Part 5: Twenty Questions: Gardening (or so I thought)

     I opened the cooler.
     “Since we did not play the game, and you were willing to listen to what I had to say, I think each of you should get the treat asked for.”
     Gerard smiled…really smiled…for the first time. “Sounds fair!”
     I pulled out the first container and opened it. “Percy, your choice will not be available until the end of summer, so I had to buy it frozen and let it thaw.”
     I offered the elder an ear of corn and laughed when he whooped with delight.
     “Oho!” Gerard bellowed when I carefully placed a bowl of several strawberries next to him on the fallen tree. “These are absolutely my favorite!”

“Oho! These are absolutely my favorite!”

     Adele’s eyes grew wide when I next unwrapped a large piece of melon.
     “You couldn’t decide, so I brought you this,” I told her.
     She grabbed it eagerly, and after one bite she was soon devouring the rest.
     Betts had asked for blueberries, but I could not find them at my local supermarket. I placed the plastic bowl that contained my substitution on the ground in front of her, and she instantly jumped down to inspect it.
     “What’s this?” she asked, puzzled.
     “It’s called a banana,” I replied. “You said you had not eaten what we call “fruit” in a long time, so I thought you might enjoy this. We eat what’s inside, but I think you’ll like the peel, too.”
     Betts picked up the yellow fruit, took a bite and smiled.
     I closed the lid of the cooler and sat down on top. Gerard was done first, and he promptly began to lick the strawberry juice from his paws. Adele devoured the melon, and the smile on her face told me she enjoyed her reward. Percy had not yet finished, and I suspected he was simply savoring his treat. Betts polished off the banana and licked the bowl clean.
     The creatures before me were now a happy bunch, but I knew the feeling would be temporary. Their lives were already difficult, as they must always be vigilant for bobcats, horned owls, coyotes and, occasionally, two-leggers. Surviving would be even harder now.
     “I’m glad you all enjoyed your prizes.”
     “Those berries were quite tasty,” Gerard reported. “Almost as good as the plot of berries by the old red barn.”
     “I know which one you’re talking about,” Percy said, his reward pressed tightly against his chest. “Outstanding corn can be found next door!”
     “You will remember what I told you?” I asked hopefully. “I did not give you these treats to encourage you to find more. I believe you deserved one last indulgence.”
     “In…dul…,” Adele started, frowning.
     “Stuff we’re not supposed to eat but we eat it anyway ’cause it tastes so good,” Gerard grumbled.
     “Betts, perhaps you can teach the youngsters how to find their food in the creek,” I suggested. “And maybe even an elder or two.”
     Betts smiled and nodded.
     “Why are you hugging your reward like that, you geezer?” Gerard growled at Percy.
     “Hah, if this is going to be my last bit of my very favorite food, then I’m going to make it last as long as possible,” he retorted, waving the half-eaten ear of corn in the air. “So there!”

“Hah, if this is going to be my last bit of my very favorite food, then I’m going to make it last as long as possible.”

     Gerard shrugged his shoulders and Adele giggled. They were getting restless, and it was time for them to go. I stood up.
     “I’m off, now,” Gerard announced, jumping down and taking the lead. He started toward the creek but then stopped suddenly and turned to face me.
     “The reward…prize…it was good,” he said. “Your message was clear. I like that in a two-legger.”
     He turned to Percy. “You coming, oldster?”
     “Bah, you go on, and I’ll catch up!” Percy growled.
     I was still puzzled by their exchange when Betts jumped down and gazed at me. “I do not understand what happened here,” she almost whispered. “But I do know that you and I are alike. I have been alone since Fanny has been gone, so maybe it is time to do something different. It will not be easy for me, just like this was not easy for you. You took a chance and warned us.”
     “Take care, Betts,” I said, smiling. “And you, too, Adele.”
     “I will!” she almost shrieked. She jumped down from the tree and scampered after Betts, who was making her way toward the creek.
     “Where are we going first?” I heard the youngster ask. “What are you going to teach me? I can’t wait to learn how to grab the swimmers!”

“What are you going to teach me? I can’t wait to learn how to grab the swimmers!”

     Percy remained on top of the fallen tree, still clutching his ear of corn, so I joined him there. “You’ll be able to get your food from the creek and other places away from two-leggers?”
     “For a moment there a few thoughts crossed my mind,” he said, ignoring my question. “Maybe the two-leggers have no intention of eliminating us. Maybe things will go on just as they are. And maybe you made up everything.”
     I was silent and Percy continued. “But even if you did, I believe you would make up such a story because you are concerned for our safety. I don’t know how I know that. Instinct, I guess. When you’ve lived as long as I have, sometimes that’s all you got left.”
     I smiled at the elder. “When I approached you yesterday, my goal was to play Twenty Questions. The paper I read from was attached to the front door when I arrived home.”
     Percy nodded. “I am an oldster, but I think I have a few new tricks to learn in me. And I’ve got a good teacher. As you can see, my son is a real know-it-all, but even so, I taught him well. He’ll change his ways, and he’ll learn quickly. And then it will be his turn to teach me.”
     “Gerard is your son?” I asked, surprised. I admit I did not see that coming.
     “Unbelievable, isn’t it?” Percy sputtered. “I don’t know where that kid gets his attitude.”
    I could have sworn he winked at me.
   “Anyway, his mother wanted to name him Percy Junior,” he continued. “But I insisted we name him after my father.”
     I laughed. “He doesn’t look like a Percy Junior.”
     The elder scowled. “Nobody does!”
     Percy climbed down from the tree, corn tucked securely in his mouth, and started on the path toward the creek—the same one his son had taken. After a few steps, he turned to wave at me.
     I waved back and watched him amble along the path until the trees and the undergrowth and the old leaves swallowed him up.
     I packed away the containers that had held the banana and the strawberries, grasped the handle of the cooler and found the well-worn path that would lead me out of the woods.

I packed away the containers that had held the banana and the strawberries, grasped the handle of the cooler and found the well-worn path that would lead me out of the woods.

I was not concerned about Betts, or even Adele, but would Percy and Gerard change their ways? Their compulsion to forage for an easy meal would be hard to overcome. The neighboring farms had been hit hard lately, but I decided that I would at least try to convince the owners to abandon their scheme for other, less severe, methods, and there was no better time to begin than now.
     I suddenly stopped, frowning. What was I to do about Twenty Questions: Gardening? I still had the photos, and I could not let a good game go to waste. If only I had a way to show the images to others and then create a method for them to guess the names of the seedlings and other plants.

     The solution was suddenly clear.
     A rumble of thunder overhead interrupted my thoughts, so I tugged the handle of the cooler once more and made my way toward home.

Gerard – Image by HNBS from Pixabay 
Adele – Image by edbo23 from Pixabay 
Percy – Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay 
Betts – Image by AtakOnArt from Pixabay 

Strawberries Image by Niceda Atencia from Pixabay 
Two Raccoons in Water Image by David Mark from Pixabay 
Path Image by pasja1000 from Pixabay 
Woman Walking Image by Daria Nepriakhina from Pixabay 

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