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.

Short Fiction

The A-to-Z Challenge — The Tomato Skirmish of Toms River

Skip admired his seedlings.  Soon, soon it would be warm enough to put his cosseted tomato plants out in the garden.  He was ready, so ready.  This was going to be his year.  His tomatoes were going to finally shame that turd Bennie’s.

It was a “friendly” competition between the gardeners of their little retirement community plots where the most prolific crop was tomatoes.   Five years ago the homeowners association (headed by that turd Bennie)  decided to hold a little harvest festival Labor Day weekend.  Since most of the residents were retired it resonated as the official end of summer, rather than an occasionally depressing “back-to-work” signal.

Skip was a newcomer, but he didn’t like what he  saw the last  two Labor Day weekends.  The smug mug of that turd Bennie with manicured hands that sure didn’t look like they pulled weeds regularly.  And the widows all over his tomatoes offering to make his gravy on Sunday afternoons.  Right.  A true tomato man didn’t use the fruit of his vine as a cheap sex lure.  Bennie smoked his big stogies and bragged he just ground the ashes and cigar stubs into the soil.

Skip had spent the winter planning his crop rotation, composting religiously, reading about organic pest control, researching the hardiest breeds of seeds.   Like an athlete he visualized a successful outcome.  He saw himself standing tanned and victorious at the judges’ table over his antioxidant rich red crop.  His wife, on the other hand, took no interest in his, Bennie’s or any other tomato entrant’s strategy.  She was happily retired and enjoying her trips to A.C. for her nickle winnings and quarterly gossip.

She had heard from her widow posse that Bennie was a bit of a “catch, ” if only because he was still interested in a lady’s companionship and kept up his personal hygiene —  cigars withstanding.    But this strange compunction of her own husband did not totally surprise her.  Skip was a competitor and liked to play the underdog.  She nodded sympathetically when he went blathering on about his heirloom seeds and special rabbit-resistant cages.  “Yes, dear, ”  she’d intone.  But deep down she rooted for her husband and his ability to play from the rear of the field.  And she wasn’t totally above plying Bennie’s latest conquest for a little bit of garden intel.

Who said living in a “55 and over” community was all canasta and mall walking?  The tomato war would ripen into the juiciest event ever in short-term memory.