I’ve loved gardening ever since I was young. My mother was a gardener, too. She taught me all of her tricks of the trade, got me to just love the taste of fresh produce. Not even that supermarket “fresh” where they cover them with wax or make them look shiny and perfect like they were photoshopped onto the shelves. To me, there’s nothing more satisfying than plucking something off the plant, fresh and still smelling of the garden, running it under some water, and taking a big bite out of it.
My mother and I tended to the garden a lot. It wasn’t to the point of obsession, not like my dad teased us about it. We just planted the seeds, pulled the weeds, gave them water and something to give the soil an extra kick when it needed it.
We mixed our own fertilizer, a secret recipe my mother taught me. My dad never liked being outside when we did it,though. He said we always stunk up the whole backyard when we mixed it.
Neither of us minded that he didn’t care to spend time in the garden. Garden time was strictly mother-daughter time. Besides, for all his complaining, my dad did always love the stuff we grew. I don’t think I’ve seen a man since him eat so much salad at dinner. It was a happy time.
Of course, it’s not like that anymore. My dad died in a car accident about five years back. And my mother, after a long and hard fought battle, finally succumbed to lung cancer about three years ago. She ate healthier than any person I’ve ever known, but she always did like a smoke.
I grieved, of course, but I moved on. I own my childhood home now, and the garden with it of course. I have plenty of friends, some of the crunchy granola type and some not. Much as I love fruits and veggies, I could never go vegetarian, or even vegan like my best friend Sasha started a few years back. I can’t help it. I love burgers too much.
So I’ve got a decent life. A normal job working in administration alongside my best friend Sasha in the same company. You might wonder why I don’t work in a plant nursery or something like that, but, well, it’s like my dad always said. Best to keep work and pleasure separate. I love my gardening, and it’s a big hobby for me. But it’s just that. A hobby.
Well, a productive hobby, anyway. I always grow too much to eat on my own, so I always end up giving a bunch away to my friends. They all love it. They literally eat it all up.
Especially my tomatoes. Ever since I was little, my mom joked that I had a red thumb instead of a green one. Whenever I cared for and tended to tomato plants, they always grew big and beautiful and delicious. Every tomato season each of them flourished and produced a big old bumper crop. I would have literally baskets of the things. In peak of the season, my dining room looked like a farmer’s market. That is, if a farmer’s market only stocked up on tomatoes.
All of my friends looked forward to it each year. When I told them I had some, word would spread fast, and soon I’d have my phone buzzing, people calling dibs on who would get some first. Believe me, I wasn’t upset about this. Like I said, I grew a lot. Way way too many for just one person to eat before they went bad. So I was happy to give a lot of them away. My friends loved them, and I was only too happy to share.
The only one who ever really got overwhelming about them was Sasha. She loved them more than anyone else. I would make a mention of them, and she’d get this… this look in her eye.
She always seemed to know when they should start growing, too. She tracked the growing seasons of things, I assumed it was to keep track of when the best produce would be in her favorite organic and health food stores.
But she was always so adamant about tomato season. We would be sitting next to each other at work, and she would listen to me talk. But, I noticed, she would subtly steer me towards the topic of my garden. And then she would start talking about health food, and how she loved the stuff I grew and, oh hey, wasn’t it almost about time for my tomatoes to start growing?
It wasn’t a lie, and I always said yes. And how her eyes would always light up.
She was always offering to help me out around my garden throughout the year, because she was someone who hated taking without exchange and wanted to do something for all the stuff I grew and gave to her. She’d been like that all the time I knew her for.
But she did get oddly fixated on my tomatoes. She’d work around them, care for them even better than the other plants around them. One time when I had to pull up a tomato plant because it got infested by bugs, I swear she looked like she was about to cry.
And look, I know that it sounds weird that I lost a tomato plant with how much I touted myself about being good at growing them. But hey, I’m just a gardener, not a miracle worker. It happens to the best of us.
But, if you want to know something weird, I’ll tell you about later that day.
It was late when she finally left, a basket full of produce from the day’s work. And plenty of tomatoes, of course.
