Warm Tomatoes - Isaac James Hunt
In August we picked tomatoes every day. We picked them with grandma in the morning after breakfast, before the sun could peak over the maple trees and burn everything. By midmorning it was hot and humid and our clothes stuck to our backs, but we always picked the tomatoes. There were red ones and orange ones, little cherry ones and fat juicy big ones that fit in your whole hand. Sometimes we missed one and then when we found it the next day, the skin at the top would be split and grandma would cut off the tops before we ate them.
We ate tomatoes at every meal. For breakfast we ate them with toast and for lunch we ate them on sandwiches with bacon. For dinner grandma cut them into little wedges and we ate them with salt and ranch dressing. Sometimes I ate mine like an apple. When I bit into them the juices ran down my chin and onto my blouse if I didn’t wipe them away soon enough. Sometimes, I ate one right out of the garden without washing off the dirt. The juices were warm like the water in the garden hose when it first comes out, before it has time to cool off. I didn’t like the warm tomatoes, but I ate them anyways. Grandma told me to wash them off in the sink first, but that only made me want to eat them dirty and warm every time.
We ate them until I was sick of them. Sometimes I hated even looking at them.
Before dinner we went to see mama. Grandpa dropped us off at the sliding glass doors and then parked in the parking garage. He didn’t go inside with us. From her window I could see him, sitting on the same bench by the road and smoking cigarettes. He never smoked at home, but his hands always smelled like cigarettes and soap and his voice was scratchy. I wanted to sit with grandpa, but grandma said no.
Mama’s bed was by the window, but she never looked outside. Sometimes, I wondered if she moved her head when we left and watched us walk to grandpa’s bench. I wanted her to see us and sometimes, I looked back at what I thought was her window, but I never saw her. I don’t think she looked outside.
Grandma always pushed us both through the door before her. Mama’s room was small and smelled like diapers and antiseptic. There were pictures on the wall that Michael colored and brought her and some that I painted before I gave up. On the nightstand by the bed was a picture of mama and papa and Michael and I when we were happy. I hated looking at it. I wanted to turn it over and leave it face down, but I didn’t, I just left it there to stare at us.
Michael sat on the bed with mama and held her hand while he told her about baseball and the new kittens. Grandma sat in the chair by the bed and talked like mama could hear her. I hated when she did that, I knew she couldn’t hear a thing, just like her eyes that never blinked didn’t see anything. I sat in the windowsill and watched grandpa smoke cigarettes.
I didn’t like the hospital and I didn’t like to look at mama in the bed. It made me sick. I hated that we had to see mama before dinner. I sat in the windowsill and I thought about the tomatoes and I thought that I would get sick. I thought about those warm tomatoes and the dirt on their skin and how they sometimes swelled out of their skin and split at the top. I hated those tomatoes and how the warm juice ran down my chin and stained my shirt.
When we left I had to kiss mama’s forehead. Her skin was clean and cool and the feel of it against my lips sent shivers down my spine all the way to my tailbone. I closed my eyes when I kissed her, because if I looked I knew I’d be sick. When I kissed her I thought of those tomatoes again and how they were dirty and warm and how much better they felt against my lips and then I didn’t hate them anymore. I didn’t look when I pulled away, I didn’t want to see those eyes that didn’t see.
Grandpa always smiled when we walked up to his bench and then asked us how mama was. He dropped his cigarettes on the ground and stepped on them with his boot. I thought there should be a growing pile of cigarette butts smashed into the sidewalk, but they were always picked up the next time like he’d never been there. He pulled the car around while we waited and then we drove home.
At dinner we ate tomatoes and I hated them. They were sliced and cold from being in the fridge and it made me sick when they touched my lips. I wanted to throw them away and pick the warm ones in the garden. I wanted to feel the dirt on my tongue and the juices run down my chin, hot and sticky. I never threw them away, I just ate them and looked out the window, the clean and cool pieces sending shivers down my spine.
Isaac was born and raised in west central Illinois. He obtained a Bachelor’s of Science degree from Western Illinois University in 2010 and has worked for the State of Iowa since 2012. Currently, he lives between Iowa City and Davenport with his wife and two children. Isaac can be contacted at email@example.com.