Published in Dream Catcher, Issue 38
A Good Job in Flower Observation
‘But, Overseer, in our Perfect New World, everyone is supposed to have a job. This is what we are taught, and our teachers were adamant there would be no exceptions.’
‘I know, Child. You’ve identified the very problem I’m contending with.’
The Overseer is a kind and friendly man. The kindest and friendliest, they say. That’s why he got this position. It always goes to someone like that, thankfully. He is round and hairless and he smiles a great deal.
‘I have reached Employable Age, Overseer. All of my peers have been assigned jobs.’
‘But there are simply no jobs left.’
‘Across our entire territory? In every occupation?’
I have to say, however, that I am finding this conversation with him, the first I have ever had with him apart from pleasantries once on the stage at my school’s recognition ceremony, very difficult.
‘That’s what I am trying to tell you, Child. The last assignment was made this morning.’
‘I’ll do anything. Anything! I can build things. I can look after people. I can teach. Overseer, I can be your assistant!’
‘I have two assistants already, Child. One brings me mint tea. The other brings me lemon tea.’
‘I can clean. How about someone to clean the latrines?’
‘We have many cleaners.’
‘I’ll clean the outside! I’ll bet you haven’t thought of that.’
‘Everyone latrine block in our territory has a dedicated external cleaning officer. Have you ever seen a latrine is a state of disrepair, Child? Answer me yes and I’ll give you the job right now.’
I feel so awful. I’ve made several beads of sweat appear on the Overseer’s forehead. They are trickling slowly over the curve toward his brow. I wish I didn’t have to press him like this, especially on such a hot day.
‘I can’t answer yes to that question, Overseer. But I really must do something with my time. And I will need my monthly stipend.’
‘You’ll still get the stipend.’
‘I want to earn it, Overseer!’
His chair creaks when he shifts his weight around to get comfortable. I do notice these things, I’m good at noticing. I care.
‘Okay, I can see how much this means to you, and it truly makes me proud. Let me see what I can think of.’
‘Really!? I’m so grateful to you.’
‘I know you are, Child. Now, tell me, what do you like to do?’
‘That doesn’t help me narrow things down. What are your favourite things?’
‘I have so many. I love talking, as you can tell, but also thinking. Games. The rain. The sun. My family. Learning new things. Clouds. Stars. Going to sleep. Waking up. Food. Laughter. Flowers.’
The Overseer holds up his hand.
‘Stop there. Flowers. We can do something with that.’
‘Your job, Child newly of Employable Age, will be to look at all of the flowers of our territory.’
‘Look at them?’
‘Yes. The wild flowers that grow all over the valley. Look at them and smell them. That’s your job.’
‘And then what, Overseer? Should I collect flowers for the parties and celebrations that we hold?’
‘That won’t be necessary. Events Management is fully staffed for that kind of task.’
‘Perhaps I could count the flowers, and report back on how many there are of different types in each location?’
‘There aren’t any vacancies in Data Collection.’
‘I see. So I should really just look at them?’
‘And smell them, Child. It’s very important to smell them, too.’
Oh, what a wonderful job I have. People say that in our Perfect New World everyone finds their role in life. Well, this is mine, I’m sure. And I’m so good at it!
I get started the moment, the very moment I wake up in the morning. In fact it’s probably even before that, while I’m still asleep, when I smell the bluebells that grow just behind my family’s cottage in the Spring, drifting through my window. You need to have a very well-trained nose like mine to pick up the subtle scent. My parents sometimes shout from downstairs if I stay in bed too long. ‘Get up, Child,’ they say, ‘the day is beginning!’ And I reply, ‘I know! I’m already working!’
I never stop working. I will go out today, deeper into the forest to find the wood sorrel I know is waiting for me in certain places. Those delicate little petals with the purple veins. It has a faint, deep smell, that only hits you when you breathe the scent all the way into your lungs. Then I’ll head into the meadow to the north where the early purple orchids grow. They stand so tall, but they’re starting to fade now, and smell of cat’s pee. But that’s okay because it means that that Summer will come soon.
