There sits on my kitchen windowsill, a tiny pale tomato; a symbol of something that ran out of time. I leave it there as a reminder of my writing – an unripened fruit, a precious thing that might not grow.
That tomato’s mother plant was placed in the ground with the utmost care because I was a novice to gardening of any sort. I followed the planting directions to the letter – I mixed compost with fresh dark earth and for good luck, added a healthy sprinkling of Miracle-Gro. The vine grew to stupendous heights with a girth like a small tree. Literally hundreds of tiny green tomatoes sprung forth from this most willing of plants. I had such hopes – of bruschetta, of homemade tomato sauces and fresh tomatoes on summer salads. Not one tomato ripened.
I’m not one to sit around and wring my hands over a bunch of green tomatoes. Maybe I could’ve made something – mince, perhaps – out of the green ones but I just kept waiting and hoping. I just couldn’t believe a vine that showed such promise, that reaped such praise from the neighbours and towered over the fences could not produce one ripe fruit.
As is customary, August heat gave way to the chill of September. The nights grew ever frostier but warm sunny days seduced me into thinking the plant had more time. The tomatoes were trying (if tomatoes could breathe, these little guys would’ve been panting). Their green skin slowly warmed to yellows; some made it to the palest of pinks. Those that approached red were then attacked by calorie-hoarding squirrels. Then, one or two frosts ended all hope. Although the vine still stands, its leaves are shrivelled and blackened. The vine stands as a stark reminder of something that was started with great promise in too short a growing season.
The plant reminds me that the time allotted to me for writing – my growing season – might well be over. Should not talent, fuelled by still-strong desire and love, be allowed to ripen? Should someone be cut down because of too few successes and is success only measured by currency deposited in a bank account? Do progress and promise mean nothing? Financial reality, much like falling temperatures, cannot be ignored for long. They both take their toll eventually.
My eyes return to the tomato plant leaning against the back fence, its branches still heavy with unripened fruit that refuses to let go. Was there not enough light? Was the soil too acidic? Were there not enough hours in the day? If I had planted the vine six inches to the left, would it have gotten just a precious bit more sunlight to allow those little fruit to burst forth in juicy redness? Was the plant betrayed by the false promise of an extended summer? Was the little plant put in the ground just a few days too late?
Had I ignored my parents’ insistence that I get a “real job” and started writing seriously in my twenties, would I be a self-sufficient author now? Would I have had enough success enabling me to stand tall among the doubters and ignore the accountants? Would I now be able to sustain myself and not be subject to the whims of unpredictable economics? Had I listened to my own shy inner voice, might I have avoided the devastating decision to postpone the dream again? Had I been raised with praise instead of doubt, would I be able to withstand the betrayal of early frosts and harsh financial droughts?
I’ll never know. I can’t turn back the clock and the days are getting shorter. I’ll never really know why my tomato plant, so full of talent and promise, was not able to produce any ripe fruit but I’m betting time was the culprit. I gaze out the kitchen window at the once healthy vine and I don’t know if I have the strength to start over again next spring, so painful is this season’s disappointment. Maybe I should rip it out of the ground and toss it behind the shed so its failure to produce doesn’t constantly remind me of my own. Maybe an early snow will bury it.
I’ll chop the vine up into little pieces with my pruning shears and stuff the bits into a leaf bag along with the hundreds of unripened, rock-hard little tomatoes. I’ll bury the remains under millions of fallen leaves. I’ll drag the leaf bag out to the curb and figure out what to do next.