Avi stepped cautiously through the garden, which was bathed in a dusky light. He hummed softly against the whistling breeze and giggled at the funny shape of the bouncing melody. He let the music rise, adding humor with every note. The original composition bubbled with life and movement. He could hear it taking shape in his mind. Laughable lyrics dropped into place almost without a thought. As he dug his hands into the earth, he was careful not to harm the stocks of the grafted vegetable-fruits. He sang the funny little tune as he excavated his family's garden dinner.
The humor of his song stretched a wide smile across his face. He tugged on a row of apricot-carrots. After pulling them into the cool evening air, he knocked the dirt free from each and lined them up in a perfect row. They were delicate, but their flavor was worth the caution. He knew the family would want dozens, but his two hands limited the amount he could carry at once. He gathered as many as he could.
“Avi, come on.” His father called. “It’s almost time.”
“Do you need a hand?” his dad asked as he walked in Avi’s direction through the lush plantation of blooming ground fruits. He stepped over the patch of ivy-grapes and tiptoed through the berry-grass toward his son. Garden gatherings heaped across his arms as high as his chin. One apricot-carrot fell from Avi’s grasp. He spun quickly and bobbled the veggie-fruit with his sneakered foot before kicking it to his dad. “I guess I should have said, do you need a foot?” They laughed.
“What d’you pick, Avi?” Margreth said as she erupted from the back door of the cabin, barefoot and wild. She didn’t traverse the garden so delicately as her father and brother. She charged through the budding edibles, blundering carelessly atop the waving berry-grass. Avi’s little sister was full of everything wonderful and free, a genuine reflection of the splendor in the world. She bounced to see all the garden goodies Avi carried. Their dad handed Margreth the stray apricot-carrot Avi had kicked to him. She couldn’t wait.
“Aww, sweet,” she said, bitting deep. They walked around and turned to the front of the little cabin. It was like entering a realm of warm, noisy chaos. Avi set down a load of apricot-carrots and went back for more. As Avi went, his giant family was still arriving in the front orchard like every sabbath. Avi's siblings that still lived on the farm ran circles around the outside of the tiny house.
A few of his older brothers and sisters, who had begun new branches of the family tree had come. Alisha and Sasha had brought their very full quivers. Jay, one of Avi's eldest brothers, nearly sixty years his senior, had come with his kids. Grandpa Rohan, Great-grandpa Kiran, and Great-great-grandpa Neil were there with many of their family members. This was the most grandfathers at a gathering in over a month. The four generations of the Mallick men all looked so similar, and now even Avi, who would reach prime-age before long, was taking on the familiar Mallick look. He dropped another armload of garden harvest on the pile.
“It’s almost time,” called Kiran.
“Fifteen more minutes, you old bat,” his wife, Great-grandma Sonia called out, poking fun at him.
“Hey, he’s not old. He’s only two hundred and—uh—two hundred and fifty—uh,” called Great-great-grandpa Neil from where he leaned against the railing of the porch. He counted on his fingers.
“We’ll be ancient by the time you count up his age,” Grandpa Rohan grumbled.
“Well, he’s two hundred and something, anyway. That’s nothing,” Neil boasted. He had been nearly a hundred when Kiran was born and he often liked to remind everyone that he had the greatest number of years behind him and seniority to prove it. The entire family debated Great-grandpa Kiran’s age. Kiran just smiled with crossed arms and kept happily quiet.
“Got your goat!” Margreth shouted, with her mouth still half full of the apricot-carrot. She ran by and slapped Great-great-grandpa Neil on the leg before leaping from the porch and sprinting for all she was worth. She giggled deviously as she darted away into the growing shadows of the orchard. Got your goat, wasn't just an invitation to play; it was an all-out challenge.
Great-great-grandpa Neil spiraled with the speed of spring lightning. He placed his hands on the porch railing and vaulted with an acrobatic somersault up and over. His jump carried him from the porch across most of the yard. By the time his feet hit the ground, he too was running. Before he could close the gap, Margreth squealed as she lept into one of the orchard trees. She climbed like a spider monkey and took refuge in the highest wispy branches. With one mighty bound, surmounting all the altitude she had gained, her great-great-grandpa sprang into the tree and tagged her foot. “Got your goat!” He said, as he hung by one hand from a tree branch. He then let go and dropped the full distance to the ground.
