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The harvest of reason sample for the audio version


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The harvest of reason sample for the audio version

  1. 1. PART I "…and when the fire of love is ablaze,it burneth to ashes the harvest of reason." The Seven Valleys
  2. 2. PROLOGUE The beads of sweat were gathering on Maddie‘s upper lip and she tasted the salt. She‘d been toldnot to wear her blue jeans, only skirts below the knee, but it didn‘t matter, she was still dripping. Shecould see the vapor rising off the banana trees. She pinched her shirtfront and shook it. They had left the university vehicle behind and were traipsing thru the dry, narrow footpaths in themountainside. Places you couldn‘t get to in a car. The pace of their walking was limited by thetemperature, off course. Sometimes she looked down at the ground and saw deep cracks in the redearth. When she looked up into the distance she saw wispy clouds hiding the mountain peaks. Now they came upon a stick fence and Joseph Mliko, the interpreter, clapped his hands and yelledout a greeting before stepping tentatively inside the small compound. ―Wait,‖ Maddie whispered. ―Shouldn‘t we wait for permission to go in?‖ A small black woman peered out of the thatched hut and then emerged with a child in her arms. This is how Maddie first met Mama Tsongo in Nyasa village, in Malawi. ―Hi! How are you? I‘m Maddie Hawkins. I‘m from…the United States.‖ Did the woman knowwhere that was? Maddie spoke slowly and enunciated clearly. ―I‘m here because…to gather somedata…information.‖ She paused to let Joseph catch up on the translation of Chichewai to English. Her eyes flickeddown to the two little faces hanging onto Mama Tsongo‘s skirt, to the other curious eyes peering frombehind her. It was a small crowd of children. The little one in Mama Tsongo‘s arms had a fly crawlingall over his face. His droopy eyelids were crusted with a gritty white substance. The ones standingbehind her had round bloated bellies, matchstick legs. Kwashiorkor, Maddie recalled, clear signs ofmalnutrition. Lack of protein, actually. She panicked, trying to remember if she had any snacks in herbackpack. Was this woman their mother or their grandmother? She looked back up because the woman had become excited. She spoke rapidly and her voice roseand fell like a Miriam Makeba song. Joseph translated , ―She says, welcome back, tall daughter of Ahhfrica. She says you are home,‖his round face smiled the words.
  3. 3. ―Thank you. That‘s nice,‖ she smiled at the diminutive woman, then asked Joseph, ―What doesshe mean? Welcome back? I‘ve never been here.‖ "She thinks you are one of the lost children," he answered. ―The lost children?‖ She puzzled. ―The children that disappeared. They were taken by the slave traders.‖ He gestured to indicatesome remote point back in history. Maddie felt a sudden jolt. ―Oh my God!‖ she said, looking into the little woman‘s eyes. MamaTsongo reached up and pulled her down gently, cupping her face and patting her arms with a wornblack hand. An uninvited lump pained Maddie‘s throat. Things she had been taught—the MiddlePassage, the journey of Africans to America, the grievous holocaust of nine million souls—thesewelled up in her mind. How surreal. She had gone to Malawi for a simple college internship in agriculture, and discovered she had adeeper connection. It had become sort of a pilgrimage, a return to a heritage and a past imprinted in hergenes. *** Her internship with Malawi University lasted three months. Whenever she came from Lilongwe toNyasa village to gather data on the heirloom bean mixtures grown by the Malawi farmers Maddie wentto Mama Tsongo, ostensibly to document her farming practices, but more out of attraction to her wiseways. She appeared well over fifty and had the air of an elder, but Maddie discovered she was in factonly twenty-nine years old. She was the third wife in a polygamous marriage and she claimed she wasthe mother of thirteen children. ―Thirteen children? You‘ve borne thirteen children?‖ Maddie wasn‘t sure she‘d gotten the numberright. Her Chichewa was very rudimentary. Holy Mother of God! Hadn‘t she ever heard of birthcontrol pills? Don’t be stupid Maddie. Here? How? From whom would she get them? How many crops wouldshe have to grow and sell to afford a month‘s supply? Abstinence then. But would she have a choice about that? ―Only seven are living,‖ Joseph added.
