Original Fiction: Homegrown Tomatoes

Republibot 4.0
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One thing New Jersey does, of which it can be rightfully proud, is grow the best damn tomatoes in the universe.  This is not just an idle boast; I have proof.


My wife has always had the biggest, firmest, most luscious tomatoes in the state, if not the nation.  She claims to have no special secret to growing such wonders, other than lots of TLC and a garden spot in some excellent sandy loam soil.  Every year, I grumble and procrastinate over getting out into the back yard to turn over the garden for her, but I know that come July my efforts will be rewarded hundredfold by homegrown tomatoes.


I'll tell you, friends, if there aren't home-grown tomatoes in Heaven, then I'm not going.  There's simply nothing to compare to a Big Boy right out of the garden, red as a firetruck, still warm from the summer sun and so ripe and juicy that you're almost afraid to hold it too tightly as you whisk it into the kitchen to cut a thick slice from the very center of the thing, to slap it between two slices of bread and some salad dressing.  Maybe some bacon, but really, bacon's more for getting you through a wretched storebought tomato sandwich; with these beauties, it would be just gilding the lily.


It takes a lot of work to grow tomatoes this good, mind you--great gardens are not made by saying "Oh, how wonderful" and sitting in the shade.  My wife's great for the laying-out and the planting and she does the lion's share of the harvesting and preserving--but only because she's picky--and thus it falls to me to do the boring bits, like the weeding and the mulching and the bending-over things that someone with sciatica says is difficult for her to do.


So I was out in the garden the other evening, down on my knees in the dirt, my hands taking turns with pulling weeds and slapping mosquitoes--another thing New Jersey grows in enormous quantities--when I heard what sounded like a freight train approaching.  This isn't all that unusual, except we don't live anywhere near tracks, and as far as I knew there wasn't a tornado predicted.


So I raised my head up over the fragrant fronds of the tallest tomato plants, kinda like a big, bearded meerkat, and peered all around through the gathering gloom.  Suddenly it got as bright as full noon out there in the backyard, as a brilliant spotlight the size of a swimming pool appeared about forty feet above my house.


"Shit," I thought, which is pretty much the only thing you can think at a moment like this.


My hair stood on end from the magnetic field that was being generated by whatever was on the other side of that spotlight.  A translucent blue shaft descended from the center of the light, and touched my lawn with the softest of thumps.  The dogs, who usually bark at any visitor, were strangely absent at this moment.


A small portal opened in the bottom of the shaft, and a being emerged.  I couldn't tell much about it because it was entirely clad in a gold-colored environment suit.  It stood about as tall as my shoulder.  It was holding some sort of squarish instrument that it waved around in random directions, checking the reading on a small illuminated screen.  It then apparently sent a message back up the shaft, and stepped fully out into my yard.


I hunkered back down below the tops of the tomatoes, but I suppose the fellow had an infrared scope, because he came straight towards me.  He stopped at the wire fence we put up to keep the dogs from helping out with the watering duties, and prodded his instrument with the tip of what I assume was a finger, because it occupied the same relative position and use on his anatomy.


Then I heard a tinny approximation of a human voice saying in English, "Greetings.  Would vegetables fresh you sale for have?"


Okay, I thought, gulping, so my first conversation with an alien being is going to be with Yoda.


"What would you like?" I asked, forcing my voice to be steady, knowing it was far from that.  I did take it as a hopeful sign that he was politely enquiring about buying vegetables, rather than just sucking my entire garden up into his ship.


He took a moment to process my words through his interpreter, then poked at the screen again.


"Solanum lycopersicum," he replied, pointing at the rows of tomato plants with their ruby-red globes peeking like shy, blushing maidens from behind green velvet curtains.


"Tomatoes?" I responded, just to be sure, and he nodded his helmet eagerly.  I slowly got to my feet, leaving my trowel behind lest he mistake it for a dagger and respond with some vaporator that could turn me into soup in my boots.


"Jersey to-may-toes," the translator confirmed.  Well, now I knew which side of the debate this guy was on.  "Best-in-world!"


I picked up the bushel basket I'd been using to put my weeds in, dumped it, and asked, "How many you want?"


I still don't know how they found out about the incomparable goodness of Jersey tomatoes, but you know, word does have a way of getting around, and Bell Labs is here...anyway, I picked him just about every tomato that was close to being ripe--mostly because I had no way of knowing how many he'd need to tide him over on the ride home, and anyway, I'd have more again in a couple of days--and threw in a bunch of green ones for later.  He watched with what I assume was eagerness--the gold faceplate of his helmet was impossible to see through--and he helped me lug the basket back to the base of the tube, where he wrestled it inside and then pushed a button on his translator that sent the precious cargo wafting up the shaft like it was made of feathers.


Then he turned to me, and made a sort of salute.  "Thank you," the tinny little voice droned out.


"You're welcome," I assured him, sounding bemused.


Then, as if suddenly remembering, he patted a gloved hand to his chest, and opened a small pocket, withdrawing a packet and holding it out to me.  He had to wiggle it enticingly to convince me that I was meant to take it.


He gestured at the ground, making a motion like digging a hole with a dibble, then indicated by turning up his hand and spreading his three fingers that this would grow and bloom.  I nodded.


"Thank you, friend," I said.  He nodded back, saluted awkwardly again, and then withdrew to the tube.  He had time for one last quick wave before the thing retracted up into the bright circle of light hovering over the garden, and then with a minor concussion and a vwoop, it was gone, and I was left alone in the almost total darkness.


I looked at the packet he'd given me.  There were no discernable markings on it, but when I got onto the back porch and could flick on a light, I saw a few odd cyphers that seemed to indicate planting depth and spacing.


Gardeners are the same all over.  Swapping seeds and plants.


I'm kinda afraid to try this stuff, though.  It could be kudzuchini or something...

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