We live in Tin Town so we can afford the coveted zip code and send our children to its schools. Tin Town’s converted shipping container houses are made of corrugated steel and painted blue. They’ll withstand termites and hurricanes, the real estate agent promised. You could box yourselves up and ship yourselves back home. Back home as though there is a shared origin for the people of Tin Town, when in truth, we are Salvadorian, Pakistani, Vietnamese, Korean, Nigerian, Venezuelan, and American.
During the long election season, Tin Town glows red—lit by CNN’s alarmist scroll and touchscreen maps. That’s when the dreams start: that our houses are at sea, crowded with strangers. We smell their feces. Breathe their body odor. They collapse heat-dazed and thirsty against our shoulders. In the mornings, our neighbors shuffle, bleary-eyed, to the bus stop. You too? Yes, us too.
Our houses, we fear, are remembering.
One night, we wake to Mr. Soon weedwacking the ditch between Tin Town and the elegant townhomes to the east. Mrs. Soon follows him with a rake. The next night, Mr. Adeyemi and Mr. Khan join the Soons, tilling the soil beside the ditch. Mrs. Acevedo brings the seeds—winter crops like cauliflower, snap peas, collards, turnips, and brussels sprouts. Ms. Nguyen digs a trough to divert rainwater from the ditch. We drag bags of fertilizer from our garages and cut up yoga mats to pad our knees. We task our nightmare-woken children with crushing oyster shells to keep rabbits out and inventing traps for squirrels, since they better understand the mischief of small rodents.
The garden flourishes. We praise the rain for pinging against our houses, the dome of smog for tempering the sunlight, and the Gulf Coast heat for its endurance.
On election night, we encircle the garden with our lawn chairs—joking that he’ll come for the cauliflower first. Our children beg for stories: Ms. Nguyen trapping crabs in Nha Trang and collecting their iridescent carapaces to make necklaces. Mr. Acevedo tossing his mother’s underthings from the window of their Maracaibo apartment just to watch them flutter to the street like cotton butterflies. Can we visit? they ask. Someday, we say.
It’s easier to leave, we’ve learned, if you believe you can always go back.
We select Inauguration, a warm January day, for our harvest. After school, the children snack on snap peas, and we make cauliflower curries, turnip soups, collards and slaws. We sit in our empty garden long after sunset, afraid to face a night without its green scent. We vow to throw open our windows and doors. To sleep unboxed.
As we ready our children for bed, they ask, What now? meaning the garden or the nation. We do it again, we say and think of the places we left as children. Of the coppery taste of mountain air. Of the sticky masa between our fingers. Of the sun-drenched mornings. Always new.
Natalie Lund is a graduate of Purdue University’s MFA program and former fiction editor of Sycamore Review. She has published flash fiction in CutBank, SmokeLong Quarterly, Literary Orphans, and Microchrondria. She currently lives in Houston’s Tin Town with her fiancé, dog, cat, and several uninvited arthropods.