  4. 4. Maddie drew in a thin stream of air. Slowly, to assuage an ache in her chest. How did a womanendure the loss of six children? She couldn‘t just let it pass. It wasn‘t just a survey question anymore. Something was required ofher. So she used the words she knew, to speak to her directly. ―And…and you‘ve lost six?‖ ―Six.‖ She nodded, an ancient smile in her eyes. This figure could have been attributed to poor counting ability because it was so fantastic, butMaddie found she could not discount it, because Mama Tsongo actually described the placing of thedead children by introducing the living children who flanked them in the family line. She put her handon the head of each child as she pulled them gently to stand before Maddie. Some tried to go back andhide behind her skirt, others just stood there gawking at her, showing all their teeth in their smiles. My God. So much innocence. Mama Tsongo‘s pride seemed to be in how many of her children shehad managed to keep alive, despite miscarriage and infant mortality. Maddie asked to walk around her plot and Mama Tsongo showed her the rocky field, no biggerthan a postage stamp, on a hillside with a forty-five degree slope. Like many African farmers, eightypercent of whom are women, she grew her beans on a plot she neither had the right to own nor inherit.With that same devotion with which she had nursed each one of her children, she wielded her hoe andtended the hillside. And all her watchful effort yielded no more than a few bushels of beans. Bundles of dry bean plants hung from the sides of the hut to dry. Mama Tsongo showed her theclay pots where she stored her harvest. If the beans were covered with ashes, they might be protectedfrom weevils, and feed her family until the next crop. Maddie sensed that for Mama Tsongo, farming was a high stakes game, with a deadly margin ofrisk. A bad rust infestation that reduced her harvest could also reduce her family. Maddie saw a lot in those three months. With the mind of a privileged American she registeredshock at every new discovery, every sign of ingrained and wrenching poverty. She dreamed of makinga difference. She dreamed of producing some revolutionary new bean variety, with high yield andimmune to disease. But she felt powerless to change the pattern of things. Then she came home and became engulfed by the seductive apathy of the academic grind. MamaTsongo and her brood receded slowly into a realm of unreality, far and distant as the outer orbits of aself-centered universe. But the mark left by that waif-like woman lay dormant until the day, mid-way through her Ph.D.,when Maddie found herself angrily crying in a bathroom stall. That day, the memory of Mama Tsongo
  5. 5. took on a symbolic importance in her affairs. A saying drummed into her from childhood resurfaced,"Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in and center your deliberations on itsexigencies and requirements.” And it was the combination of this saying, that ebony face, and the ignoble circumstance of themoment she found herself, sniveling in a bathroom stall, that propelled her to break the inertia thatbound her, to finally assert herself. And to move her dreams from the nebulous province of longing,into the realm of possibility.
  6. 6. Chapter 1 To merit the madness of love, man must abound in sanity… The Seven Valleys John Pitts, a second year doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, walked up thesteps of Linden Hall bright and early on Monday morning. When he opened the door to the mainoffice, he caused a bit of a stir. Barb sighed, Jennie salivated, and Alma offered a friendly, businesslikegreeting. "Hi, John, youre back! We thought youd be gone the whole semester." Her chirpy voice matchedher plump figure. "No way, Alma," John flashed a smile. ―I couldnt afford to stay away that long. I have my prelimsthis term." After being gone all summer in Puerto Rico harvesting experimental linesii, the grand stairway atthe entrance of the Plant Breedingiii Departmentiv and the dark wood of the archways had seemedoppressive to John, in stark contrast to the whitewashed simplicity back at the Isabela ExperimentStation. "Oh, well. Let me get your mail then,‖ Alma said. ―Its been piling up." She walked off into the back room to retrieve it. John looked up to see a smiling Jennie at the filecabinets. The top drawer slid closed and she leaned her body up against it, offering him a full frontalview. Jennie was much younger than Alma. "Boy, do you have a nice tan, John!" she said. "Bet you had a good time, knowing you." John shrugged off the veiled allusion to his ―party animal‖ reputation. "Nah, Jennie, I had to worktwenty-four seven to get the harvest in and get back here in time for classes." He felt dead tired. Theflight had gotten into O‘Hare at ten last night, and then he‘d had a three-hour bus ride to Madison. "Youre late. Fall semester started two weeks ago." "I know." "Didnt you have enough workers?" she asked.
