The Tomatoes Will Grow On Their Own
April 25, 2011 Comments Off on The Tomatoes Will Grow On Their Own
Dominique has finally caught her breath. She focuses. In the palm of her hand life is simple, round and red. She breathes in the familiar fragrant, explores the soft warm skin with her lips. With the tips of her teeth she pulls at a tiny strip, presses her lips over the wound and sucks the gathered juices until the pulp gives. The divine tomato overcomes her palate and, for a second, Dominique forgets about the events that just took place.
She chews slowly, eyes fixed on the little faded labels which she carefully prepared last spring—Beefsteak, Golden Delight, Velvet Heart, Aurora, Love Apple—and which now stand crowded among the uprooted plants waiting to be swallowed by the earth. A trickle of juice runs down her chin and drips onto the white paper that she is trying to smooth out on her muddy thighs.
Dear Catherine, my friend since forever, my poor neglected friend,
Where to begin? It’s not easy after three years of silence, especially under the present circumstances. I have only one sheet of paper for this letter—I stole it this morning from Father’s desk—so please excuse the stains. Here I am in the greenhouse. It’s my green tunnel, my tunnel of life; it wraps around me, comforts me for everything. Since I’ve been living at Sainte-Félicie, I’ve spent almost all my time here. I grow tomatoes. With love and awareness, according to the principles of our community. It was my job. The season is ending and the earth is bare, the plants are dead but they have never smelled so good. The fruit develops better amid the old decomposing plants. Tomatoes are nourished by their own compost; their death guarantees their life.
Dominique would like to tear this letter up and start over, but finding more paper is now impossible. She could at least cross out the last lines, the little horticulture lesson… but what difference would it make? Another letter would be no better; the truth demands so much reworking! Dominique stretches out in the rich tilled soil freed of the roots that clung to it, the warm redolent soil crawling with insects and microbes. Through the half-open door, she surveys the edge of the trees.
On the other side of the woods, smoke has begun to announce to the world the changes that have been set in motion in the community. The firemen will doubtless be here soon. But the greenhouses are isolated, invisible from the main house, and the path leading to it begins discreetly and soon disappears. Dominique is calm; they will not look for her for quite some time. Her hair is spread out among the clods of dirt. How long does it take for hair to decompose? How many sunny days, cool nights, dewy mornings? Slugs would get caught in that vast barbed trap. Birds would harvest locks of it to carpet their nests. Earthworms would bury the rest in their burrows.
Yesterday evening Father summoned the members of the community to the special meeting that we had all been waiting for. I had put a big basket filled with my last harvest on the round table as an offering for the solemn event that we were about to experience. Against the white tablecloth, it was fairly bursting with joy, even if no one was thinking to eat it. Except me—you know how much of a gourmand I am, I haven’t changed. I dug in… The life of a ripe tomato spattered over everything. I got some on my robes.
For the first time in three years, Father had reprimanded her. “Go clean yourself up, and take this basket back to the kitchen. Heliopolis is a temple, not a cafeteria.” Dominique runs to the sink and frantically scrubs at the cloth, one ear cocked towards the group. Were they going to initiate the energy chain without her? Dominique hurries, tries to dry the wet part of her robe that is sticking to her thighs. The spot is still pink, the color of flesh trying to live, against the immaculate cold. Father had spoken so sharply to her. Did he suspect that doubt sometimes struck her in nauseating waves? But she resisted so hard, she refused to give shape to the mistrust by naming it. When Father asked her if she was ready for the transmigration, she would respond yes, luminous, glowing like a bride.
The first time I put on my ceremonial robes, I was so affected! You would have been too, Catherine, if you hadn’t changed your mind, if we had left together as planned; you would have cried too. In a circle, in our white robes, we hold hands, and I feel the energy, that tingling, that heat that pulses in my fingers, my arm, my whole body. My heart stumbles. It is hard to endure this swelling happiness; I want to open myself up, burst through my levees, explode. You understand this feeling. You too have felt too small for your life. Then we sing, all together, moved, overwhelmed. I feel that we are invested with an immense love, a love I would never have dared claim that I was capable of. Father glows more than any of us. His eyes meet mine and I begin to tremble, my knees turn to water. He calls my name. He chooses me to light the first candle in the candelabra. I do not feel worthy to do it, but I come forward, overcome, repentant, immensely grateful and happy. I am the bearer of the light! I renew within myself my vows to fight against darkness and I pronounce the words of the ritual. The memory of this first celebration has often comforted me.
When Dominique in her damp robe came back into the vault of Heliopolis, the members of the community were chanting the beginning of their cosmic song. So as not to disturb them, she stays in the shadows at the back of the room and tenderly observes the circle of her sisters, her brothers. Eyes closed, they sway gently, matching their voices to the recorded instrumental music. At the center, Father, their focal point, their guide, raises his arms and begins to spin in a circle. He directs an invisible orchestra with immoderate gestures. He exhorts the group to sing louder, he shouts for someone to turn up the volume; the simplistic synthetic music crackles distorted out of the cheap machine. Father becomes ecstatic; his face turns red, he shouts sounds that only he can decipher. He hops, trips, windmills, gets his balance. Dominique looks away. Resist the onslaught of doubt. Accept this ritual that expresses the splendor of their faith. Not hide within herself at this instant of communion. Cope. She makes herself keep watching. In spite of the absurdity that creeps in, in spite of the sparking madness, in spite of the desire to flee.
A fly buzzes in a spider web. A disoriented bird flies into the greenhouse and smashes into the glass wall. Dominique jumps. A multitude of feathers twirl and drift in the humid afternoon: one last dance in a fluttering world, as if, shocked by their dispersal, the feathers were attempting madly to seduce a virgin flesh who would bring them back together again.
You remember our bird cemeteries, Catherine, the burials, the ceremonies, when we were ten and we were the high priestesses of our universe? I would have loved to know how to keep the birds from hitting the windows. In this manmade world, a bird sees sky where there isn’t any. He takes off and breaks himself mid-flight without understanding what’s happening to him. We do not know the roads of birds. They crisscross to infinity, and we know nothing of them, and one day we build on one of these paths a greenhouse, a house, a tower that mirrors the heavens. And the birds collide with the illusion of the sky.
The music had stopped, and the return of silence imposed peace and solemnity. “Dominique-Lug!” Father calls her with a benevolent authority impossible to contest. The circle opens to receive her. She so loves the calm faces of these beings with whom she shares her daily life, her dreams, her ideals. Marie-Ceres. Michel-Orion. Daniel-Balaam. Françoise-Amrita. They had welcomed her—her, Dominique, the prodigal child—as if she had always had her place in this spiritual family. Father takes her hands. He needs her. They all need her. They are ready to live on another plane of consciousness, to vibrate at the solar scale. The time has come now to transmigrate. Once they are engaged in the passage of attainment, no one will be able to turn back. Whatever obstacles they may encounter, they must not be frightened; they will be but projections of the spirit. But to traverse the passage will require incredible energy, warns Father. “Dominique-Lug! In the purity of your heart there is more energy than in all the rest of us combined, do you realize that?” Father had confidence in her. She would prove herself worthy to be one of these chosen. “We will transmigrate tomorrow at noon.”
The fly is no longer buzzing. A spider climbs Dominique’s hand. A drop of condensation falls with a plop onto the letter and dissolves the ink of one black word.
Catherine, in the Sainte-Félicie community, I have become a being of light and now my place is in another dimension. I know that can be hard to accept. I’m the one Father asked to manage the transit to the Source. He affirmed that I was the only one strong enough to depart unaided, after the others. My twenty-seven brothers and sisters gathered together in Heliopolis; they took soporifics and prayed themselves to sleep. At noon I set off the incendiaries. I didn’t watch the big house burn. I took refuge in the green-house. I ate a forgotten tomato.
I drank half of the bottle prepared for me by Françoise-Amrita, our nurse. I was in no hurry—I was thinking of you, I was remembering our friendship, our childhood, and I put the flask down to finish this letter. I don’t know what will happen with my transmigration now. A bird came and crashed into the greenhouse. I jumped, and I knocked over the bottle. The ground swallowed it all. I tried to eat the dirt, but my body wouldn’t have it.
Writing is becoming difficult. Perhaps I will reach the Source after all. Dear, dear Catherine, if by some miracle my letter reaches you, know that all my love goes toward you. We will be together again one day.
The light of the setting sun brushes Dominique’s forehead. Exhausted, curled up in a ball in the dark compost, it feels as if her body has turned itself inside out like a glove, as if it has emptied itself by every possible avenue. Too weak to move, shivering, clammy, Dominique remains motionless among her excretions. She sees that her letter to Catherine is ruined. She waits.
Eyelids heavy, she notices through her lashes a little square that is still getting sun, close to her belly. A miniature window on her organic ejections, among which she can make out a tomato seed. One glorious seed. Dominique cannot help thinking about the provenance of that seed, retracing its course: churned inside her, crushed but never destroyed, unscathed now after its long journey, ready to reclaim life.
The sun has disappeared. On the other side of the woods, the main house is still smoking. The people of Sainte-Félicie will long fear the ghosts of the community of the Source. The greenhouses will be left to ruin and the tomatoes will grow on their own.
[by Johanne Alice Coté, translated fall 2010 by yours truly]