From the Tehachapi Mountains into the valley I drove at a steady but cautious pace because I was both excited and tired from the long journey. I was determined to remain positive as I passed brown sun-baked grass and dried up orchards. Town after town flew by, few of them thriving or prospering, and it shook my confidence.
What did I have to look forward to? I remembered the words of my brother. “There will be no rent . Just take care of the place. Everything is in tip-top shape. You won’t need anything.” Those promises were comforting as I prepared to collapse and relax when I finally stopped in the drive-way of my new home.
I had already inspected the house and grounds so when the moving van arrived, workers I had hired were ready to unload. Everything I had was unloaded with care in the hopes nothing was broken there.
While furniture was set up in designated locations I mused over discrepancies in what I expected and what was reality. The house was not in good shape. The exterior had recently been painted blue and looked nice but the interior needed some repair. The bathrooms were my biggest concern because minerals in the water had corroded the copper lines and the shower heads were plugged. The toilets were so rusted out they needed to be replaced. Throughout the house major cleaning was necessary along with minor repairs.
Outside, the yard was enormous and green. Then I saw the fruit trees and stared openmouthed. “This is a Garden of Eden!” I stated emphatically. There were peaches, nectarines, pomegranates, persimmons, oranges, grapes, pears, figs, and more. I thought, “This is where I can begin a new life.”
With over three acres of orchard and lawn the house had to have a name. “Green Acres” was a fitting name because I was from the city learning country life over again. It would be like the TV series and it would be fun.
During the first week I celebrated each time I emptied a box and put its contents away. The pile of empty boxes grew taller until one day I flattened them out and took them to the recycling center. I was trying to do my part in the recycling effort.
I planted a garden in my spare time. Hot days, warm nights and water brought rapid growth. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and watermelon were soon thriving. I eventually got a bumper crop of tomatoes but the rest of the produce? The rabbits and ground squirrels had their way. But that’s another story or two.
“Four tomatoes for a dollar! Four tomatoes for a dollar!”
I watched as eager customers hurried towards her. The tomatoes looked ordinary, yet people were patiently waiting in line. In reality I guessed it was not the tomatoes that drew people to her booth, but her own ability to mesmerize crowds by her mannerisms and antics. I studied her more closely as I looked for signs of magic or hypnotism.
A small crowd gathered at the downtown farmer’s market listening and watching every move. Her voice floated down the aisles, “Four tomatoes for a dollar!”
At first glance I saw nothing unusual. Her features did not demand attention. She had short brown hair, a pleasant smile, and a mature body with generous hips and breasts. In this part of the world that was common. But what was different? I listened closely. Her voice had a distinctive ring to it. When she spoke, everyone stopped what they were doing and faced her.
Her eyes searched everyone, looking for the bravest and the most curious. The group wiggled and squirmed as if they were on a hot plate. “I’ll take some,” a small woman shouted. “Perhaps they’ll make me taller and more beautiful.”
No one suggested that there was no chance for that. They were caught in the moment, believing the tomatoes were magical. The crowd surged forward, pushing and shoving and the tomatoes sold quickly.
Even I was spellbound before I woke from my stupor and bought the last basket. “Beware of the fourth tomato,” she whispered. “It’s very special. You’ll see,” she stated ambiguously.
Since her tomatoes were gone, she waved goodbye to those who were still milling about. Her words continued to echo inside my head. “You’ll see. You’ll see.”
As evening approached the fourth tomato seemed to emit a red glow but the glow faded and was soon gone. It had to be my imagination. But when it was completely dark the vendor’s words returned. “Beware of the fourth tomato.”
Eagerly I bit into the first tomato. Nothing happened. No genii appeared and showered me with money. No magic carpet appeared and I didn’t get smarter.
I stuffed the second tomato into my mouth. Juice splattered everywhere, running down my chin and onto my shirt. Still nothing. “This is disappointing,” I murmured.
I sliced the third tomato and nibbled each piece daintily. If I showed I had manners, maybe magical powers would descend on me. I waited patiently, but just like the first two times nothing happened.
“Every tomato in this basket looked the same. The first three tasted like ordinary tomatoes. How could the fourth tomato be any different?”
I had already eaten three tomatoes and I didn’t feel like eating another one. I started to throw the tomato into a dumpster but small movement caught my eye.
An old woman staggered from behind a bundle of rags and cardboard boxes. She motioned me closer. “Please, sir,” she croaked. “Give me your spare change so I can have one last meal.”
I didn’t want to give any money away. Did she think I was some kind of fool? Quickly I said, “You’re in luck. I have a special treat for you. See this lovely tomato? It’s magic.”
I placed it in her hand and walked off, feeling pretty smug with myself. I didn’t have to share my money and I could feel charitable after giving the tomato to the old lady.
“Sir?” The woman’s voice was different. “Sir-r-r-r-r.” she purred. “Please come back.”
I turned around and gasped. The old woman wearing rags had changed into a beautiful young woman, her shapely form revealed even in the darkness.
“Where did you come from?” I asked.
“Sir, you gave me a tomato. I took a bite and here I am.”
That was my magic tomato! I snatched it from her outstretched hand and took a big bite. Juice squirted in several directions. If the fourth tomato could change the old woman, it could also change me. Expecting immediate results I danced in front of her. “How do you like me now?” I croaked.
Something was wrong! I was not young and athletic. My legs wobbled and my balance was off. I stretched out my hands. They were wrinkled and old. What had the tomato’s magic done to me?
I faced the young woman. “I love you.” Why did I tell her that? The words spilled out of their own volition. I had no control of what I was saying or doing.
“Get away,” the woman shrieked. “You’re hideous. I don’t know you. I don’t want to have anything to do with you.”
“Please let me explain,” I said hoarsely.
She continued to back away, her eyes wide with fear. I stood still, confused by all that had transpired. We were both different and I didn’t like it. How could the magic be undone?
But the magic was still at work. As dawn’s first tendrils of light reached into the darkness, energy poured into my body. My youth was returning. I raised my head to give thanks.
Even as I grew younger and stronger, the young woman was aging. “I love you,” she whispered. The magic was returning both of us to our original state of being.
But as before, I was wrong. Every morning and every evening our lives changed as we passed each other in youth and old age. We were put together by magic and the outcome was already set. There was nothing to do by accept our fate. I grew to love her frailties and she mine. We thought it would be until the end of time. But I was wrong.
I would like to say we lived happily ever after and that would be partially true. But that’s not how magic usually works. It teaches a lesson.
In a dream I was given a choice, a choice that left me in a quandary.
Sweat dripped profusely from my brow. Once I decided what I wanted there would be no turning back. What should I do? Would my choice be “Old woman during the day/young woman at night?” Or should I choose “Young woman during the day/old woman at night?”
The dream was as real as it could be. I knew things would never be the same. I awoke still undecided. But while I lay there an arm flopped across my chest. Startled, I opened my eyes. Next to me my wife lay peacefully dreaming. She looked younger today than yesterday.
I slipped out of bed and walked into the bathroom. I glanced into the mirror. I had gotten older.
I returned to bed but this time my wife watched me with interest.
“I had a dream,” she said. “We were both old and young at different times. I was not comfortable being separated from you. I realized that I’m enjoying growing old with you.”
My worries about growing old were forgotten. I just needed to enjoy my life every day, morning and evening, and take life as it came. I pulled her close. “I love you,” I said simply. Being young or old didn’t matter as much as loving each other just the way we were. Life would always be good if I kept that perspective.