“Where did you get all this?” Samuel is surveying his kitchen. The granite countertops are hidden under a jungle of green leaves. The sweet herbal aroma fills the kitchen more than the verdant wild garlic that overflows out of the sink and over every surface. He is talking loudly, almost yelling to be heard over the roaring food processor. His young son is standing on a stool at the sink washing the leaves while his wife stands almost motionless pouring oil in a thin stream into the spinning appliance.
“The forest.” She says without taking her eyes off her work.
“We picked these leaves in the forest dad.” His son says, holding up a handful of dripping greenery. “Did you know you can eat these?”
“That’s great, buddy. Did you help?” He asks his son.
“Yes, I filled two bags.” He boasts.
Sara, his wife, turns the machine off. The sudden silence is a relief. She opens up the food processor and samples the green puree inside. She considers the taste for a moment, then adds salt and puts the machine back to work. Samuel studies her for a hint of the familiar woman he knows so well. A small clip is lazily gathered around a few strands of her hair that flows in waves down her back. A refreshing contrast to the tight tidy bun it’s normally confined to. Her casual smile, replaced by a tightly clenched jaw. He waits for the jarring noise of the food processor to stop before attempting a conversation.
“What are you going to do with all of this?” He asks, keeping his voice light and calmly curious.
“We’re going to eat it.” His boy says cheerfully.
Sarah samples her puree again and then starts pouring it into a mason jar. She is deeply focused on the filling jar, leaving her son to carry on the conversation.
“What’s that?” Samuel asks, motioning to the jar.
“Pesto,” Sara answers flatly.
“We can eat it on pasta,” Danny says.
Sara starts to fill a second jar. “Once those are clean, lay them out on the towel here and dry them.” She instructs her son.
He eagerly does as he’s told. Happy to be contributing to the prospect of eating something found outside. An activity that has been strictly forbidden till now.
“What did you say this was called?” Samuel asks.
“It’s wild garlic.” She says, her eyes finally meeting his, projecting wild nervous energy. The image of a deer in the woods flashes through Samuels's mind. A Doe, running through wet naked trees, disappearing into the fog just as quickly as it appeared.
“I can smell it.” He says enthusiastically, careful to try and hold her attention, but it’s becoming harder these days. She has already returned to her work. Hunched over the cutting board, chopping away at the foliage, she’s no longer hear him.
All their food takes on a green hue in the days that follow. Meatballs speckled with green flakes, rice coated in the herbal puree, and butter infused with it’s sweet garlicky flavor. Sara and Danny go out early each morning and return after a few hours, soaking wet, with bags of the fragrant herb. The work in the kitchen hums along all day. When Danny tires or bores of helping, he seeks out Samuel and they play ball in the garden or watch videos of strangers fixing cars on the internet. Then Sara will go out alone, in her rubber boots and raincoat draped over her thin frame. The pantry shelves become a wall of green. Sara lays the green jars like bricks. Row after row, a fortress made of preserved sauces, dressings, and oils. At night she looks at what others have made with their wild garlic and what other edible plants can be found in the forest. She wears the same green splattered leggings and oversized sweatshirt day in and day out.
Samuel can no longer find any traces of his wife in the nervous busy woman in the kitchen. Danny comes into his father’s home office more and more. It’s on one of these visits from his son that Samuel decides he needs to uncover the full picture of what’s going on in his family.
“Hi, buddy.” He greets his son.
“Hi.” Danny looks around his dad’s world of papers and filing cabinets.
“What are you guys doing today?” Samuel asks.
“Did you guys go out walking in the woods again?”
“That sounds like fun.”
Danny picks up a golf ball from the desk and rolls it around between his palms.
“Danny, are you getting your schoolwork done?” Samuel asks.
His son keeps his eyes down on the ball. “Well, mom says it’s not as important as it used to be.”
Samuel sits back in his chair and sighs. His suspicions confirmed. “It is important.” He says. “Do you want to do your schoolwork?”
“No. I like helping mom,” he says flatly.
“You don’t like it when you have class on the computer and you get to see your teacher and your friends?”
Danny thinks over his answer for a minute. “Well,” he is rolling the ball faster now between his small hands, “I like being in my school better.”
“I know you do buddy,” Samuel says, “but you can’t be in the school now, so isn't it better to still see your friends on the computer?”
“Yea.” He says quietly, still not looking at his dad.
Samuel takes a deep breath. “Well, we can get you on the computer for your classes. I will make sure of it okay?”
“Okay.” Another quiet answer. “Can we play soccer now?” He asks, finally looking up at his dad.
Samuel smiles and stands, “Of course we can.”
Samuel finds his wife in the kitchen labeling green jars. Danny has fallen asleep, their illuminated kitchen glows in the dark evening. The only sound is the dishwasher satisfyingly humming away with work. “More sauce huh?” He asks.
“Mmm.” Sara answers without looking at him.
“I think you’ve made enough sauce to last us a year.” he jokes. She doesn’t respond or give any indication that she’s heard him. “Danny told me today that he hasn’t been doing his online classes or his school work.” He watches her face closely for a reaction that doesn’t come. “He told me you said it’s not important.” His voice rising in an effort to get her attention.
“Mhm.” She sticks another label onto a jar without looking at him.
He is frustrated and furious. “Do you hear me? He isn’t doing any of his work. It is important Sara. We need to talk about this.”
She looks at him, the wild energy from her eyes knocking him off his offense for a moment. “He can’t learn from a screen. He’s a little boy, he needs to be in a school to learn.”
“I know that, but it’s not possible for him to go to school now, so he needs to try and do what he can at home. He needs education and who knows how long it will be before he can go back to school.” He keeps her eye contact, afraid to blink and lose her once more.
“He is getting an education. He is learning about the forest and the plants that grow there. He is learning about life.” Her voice is shaky, unstable, and he can see the start of tears gathering in her eyes. “You’re right, we don’t know how long this will last, so we need to prepare. Danny needs to know how to be prepared.” She turns back to her work to hide her tears.
It comes in another quick flash. The doe, leaping effortlessly over the fallen trees and out of sight. He sees her now, his wife. He watches her in silence, her busy focused work. She opens the pantry to add to her brick wall. She can’t reach the next empty shelf. The wall of jars is too high now. Samuel stands up and takes the jars from her and places them on the shelf.
Wordlessly she turns to grab more jars and passes them to him. He adds them to the wall. They work silently together till the day's work is organized and put away.
The next morning Sara sets out on her own into the forest with her empty bags. The morning mist has frozen on the bare tree branches, turning them into white skeletons that tower over the emerald sea of wild green garlic. Her boots and the frozen mud make the only sound. She squats down and goes to work picking the tender green leaves. A snapping twig causes her to look up. She meets the brown sad eyes of a doe. They watch each other silently and motionlessly. Sara takes a slow deep breath, the frosty air chilling her lungs. The doe moves first, turning her head away and then running into the fog to go about her day. Life in the forest unchanged, unaffected by the chaos in the civilized world.