I pick another tomato, too small, too green. At my feet sits an upturned straw hat, almost full now with green fruit. The season is ending, shadows lengthening, winds cooling. Not enough sun to ripen them now.
I drop a handful of tomatoes into the hat and bend out over the vegetable patch again. There is an orange one nestled between the deep green leaves. I pause before plucking it. Will it have time to turn red?
Behind me the gravel of our driveway crunches. Footsteps stop at my back.
I don’t look around, instead reaching to pull the orange tomato from it’s nest. It will add a burst of colour to the chutney, I decide. A bee buzzes up from the tangle of tomato vines, its body round and plump, its wings a blur in the fading sunlight.
“So that’s how it’s going to be then, huh?” he says behind me, “Not going to talk about it?”
I breathe through my nose, an old technic a music teacher taught me to calm my nerves. Works well for anger too.
“I have been talking to you,” I reply, “You just aren’t listening.”
“I don’t want him here.”
“We promised him, weeks ago.”
“I don’t want him here, now!”
“You can’t just change your mind like that. He’s only 5.”
“He’s not our problem.”
“His mother is sick, we said he could stay with us while she detoxes.”
“She’s a fucking junkie, Anna. Say the fucking word!”
“An addict, yes. But she’s trying. And we promised him. It’s safe here. He feels safe here.”
“And that’s just your decision then, is it?”
“I don’t want him here.”
I turn to face him, still squatting. He looms above me. The sun is setting behind his head forcing me to squint. I can still make out the anger on his face. The rage.
“So what’s the answer here then? We divorce and you adopt him?”
Ridiculous, dangerous words. He knows it.
I breathe again. My lips part.
“Of course not,” I begin, but he’s too scared by his own words to listen. Or to back down.
He goes all in.
“Well what then Anna? Huh? He is not your son!”
Anger, sparking and heavy races through my limbs. I begin to shake. My vision blurs, red-edged. Spinning, buzzing, frozen, darkness.
Warm juice is running down my arm, staining my sleeve.
I open my hands, palms up. I’ve crushed the orange tomato. I drop the smushed up skin to the ground and brush the seeds from my hands.
“We promised,” I whisper, unable to trust my voice not to crack. The tears not to start.
I look up.
Our eyes lock.
His face is petulant. Set but unsure. He’s gone too far to stop. Ego won’t let him.
He sees that thought. It guts him.
“Shit!” he shouts and turns, striding away down the drive and climbing into the car.
The engine fires. A drive will cool him off.
I stand slowly, rolling my shoulders to shrug off the tension. Stooping, I gather up the hat of tomatoes and head inside.
In the kitchen I fill the kettle with water and flick it on. I lay out salt and pickling vinegar, some red chilli flakes, a knife and chopping board. I pour oil into a pan to warm. I rinse the tomatoes.
One by one I slice them into small circles. Once the pile on my board gets too big, I tip some into the pan. The cold, juicy fruit hits the hot oil and spits and hisses. I continue chopping.
Tomatoes done, I turn down the heat of the stove and pull a wine glass from the cupboard. I pour rosé, something French and cheap.
He hates it when I drink mid-week.
I pour more, filling my glass to the absolute rim. I have to sip a little off the top before I can lift the glass.
Later, as the call of roosting birds fills the darkening sky, I screw the lid onto the final jar of green chutney.
I feel him come up behind me. He smells of cold and cigarette smoke.
He knows I hate it when he smokes in the car.
His arms wrap around me, his chin resting on my shoulder, hands over my belly.
My empty belly.
For a moment I hold myself rigid, separate.
“I’m sorry,” he murmurs.
I dry my hands on a juice covered tea-towel.
Then I let go. I lean back into his embrace and close my eyes, linking my fingers with his.
We stay like that a moment. Just existing. Alone with our own thoughts and unspoken grief.
“Help me make up his room?” I ask.
“Ok, what can I do?”
“Get the little blue duvet cover I bought at Christmas. The one with the spaceman on it. It’s in the top linen cupboard.”
I feel his lips twist into sad smile against my neck.
His arms slip from my waist. He turns to go.
I reach out and take his hand, stopping him.
He looks back.
Stepping closer, I turn his body into mine and wrap my arms about his neck.
“It will get easier,” I say softly. “We’ll get through this, together.”
I see the shimmer of hope in his eyes. He wants to believe me. I want him to believe me.
The corner of his mouth quirks up.
“I’ll go get that duvet.”
As the days shorten and the winds cool, the leaves shift-colour and the clouds gather, a new season is upon us. A time of change, a time of preparation. For my garden a time of harvest and planning - gathering the last of the summer fruits, and planting the new seedlings for the coming winter. Inspired by this time of adjustment, I wrote this short story. I hope you enjoy.