  7. 7. "A couple. It wasnt enough." "Yeah. Dr. Pinkerton‘s an old tightwad, isnt he? Tries to squeeze blood out of a turnip." Since shewas the departmental bookkeeper, Jennie was aware of his professor‘s accounts. Alma came back and handed him a box. "There! Have fun sorting through that!" He looked at the box filled with junk mail and lab equipment catalogs and groaned. "Well, I betterget busy. Goodbye ladies." His smile flashed indiscriminately. Alma went back to her typing, but Jennie looked at his retreating form. The backpack hung offbroad shoulders and the blue jeans fit his long legs perfectly. Barb threw her a barely audible whisper, ―Go on, I dare you!‖ Jennie made as if she were going to the mailboxes near the door and said, "Hey John…" He looked back. ―Yeah?‖ "Call me sometime." Her eyes held a warm promise. As he took the wide stairway two steps at a time John thought about it, but he wasnt sure hewould take her up on her offer. Maybe, if it didn‘t get complicated. He couldn‘t afford to goof offmuch this semester. He walked into the grad-student office on the second floor and was greeted by Pete Shalley‘s high-pitched voice. "John! There you are, you lucky dog!!‖ ―Hey, guys, how‘s it going around here?‖ His greeting took in Dave Rankin at the next desk. Theoffice was the same: books and papers piled on top of and under every desk; the two bookshelvescovered with dusty printouts, manuscripts, lab books and what-not; somebody‘s dirty boots in onecorner, boxes of seed samples stacked on the floor; notes taped to every available space, but not apicture, a plant anywhere. It was a thoroughly male bastion. Pete was all curiosity. ―How was Puerto Rico? How were the beaches? Did you catch some rays?What about the bikini babes, huh?" John was reminded of a panting puppy dog. He put the box of mail down on the desk and hisbackpack on the chair. He looked around for the garbage can. Pete turned to Dave, "Hey, knowing John, he caught more than a few of those Puerto Ricanbeauties. And he didnt just look, either. How about it John, did you score big-time? Spill the beans,man!" "No. I was too busy harvesting your plants, remember?" Hed be damned if hed share any detailsof the few times he had taken time off. Girls in Puerto Rico weren‘t all living the vida loca, despite thepopular song.
  8. 8. ―Yeah, I owe you one, man,‖ Pete said. Then he smiled as if he‘d figured out a way to repay John."Hey! Maybe you can get some action around here. Dr. Gates has this new graduate student." ―Oh?‖ John dumped the mail out on his desk. ―What‘s she like?‖ he asked. It didn‘t take much toturn Pete into a babbling idiot. ―Shes a goddess! A ripe papaya ready for the picking." He looked over his shoulder. ―Right,Dave?‖ Dave talked slower, but in the same vein as Pete. "Yeah. Talk about fruit. The girls definitely gotsome.‖ His lazy voice droned on, ―Hey! Why dont you go over and meet her, John?" ―Yeah, yeah!‖ Pete‘s voice always did raise another pitch when he was excited. John didnt care much for their metaphors. The guys were crude and their thinking on the subjectof women lacked elegance. It was amazing how much those two had in common, one being from ruralGeorgia, the other from Cicero. But his curiosity was mildly peaked. ―So, if she‘s so gorgeous, how is it that you‘re offering her to me?‖ He methodically discardedpieces of junk mail into the garbage after a cursory examination. ―Oh, she‘s, well, she‘s out of our league, you could say,‖ Pete explained, glancing sideways atDave. ―Yeah, you could say that,‖ Dave agreed. John‘s eyebrows went up. ―You too, Dave? Didn‘t you take a crack? You‘re only half as ugly asPete here.‖ ―Well excu-u-use me! We can‘t all have your sex appeal.‖ Dave got loud, then got sincere. ―Truthis, she‘s a little scary. But why don‘t you take a stab, pretty boy?‖ John shrugged. ―Fine, I‘ll take alook.‖ He dumped the last of the junk mail into the gray metal basket. ―Ive got to go over and giveDan Gates his seed I brought back, anyway." As he headed across the hall he thought he sniffed a rat. They were a little too anxious for him tomeet this paragon. Either something was seriously wrong with this woman, or she was unbearablyugly. *** After John closed the door, Pete jumped up from his swivel chair. ―Ha! Won‘t that be a match!‖ Dave sneered. "This‘ll be one chick that wont come when old John Pitts whistles." "Hey, dont be too sure,‖ Pete countered, ―Theyre pretty hot to trot."
