November 15, 2199
Tule elk ascend the bluffs of the Inglewood Oil Field. Under my feet, resilient succulents, the coastal samphires, twist themselves into solid ground.
“Keecha!” I call to my daughter. “It’s time.”
Keecha races down the hill, impulsive as a gazelle. She blasts her whistle. The straggler farming boats she summons turn toward the shore. I sprint up Baldwin Hill to perform my walkthrough. As the last real estate agent in California, it is my job to conduct the final inspection. We must cede our home to the next tenants. My nose tells me they will arrive at any minute.
New land squishes beneath my galoshes. Mud splatters my skin, marinating me in the restorative bacteria that rises to absorb this land’s contaminants. We are samphire people, proudly fortified by the land we serve. The succulents have been our salvation, and the land’s. The seagrass destroys itself and rises again as its ecosystem needs it.
When I reach the top of the hill, where so many of us have lived for the last three years, I enter the mansion. Ocean air breezes through the empty rooms. Windowpanes have been removed. Good. Metal gone. Good. Floors swept. Check.
I open my satchel and disperse the enzymes, scattering the potent sawdust with my grandmother’s AI sower, a gift from my mother. This little virus battery-powered device knows how to calibrate the chemical composition and distribution of the enzymes. Made in the city, these micro-miracles hasten the decomposition of our dwellings while boosting the nutritional needs of the land. Within hours our homes will disintegrate.
Keecha’s whistle blows in jabs of alarm. All eighty-seven of us know the drill. The new tenants are here. It is time to slow way down. My heart pounds. No matter how many times I make this transfer it is always terrifying.
I look out the window to check on my daughter. She ambles uncharacteristically slowly toward the bluff. Most of our settlement is already gathered where the elk just appeared, then wandered off. Keecha is almost there, too. I breathe easier. My chest swells with pride, knowing how hard she is working to contain her fear. Though only twelve, she always honors her training. Her right arm is raised as though she is swearing an oath. The gesture communicates both authority and submission. My grandmother created this move, and it has become the way we acknowledge to the new arrivals that we are in the process of transition.
My nostrils flare. I smell the sundried animal scent of a mountain lion.
Back pressed to the wall, I slide to a crouch, submissive.
I lift my eyes and peek out the open window. The lioness of Fryman Canyon asserts her silhouette. Surveying the marsh, she politely avoids my gaze, but periscopes her ears in my direction.
“Hello,” I murmur, recognizing an old friend.
The lioness lunges at the window. I topple backward. Her claws swipe the lintel.
She saunters away.
Shaking, I press my nose against the scrape. The briny scent of samphire exudes effort and sex. She has marked her territory. The tenancy is transferred. This is lion country now.
I shuffle to the bluff, keeping my right arm raised. Running can trigger a lion’s predatory impulse. Even a friendly lion may not be able to resist the allure of the chase.
My daughter grabs my hand when I reach her. All of us sit and watch our homes on Baldwin Hill melt against the setting sun. The sky glows over the Santa Monica Mountains. Once the moon rises, we will begin our great migration. Keecha snuggles under my arm. After a sabbatical, most of us will return to another spot among the ruins of this ancient oil field to assist the samphires. Then, once the grass is strong enough for elk, the lions will come, and the cycle will repeat.
“How long will I stay with daddy?” Keecha asks.
“He gets to have you for three years.”
My ex is an excellent father and a good man. He respects the work we do here. Every solstice in the last three years he has made the boat ride down to visit us, quarantining for a week on each end of his trip so as not to interfere with our bacterial balance.
“But this time,” I say, hugging her tight. “I’m also staying in the city.”
She yelps. “Really?”
“Peaceful, peaceful,” my friend Manara gently warns. “The lioness is prowling.”
“Sorry,” Keecha whispers, snuggling closer, her eyes shining with excitement. “Will you live with me and daddy?”
“Will it be a big ceremony this year?”
“Are you retiring?” she asks.
“Not retiring. Upgrading. It’s my job that’s retiring.”
I love being of service to the samphire. This genius plant that creates new lands. This healer of toxicity. Who teaches me to root deeply in the we. But I cannot bear to live three years apart from Keecha. When she is grown, I hope to resume this work. Until then, I am aiming for a city job.
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