Ethel's Tomatoes

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

There's nothing like a good competition between neighbors.

Dew from the grass condensed, pooling around the jeans of Agatha’s knees.  The warm sun caressed her neck as she inhaled deeply, imagining a blue ribbon in front of her award winning tomato, then exhaled. She tucked her pin straight hair behind her ear. Crouching down to level with a row of heirlooms, she clutched each one to determine ripeness. There was a method: squeezing for firmness, picking the top four, then judging size and color. Every year, for twenty years, Agatha’s tomatoes had won in size, and color. The last two years she had lost taste to her neighbor, Ethel, coming in “a close” second. This time, the social group wouldn’t have to crowd around, insisting her tomato was the best, only to catch each one sampling Ethel’s tomatoes an hour later. 

As Agatha pushed off her knees to stand, she saw a weed blossoming at the edge of her garden, nestled next to the marigolds. 

“Ethel.” She said to herself. A puff of air burst through her nostrils.  Carefully, she bent over and ripped the petite white flower out of the ground, tossing it across the fence. It landed on bare feet.

“Good morning! Did my aster creep into your yard?” Ethel gracefully swept the flower into her fingers, then fastened it into the brim of her sunhat. A floral nightgown swayed slightly in the breeze of her actions. The corners of her mouth curled into a natural smile. 

Agatha could only describe Ethel’s yard as a replica of the Garden of Eden. An ignorant mess of wildlife. Fruit Trees, tall grases, and a plethora of random vegetables scattered throughout the yard. But the worst were the abundance of colorful wildflowers that encroached into Agatha’s pristine garden. In early spring, Agatha witnessed, in horror, her free-spirited neighbor tossing handfuls of seeds into the air. Then, stomping them into the ground with her bare feet. How anything managed to grow from this monstrous tactic was beyond her.

“Please, keep your weeds in your yard.” Agatha crossed her arms.

“Of course. Of course, my dear.” Ethel laughed, then she placed hands around her mouth as she eyed her neighbor’s basket of tomatoes. “Is today the community vegetable contest? I should gather my tomatoes, too. If only I could remember where I planted them.”

She cupped her hands around her mouth. “Baby Toms, where are you?”

Agatha smiled, her eyes twinkling in glee listening to Ethel call out to her vegetables as though they would hear her request and walk over. She knew this chaotic woman would show up to the fair with minutes to spare, and a basket full of delicious heirlooms. No matter how much she prayed. 

“Well, I’m going in for coffee. Good luck with the hunt.” Agatha waved a graceful hand in the air as she made her way for the kitchen. 

“Thank you! See you at the fairgrounds.”

 

Thomas met her at the door with a warm cup of black coffee. His soft yellow, linen shirt and pressed khakis corresponded with the colors of his striped knee high socks. Over the years, he discovered coffee came before conversation. He kissed her cheek and carefully took the prized tomatoes to the table. They stood watching their neighbor explore her property. After a few moments, she rested her head on his shoulder in contemplation.

“It’s your last year. Don’t worry so much. Next year, you’ll be judging with Betty and Phillis.” He reassured her.

“And Ethel will win every category.” Agatha pouted. 

 

Agatha spread a checkered tablecloth over her reserved section of the table. Smoothing it straight, she glanced around the tent. The Social Group gathered at the end of her table, busy preparing decorated signs for different activities. Floral arrangements, pie contests, vegetable competitions which included the garden tomatoes. Philis emerged from under a stack of spring trinkets in an oversized, purple smock; her curly silver-fox hair sprayed into a stiff helmet. A special trip to the stylist for today’s occasion. She marched toward Agatha’s display, yards of fabric flowing behind her like a flag on a breezy day. 

“My Darling! Look at your produce!” She lifted her hand above her head and gracefully extended it down to the pile of heirlooms, attracting the attention of all the contestants who lifted eye-brows in disdain. 

Agatha blushed, relishing in the exaggerated compliment. The Social Group followed closely behind with a multitude of compliments. The words: Best, colorful, first prise filtered the air before Philis politely delegated them to new tasks. 

“I think you might win all three categories this year. ” The head of the Judging committee nudged Agatha in good nature.

“Don’t speak too soon…” Agatha trailed off as she saw Ethel galloping to the entry table. A red sundress and wide-brimmed straw hat resembled the plump heirlooms in her basket. Agatha crossed her arms, a smile fading quickly. Why did Ethel participate in the tomato competition against her? She had a variety of vegetables to choose from. And she had heard from Dotty that Ethel had the best peach cobbler in the county. 

“Compete in the pie contest, Ethel!” Agatha grumbled to Thomas that morning as she shoved a golden bangle over her knobby wrists. He had chuckled silently at her frustration. 

Now, Ethel spread a checkered tablecloth beside Agatha’s. Cutting a tomato into sample sizes, she grinned imprudently at her neighbor. A few snickers escaped a cluster of social group members hanging paper mache flowers nearby, absorbing the scene for a subsequent gossip session.  Agatha refused to be the next topic of discussion. She smiled politely at the effortless gardener.

“I forgot my name tags in the car. I’ll be right back.” She rushed to the car, fuming. When she returned with name plates and a description of growing techniques, the whole tent was laughing. Ethel sat in a chair, eyes big, mouth gaping. Juice from the chair dribbled to the floor. Their eyes met, and Ethel erupted in laughter. 

“I sat on the tomatoes!” The words widely mouthed but barely heard. 

Agatha curled to the floor in giggles. Dust engulfed white linen pants and beige tunic. The whole tent well aware of who would win all three categories this year.

 


Submitted: October 10, 2021

© Copyright 2021 S.K Nguyen. All rights reserved.

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Comments

panteleon

enjoyed your short story S.K. Nguyen. It has a tight structure and the two antagonists are well drawn. I admire Ethel’s ‘monsterous tactics’ in growing her wild flower seeds compared to Agatha’s squeezing and picking the top four.

You have been kind enough to read my work in the past and I’d really like to have your feed back on my latest diamond poem called ‘Defiance’.

Enjoy your writing !

Fri, October 15th, 2021 11:25am

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