  9. 9. "Nah, they stick to their own kind. Plus, you can get the tar beat out of you if you mess with them.Havent you seen the big guys walking around campus?‖ "Yeah, Ive seen them. You know, you can only get so many of them on the football team. Or thebasketball team. What else do you think they‘re here for?‖ "Well, Plant Breeding, for one," Dave answered, his thumb motioning across the hall where thegoddess lived. Pete frowned. "How do you suppose she got here?‖ ―Had to be that affirmative action shit,‖ Dave answered. Pete settled back down at his desk and picked up a horseracing pennant hanging off of it. ―Youknow. We got a saying back home.‖ ―Yeah?‖ Dave leaned back in his chair and crossed his hands behind his head. ―What?‖ ―Just ‗cause a filly got let out of the gate doesn‘t mean it‘ll make it to the finish line.‖ *** Although forewarned, John was unprepared for his first meeting with the goddess. As he openedthe door to Dr. Gates graduate student office, he was confronted with the back of a laughing womanreaching her hand out for the doorknob. She was exchanging some joke with Lisa Burnett and shenearly bumped into him. In a flash he absorbed a tall slim body, a little white T-shirt under thespaghetti-strap dress, beautiful feet in gold sandals. But the most salient features tickling hisconsciousness were those LEGS. Long, smooth, cinnamon legs, with slight dimples on the backs of theknees. Even as his brain registered all this, she was turning, and, as if in slow motion, he beheld an utterlyangelic brown face, framed by a mane of honey-brown hair, with twinkling deep pools for eyes.Orange brown eyes. ―Whoa!‖ she exclaimed, as her extended hand punched him somewhere between his chest and hissolar plexus. Her arm recoiled, whip-like. ―Sorry!‖ she smiled. And then it seemed to John that her whole being changed. Her smiling face was replaced by apolite expression. And the twinkling eyes became shuttered. He heard Lisa say, "Hi John, have you met Maddie?" "No, I havent. How are you? Im John Pitts."
  10. 10. The goddess replied "Hi, Im Maddie Hawkins. Pleased to meet you." But the expression was stillguarded, and those beautiful brown eyes were still shuttered. He wanted to make them smile again. He forced his eyes to focus on Lisa, "Hey, Lisa, Ive missed two weeks of Dr. Anderson‘s PlantGenetics class. Any chance I could take a peek at your notes, hon?" "Sure John, you can look at my scribbles. But Maddies are much better, I guarantee it. Why dontyou borrow hers?" He looked at the creature. She had a look that said, ―I know whats expected of me." "Youre welcome to have them," she said. "You sure you don‘t mind?‖ ―Yes—I mean, no!‖ she corrected. He smiled. ―Thanks, Ill stop by later, then." The girls proceeded out the door. Lisas head poked back in before she closed it. "You can shutyour mouth now, John," she whispered. Had he been that obvious? Had she taken a dislike of him because he‘d been foaming at themouth? But, goodness, he had reason. She was the most exquisite woman hed ever set eyes on. While shesmiled, the whole room had seemed lit up. And when that smile had vanished, hed felt like a little boywho had dropped his ice cream on the pavement. After just one lick. As she walked down the hall with Lisa, Maddie fought, with some irritation, to cool the fire in hercheeks. When shed bumped into the tall frame, she felt as if shed been stung. His tanned face and goldbrown hair spoke of California beach volleyball, and his smooth voice resonated somewhere deep inher core. Blue eyes, intense, magnetic, mischievous. God! Her face had become hot. She felt afascination against her will, an involuntary physical attraction. She had dropped her eyes and retreatedbehind a mask of politeness. Now she rebelled. No man was going to make her lower her eyes. Have some pride girl! You cancontrol your mind, can’t you? Besides, she wasn‘t supposed to be looking at men that way anyway. "Who‘s he working for?" she asked the small woman who over the last months had become aclose friend. She and Lisa had hit it off the first day theyd met, despite the fact that she was only aMasters student and Maddie was starting her Ph.D.
