A friend posted this on Facebook today, and it immediately made me remember my short story about my futile attempt to grow tomatoes one year –
Margaret and the Two-Inch Tomato
Margaret has a black thumb. She has never been able to make anything to grow. She transplants all manner of cuttings and they blossom for a day or two, then wither and die. When she plants seeds, nothing happens. They don’t even break the ground. Her house plants, torn asunder by cats desperate for the great outdoors, hang bedraggled and limp, branches broken, leaves frayed.
Every year, she tries to plant the live Christmas tree she buys. Every year it dies.
One spring, Margaret notices that her neighbor across the street has a whole garden full of red, beefy tomatoes. She is so envious. If the neighbor can grow those beautiful fruit/vegetables, why can’t she? She’s an intelligent person. She’s not totally incompetent. The soil is the same on this side of the street as it is on that. She ought to be able to grow freaking tomatoes.
Burned in the past, Margaret knows better than to buy seeds. She buys tomato plants in special pots that guarantee they’ll grow. The tomato plants pop up six inches from their cardboard pots. The soil they are planted in is dark and marled with special ingredients. She plants them on the same side of her yard that her neighbor planted his. He is outside weeding. She waves and he waves back. “I’m growing tomatoes,” she shouts.
He grins and calls back, “Take some of mine. I have too many.”
“Braggart”, she thinks. But she laughs and continues planting her tomatoes.
Immediately, the minute the last trowel of earth is turned, the drought begins. It is the worst drought the southeast has ever experienced, weeks without rain. Drinking water dries up. No one is allowed to water their lawns. Washing your car is a criminal offense. Margaret stares, distraught, at the sticks where her tomato plants used to be. At first, she tries to keep up with the watering. She uses overflow from showers. She puts a bucket in the bathtub and makes everyone in her family produce water after each sojourn in the tub. But the plants are so dry from the record-setting heat, that she knows the effort is futile.
Just when she thinks she’ll mow down the sticks and start over, it begins to rain. From drought to monsoon in one easy session. Every day, she comes home, opens her cumbersome umbrella, drags her briefcase inside and battens down the hatches for the evening. Water seeps into her shoes. Her roof is leaking. Her car is leaking. It is so wet outside, the cats don’t even bother to rush the door. She forgets she ever gardened.
Finally, the rain stops. There is a Disney-esque sunrise. The world looks green and beautiful. She comes home from work in the afternoon and gets out of her car, grateful that she doesn’t have to wrestle the golf umbrella into submission. She is about to go inside when something catches her eye, a flash of red.
And there it is, beautiful as a waxed fruit, a perfect two-inch tomato where a stick used to be. The plant has blossomed with leaves and the 2-inch tomato decorates the green foliage. She bends down and stares at the flawless fruit.
It is the same size the next day, and the next. It doesn’t seem to grow. But it is spectacular. Reluctantly, afraid it will start decaying, she plucks the tomato and takes it inside. Her first home-grown anything.
Margaret wonders if there’s some way to preserve the tomato. She has the first dollar bill she ever made. This could be a decorative item just like the dollar bill. But she can’t find anything on the Internet about permanently preserving fruits or vegetables. At dinner, she cuts the tomato into tiny, perfect wedges and decorates a salad with them. “Do you see that?” she asks her husband.
“Oh, great, you grew a tomato,” he answers.
“If I can grow a tomato, I can grow other things, too.”
“How much did that tomato plant cost you?”
“Never mind. That’s not the point.”
The tomato is fantastic. She hates to eat it, but is thrilled by the juiciness of the taste, so much richer than the flat, boring tomatoes she buys in the grocery store. She wonders if she could grow enough food to feed her family. She has a large backyard. She could start a nice garden.
She could bring in a few chickens and have eggs for protein. She could buy goats for milk. Imagine living off the land. When she first started college she had a boyfriend who tried to live off the land. He was very successful with his marijuana plants but, alas, not so much with the other flora. He frequently came to her house to eat when his crops failed. But maybe he didn’t have her abilities. Maybe he didn’t have her patience.
“What would you think if I quit my job?” she asks her husband. He knows how exhausted she has been, how stressful her work.
Nevertheless, “I’d think you lost your mind,” he says.
Margaret decides to buy more plants. She will plant them and see what happens. If they grow, like the two-inch tomato, this will be a sign. She may have a black thumb, but she’s good at reading signs.
– Published in Bright Lights Cafe: