From Concentrate

by Matsen Hartsoe


            Jim’s wife, Anne, died from a pulmonary embolism at age 72. Two weeks later, he stood staring down at her vegetable garden. Rows of slender zucchini lay alongside their emerald cucumber brethren, flanked on both sides by wire cages which supported columns of Cherokee Purple tomatoes. These had reached the light shade of maroon which indicated they were just ripe enough to pick and enjoy between two slices of toasted sourdough and some mayonnaise, but not so ripe that they would crumble into mealy chunks when they were pulled off the vine. Patches of golden summer squash and a few vines of colorful bell peppers rounded out a scene that would be right at home on the cover of Fine Gardening. Jim spat on the tomato plant closest to him and watched as a sizeable dollop of spittle rolled down the soft purple flesh, finally falling onto the ground and staining the dry soil a darker shade of brown. He walked back inside the house, returning after a moment with a plastic canister full of weed killer. He pulled a painter’s mask over his mouth, heeding the advice of the clerk at A.J.’s Hardware: “That’s some nasty stuff right there, you best be careful.” Jim unscrewed the large red cap and began dumping the liquid onto the vegetable plants; it fell in thick glops that splashed over everything, running off the vegetables and forming acrid pools in the soil. He stepped back and watched the fumes rise from the poisoned garden, sweating and panting under the September sun.

 

            In the kitchen, Jim poured himself a glass of orange juice. The bottom of the label read, in small letters: “From concentrate.” Anne would have had a fit. He turned to examine the pictures on the counter. A photo of him and Anne on their wedding day sat inside a small white frame pushed back against the wall, behind a larger wooden frame that was turned face down into the granite countertop. He picked up the wooden frame and carried it over to the table, where he propped it up next to the window. It was a photo of Anne, beautiful even in old age, a zucchini flower tucked behind her ear, standing next to her vegetable garden with a basket under her arm. He had taken the picture just before the garden’s first harvest two Septembers ago, and had noticed a look in her eyes that day he’d never seen before. “I figure you’d want to see this,” Jim said aloud. He pulled out a chair at the table next to the window and smiled, squinting his eyes against the setting sun and peering out at the picturesque garden. He sipped his orange juice and waited for all of it to die.

 

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