

“I’m getting to that,” said Marla. Calm yourself.

It was Ray’s turn to go through the one-nostril breathing exercise.

“The scientists didn’t understand that the nematodes needed a bacteria to survive. They carried it along with them like leaf-cutter ants carry bits of leaves to their underground homes. Well, not exactly like that. The ants harvest the leaves. The bacteria just ride along without any effort by the nematodes at all.”

Marla pried the dominoes from Ray and began lining them up vertically.

“Anyway, the important thing is that once the grubs were gone, the nematodes died and the bacteria had no home. Earthworms churned the dirt looking for food and took in some of the bacteria The bacteria found a new home inside the earthworms. The bacteria changed the worms insides so that they were too acidy and the earthworms couldn’t survive.”

“That was the unintended part?”

“You got it.” Marla tipped the first domino and one-by-one each domino tipped the next over. “One thing led to another.”

The part about the nematodes is actually true. I interviewed for a company that planned to grow them in big silos for land application.

Until next Friday, when we’ll both learn more.