First tomato. A friend of mine once told her dad, “Maybe mom just wants a fresh tomato.” My friend’s elderly mom had mink, diamonds, a big apartment overlooking Meridian Hill Park and a Florida condo. But at the grocery store her husband wouldn’t pay for the out of season tomato. My friend Barb said, I think right now mom just wants a tomato.
Second tomato. Two elderly women friends have their wheelchairs close side by side at the table in the cheerily titled “Russell Street Café,” close to lunch closing time. It’s nearly empty and the few staff are desultorily putting saran wrap over the salad bar bins and closing down the nescafe station, returning creamer cups to the fridge. The friends don’t converse- eating is difficult enough and takes all their attention. One is a big woman with wiry curly gray hair, leaning heavily in her chair. The other is very small, side-ways leaning, short gray haircut with the flattened patch in the back of the head. She has a plush dragon and a sea turtle with big manga eyes each clipped to her wheelchair handles. She has a black bag strapped to the seat back and she is adept at contorting around to drop her extra milk into it with her left hand. Her right hand hangs motionless in the chair seat, fingers curled like the foot of a dead crow. Her left hand reaches into the styrofoam box for the wedge of tomato.
Carefully she grasps the tomato, turning it until it sits right in her fingers. She tilts her head back and puts the tomato wedge in it, then tilts further back to eat. Body skewed, her head almost lolling, she raises her now empty tomato hand upward. Above her head she stretches her fingers and twirls her wrist in a small dance. She takes her time enjoying her tomato, then goes in for the hard-boiled egg.
Neither tomato was a fresh, sun-warmed, bursting with red, summer tomato. They were those pale pink chill things. But the thought of a tomato still matters.