Tomatoes and tattoos
By Ruth Z. Deming
He is the last of the Porter Family. I hardly know him though I knew his
brother Tom and his daddy, Luke.
Drunks all of them.
They live on the next street, a street that reminds us of a big ladder
going straight up and then it spirals downward.
Is that ever tough to walk when I follow either Mailman Dante or Mailman
Sean, settled on the side of the road in that gorgeous milky white truck
with many mirrors on the sides and back.
Each mailman relaxes in his truck. They each have a fan for hot days
like today. Dante drinks some sort of sugar water. Today the water, I
swear to God, was blue as the sea, with a wide mouth.
Once I asked him, “Don’t you get hot?”
“I hydrate myself,” he said.
Because I have very few people to talk to, I have unburdened myself to
Dante. Of course I could kick myself for doing so, but maybe he doesn’t
remember my saying, “I am working on my memoirs.”
Or, that I like to mail things out after I get a check, undoubtedly one
of those $50 reward checks after paying my credit card bill.
Mailman Sean is too young to be interested in these conversations though
I did commend him on his new earrings.
This morning Bob Porter cut through my backyard. I saw his head swivel
back and forth as he looked around the neighborhood.
I wanted to ask, “What are you looking for? Free beer? Free jewelry
someone may have dropped?”
The man is covered with tattoos.
And me, with my big mouth, asked him, “Did you get those in… “
“No,” he said, with his cap on backwards, I got them before.”
I had been friends with his daddy – they called him “Pop” – who had a
gut like a pregnant woman. I would drive over up the hill in the winter
and bring him a pot of home-made split pea soup with chunks of hot dogs
inside or matzoh ball soup from a Manishewitz Mix, and we would sit at
the table and enjoy ourselves. Meantime, Harry was brewing some Folger’s
Coffee in his Mr. Coffee Machine. The kitchen smelled wonderful.
Harry was in his early 90s when he passed from an instant death heart
Penny called up and told me. She was his live-in companion.
He would wear a dark blue cap across his bald head that read, Tar Heels.
That’s where Pop was from, North Carolina. He never lost his accent, or
His house was never empty.
He had a huge grandfather clock and would take out a big key and show me
how he would wind it up.
Hope he didn’t mind I never went to his funeral.
No real point.
Everything I learned about that son of his, the last one, I learned by
standing out on the street and talking to him.
Remember, the street was on a slant, and I have a bad leg from having
sciatica. It is a very long nerve from my ankle to my buttocks that
pulsates with pain.
Just because you’ve been in jail doesn’t mean you can’t tend a garden.
Bob invited me into the back yard to see his garden one day last week.
I pulled up my blue face mask.
The garden was tiny.
Vines of tomatoes were growing every which way. Colors ranged from
bright red – “Those are Big Boys,” he told me – to pale red, as they
were lagging behind. Would they ripen before the growing season was over?
Suddenly the side door burst open and a woman walked out.
“Ya know Christa?” he asked.
I sort of bowed.
“Well, I’ve seen you around,” I said.
“Me and Bob, well, we’re partners.”
“Sort of,” said Bob. “We have our differences.”
Is jealousy part of the problem? I would wait until another day before
bringing it up.
Meantime, Christa ran into the house, brought out a bag that said,
“Target,” and filled it with ripe tomatoes and a big fat eggplant.
“What do I do with the eggplant?” I said. “I’ve only eaten it at
“Eggplant parm,” she said, nodding her shoulder-length blonde hair.
Hmm, I thought. I will figure this out. This is a real treasure. Cooking
shows were on in the night time. Lidia’s Kitchen boasted every
conceivable food made with tomatoes and spices like basil and lamb’s
ear. I watched from the only television in my house, in my bedroom,
where I lay propped up on two pillows.
Often I talked to myself.
“Lidia, what kind of vino are we gonna have with the meal?”
I would think real hard and see if I felt like going downstairs to my
refrigerator and pulling off the cork of some red wine my friend Evelyn
had left here and decide. “Nah, once I’d start, I would finish whatever
was left in the bottle and wake up with a goddamn hangover.”
Look, Bob wasn’t going to rape anyone else.
Or was he?
I felt perfectly safe and always locked my doors at night. Except the
side door, but no one is aware of that. It’s even got the name of a
security firm on the door.
On a breezy day, the kind of day you feel you’re going to live forever,
I went into the side yard of the Porters and sat down on a pile of
I held out my hand and Christa put an oval shaped green pepper in my hand.
“Thank YOU!” I said.
I took a tiny bite.
I paused a moment.
“I expect the two of you have jealousy issues.”
We all sat at a round glass table with wrought-iron chairs.
Porter pulled up his dungarees and began to get up.
He had a good job, walking to the train station, and riding to the
Richmond Tool Company where they were demolition experts.
“Oh, c’mon,” I said, “a big tough, Arnold Schwarzenegger tough guy like
you, can sit here and have a decent conversation, right?”
He laughed and straightened his cap onto his head.
“Christa, what are your thoughts?”
Her face changed. She put her head in her hands and let it fall onto the
I remembered watching a documentary on TV about how Greta Garbo’s face
was the most expressive in the history of movies.
“Look,” I said. “We all live in the neighborhood. Huntingdon Dales is
the name. Porter, your dad would have known this.”
I had an idea.
“One of you – either Christa or Porter – go in a brew a cup of coffee.
Hope you still have Folger’s. We’re gonna talk this thing out.”
I began dreaming of being the therapist for Huntingdon Dales.