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CASH CROP / Connie Willis "Oh, Haze," Sombra said. "Aren't you excited about tomorrow? Our new dresses and the school all decorated with flowers?" "Yes," I said, trying to see down the hill to the peach tree. Francie always waited by the peach tree after school, triumphant that she had made it home before the downer. But this morning Mother had come to take her home, and I could not see any figure standing beside the stunted tree. "I can hardly wait to see the flowers!" Sombra said. "Mamita says they always bring yellow roses. And red carnations. Do you know what carnations look like, Haze?" I shook my head. The only flowers I had ever seen were my mother's greentent geraniums. Earlier today the district nurse had talked to Mother for a long time. I had heard the words "scarlet fever" and "northern," and the nurse's face had become flushed and angry as she spoke. "Flowers!" she had said angrily. "They buy us off with flowers and antibiotics when they should be sending us a centrifuge so we can make our own antibiotics. They take our grain and give us flowers!" And Mother had hurried Francie home. "Just think," Sombra said, looking up at the dusty haze, "right now the Magassar's orbiting. Floating up there in space with its hold full of flowers." She was shivering, hugging her arms across her chest. We had ridden the dustdowner home, clinging to the narrow seat under the sprinklers, and both of us were wet from the spray. Dirty downers, my father called them. "They buy us off with the downers when they could be doing climate control, when they could be eliminating the strep altogether." AU I seemed to be able to think of today were angry words against the government. There shouldn't be, with graduation coming. The government had sent a special ship just for the occasion of our first graduating class. They had already sent fabric for graduation clothes with the last grain ship, and although Sombra's romantic notions about the ship floating overhead with its hold full of flowers were not quite right and the Magassar was instead already filling its massive hold with compressed grain and alcohol from the orbiting silos, when it did land tomorrow there would be gifts and special foods from earth, fresh fruits and chocolate, and Sombra's flowers. Yet all I heard were angry words. Father had threatened to dismantle the dustdowner that circled our stead daily and build a cannon out of it. "Then when the government men tell me they're doing all they can about the strep, I can tell them 6 ยท The Missouri Review what I think." The government's argument was that the strep outbreaks were being caused by the dust, so they sent the automated sprinklers crawling up and down the adobe-hard roads between the steads, wasting Haven's already scarce water, and stirring up dust with their heavy wheels that their sprinklers didn't even touch. The quarantine and sterilization regulations the first steaders set up did more to keep the strep under control than the downers ever would. The steaders made their own use of them, hitching supplies and messages on the back to send them between the steads. During quarantines the district nurse sent antibiotics that way and sometimes a coffin. And all the kids caught them on the way to and from school, if they could time it, arriving damp and disheveled at their angry mothers', who told them they would get a chill and catch the strep, who forced the government-supplied Schultz-Charlton strips into their mouths and wrapped them in blankets. I had seen Mamita Turulo do it to Sombra and Mother to Francie. Not to me. I was never chilled. The breeze on my wet shirt and jeans today was cool, but not cold. "Oh, you're never cold," Sombra said now, her teeth chattering. "It isn't fair." Even in winter I slept under a thin blanket and forgot my coat at school. Even in Haven's sudden intense summer that was nearly here, my dust-colored cheeks didn't flush...


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