  11. 11. "Hes Dr. Pinkertons graduate student,‖ she said. ―Actually, he practically runs his project. Dr.Pinkerton doesnt keep a field technician like other professors, so his graduate students have to take onthose responsibilities. John ends up doing most of it." "How come he called you honey?" Maddie asked. "Oh that," Lisa shrugged. "Johns like a big brother to me. When I was in my undergrad I workedfor Dr. Pinkerton, watering plants, scrubbing down the greenhouse, washing glassware in the lab. Johntaught me the ropes." "Oh." Maddie wasnt sure why shed wanted to know. Maybe the term ―hon‖ had just soundedpolitically incorrect. But it appeared to be based on affection between friends. She was still getting to know Lisa‘s mannerisms. It seemed she was going to share somethingfurther about the guy and then her brown eyes sparkled and she jumped to another subject. It wasalmost as if she did it on purpose to distract Maddie. ―So how about those Badgers, huh? You going to the game on Saturday?‖ ―Me?‖ Maddie looked up in horror. ―You wouldn‘t catch me at one of those things if my lifedepended on it!‖ ―C‘mon. You ought to try it. It‘s one hell of a shindig. Everybody goes insane for the team. Thebeer, the brats.‖ ―Yeah, with guys puking all over the stands, yelling obscenities at the top of their lungs.‖ ―Hey. I‘ll have you know it‘s not just the guys who puke. We women can do a pretty good job ofthat too.‖ Maddie did a double take. Was Lisa kidding or was she proud of that? ―When people drink, they forget all their inhibitions—‖ Maddie started. ―And their stress. It‘s good to cut loose once in a while.‖ ―That might well be true. But not like that. People do all sorts of stupid, even dangerous thingswhen they‘re in that state. At MSU they used to grab girls and pass them up in the stands like a sack ofpotatoes.‖ ―Yeah. They do that here too. One time they passed a girl clear over the bleachers.‖ ―What?‖ Maddie gasped. Lisa kind of lifted up her shoulders. ―Hey, that‘s what I heard. I wasn‘t around when it happened.People probably exaggerate.‖ ―I don‘t know. Doesn‘t sound like something I want to be around for. You really dig football thatmuch?‖
  12. 12. ―Oh, it‘s Ernie,‖ she explained, referring to her boyfriend. ―He loves to go. Comes down fromStevens Point just to see the Badgers lose. He paints his face red, sometimes his whole chest even.He‘s crazy. I think since he didn‘t go to school here, he went to UW-Stevens Point, he‘s like, youknow, obsessed. Badger mania.‖ Somehow, the picture Maddie was getting of Ernie wasn‘t very congruent with the womanstanding in front of her. ―So what‘s he studying?‖ ―Oh, Ernie‘s graduated already. He drives a pizza truck.‖ *** John was strictly businesslike later in the afternoon when he came to borrow Maddies notes. Shewas sitting at her desk and had to look up at him. ―Here they are.‖ She handed him the neat binder. "Okay," he said, "Ill run down to the copy shop and have these back to you in an hour." "Oh, no hurry,‖ she said, "Our next class isnt till Wednesday, and Ive already reviewed them,anyway." And shes organized, too. Watch it John. Youre staring again. She reached for a pen and started twirling it around in her fingers. "How…how come you missedthe first two weeks of the term, anyway?" she asked. "Oh, I was down in Puerto Rico.‖ John leaned against the bookshelf. ―Thats where Dr. Pinkertongrows all the F2 populations for the beet breeding project. I had to supervise the harvest." "Sounds interesting. How was it?" she asked. "Oh, lots of sun," John murmured, recalling backbreaking hours of labor in the midday heat. Her eyes seemed to be avoiding contact. "Well, just put the notes on my desk when youre donewith them,‖ she said. "Okay, thanks." John felt hed been dismissed. Back at his desk, he was impressed with the caliber of her notes. Even, rounded handwriting, veryneat. But what he admired was their content: she hadn‘t missed much. He wondered if the fact thattheir graduate student office was almost clinically clean had anything to do with her presence there.The bookshelves were lined with neat rows of reprints and journals. The coffee maker on the counterhad sugar and creamer, and stirrers, for God‘s sake! Each of the six desks had some semblance of orderto it. And somebody had put a collection of African violets on the windowsill.
