They returned to the alley. Lucinda tended the fire. The second he came back, Dina, Rollie and Ollie threw their tiny arms around Joshua’s waist and gave him a long hug.
“Are you all right?” asked Lucinda.
“I am now,” he answered.
Heathcliff introduced Sophie.
“She’s going to be our dinner guest,” he announced and held up his bag of live fish.
“Can you believe he caught fish?” Joshua said.
Heathcliff scoffed, “It’s not so hard. They practically jumped into my lap.”
Heathcliff put the bag on the ground and opened it. Inside were four large fish with green skin and black splotches.
Suddenly Joshua felt himself go cold with fear. A thought jumped into his head.
He kicked the bag of fish away before Lucinda could pick one up.
“What are you doing?”
“Poison! They’re poison!” he yelled.
They all looked at him. No one spoke for a moment.
“How do you know?” Sophie asked.
How do I know?
Joshua did not know how he knew. But the image, wherever it came from, was clear and unmistakable. The green river fish was poisonous and particularly dangerous to young children.
He announced, “If you eat them, you’ll be sick. By next morning, you’ll be too sick to move. I’m sorry. We can’t eat them.”
“What will we eat?” Dina squeaked.
Joshua looked around following an instinct that hadn’t been there that morning. He saw the green weeds poke up from cracks in the cobblestones. Suddenly he recognized them as well; dandelions. He plucked a handful of leaves.
“These are edible,” he said.
“Are you sure?” Lucinda asked.
To check he popped a leaf in his mouth and chewed. It tasted bitter but there was something refreshing in the bitterness. He spat out some dirt and grit.
“They’re fine, just wash them first.”
Lucinda grabbed a large square of cloth and used it as a basket. Joshua pulled up fistfuls of green leaves.
“You mean there was a salad all around us and we never knew,” Heathcliff asked.
“Yes,” Joshua answered.
“How do you know now?” Sophie asked.
He shook his head. Wherever this knowledge came from, there was still more. Ideas flooded his head. Not only did he know these plants were good to eat, he knew they’d be best lightly boiled with a bit of salt.
“It’s been a strange day,” he said.
He thought about how the day began. He remembered the house he had scouted, the house surrounded by weeds. That’s when more ideas rushed into his head.
“Come on,” he said.
The others followed him to the house.
He pointed to patches of green.
“There. Nettles. And over there, peas. And those are carrot tops and turnip greens. There’s leeks and garlic in here as well. And potatoes.”
“A garden?” Sophie asked.
“It must have become overgrown after the people moved away,” said Lucinda.
Lucinda stepped into the weeds and reached down. She pulled out three fat potatoes.
“It’s a treasure,” Heathcliff said.
Joshua nodded. They wouldn’t starve now. There was plenty. They had bushels of food all around them.
More and more strange ideas entered Joshua’s mind. He knew all the things that were possible with this bounty; stews, roasts, sautés, soups, and a million other recipes.
But how? Where is all this coming from? You don’t just know things. You have to study and read.
Joshua knew it wasn’t natural and that worried him. But despite that fear he smiled wider than he had in ages.
“Why are you smiling?” asked Dina.
“You’re in for a treat,” was Joshua’s answer.