My father asks me always if I have a favourite flower, and I protest that I love them all the same. He is a chicken veterinarian, so I ask him in response who his favourite chicken is. He laughs and says he knows no chicken well enough to make one a favourite, so I say I’m the same, but opposite, because I know all flowers too well to favour one over another.
When summer comes I welcome the dog rose to our territory, with its white petals and yellow heart, and a smell as sweet as stewed apples. I have to get so close to pick up the scent that it’s hard to avoid the thorns, but I don’t mind. Then, ah, the honeysuckle, so striking and powerful. The smell is overwhelming at first, as you approach it in the woods. It makes you feel quite dizzy, but dive in and you will find yourself transported.
‘Child, come down now,’ my mother says. Her job is to oil the hinges of all the doors in all the homes of the territory, and she likes to be on time. But today there is something different. ‘The morning messenger has brought a note from the Overseer,’ she says. ‘He wants to see you,’ she says.
I go downstairs and see that the morning messenger is still here, talking with my parents in the kitchen. I think he’s the one who got in trouble recently. He was delayed during his round after the strap of his satchel broke. It took him so long to fix it and resume making his deliveries that it was just past noon by the time he finished. There was a lot of fuss. That was the only time any of us ever saw the Overseer get upset, when he had to make a public apology to the afternoon messengers for allowing someone else to do their work.
The note says the Overseer has good news for me and I should stop by his cottage today. Exciting! I’ll go straight away. I say goodbye to everyone and head out. I can’t wait.
‘Come in, Child. It’s lovely to see you again.’
‘Hello, Overseer. I’m so glad to have the chance to talk to you. I know you’ll be happy with how well I’m doing in my job.’
‘I have no doubt. In fact that’s one of the reasons I wanted to see you. But first, would you like some tea? Mint, lemon, or ginger?
‘I’d love some ginger tea. By the way, do you have a new assistant?’
‘Yes, I do. He’s doing a very good job. Speaking of which, my wife has a new job, too. She found out yesterday she is being promoted within the mathematics department, from multiplication tutor to division tutor. It’s a big challenge.’
‘That’s wonderful news, Overseer.’
‘And you can help me, Child. I thought you’d welcome the opportunity to advise me on which flowers I can pick as a gift, to congratulate her.’
‘I do, I do!’
‘I knew you would want to make use of your knowledge in a productive way. So, tell me, which is your favourite flower in our territory?’
Ah. I really can’t refuse to pick a favourite, can I? This isn’t like talking to my father about his chickens. Advising the Overseer is an important responsibility. I must put aside my misgivings and make a recommendation.
‘Well, this is a difficult choice,’ I say. ‘If it were Summer, I’d say to opt for the honeysuckle, or maybe enchanter’s nightshade. She would be delighted with either.’
‘What a shame it isn’t Summer yet.’
‘Oh, but in Spring your choice is endless! There is the red campion, so bright and pretty, wood anemone, with its sharp and musky smell, or lily of the valley, so elegant…’
‘It pleases me to see you enjoying your employment, Child, although I rather hope endless is an exaggeration.’
‘Perhaps a little! If I had to choose one, only one, on the pain of severe punishment – not that you would do such a thing, Overseer – I would say to give her ramsons. They are so attractive, with their petals reaching out in every direction, and more, they will fill your home with the strangest scent. One that will grow on you, I promise! She will be sure of your love for her with every breath she takes.’
‘Perfect. Ramsons, the matter is settled. Now, to the other reason I asked you here. I have more good news.’
‘I am pleased to announce that I am expanding the Flower Observation department. I know how seriously you take your duties. From now on, you will be able to specialise in one particular area and develop even greater expertise.’
‘This is good news! It will be so nice to have a colleague.’
‘Exactly. So, as of today, your job will be to look at the flowers.’
‘Overseer, that’s already my job.’
‘No, I mean only to look at the flowers. Another observer will be employed to smell them.’
‘Oh. But how can I look but not smell them?’
The Overseer opens a draw in the chest behind him, and hands me a peg. It’s the type we use to hang garments out to dry.
‘For your nose,’ he says. ‘Your colleague will wear a scarf over her eyes. We can’t have you doing each other’s jobs, can we?’
Also available in issue 38 of Dream Catcher magazine: http://www.dreamcatchermagazine.co.uk/html/issue_38.html