  13. 13. He would have been happier to discover that she was somewhat stupid and incompetent, so as tolessen an impulsive attraction that could complicate his life. He did not need any distractions before hisprelims. Prelims…That dreaded rite of passage anyone seeking official admission to doctoral candidacyhad to pass. The three-hour exam, which was conducted orally by five professors, involved a review ofall knowledge pertinent to the field of Plant Breeding and Genetics. He would be grilled on everythinghed studied since kindergarten. Graduate students usually took their prelims after completing all oftheir coursework, and they studied for months beforehand. He would have to study while at the sametime taking classes, practically running Dr. Pinkertons project single-handed, and conducting his ownresearch. Nope, he really didn‘t want any distractions. The door swung open and Pete walked in and threw down his backpack. "Hey, John. Did you meether? Did you meet the goddess?" he asked. John frowned at the overloud voice. Glancing at the open door he answered quietly, "You mean Maddie Hawkins? Yeah, I met her. Imlooking over her notes right now." "Oh, wow!" Pete came to look over his shoulder. "I wouldnt mind looking over her notes myself.I wouldnt mind that at all." He lowered his insinuating voice, "Hey, John! Did you notice those…‖ Hishands looked like they were weighing two large grapefruits. John felt the hairs on the back of his neck rising. "All right, all right, Pete, thats enough." Whywouldn‘t he drop it? "Hey, just because shes… you know… doesnt make me blind. In fact," he grinned, then went on ,"they say that they have double the umph, these hoochie coochie mamas." ―Jesus!‖ John nearly catapulted from his seat to shut the door to the grad office. "Look, man, keepyour voice down," he nearly growled. ―Better yet, keep your thoughts to yourself!‖ Pete put up his palms, as if he were being unfairly chastised. "Okay, okay," he said. They both turned back to their own desks. John found he was violently angry. He had heard racialslurs all his life. Hed never much liked them; for the most part he just let them go by. But hearingthem leveled at the girl hed just met somehow disturbed him. She had seemed so wholesome, almostpure, in contrast with Petes horny garbage. He cursed his luck at having to share a crowded office withfour other students, at least one of whom was an obvious moron. ***
  14. 14. Maddie, Lisa, and several other female graduate students were seated halfway down theauditorium, waiting for the weekly Plant Breeding seminar to begin. The orange seats were not quitecomfortable, at least not if you wanted to take a nap. It was the third Friday of the semester, andMaddie was happy her own presentation was scheduled for November, so she would have enough timeto prepare. ―God, I still can‘t get used to the idea of graduate students having to give these seminars,‖ she toldLisa. ―How come?‖ ―At my old school it was the professors who gave the plant breeding seminars. Students weremostly spectators. Unless they were really self-confident.‖ There could be no hiding here. She would have to stand up in front of everybody and expose herthoughts. The turnout for these seminars included everyone from the head of the department down tothe technicians. Looking up toward the front of the auditorium, she saw John Pitts standing near the overheadprojector, talking in a relaxed manner to Dr. Castle, the seminar coordinator. She realized from his tieand sports coat that he must be giving todays seminar. She turned to Lisa. ―Is John Pitts the one giving today‘s seminar?‖ ―Looks like it.‖ She frowned. ―Why? He just got back, didn‘t he?‖ ―Well, probably because all the later dates were taken.‖ Poor guy, he really must have had to scramble to get ready. ―It doesn‘t seem fair,‖ she murmured. ―Oh pooh! This is nothing to John,‖ Lisa said. Maddie‘s eyes found their way back to John. He didn‘t appear to her to be nervous. Slowly,Maddie became aware of tittering among her companions. "Yeah, sure, Im interested in the topic…" Savannah said, snickering. "Right, Savannah, you came just to hear about his Beta vulgarisv." "Honey, Id go and listen to him talk about Drosophilavi if he did it in those jeans." More snickering. Jean piped in, "You think hell turn around and give us a good view?" "View of what?" "Shh…" More laughter. "Quit talking about him like hes a sex object," Lisa said, good naturedly.
