Tomatoes (A Dystopian Novella) – Chapters Three and Four

Chapter Three

The next evening, a resolute Eva walked into the kitchen. She was going to be a proper mom, worthy of the role given to her. She would make French fries for the children, no ketchup since Ben stopped eating tomatoes and she and the children would sit down and eat dinner together. And by the time Adam came home from practice, the kitchen would be clean and the kids in bed.

Eva hated housework. Frying potato slices was relatively tolerable, better than, say, ironing shirts, although she didn’t get to it more than once a month. Pasta. Usually she made pasta and that’s what her kids ate. Every time Eva stepped into her kitchen, she thought of her great-grandmother, Zelda, one of the last generation who still chose their profession all by themselves. Zelda worked as a seamstress and lived to a hundred to tell Eva about it. Eva could still hear her soft, lilting voice, singing to her about catching the moon reflection in a bucket of water. There were a few torn pieces of memories Eva retained from her great-grandmother, like the one of Zelda sitting on a low stool at the feet of a heavyset woman, a measuring tape in her coarse, overworked hands, and another, of her bent over a rattling sewing machine, producing a straight line of tiny, spectacularly even stitches. And there were many short fragments of memories of fabric. Zelda died in her sleep when Eva was five, and her daughter, Eva’s grandma, a piano teacher, never talked about her. Many years later, when Eva was awarded her profession envelope, she thought about her great-grandmother Zelda, and the joy she knew from spilling from her machine wave after wave of colorful, cascading fabric.

‘Fries, then,’ Eva said out loud and took out the heavy skillet Adam brought home a few days after the kids announced they were done eating meatballs.

Over the countertop, Eva held a large, russet potato and reached for the peeler.

That’s when her hand froze. Eva stared in amazement as a clear, perfectly formed drop of water squeezed out of the eye of the potato. Like a balloon it grew and filled, until, all of a sudden, it burst and fell to the marble. No, that cannot be, Eva told herself. She neared the peeler again, but again, a drop of water ballooned on the uneven, shiny surface of the potato. Eva hid the peeler behind her back, and the drop shrank back. She brought the peeler out, and the tear reappeared. Gently, Eva put the potato on a dish towel on the counter, and, shaking, she tried to catch her breath. Her kitchen started circling around her in hyperbolic spirals.

“Ben!” she roared, “Ben! Come quick!”

A moment later she heard the children racing down the stairs, then, bursting into the kitchen.

Calm down, Eva told herself. You’re frightening the children. What kind of mother are you?

“Tell me what you see,” she said with a shaky voice, holding the potato in her hand.

“A potato,” said Abigail.

“And now?” Eva said, bringing the peeler near.

The three of them stood silently and watched tears streaming from the eyes of the seemingly inert tuber.

Abigail started to cry.

Ben recovered first as Eva knew he would.

“Okay, so it’s not just the tomatoes,” he said dryly.

Eva had no idea what to say. She opened the drawer and threw the peeler in. “Come, Abby,” Ben said. “We have a lot to do.”

 

Chapter Four

Within a week, Ben turned his room, and more specifically, his laptop on his vintage Challenger-design bed, into an international command center. His messages about feeling vegetables had gone viral within hours, and he spent most of his time explaining the meaning and repercussions to his peers across the globe. His sister sat next to him, silent, watching the screen. Eva thought she would forget what her children’s eyes looked like, she only saw their profiles, lit by the bluish hue of the screen. She brought them food they agreed to eat, mostly sugar products Ben had decided were safe, and many foods they refused to touch. Every tray that came back to the kitchen caused her physical pain and anguish.

Three weeks to the day after the weepy potato incident, the twins stopped going to school. Eva and Adam tried anything they could think of, but could not convince them to change their front. The united front of Blum-Ben-Gigi, as their parents called them behind their backs, secretly proud of their bond with each other, stood firm. A talk with the principle discovered that nearly half the school children, too weak by their refusal to eat anything, have disappeared from the classrooms. That’s when the strike was declared. Children in several nations such as the Scandinavia’s, England, and parts of the USA, announced that they would stop eating anything but processed cane sugar, until the grownups found a solution for the mass-murder of vegetables. French children were reported to eat normally.

The Tomatoes Strike, as it was dubbed in the media, turned immediately into the opening item on all the network news programs spread like wildfire all over the net. Eva thought it should be called the Potato Strike, and hated it by whichever name it was called. Ben explained to her that several species had developed cross-breed articulation skills, and that’s what finally alerted humans to the massacre. He said that the Solanaceae family of plants headed that group. That meant that tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, were off the table. As was tobacco, according to the children. The strike was organized by children like Ben, and spread through Instagram, Snapchat, FB, and other social media. Within weeks, millions of children one food strike unloaded videos of string beans dipping and swaying in prayer-like movements, begging for their lives, strawberries shedding their seeds in horror, and red peppers, turning black overnight. In a surprise move, the US Supreme Court refused a petition to shut down Instagram and Facebook, and helpless parents organized mass demonstrations in the US capital. In Israel, parents carrying signs that said ‘Save our Children’, gathered in Rabin Square for the largest demonstration in its history. Half a million parents flooded Tel Aviv causing all three of the Ayalon freeway levels to shut down. They walked to the new seashore, stretching a mile west of the old one, and then turned around and climbed Route One all the way to Jerusalem, to demonstrate in front of the parliament. The walk lasted three days in which the entire country came to a standstill.

Governments across the globe nationalized all research institutions and crop genetics scientists were being recruited faster than magnesium sulfate crystallization. The Israeli effort to find new food solutions was named by the media ‘Decree No. 7,’ referencing the emergency army reserves mobilization call, ‘Decreed No. 8.’

