Ruby to a Fault

M. Blain-Hartung

This year, I’m growing tomatoes in the garden. The soil is arid, but rich — ancient wealth. The plants need water daily from the well, but now, I peer into a jungle encompassed by yucca and sagebrush. In the scorching midday sun, the yellow flowers droop, as do the curled leaves: a lavish green, smelling like misplaced memories. The fruit, however, hangs proud and rigid despite this heat. Pale green, cresting, day by day, toward an irresistible red. My fingers ache to pick one.

This ground belonged to my grandfather’s father, proudly purchased on the cheap. I assume blood was spilled here, though I doubt the blood was ours. No one ever said for sure. For my part, I care little of my ancestors, and their ancestors who lived across the sea. No, I am a child of this land, care for this land, believe that my soul belongs to this land and will reside in the dirt when I pass. But what to make of the tomatoes grown here — whose harvest is this? 

I give in, allowing impulse to guide my hand as I pluck the biggest prize, bursting at the seams, ruby to a fault. I sigh, disappointment catching in my throat. The backside is rotten, riddled with pests hidden from view. I should dig deeper, from time to time. I should pull back the dense leafy tangle. But I am sweaty and sunburned, and my fingernails are coated with black grit. I am content with the odd bit of decay as long as the bounty is plentiful. Pulling out an old pocket knife, I slice through the tomato, glaring at the bad half. Green, gray, purple, and black. Squeamish, I discard it and bite into what remains. It glitters like a jewel and tastes bitter, then ever so sweet. 

M is a Berlin-based molecular biologist/biochemist. The author of many scientific manuscripts, M has recently polished off his latest novel, The Memory Mule. In addition, three of his short stories have been accepted for publication in the past few months, due to debut before the year’s end.