  15. 15. Maddies eyes had gone wide; she was embarrassed to realize that she wasnt the only one affectedby his good looks. She was just like everyone else! The only thing that set her apart was that she hid itbetter. At least, she hoped she did. When John was introduced, Maddie watched mesmerized as he came forward, laser pointer inhand, and proceeded to deliver an almost flawless presentation. His topic was not the most naturallyfascinating. In lesser hands, she was sure it would have been boring. But his fluid presentationincorporated a thorough review of the literature and the pertinent current research. Interwoven was hispractical experience of the sugar beet crop, gleaned from years of dedicated work. Forgetting herprevious train of thought, Maddie became engrossed in his world. She was conscious of reallylearning. Not only did this guy move like a dream, he had the makings of an excellent teacher. During the question-and-answer period Maddie noticed that the professors asking questionstreated John almost like a colleague. No kid gloves, but hard-hitting questions. What was the prognosisfor breaking the Hawaiian yield record? Dr. Janski had asked. What was the status of Monsanto‘snutrient uptake studies? Dr. Gates wanted to know. These were very broad, scary questions. Heanswered them as if he already were a full-fledged breeder. As they rose to leave the auditorium,Maddie hoped that when her turn came, she would carry it off half as well as John Pitts. *** At nine oclock on Saturday night, Maddie walked out of a movie with Lisa, Savannah and Jean.They all felt it was too early to go home. Madison was not going to sleep for a long time. The Badgershad won the game. Badger mania meant party-town, tailgate parties and lots of red banners beingwaved about. But most of all, it meant binge drinking, although that had started already last night.Victory or defeat, no excuse was needed for drinking in this town. ―So Lisa, how come Ernie didn‘t come down?‖ Maddie asked. ―Oh, he had to put in a new toilet for his mom.‖ ―He must have been really disappointed.‖ ―Yeah, he was pissed as hell.‖ ―So what did you do with the tickets?‖ ―I gave them to John.‖ ―How come you didn‘t go with him?‖ Lisa spluttered. ―Yeah, right! Ernie‘d love to hear about that.‖
  16. 16. "Lets go around to the Madhatters," Savannah said, out of the blue. "Maybe we can bump intosomebody." She fluffed her permed platinum hair out with her fingers. "Oh, exactly who are you hoping to bump into?" Jean asked. Maddie thought Jean already hadsome idea of the answer. Madhatters was just around the block from the University Theater. As they walked in the doorMaddie felt her usual distaste for dark, smoky places and the stench of beer. They were playing asoulful tune, though, and that was okay. ―Let‘s give them something to talk about, babe,‖ Bonnie Raittsang, like a true B.B. King disciple. The tall, circular tables were only big enough to hold a basket of peanuts and a couple of drinks.They managed to get an empty one, but it was missing most of the stools, so the four women just stoodaround it. The whole room was swaying to the loudness, dancing close in the dim light, or talking closein the corner shadows. Savannah was scanning the large room as they gave their orders to the waitress.But it was Jean who apparently spotted what she was on the lookout for. ―Look! There he is," shewhispered. As her eyes moved down the length of the bar Maddie saw John Pitts with a couple of other guys.She couldnt place all of them. John was leaning sideways against the bar and popping peanuts in hismouth. The waitress said something to him as she went by. He laughed and she flashed him a widesmile as she emerged from behind the bar with a loaded tray. He seemed to be one of those guys whoreally liked to spread his attentions around. Maddie looked away and tried to shift her focus elsewhere.Suddenly, there was a little flutter at the table as they found themselves addressed by the very sameJohn and his buddies. "Well, hello ladies," John said in his hearty voice. It seemed to Maddie that Savannah actuallyflipped her hair back and pumped up her bosom before she said, ―Hi John.‖ One of the guys took Jean out on the dance floor, a peanut-shell-covered space off to one side. Over the music John asked, "Want to dance?" His eyes swept over all three women, then came torest on Maddie. Maddie hesitated, confused at the general request. Savannah jumped at the opportunity. ―Sure! Come on!‖ She linked her arm with his and draggedhim away. Maddie turned to the tall quiet guy at her left. ―Hi, you‘re Joel aren‘t you?‖ she asked. ―Who doyou work for?‖ ―Dr. Dobson,‖ he said.