I didn’t stick around to watch her go, I just went inside the house, expecting her to leave through my back gate to where her car was parked on the street. But, as I passed by by a back window on my way to the kitchen, I glanced out and saw her, standing near the side of my house where I kept my garbage cans. And, I kid you not, I swear I saw her rifling through the trash and pulling out handfuls of half grown, insect riddled tomatoes. She ran off before I could go out and ask her about it, though.
Which brings me to the big incident. Where I finally realized that Sasha’s love for my tomatoes want to far more than an innocent craving.
I was going into my backyard to mix some compost on a warm, summer night. I like doing my mulch when it’s warm, courtesy of a tip from my mother. So I headed out with a five gallon bucket half full of the usual materials I use for it, intending to make a beeline for my compost heap. When all of a sudden, I hear a rustling from further in the garden.
Used to the occasional occurrence of a rabbit or some other animal uprooting and eating my stuff, I picked up my shovel and stomped over there, intending to take care of whatever was making all the racket.
What I did not expect to find was Sasha. Knees pressed into the dirt, half covered in mud, and holding a tomato in each hand, with what looked like a third one stuffed in her mouth.
In shock, I asked her what the hell she was doing in my backyard, stealing from my tomatoes. I know I give a lot of stuff away, but she was still taking my stuff without my permission. And given we’d been best friends for so long, it kind of hurt to think she would be stealing from me.
She swallowed hard, and I almost winced with the sound if it, and the size of the lump that went down her throat. In such a small, strange voice, she said she’d been hungry, but she’d run out of tomatoes. They filled her stomach so well, and she’d just HAD to have some.
Well, seeing as she was my best friend, and I didn’t want to ruin that over some tomatoes, I sighed and lowered my shovel. Telling her to just put down the tomatoes she held and that she could come back tomorrow and have some if she helped me out again.
Her eyes went oddly blank. And she stared at me too long for me to be comfortable. She did stand up, but unsteady, almost wobbly.
And them she bolted at me, and in the gleam of the summer moon, I saw her brandishing a small hand rake I use for gardening. She had this weird, crazed look in her eye. And her teeth were bared, stained with juice and seeds, but otherwise glinting in the moonlight with what had to have been thousands of dollars of her expensive dental and orthodontics work on her perfect teeth.
I shattered those teeth when I swung the shovel in her face. Bits of white flew out of her mouth as she was too shocked to even cry out in pain. By the time she was on the ground, I already had the shovel up over my head, and swung it down onto her exposed neck.
With a gurgle and a sputter, that was it. I stepped on the hand with my hand rake until she let go, and waited as the life left her shocked, crazed eyes while she bled out profusely onto my grass.
When I was sure she was finally dead, I grabbed her by the wrist and dragged her to the compost pile. I could hose off the plants later. Besides, the extra moisture from her blood would be good for them in this heat.
After dropping her onto the compost heap and grabbing my axe, I went about cutting her to pieces. Careful to do so in a way that would leave her in smaller pieces no bigger than my palm.
I don’t think she would have been so keen on my tomatoes if she knew that animals were, in fact, harmed in their growth. As she proclaimed her vegan lifestyle was meant to be about. All the dismembered raccoons and rabbits and squirrels and the like most definitely were killed to make them when I mixed them into the mulch.
I finished up quickly and set about mixing Sasha into the mulch. There would be leftovers, but I could hide the rest of her under the compost until then. Waste not, right?
It’s a funny thing. I’ve tried this method on other plants before, but the only ones it seems that this method of fertilizing gives so much more flavor are the tomatoes. As I’d discovered in multiple experiments since I was a child, when I had decided to bury a dead bird I had found in with the tomato seeds without telling my mother. Those were some of the best tomatoes we’d ever grown, and one of the things I always loved being praised for.
I hope Sasha would be happy, I think as I carefully fold the mix of compost, raccoon flesh, and what looks to be part of Sasha’s ear into the dirt around the first tomato plant. She’s always loved these tomatoes, repeating over and over how she’d die to know how mine get to tasting this good.
Not only should she likely know, now she’ll be a part of the process.
I hope this next crop grows out soon enough. I can’t wait to have everyone try one, and see how this crop tastes.
Credit: Sabrina Espinoza
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