TOMATOES • by Tiffany Promise

Ma hadn’t always been fat. Once upon a time, she’d been a slinky thing who loaded men with bourbon so’s to woo them into her womb, secretly sucking up their seed with a precisely-inserted sponge. She had baby after baby after baby just to keep her company.

In order to keep her littles too little to ever leave — Ma slipped potions made of coffee grounds and cigarette butts into their baby bottles. She rubbed their tiny feet between her ham-steak hands, urging them: Drink up, little pup. Ma’s got you. 

When they continued to grow regardless, she eyedroppered more potent liquids between their lips: witch hazel, mugwort, mouthwash, belladonna, black mold, chicken shit, rat poison, tar. Once the Babies were at no risk of getting any bigger, she resigned herself to bed with an apocalypse stash of snacks.

When not care-taking Ma — plucking bugs from her hair, dishragging the pale pudding of her belly and the undersides of her many chins — the Babies tended their beloved patch. Mostly made of up tomatoes, there were also a few rolly-pollied cucumbers and saggy lettuces up for the munching.

“Ta-mah-tooo,” the Babies’d somehow learned to croon, as they offered up their thanks to the heavens. With lips ever-tinged orange, translucent seeds nestled under their nearly-translucent nails, they gobbled greedily, never imagining an end to their bounty.

Until one blazing summer, when the fruits suddenly up and sizzled on their stalks. That merciless old sun baked the Babies’ bounty into an inedible ketchupy splat.

“Bring me some water, bring me a palm frond, soak up my sweat with your rags!” Ma called from her throne/bed/table/toilet.

But the Babies were out-of-earshot, in the yard, chewing on the dried-up vines, silently opening their burning mouths toward the unforgiving sky.

That summer, of course, went on endlessly: the earth dehydrated like burnt toast with none of the burn scraped off. By September, the babies were all skin-and-boned, bloody-gummed; they jaundiced crankily.

But not quite as crankily as Ma — whose overworked heart slowly petered under the pressure of the heat. Until one night — with a thumped gurgle — her chest lurched, and trickles of heart-pulp sputtered unceremoniously onto her lips and heavy breast.

Ma is full of tomatoes! the Babies communicated hungrily in their not-language language. She’s been hiding tomatoes in her tummy, just like the snacks in her mattress.

They licked her lips. The juice tasted funny, like rusty-piped water, but they were hungry enough to not care. Teething her flesh — from neck to chest to cornucopious belly — they went on a tomato hunt.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t find the ruby fruits of their fantasies, just more treacly blood, some yellow gristle — hard to chew — and weird lumpy organ meats. Still they gobbled, gobbled, gobbled until limp.

Once sated, they rockabye-babied in Ma’s cavernous husk, while suckling each other’s thumbs into slumber. Until, inevitably, Ma started to stink.

Tiffany Promise lives in Los Angeles with her five cats and sassy toddler, Poesie Moon. Her stories and poems have recently appeared in High Shelf, Blanket Sea, Gingerbread House, Black Clock, and are forthcoming in Tiny Journal and Peculiar.

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