  17. 17. ―Oh!‖ Maddie stopped sipping on her straw. ―Tell me about her.‖ He seemed a little bit startled but said, ―Okay.‖ Dr. Marcia Dobson was the only female member of the faculty. Maddie was very curious abouther but it was doubtful she would ever have Dr. Dobson for a professor, since her area of study hadnothing to do with her own, and the courses she taught were the undergraduate ones. Besides, heroffice was stuck so far back in the basement, she seldom ran into her. Nevertheless, Maddie found thatthere was always an underlying awareness of Dr. Dobson in her mind. How she was treated, whatgossip circulated about her and whatever criticism was offered, seemed somehow to reflect on femalegraduate students. If there was only one woman on the faculty, and she was stuck down there in themiddle of nowhere, it told you how important womens contributions were thought to be in thedepartment. Joel was her first graduate student. He had been working on his Masters degree for a couple ofyears but did not seem to be close to finishing. That struck her as strange. *** John was annoyed with himself. The invitation to dance had come out of his mouth automaticallywhen he had looked at that woman, Maddie. He had forgotten that she seemed to dislike him. It was alucky thing Savannah had rescued him. To shake off the willies he threw himself into the dance experience with gusto. The Bob Marleysong was rocking and pretty soon he was wailing at all the right places and working up a sweat. Whenhe and Savannah got back to the table, there were new drinks all around. He talked to Lisa, whilecovertly eyeing Maddie. She was talking to Joel about something so engrossing she had barely lookedup. There was no opportunity for him to repeat his faux paux. This time he took Jean out on the dance floor for another workout. During the line dancing hisattention kept returning to the table, however. How is it that she had so much to talk about with Joel.He didn‘t know they were on such good terms. He would have to get the scoop from Joel ‗cause itseems his best buddy was holding out on him. When he went back to the table he found her standing next to him. There was an awkward pause."Hey, I enjoyed your seminar yesterday," she said. "You did?" His voice came out loud due to a sudden lull in the music. John adjusted his voice,"What did you like about it?"
  18. 18. ―Oh…I…‖ She seemed to be having trouble remembering what she liked about it. Maybe she hadn‘t liked itat all. A blonde head interposed itself between them, smiling like a predator. ―John, it‘s your guyagain— Bob whatshisname. C‘mon!‖ Savannah said, pulling him toward the dance floor. When John had asked her what she had liked about the seminar Maddie had inadvertentlyremembered some of the comments made about him before it had started. Did he know what a stir hecaused? Did he enjoy it? Just like a squirrel caught by the headlights, Maddie‘s mind went blank andshe couldn‘t think of an answer to his question. Around eleven o‘clock Lisa and Maddie came out of Madhatters and headed for home. Savannahand Jean had decided to stay behind. Either they would get a ride home, or by the look of things, mightnot make it home at all. Maddie wondered if Savannah would achieve her objective or whether thewaitress would have more luck. Because of Ernie, Lisa wasnt in the same frame of mind as the othertwo. As for herself, it was quite another matter. Because she never went down that road at all.
  19. 19. GlossaryPrologue i Chichewa – a language spoken in Malawi, Africa.Chapter 1 ii Experimental lines - genetic strains of any plant scientists are working to improve. iii Plant breeding - the process by which plants are improved using crosses, propagation or more modernmethods. iv Plant Breeding Department – a fictitious department. v Beta vulgaris – scientific name for beets. vi Drosophila – the common fruit fly.