Tomatoes (A Dystopian Novella) – Chapters One and Two

Chapter One

The giant Erlenmeyer flask slipped out of Eva’s hand and crashed to the floor. Eva listened to the thunder-like crash and to a gallon of liquid splash the lab floor. Almost immediately, acetone vapor hit her nose. Eva held her breath, knowing what this much of her favorite organic solvent could do to her, but her head was already getting dizzy. Don’t let yourself slip out of consciousness, she ordered herself. Eva felt her legs give way, lose knees buckle, and before she could grab the edge of the counter, she slipped and fell on the shards of glass that covered the polished floor. The cold concrete and colder acetone that instantly soaked through her pants frightened her.

You have to get away from the fumes, she told herself, trying to escape from the familiar, somehow dry, wetness. The melting point of C3H6O is minus 95 degrees Celsius, she thought. Other thin slivers of thought flashed through her mind. It was Chaim Weizmann, during World War One, who discovered an efficient industrial process to synthesize acetone, and make explosives out of it. Eva fought these useless facts and tried to focus on one task. Staying alive. She needed to get up immediately and keep her nose away from the floor. While acetone evaporated very quickly, breathing this much of it, even for a couple of minutes, will blind her. So staying conscious was crucial. Eva’s hand reached up and searched for the second or third handle of the chest of drawers on which stood her precious GCMS-TQ8050 gas-chromatograph mass-spectrometer. She found it and, fighting her dizziness, closed her fist around it. Shards of glass dug into her palm and she released a yelp. The drawer slid out silently, thwarting her efforts to stead herself. She reached with her other hand and grabbed the corner of the cabinet, congratulating herself on her wise decision to buy a good, sturdy piece. She tried to take in as little oxygen as possible, pushed the fogginess away, concentrated, gathered all the power in her arms, and with one swing, Eva pulled herself up. The glass punctured both her knees, but collateral damage will have to be dealt with later. Trying to breathe only a little bit, and with her eyes closed, she reached above her for the counter and pulled. And finally, Eva stood on her feet, her body lying on the countertop. With everything she had left in her, her lungs starved for air, she swayed, but managed to take one step to the right. And then another. She rested for a bit, and took a cautious, small breath, reminding herself not to gulp the air that was still saturated with acetone. She felt her dizziness subside just a little. Good. Calm down, you’re fine, she told herself, and opened one eye, just into a thin slit. Mostly white fluorescent light with a bluish fringe burst into her head. She saw light. Excellent. Eva rose and stood, taking another breath. She raised one hand in front of her face. Opening the other eye, just a little, she saw red blood drops trickling down from her palm, accumulating at the edge for a moment, then losing their grip and dropping. Terrific. She was seeing colors. On the shelf in front of her, stood unperturbed her gallon bottles. With their heavy, brown bellies, and their white label aprons, they looked like a row of jolly chefs in a televised home-style cooking competition. Everything is fine. Relax, she thought, finally taking a full breath, inhaling deeply, luxuriating in the wonderful of all gases, oxygen.

Eva looked down at the shards of glass that scattered all across the concrete. Among the larger pieces of the mathematically-designed curve of the flask, she recognized the familiar shape of the Erlenmeyer. They made her think of her decisions she made the previous year. Decisions that almost broke her family in pieces. Decisions that led her exactly to this point in time, leaning unsteadily against her lab desk, surrounded by broken glass.

Eva raised her bloody hands, touched her thumbs together and opened her hands like a giant butterfly, two chiral molecules. An enantiomer. That thought made her smile. If she knew, eighteen months ago, what she knew now, would she have done anything differently?

 

Chapter Two

“Son, stop playing with your food,” Eva said eighteen months earlier.

And Adam added, “We’re in a bit of a hurry, Ben.”

Ben didn’t say anything. Under Eva’s watchful eye he pushed the tiny tomato with his fork, and it rolled unevenly to the edge of the plate. Ben put the fork down and lowered his head.

“Mom, Ben won’t eat the tomato because it feels pain,” said Abigail.

“I can hear it calling for help,” Adam said, dragging a lettuce leaf through the dressing and stuffing it in his mouth. “Come on, son, the cucumber’s already anxious. Put the miserable thing in your mouth and get it over with.”

Eva sent Adam a warning look but he stuck to his amused expression.

“Mom, you should investigate it,” Ben said. “I’m telling you, the tomato is hurting.”

Abigail gathered rice on her fork as her eyes followed her brother’s every movement.

“How was your day today, kids?” Adam asked.

“Good,” they answered together.

It took another twenty minutes before Eva could pick up the car keys and call out, “Bye, sweethearts, we won’t be back late.”

At Avantgarde on Rothschild Boulevard, Adam ordered burgers for both of them and Eva asked for a Gin and tonic with lots of sliced lemon.

“Make sure you get the lemon’s consent to the slicing,” Adam said to the waiter who did not react.

“Now they won’t eat vegetables,” Eva said, anxious. “What are we going to do with their food? They can’t grow properly eating the way they do. What about protein? Children need protein to grow.”

“That’s it, it’s over for us. They’ll always be eleven,” Adam said. “They’re never leaving home.”

“Come on, Adam, it’s not a laughing matter,” Eva said, but laughed anyway. Right from the beginning, Adam made her laugh. That’s how he finally melted her wall of silence. With his bad jokes. Two months after they were paired to each other. That’s when the divine sex started.

