Short Fiction

The A-to-Z Challenge — Undeclared Champ

The Sunday before Labor Day would be one of the “Ten Best Days” of the year, according to the meteorologist on NJ 101.5.  After a very rainy and cold July the August sun finally ramped up to perfect tomato-ripening temperature and Skip made watering his priority for the rest of the month.  The result was a choice bounty of fruit with blooming shoulders at the just the right time for the competition.  Skip and Tipper had been sampling the early tomatoes with critical palettes, and Skip warned his wife not to talk too much about them outside the house least she unwittingly reveal any prize-winning secrets.

Across the development Bennie, in his tropical cabana set with his signature Robusto clamped between his fingers, stepped outside to survey his tomato plot.  The warm, wet cigar dropped from hand as he raised his clenched fists with an anguished cry.

His latest paramour, Shirley from Camelot Court, had a jealous cat.  Apparently “Bugsy” surmised that his mistress had also spent the night somewhere other than her own bed, and was currently using the loamy soil of Bennie’s tomato patch to take another in a series of territorial dumps.  Tomatoes were stripped from the vines and lay tragically split open on the ground.  Bennie’s threats had their desired effect and the cat took off like a rocket, but the damage had been done.  He dropped to his hands and knees to salvage what he could.

A few hours later Bennie, Skip and the other entrants brought their baskets to the judges’ table.  Skip wondered why Bennie’s bushel was looking light, but there was no denying that his tomatoes did look pretty decent.  But the proof would be in the eating.

The village elder judges were ready with their knives and looks of anticipation.  No matter your age, whether it is your first (or possibly your last) there is nothing like a Jersey tomato at the end of August.

Bennie kept up his braggadocio in light of his meager crop, and Skip began to see him in a different light.  Skip had so much — a loving wife of fifty years, good health, and the finest garden in Toms River’s premier active adult community.  What did Bennie have? He lived alone, eating take-out and microwaved meals, and shared no sustained love for human or beast. No matter the outcome of these tomato wars, Skip felt the graciousness of a true champ.


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