by Gary Moshimer
That year the water was orange, glowed with levels of something: iron or the tears of our doomed world. We planted the usual things, watered diligently and waited. We were hungry. My father said we’d have either crappy or super vegetables. When the carrots broke ground they were little tops of heads, some blond, some brunette or bald, sprouting the greens out the tops. The tomatoes developed into fat sleepy red heads hanging there, eyes squinting open for short periods in the daylight. The peapods, when opened ever so slightly, contained tiny green babies all lined up. Lettuce leaves opened into green wings attached to smooth bodies like featureless dolls.
We were scared. Were we responsible for not just plants, but human life? Still, we hungered.
We let them grow.
The tomato heads began to develop features, and my sister Angie said, “Oh my god, I know these people.” She kept detailed accounts of the dead in a journal: how they died, news clippings and obituaries and photos. She returned with the book and kneeled next to the tomato plant.
“Look, this is the Turner family, crushed by a semi.” She held each fruit gently in her palm and pointed to pictures. “See? Ralph, Moira, and little Timmy.” The way she held them, I wanted to cry. She had this look like she was an angel and had seen god.
“What can this mean?” I asked. Even as we watched, changes took place. Timmy’s smooth tomato scalp split into a thousand tiny fissures, and fine blond hair like corn silk appeared. Ralph’s greying hair grew over his ears, his baldness on top broken only by the stem. Moira’s came thick and black like a horse’s tail.
We went to the peas, peeked inside at the tiny fetuses. Angie consulted her book. “I don’t know. It’s too early to tell. They could be any dead babies. Or all of them.”
And the carrot heads, peeping above the soil: Mr. Clark down the street, heart attack. Our friend Lily’s mother, cancer. Kids from high school, car wrecks, overdoses. The lettuce angels were cancer kids, their features pure and perfect.
We showed our mother, and she shook her head. “This is a great responsibility.”
“What do we do? Let them go?”
“They are just vegetables,” she said.
“Maybe they have souls,” Angie said.
“Still,” said our mother. “With the food shortage.”
“I’m hungry,” Angie said.
That night we sat in Angie’s room and pored over her notes and obituaries, studying the lives and achievements of our crop. Many of them had fought bravely. Some that died suddenly had been athletes. Others were just great people. The babies could have been great.
The sun came over that distant brown haze, rose today enough to give light to our garden, growing everything or everyone like crazy. We pulled the carrots and lettuce and picked the fat tomatoes. They had developed mouths but said nothing. Their eyes shed tears, or ripe juice. We brought in the basket, washed what we’d picked in the deep sink. Some of the eyes implored us, but our decision was made. We needed to eat. Stores were closing as the cloud crept nearer to us. We stayed inside and cut the tomatoes. They made no sound. We plucked the seeds to put in a container. The tomatoes were juicy and lush in our mouths, the best thing we had ever eaten. They seemed to know their sacrifice: take this and eat it, the body of man, and you will have everlasting life. We shucked the babies and popped them onto our tongues, turned them to pulp with our teeth. We sliced through the carrots with the heads and no one screamed.
My father ate Mr. Clark, as Mr. Clark had been quite the bowler, with a 200 average, and Dad wanted to bowl a last game.
We ate the angels, and we were full.
We went to the bowling alley. We were the only ones there. Dad bowled a perfect game, something Mr. Clark had come close to. Dad held his chest, overcome with emotion. The manager gave him a little trophy and then turned off the lights. “Are you leaving town?” he asked us.
“No,” I told him. “We’re going to be okay. We had our vegetables.” He gave me a puzzled look.
“Well, I’m headed to my sister’s place. Glad I could see that game of yours, Glen.”
We went home, gathered all that was precious to take to the basement. We waited with our battery powered lamps, listening to the low rumble. We looked through Angie’s book, all those hopeful faces. They gave us hope, and we gave back.