In an attempt to outdo one another, each grandpa entered the fray. They performed incredible maneuvers, bringing wild competition to the children’s game. Even Avi’s dad didn’t miss the opportunity to join in. Avi watched for a second as he dropped another load of strawberry-potatoes into the growing pile. It was reassuring to see the fathers of all ages flit around the yard with their scores of descendants. The game was simple–tag and run for cover.
The adults who played would slow enough to include the kids every few rounds before returning to their acrobatic feats of evasion and advance. Got your goat was a favorite because it could include as many players as were available. The more that entered the game, the happier the chaos grew. Bodies bounced, bounded, and bolted across the yard with savage abandon. The screams and shouts of joy likely echoed all over Tamesh province.
Avi dropped his last load of garden plucked produce. Being so engrossed in the game, no one had noticed the buffet he'd prepared. He watched for a few minutes before he called out. “Dinner's ready.” Almost before the words were out of his mouth, the game dissolved, and the crowd rushed toward the supper pile. The swarm descended, each grabbing up handfuls of veggie-fruits. Great-grandpa said a blessing before they filled their mouths. The joy of partaking in the latest Mallick-garden hybrids surpassed got your goat. The apricot-carrots were an apparent success, judging by the effusive compliments to the gardener. The full mouths of their guests brought quiet serenity to the scene.
“Three minutes,” Avi’s father called.
“I can’t wait,” little Lyla said. The other kids agreed as they smacked with satisfied mouths.
“What do you think he'll talk about tonight?” Margreth asked, still breathing hard. Avi waited to grab his dinner until he was sure everyone else had their fill. Leaning his back against the cabin wall, he sat. Margreth nestled next to Avi's regular spot, which had worn smooth from years of use. He bit into the apricot-carrot as he settled in. Once he was still, Margreth scooted as close to him as she could. It wasn't long before the other youngsters flooded in.
“I hope he tells some stories,” Jamesh said, squeezing in between Avi and Margreth. She always jockeyed for the closest spot to their patient big brother.
“Course he’ll tell stories,” Lyla said.
“Hope he does fifty stories,” Dabeet said. Avi smiled at their excited banter, which would likely continue until the broadcast began. Margreth had not received the answer she was looking for. She tugged Avi, asking again.
“What do you think he’ll talk about, Avi?” Margreth said.
“I bet he’ll tell a few stories, give an update on the interplanetary project, and—” Avi said before the children grew too impatient.
“Do you think he’ll teach us a new song?” Lyla interrupted.
“Maybe so,” Avi said. He didn't portray his own feelings on the matter, but Avi hoped for a song. That was his favorite part of the broadcasts. The emperor had the most amazing voice. Avi especially liked it when the governor sang along.
“It's starting!” Margreth shouted. “The broadcast. It's starting.” The other kids echoed her words in their own tone, sounding like a flock of chicks. The great and great-great-grandpas laid out in the orchard with a half dozen kids around them. Grandpa Rohan and Grandma Priya, along with a scad of kids and grandkids, sat on the porch looking up at the sky. Avi's mom and dad came and sat by him, and the surrounding flock of children.
The aurora of deep emerald laced with fringes of purple and stretched across the sky. The clouds drifted apart, riding the orange ribbon of atmosphere. Vibrant iridescence washed across the heavenly backdrop. Sky-bound colors lit a hundred faces in the Mallick orchard, all peering eagerly upward. The borealis wove and braided new hues into itself as it spread wide across the milky dusk. It rippled and curled as it painted the air above. It seemed close enough to touch. The luminous saturation was beautiful, but it wasn’t the primary allure.
The ground shook gently, and the air crackled with excitement. They could feel the vibration coming from the earth, the trees, the rocks. The sound emanated from every surface and surrounded them in its warm embrace. Then came the familiar voice echoing through the skies like thunder, across the ground like an earthquake of words. The voice radiated through air and earth. His Majesty’s weekly broadcast had begun.