“They say that things just cannot grow
Beneath the winter snow,
Or so I have been told.”
– Sarah Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson, “Winter Song”
The signs on the greenhouse doors warn against the use of magic in six different languages, but even so, it’s tempting to do just a tiny warming spell to ward off the chill. Inside, Ophelia knows, the air will be warm and humid, but outside it’s Deep Winter, and she resents having her fingers go numb on the walk from the main house to the greenhouse where the Work is done.
With a mittened fist, she presses the button for the intercom, waits for the buzz, and then announces. “Ophelia Bloome. Incoming.”
– Hold for retinal scan.
She peels her hat away from her eyebrow and lowers her scarf just enough to give the scanner an unobstructed view of her right eye.
– Scanning… scanning… scanning…
It always seems to take longer when the weather is cold, Ophelia thinks, but if she mentions that to Gran the old woman will tell her it’s Nonsense and remind her that Everyone Knows Cold Makes Computers Work More Efficiently. (Gran always spoke as if every word was capitalized and amplified, the result of a lifetime of living with a husband who excelled at situational deafness until age finally took his hearing away for real.)
– Identity confirmed. Good morning, Ophelia. Please come inside.
It’s her imagination, isn’t it, that the computerized security system is always much more polite once the scans are complete? It doesn’t actually have a technopixie working inside it, imbuing it with personality, does it? That would be dangerous for the plants.
The outer doors swish open, just like the doors on Star Trek, and Ophelia steps into the airlock. Vestibule, she corrects herself. It’s just a vestibule. This is real life, not science fiction.
With the outer doors closed behind her, she strips off her outerwear, trading her snowsuit and boots for denim overalls and sneakers. Then she triggers the inner doors, which don’t so much swish as creak.
The inside of the greenhouse is a technological marvel, with heat lamps and misters and every kind of measuring implement ever invented to track growth rates and division patterns, to determine optimal climate zones and confirm hardiness. Even the ceiling was programmable on a section-by-section basis so that day-lilies could thrive next to night-blooming cactus if the Gardeners so desired.
“You’re A Bit Late This Morning,” Gran announced too close to Ophelia’s left ear.
“The coffee maker was infusing every cup with Daydreams,” the younger woman explained. “Alex had to shake me out of them twice, and then I had to return the favor, before we figured out it was time to descale the thing.”
“Magic Builds Up Just Like Minerals,” Gran explained. “Your Grandfather Is Supposed To Maintain The Kitchen Gadgets.”
“Well, maybe you can remind him of that,” Ophelia suggested with only a hint of a smirk. “What’s on schedule for today?”
“Poinsettias.” The old woman pointed a gnarled finger at the farthest corner of the mile-square space (like many magical edifices it was bigger on the inside), under an arch of candy canes. “You Know They Call Them Flors de Nochebuena In Spanish?”
“Yes, Gran. But I didn’t know we Worked with them.”
“Of Course We Do!” The old woman had a way of making Ophelia feel like a six-year-old more often than not, and her loud speech didn’t help. “Come, Child.”
Dutifully, she trotted along behind her grandmother on the moving sidewalk that ran down the center of the building. There were golf carts, as well, but Gran preferred to walk, and on the days Ophelia had to Assist her, she walked, too.
At the poinsettia grove, both woman stopped, and the older one activated one of the touch panels and called up a recipe. (She preferred that term to ‘spell,’ but really, the two were interchangeable.) “Read That Out To Me, Child.”
“One part Spirit of the Season, one part Hospitality, and two parts Pleasant Dreams,” Ophelia read from the digital display. “To be Worked by someone in the first third of life, and someone in the last.” She looked up, understanding, suddenly, why they would be doing this project together. “Oh… Gran.”
The old woman didn’t speak, just took up her position at the Working station, and jerked her head to the left so that the younger one would follow suit.
It took two or three hours of concentration, but when they were through, the red, pink, and white plants glittered faintly in their foil-wrapped pots. They’d been infused with Holiday Magic, and were ready to be loaded onto the conveyor belt that would take them out of the Shielded greenhouse and onto the loading dock, where Alex would ensure they were packed into temperature controlled trucks for delivery.
Hours later, Ophelia was curled up in her favorite chair in her cottage on the family property. The winter storm had killed the electricity again, but she’d Enhanced her Roku-TV so that she could get Netflix without it, and with cheesy holiday movies playing on the 40-inch screen, a pot of spiced tea, and a crackling fire, she couldn’t imagine being any cozier.
The holiday season had officially begun, and Bloome and Greene Florists was looking at a banner year.