The Tomatoes Bloom in Winter
A while back, I wrote a story called The Tomatoes Bloom in Winter. I made the cover and was ready to publish it as a 99 cent ebook, and then I realized that I had a couple of stories in the works that would go with it nicely. So I waited, and made it the last story in my Hunger anthology, currently available in ebook and paperback.
But I couldn’t let the cover go to waste, so I thought I’d post it here. I can’t let it sit here by itself, though.
So here’s an excerpt from Tomatoes to go with it:
In the spring, I pulled out the tiller and started the garden. It had always been Alison’s pet. Weekends and evenings after work she patiently weeded and fertilized, thinning young shoots and strategically plucking excess blossoms to encourage the remaining fruits to grow fat and sweet. Me, I tilled and spread mulch, and did whatever else she asked of me. I enjoyed it. She loved it.
I didn’t really have the heart to start the garden on my own any more than I had the heart to return to work, but I started the garden anyway. It had something to do with her, that was the only difference. I started it with tears rolling down my cheeks into the rich black earth as I pushed the racketing, smoking earth-chewing machine through the dry stalks of her final garden. Tilling her under. It felt more real, more solid, more meaningful, than the dirgeful funeral in the monochrome grass of the cemetery. The wriggling worms and careless sulfur moths spoke to me as the flowers I placed on her casket had failed to.
We had always had a garden together. To not have a garden would be to let the last bit of her go. And so I planted. I planted her marigolds and nasturtiums alternating around the L-shaped border. I planted, each in its own turn as the spring warmed, her radishes and kohlrabi, her Brussels sprouts and lettuce, her peppers and tomatoes, her squash and cucumbers, her mound of purple potatoes and her mound of honeydew melons, her long-reaching vine of pumpkins for Halloween Jack-o-lanterns and Thanksgiving pies.
I couldn’t bear to take one single bite of what that garden bore. I tended it, weeded it, fertilized it, watered it, picked it, washed it, dried it, boxed it up and took it to the food bank in town. I didn’t even keep a pumpkin for Halloween; I left my steps bare and my porch light out, spending the chilly night alone with my coffee and my book, reading mechanically like a trencherman eats, not tasting. What does it matter, I thought; when Alison was alive six kids had been a lot of trick-or-treaters. Most people went into town.
Thanksgiving afternoon, with the shadows creeping long and stretching through the dry stalks of the garden rimed with the light flurries that straggled from the cloud-speckled sky, I sat again at my dining room table. I turned the corrugated foil disk of a grocery store holiday meal in front of me on a quilted turkey placemat, uncrimping the metal inch by inch from the circumference of the cardboard top. Sighing, I lifted the circle of heavy paper, bits of gravy and stuffing and green bean casserole clinging to it, and set it down beside my plate.
A flash of red caught my eye. I gazed through the window, leaning forward, squinting my eyes. There, among the sere brown stems, the pale dusting of snow, the gray of creeping shadows—a single fat tomato, rich crimson. Around it, a tiny spray of green leaves twisted in the wintry wind.
How was it alive?
How had I not seen it yesterday, the day before, the weeks between last harvest and now? With a clatter my fork fell from my uncaring fingers as I stood. The smells of the mediocre, not-very-festive-at-all meal were easily forgotten. I jammed my feet into threadbare slippers I should have replaced in summer but had not cared to, tossed my jacket over my shoulders (it hung looser and larger than even a month before) and walked to the garden.
As I approached, my eyes locked on the crimson, the green, expecting them to fade, to vanish into wherever hallucinations vanished. My feet stumbled over the small rises and falls and grass-knots of the lawn, clumsy in my distraction.
I stopped and stood in front of the tomato plant, its mass brown, dry, waving feebly in the wind. I continued to stare at its single fruit. There it was, a lone healthy tomato looking like it was sent out of the heart of August. The spray of green wreathed it. A smaller spray lay hidden in the heart of the plant, linking the tiny living branch with the earth, growing.
In the smaller spray, a speckle of yellow. A hand of fresh blossoms, clenched, ready to burst into full flower. I stood, transfixed, the shadows growing around me and a stirring deep in my heart, a shadow of warmth and hope where none had been before. Foolish, I thought, and pushed it down deep and invisible. With a shivering hand I plucked the new tomato, its ripe skin flexing succulently under my fingertips. It was not cold…