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Remnant Populationby Elizabeth Moon
Synopses & Reviews
Sims Bancorp Colony File #3245.12
Between her toes the damp earth felt cool, but already sweat crept between the roots of her hair. It would be hotter today than yesterday, and by noon the lovely spice-scented red flowers of the dayvine would have furled their fragile cups, and drooped on the vine. Ofelia pushed the mulch deeper against the stems of the tomatoes with her foot. She liked the heat. If her daughter-in-law Rosara weren't within sight, she would take off her hat and let the sweat evaporate. But Rosara worried about cancer from the sun, and Rosara was sure it wasn't decent for an old woman to be outside with nothing on her head but thinning gray hair.
Not that it was so thin. Ofelia touched her temples, as if to tuck an errant strand in place, but really to confirm the thick strands of the braid she wore. Still thick, and her legs still strong, and her hands, though knotted with age and work, still capable. She eyed her daughter-in-law, at the far end of the garden. Scrawny, hair the color of scorched paper, eyes of mud. Thought she was beautiful, with her narrow waist and her pale hands, but Ofelia knew better. She had always known better, but Barto would not listen to a mother's wisdom, and now he had Rosara of the narrow body-like a snake, Ofelia had said once only—and no children.
She minded that less than the others thought. She could have welcomed a daughter-in-law independent enough to refuse children. No, it was Rosara's determination to enforce on her mother-in-law all the petty rules intended to preserve the virtue of virgins . . . that she could not tolerate.
We should have planted more beans, Rosara called. She had said that at planting, knowing that Ofelia could not use all the beans she normally grew. She wanted Ofelia to grow beans to sell, as well as beans to eat.
We have enough, Ofelia said.
“If the crop does not fail,” Rosara said.
If the crop fails, a bigger crop would be a bigger failure, Ofelia said. Rosara snorted, but did not contradict. Perhaps she was finally learning that it did no good to argue. Ofelia hoped so. Ofelia went on working on the tomatoes, pushing the mulch here and there, tying up straggling ends of the vines. Rosara claimed the tomato vines made her skin itch; she stayed away from them. Ofelia hunkered down to hide a smile as she thought of this, enjoying the strong green tomato smell.
She dozed off, there among the tomatoes, rousing only when the slanting afternoon light probed between the rows. Light in her eyes had always waked her; she was still sure she had not slept at all in the cryo tanks because the lights stayed on all the time. Humberto had said that was ridiculous, that no one was awake in cryo, that was the point. Ofelia had not argued, but she was sure she remembered the light, always stabbing through her eyelids.
Now, lying drowsy on the crumbly mulch between the rows of tomatoes, she thought how peaceful it looked, that little green jungle. Silent, too, for once; Rosara must have gone back inside without noticing she was asleep. Or perhaps the bitch didn't care. Ofelia rolled the insult on her tongue, silently, savoring it. Bitch. Slut. She didn't know many such words, which gave the few in her vocabulary extra richness, all the anger that some people spread over many words on many occasions.
Refusing to leave her only home to board the cryo ships, Ofelia hides, content to live alone on an abandoned planet, but when new settlers arrive and are slaughtered by unknown stone age aliens, she takes it upon herself to save the aliens from Earth's wrath. Reprint.
When her company relocates to another planet, Ofelia Falfurrias, 70, who expects to be downsized anyway, decides to remain behind. Thus she discovers the planet's population as it emerges from hiding, now that the humans have left. A meeting of cultures.
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