Adam smiled and took an impressive bite from his Mexican burger with extra cheese and bacon. The tomato sauce threatened to slop out but Adam’s tongue swept it up skillfully, and he smiled at Eva with a mouth full of beef.

“If it wasn’t for the popular front back home, we could eat at our own dining table, in our home, like normal people,” Eva said, and lifted her burger with both hands. She was hungry and her food was delicious.

Adam laughed. “Honey, you made a joke,” he said.

“Why did we give in to the little terrorists and let them become vegans?”

“Remember?” Adam said, handing her a napkin he pulled from the dispenser. “They threatened to cry at every meal until we stopped feeding them dead animals.”

Eva was angry with the twins and angry with herself for being upset with them. She picked up her glass, cheered Adam silently, and drank. Trying to cheer herself with alcohol worked sometimes. “It’s not cute to run away from home for a decent meal.”

“I think it’s very cute to run away from home with you,” Adam said, his eyebrows dancing above his burger.

“Adam, come on, enough already with the jokes,” Eva said, but she laughed and pinched his thigh under the table.

“How was your day?” Adam asked.

“Actually, it was really good,” Eva said, wiping the last of the bacon fat from the plate with her finger and then licking it. She was waiting for this moment all day, to be alone with her husband so she could tell him. She would skip all the complex details of the experiments, of course, but she would tell him about work. “The results of Phase Three came in today. It looks promising.”

Rare and strange as it was, for the past two years Eva was finally allowed to work outside her home. The National Research Institute of Plant Genetics gave her a job as a lab assistant and for the first year she washed a lot of glassware. But after applying a carefully planned strategy, Eva proved to her bosses she was an asset to the lab, and was allowed to participate as a junior student in a few experiments. She even made some suggestions, and her bosses listened.

It took Eva ten years to enter the workforce. She started trying when the twins were a year old and for a whole decade she wrote letters to everyone she could think of, she lobbied anyone who would listen, she begged and argued and tried to persuade to let her work outside her home, in a lab, with scientists, even though she was a mother. The fact that she succeeded was so disturbing to the powers that be, that she was not listed as an employee, and her small salary was sent to Adam’s account. Her coworkers looked at her sideways for months, before they finally relented to accept her.

“It’s so exciting, well done, darling,” Adam said loudly, smiling his lovely smile, his white, even teeth, now cleaned of Mexican sauce, sparkling in the warm light of the trendy restaurant. Two young women came over and, giggling, asked her to take their photo with her husband.

“Yes, actually I’m a little excited.” Eva admitted, for once not feeling like crushed tomatoes. If she was completely honest with herself, she was still a long way from doing real research. “We’re really close. It’s a matter of eighteen months or so before we could have a corn-derivative production line.”

“It won’t taste the same, though, right?” Adam asked.

“Probably not, but what choice do we have?” Eva said. “It is not simple or easy to feed ten billion people.”

“I’m very proud of you,” Adam said. “You did what very few have done.”

“I wouldn’t have done it without you,” Eva said, squeezing his thigh again. And it was true. Adam must have been interviewed a dozen times by the special board that the Pairing Center appointed to check into the matter of Eva Blum-Ben-Gigi’s special request for change of profession. And each time he was asked, Adam explained patiently that he was fine with his wife working outside the home, that they would manage, and she could do both her jobs. If he wasn’t so famous, and loved, her petition would most likely have been denied. “I’d still be standing in my kitchen frying meatballs for the kids.” And Eva laughed, enjoying dinner with the rare man she was paired with a dozen years before, grateful that she didn’t have to plan weekly menus.

“I like you even though you suck at frying,” Adam said, licking her greasy fingers.

“Dessert, Mister Ben-Gigi?” The waiter asked.

“Just so you know,” Adam said to him, “Eva Blum-Ben-Gigi is a genius who’s going to save the world one day.”

“That’s admirable, ma’am,” the waiter said politely.

“Ma’am is how my mother is addressed,” said Eva and looked directly at Adam.

“We’ll skip dessert,” Adam said. “And if you speed up our bill, your tip will increase significantly.”

——

When Eve and Adam got home the twins were still sitting on the sofa in front of National Geographic, the only channel Ben agreed to watch.

Eva saw dolphins crossing the screen from left to right.

“Ben, Abigail, beds,” she said.

“The program will end in fourteen minutes,” Abigail said, her eyes glued to the screen.

“Okay,” Eva said.

“Then the TV will turn itself off,” Adam said. “I installed and programed a compliance sensor.”

“Come on, dad, enough with the juvenile jokes already,” Ben said, his eyes still on the dolphins. “What are you, five years old?”

Adam rolled his eyes and nodded toward the stairs.

“Goodnight Children,” Eva called, and without waiting for a response from the couch, followed Adam up the stairs, staring at his toned behind. The Center for Genetic Pairing at Soreq nailed it, she thought, smiling to herself. Twelve years of staring at that ass, and it was still as nice as it was the first day they met, when Adam leaned over to pick up the mess she made when she pushed her water glass off the edge of the table.

“The tomatoes really feel pain when you eat them,” Ben shouted from the living room. “I’m done with tomatoes.”

“Me, too,” Abigail shouted.

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