Eve and Adam moved to the kitchen table one gloomy night, after checking on Abigail, as she rested comfortably in an armchair that Ben brought to his bedroom. Tiny and tenacious, she had very little energy left in her thin body, but she refused to leave Ben’s side. Ben sat with his laptop on his lap, a renowned world leader of sorts. A tense silence descended on the Blum-Ben-Gigi house.

“Do you think it’s time to hospitalize her?” Eva whispered, gulping her second Campari and soda. She had given up grapefruit juice after Abigail threw herself to the kitchen floor, hugging two grapefruits Eva bought, crying bitterly.

“Are you mad?” Adam said, “You want to force-feed your daughter? How can you be so cruel?”

“How could you be so cruel as to let her die?” Eva countered, frustrated, terrified, barely able to contain herself. This argument has been going on for a week. Eva read in the papers that all the hospitals had opened wards for feeding children through tubes, in order to keep the alive.

“How can you be so cruel?”

“You’re going to let your own daughter die?” she asked, tears were running down her cheeks and he swiped at them angrily. The horrible word that she spilled out of her mouth made her feel crazy.

“Stop your hysteria,” Adam said from between pursed lips. “Work that huge brain you pride yourself on. If we force feed Abby, it will feel like rape to her.”

“So what do you offer?” Eva yelled, unable to keep her voice down any more.

“We must not lose hope. Soon there will be options. Scientists are close to a solution, right? What about the Harvard team? And the team at the Weizmann Institute? What about your Professor Doofus? ”

“Professor Dreyfus doesn’t know more than the other teams, and it’s still far from close to a solution,” Eva said, trying to answer without shouting. Adam hated shouting.

“What about the sweet peas?” Adam asked.

“What about the sweet peas? Seriously?” Eva shouted. “Enough already. Stop it. Don’t you read the papers? You know that was a fiasco.” After the Solanaceae, the various grains and the cruciferous, legumes were last to be put on the list of species that feel. Eva suspected there were others, but they haven’t mutated yet to bridge the cross-species articulation barrier so they could communicate their suffering. In fact, Eva now believed that most species could feel pain and fear.

“What happened with Monsanto’s wheat?” Adam asked.

“They are evil,” Eva said with her jaw clenched. Sometimes her husband’s stubbornness made her want to clobber him. “I’ll stake my life that their claims are bullshit. In a couple of weeks it would turn out they lied. Eva banged her forehead on the empty table. Since the food crisis erupted, she had been elevated to junior scientist in her world-renowned plant genetic lab, and then again, to crew leader. She was now working sixteen to eighteen hour days, and without formal education, she spent her sleep time reading up on molecular biology, genetics, and anything she thought could help her. “At least if you could make the kids eat something, anything, while I spend all my waking hours at work.”

“What do you want me to do?” Adam asked, his voice an octave higher than his normal baritone. “You know how I beg her? How I plead with them? No, you don’t, because you’re never here to help me.”

“I’m trying to save the children, that’s what I’m doing,” Eva countered.

“I’m not trying hard enough? Is that it?” Adam asked. “I’m sorry, but I’m simply not going to bring North Korea into our home.”

“Why not?” Eva cried out. “You’re going to have to choose, you know. Force-feed your children or let them die!”

“You’re talking to me about choice? Are you serious?” Adam retorted. “For fifteen years all you’ve been giving me are these speeches on how choice is the most important thing in life. How not letting people choose their life path is cruel and crushing injustice, all that talk that, if spoken to anyone but me, would have landed you in jail. And now you want me to take away the children’s freedom of choice? Do you hear yourself?”

“Yes!” Eva yelled. “Yes, I do. It’s a matter of life and death. What do you not understand here?”

“I understand just fine. Stop insulting me. I’m not some dumb soccer player. If you have not figured that out by now, do yourself a favor and leave.”

“And I understand that you’re letting your own children starve themselves. While I kill myself at the lab trying to save them.”

“Let me run and get you your medals,” Adam roared. “How about if we switch, huh? I’ll go work in your nice, clean lab and you stay here and deal with the mess called real life. We’ll see how well you succeed as a mother!”

“Oh, oh, so now we’re getting to the bottom of this,” Eva screamed at the top of her voice, her anger flooding her, choking her, blinding her so she couldn’t see Adam anymore. “I’m a rotten mother, we’ve figured that out a long time ago, Mister Father of the Year. It’s your bad luck you were paired with me. What shitty, lousy luck for you. And now you’re stuck with my bad genes inside your children. Better that they die!”

“Shut up Eva,” Adam screamed, his face turning red and his vein pulsing in his thick neck.

“You will not tell me to shut up,” Eva screamed.

“I’m trying to conduct a normal conversation with you and all you do is insult me,” Adam yelled. “I’m trying to tell you that you can’t force-feed the kids. It will feel like rape to them. And to me. I can’t do it. I won’t.”

Eva felt pressure build up in her chest. It’s a heart attack, she thought, alarmed. I’m going to have a heart attack. She palpated her left arm, searching for the telltale signs. “Just do as I tell you,” She barked at her husband.

“Oh, orders, I love those,” Adam barked back. “I don’t work for you, do you hear me?”

“So who do you work for?” Eva roared. “The soccer field? The balls you kick all day?” And right then, as that sentence, those words left her mouth, Eva realized she had crossed the one line she should have guarded at all cost. But it was too late. Eva looked at Adam, as his face drained of all their color, all emotion. And the one emotion she felt was shame.

Silently, Adam got up from the table and walked out of the kitchen. Eva heard him walk to the foyer, pick up his keys, and a moment later she heard the front door open and close gently.

 

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