Tomato learning.

A car ran a red and Christian Arthur’s legs had cracked like china plate.  His head had bounced off the road like a rubber ball and the doctors said if the impact was any harder he might be in a coma.  He was outside his apartment for first time since the accident, hunching on his crutches like a scarecrow and stared at the busy street, the whiz of traffic making his hands sweat.  He remembered the screech of tire, pain and air and hard asphalt.  He closed his eyes and let out a long shaky breath, his head ached and he stuck a finger under the dressing around his forehead trying to relieve the pressure.

Christian’s pocket began vibrating.  He frowned, that’d be nine times now, he thought.  He’d got a call from his boss in the hospital wanting to know when he’d be back to work.  Something about schedules.  Sighing he moved his hand to answer it, but a boom of thunder cracked and it started raining like the clouds had burst open, he cursed and turned up his collar.  The air was warm but the rain was like needs of ice and it chilled his scalp as it seeped through his short, trimmed, black hair and into his bandage.  He turned to go back inside.

‘Excuse me, sorry.  I’m looking for seventeen hundred Elsie street.’  A loud musical voice half shouted over the drumming clamour.

Christian flinched and saw a young woman with a blue hat, freckled nose and thick glasses.  She met his eyes and didn’t look at his crutches.  Her umbrella was big and sunflower yellow and she raised it over his head and sidled beside him.  Her brown hair was pinned under her hat and wispy strands fell across her neck.

‘Sorry, I’m looking for-‘

‘Seventeen hundred Elsie, yeah.  That’s two blocks up.’

Her eyes were a clear blue, and as she noddedher lips Christian noticed a single dimple on her left cheek.  He tucked a crutch in his arm pit and pointed in the direction of the address.  His phone began vibrating.  Eleven calls.

‘Thanks,’ she smiled.

‘Yeah, you’re welcome’ he said and flicked his eyes at her umbrella.

She raised an eyebrow.

‘Where’s yours?’

‘What? Oh, It’s fine, I live here,’ he said and gestured with his head over his shoulder at the building.

Her eyes lingered on the opulent lobby and then looked back at him.  ‘So you just really like rain?’  She asked, squinting.

‘No, I-I was in an accident.  First time home.’  He pointed to his bandage and her face turned red.  His phone rumbled.  Twelve.

She winced and bit her lip and then stuck out her hand and put the umbrella above them.

‘Haley.’

Christian managed to free his hand, grimaced, and shook hers.

‘Christian.  I’m not used to these things yet.’  His laugh was swallowed by the traffic.  The rain drummed evenly above their heads and Christian raised his voice leaning in.  ‘Never broken a bone before.  I used to tell people that.’  Haley smiled.

‘Now you get to tell them something new.’

‘Yeah, have to figure that out. What’s at seventeen hundred Elsie?’ He said.

‘A meeting for a job interview I don’t want.’

‘Ah,’ said Christian.

She chuckled and shuffled closer to him, frowning as a gust sprayed droplets across her glasses.  ‘I’m kidding.  I do want it.  Sort of.’  She took off her glasses and wiped them.  ‘A girl gotta eat.’  She put them back on.  Christian’s pocket vibrated again.  He wanted to keep talking to her.

‘I’d walk you, er, limp with you there, but you’ll be late’ he said.  She bit her lip and paused for half a second glacning at his crutches.  Christian began to turn towards his building.

‘Sure.  Let’s go.’

*

Christian entered Haley’s apartment and saw a black and white photo of a bearded man dressed in a poncho taped on the wall.  He was standing in front of a whaling ship with a sign, his face blank and staring.

‘That’s a friend.  He’s with Greenpeace.’

Christian nodded and told her about a beach cleanup he’d scheduled once, and laughing said he still wore the t-shirt to the gym sometimes.  She smiled and said, ‘I’ll show you around.  Pardon the mess, I like to call it the lived in feel.’  He chuckled and leaned his single crutch against the wall and walked forward gingerly.

‘I can manage,’ he said, seeing her concerned look.  She took his hand, and led him like a child into her living room.  Her arm quivered, but held his weight.

There was a dusty television on a movable cupboard angled like a half open door and a futon covered with quilts facing a window.

‘You have a great view,’ he said.

She shrugged, ‘If you like skyscrapers.’

Christian grinned, ‘I live in one.  That’s where we met.’  He limped in front of the dirty glass and pointed.

‘Right there.  There’s even a garden on the roof.’

‘I’ve got one in my backyard.’

‘Really?’

She pulled him outside, the air was wet and he heard a wind-chime.

‘It was my grandmother’s, it’s been making music for a long time,’ she said.  ‘She passed awhile go.’  Haley was still, and then she crouched like a child and pushed her fingers in the dirt and smiling, ‘I’ve got tomatoes here.’  Christian put his hands on his knees and bent over, careful to keep his shoes clean.

‘How long does it take before you can eat them?’

’Three and half months.’

Christian’s eyebrows rose but he said nothing and looked out into the street at the looming skyscrapers and he tried to see his but the night was dark.  Had he ever waited three months for anything?

‘You can buy them from plants and that only takes two.’

He looked down at her, her fingernails were black and she held up a sprout and its roots blowing in the breeze.

‘Ah.’

Haley gestured and Christian went back inside.  She slid the wooden screen door shut and told him to sit.  She began rifling her cupboards for food.

‘We can go out if you want, I know some great places.’

Haley waved him off, ‘I’ll make something.’

Christian sat at the table and smiled.

Two and a half months later they ate a fresh tomato salad and Christian swore it was the best thing he ever ate.

*

They laid in her bed and he was dead still, his breathing was shallow, as if a single bit louder would suddenly wake her.  He looked at the nightstand for his phone and then remembered he’d left it at home unplugged.  He was smiling as her head moved up and down on his chest.

*

Seventeen seconds to the elevator, sixty-three to the penthouse, and twenty seconds to the door.  That’s what sold Christian on the apartment.  Not the top floor, the marble sinks with motion sensors, or the floor to ceiling windows that made you feel like Zeus.

‘One hundred and nine’ he said, slouching and fished for his keys.  He stopped and rested his forehead on the smooth metal, hands slick with sweat.  Fumbling he dropped his black graphite keycard.

‘Damn.’

He was drunk and his intestines felt like they were being pulled through a pin hole.  He stumbled inside, shoes squeaking on the hardwood floor and he bumped in a large cardboard box.  The new espresso machine he’d ordered.  Why had he forgotten about it, he’d called UPS seven times about it being late.  Blinking he burped and laughed at it.  Christian flopped on his leather couch and a cream white memorial card slipped out of his suit jacket and fell on the floor.  Someone had pushed it into his hand when he’d got there, and he’d stuffed it away because he didn’t need it.  Looking down at the card he saw a wrinkle through a picture of Haley and he moaned and reached it but he slid off the couch and hit his head on the coffee table.

‘Damn.’

His electric fireplace flickered and the light played with his eyes and frowning at the dancing flames he blinked rapidly.  Why should they get to be alive?  His phone suddenly rang.  The dial tone piercing his skull like a laser. Christian staggered to his feet and groaned at the weight of alcohol and pain from his bump, he stumbled towards the phone and answered it before the second ring.

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