THE TENDER HARVEST
by MARY ELIZABETH LEACH RAINES
© 2016, M. E. Raines
“Gabe, you’ve got to get your teeth fixed,” said Louise, addressing something that had been on her mind since she’d first hired him the week before. She hoped his feelings wouldn’t be hurt. “It will make a huge difference in your life. You’ll be able to get more work,” she said encouragingly.
Gabe grimaced at her words as though he’d just sucked on an unsweetened rhubarb stalk, and turned back to his task with vigorous determination. He was digging a deep pit in the yard behind her house. A pear tree stood next to him in its black plastic greenhouse container, waiting to be planted.
Stopping his work momentarily, he leaned down and picked a thick piece of bone up out of the hole, looking at it curiously.
“Oh dear,” said Louise, her forehead furrowing in dismay. “Frisky must have buried that. She was my collie. She’s been dead for a long time now. Poor Frisky.”
Gabe nodded respectfully and resumed digging. “You’re gonna get some good pears,” he said, pointing his chin towards the tree. “The soil’s real fertile.”
He was her new yard man. Louise went through laborers quickly; they seemed to disappear almost fast as she could hire them. She liked Gabe more than most of the workers who’d come to her. He had a miraculous touch with plants, and boundless energy. Some of his ideas were peculiar, but that could be overlooked, for his fees were low. Because he spent most of his days working outdoors, digging and hauling, his wiry tanned body was exceptionally strong; he could take on nearly any task she needed to have done. And, except for his reaction to her suggestion that he get dental work, he smiled almost constantly. A smile worked itself back onto his face now.
Therein lay the problem. Not only was his hair long and stringy, like that of a hippie from the early 70s; he was missing three teeth from the front of his mouth, two on the top and one on the bottom. While he was in truth a very nice and honest man, his sparsely toothed smile and messy hair made him look like a deranged psychopath.
Before she’d hired him, Louise had quizzed him cautiously, for she was particular about her laborers: “Do you do drugs? Do you drink? Do you smoke?”
“Never touch any of that stuff,” he had replied with his usual grin. “It ain’t healthy.”
No, instead Gabe drank organic kale smoothies and snacked—using his back teeth—on rice cakes while he worked. He was adamantly adverse to junk food. He stated that he never ate sugar, declaring that it was evil. She’d asked him curiously how he had lost so many of his teeth, because it obviously wasn’t due to cavities. He had told her that they’d been knocked out when he was helping someone to move a refrigerator up some stairs. He was holding the back end when the guy lifting the front end tripped.
“Really, Gabe,” persisted Louise, who herself was always impeccably groomed. “Fix your teeth.”
Gabe narrowed his eyes and, exhaling loudly, stopped digging for a moment. “Nope,” he said, leaning on the handle of the shovel. “You ain’t gonna get me into no dentist’s chair.”
“Because of what happens when you go to the dentist. I read about it. They tell you they have to put you out, and then, when you’re anesthetized, they harvest your body parts. They take out your organs and eyes, and sell them on the black market.”
Louise laughed and looked him up and down. “Oh Gabe, you’re 45 years old. Trust me. Nobody wants your body parts!”
He shook his head stubbornly. “I’ve got the body of a 30-year-old. My organs are prime.” He patted his lean abdomen proudly. “My left eye ain’t so good, but my right eye is perfect: 20/20 vision. What 45-year-old do you know who can say that?”
He resumed preparing the hole for the tree. Louise sighed and went into the house. When she came back out, she handed Gabe a business card.
“This is my dentist,” she said. “Go to my dentist. I’ll even help pay for it. I’ve sent lots of my workers to him. Gabe, it’s time. You’ve got to fix those teeth.”
Gabe reluctantly put the card in his pocket. It took a few weeks, but finally he confided in Louise that he had made an appointment. She beamed with approval.
When Gabe came to, he expected to find himself stretched out in the dentist’s chair. Instead, he awakened to freezing cold and enormous pain. Squinting with his only remaining eye, he saw through the door that he was in a cheap motel room. His body had been jammed into a bathtub filled with ice. Bloody ice. Ragged stitches zig-zagged across his body.
At that very moment, Louise, her dentist, and several parts of Gabe himself were already in the air, flying to an unnamed Caribbean island. They hadn’t planned on leaving quite this soon. Their sudden departure meant that she would never get to harvest any pears from her new tree, but they had no choice, for although they’d ruthlessly removed both of his kidneys, Louise had insisted that they leave Gabe with his heart intact, plus one eye (the bad one) and half of his liver. A person can live with half a liver. It was she who was responsible for packing what was left of him into the icy bathtub instead of burying him in the back yard with the other men who had worked for her. The dentist had scolded her for being so tender-hearted.
“I don't know why. I just like him,” she had explained as they dumped the last bit of ice around the comatose man before fleeing the country.
Despite failing to reap the complete set of organs from him that they had obtained from her other laborers, their sale of Gabe’s single eye, two kidneys, and half a liver fetched an obscenely high price on the black market.
Deliriously, Gabe lifted his head and looked at his hazy reflection in the full-length mirror on the bathroom wall. He opened his sore mouth and saw to his amazement that he now, thanks to Louise’s generosity, had a full set of teeth. His smile looked fantastic. His hair had also been nicely cut. After he got a patch over his missing eye, the nurses on the dialysis unit all found him quite attractive.