By Audrey L’Amie
Tomato stem

Grandma slides the garage door open, and we begin to lay newspapers on the floor. The smell of oil and wet wood mixes with the cool morning air.

“Not like that.” Grandma grimaces, watching as I flap open newspapers, letting them fall where they may. “Every year, for thirty years, I have had to tell you to lay them in straight lines.”

“I know, I’d think you’d learn,” I say seriously. “Sad, really.”

“Cheeky.”

We work until the floor is covered. I turn, taking the handles of the wheelbarrow, and we move to the garden. Large green tomatoes, mostly Better Boys and Early Girls, weigh down plants in plump rows. We begin to pick and gently place them in the wheelbarrow.

“Well,” she says, tucking stray hairs under her oversized straw hat. “Tell me how things are.”

“Which things?”

“Anythings,” she says.

“There’s nothing new really. But I think I am now fully qualified to teach Fiscal Creativity 101.”

She waits, and I explain. “I have a disconnect notice for my electricity. My house insurance is due. And, I need a car.”

“That’s all, is it?” Her tone is at once wry and worried.

“I’ve decided that the bank should give me the money to buy a car. And, while they’re at it, they might as well give me extra to help me out with the other bills, too.”

“Why should they do that?”

“If I point out that I have two loans that are secured with cars

I don’t know if I am self-confident or self-delusional.

already in the junk yard, they are likely to want me to combine the loans, and I’ll need to get another car to secure the loan. Meanwhile, I’ll write checks for the other bills and poke pinholes into the routing numbers at the bottom.”

“What on earth for?” She pauses, a tomato in each hand.

“Their machines can’t process them, so the check will have to be processed by hand. And that,” I say happily, “takes awhile. It’ll buy me three to four days.”

“So, you are going to make them do extra work, so that you have time to take more of their money?”

“Yup.”

She laughs, leaning on the wheelbarrow. “Such sisu.”

“Sisu?” I question.

She considers for a long while, wiping dirt from a tomato face, and finally looks up.

“Sisu,” she says, “is hard to translate into English, so I’ll tell you a story that was told to me.” She leans forward eagerly. “Two Finnish soldiers are in a foxhole, surrounded by a thousand enemies. One soldier comments on how terrible their situation is. The other soldier agrees, saying it is, indeed, terrible that they will be forced to spend so much time burying the dead.”

“Great,” I laugh. “Now I don’t know if I am self-confident or self-delusional.”

“That has always been the question.”

I see her smirk, and it takes me a moment to catch up. “Well, my plan will work, you’ll see.”

“I know,” she says. “Sisu.”

On the newspapers, we situate tomatoes side by side, letting them ripen slowly in the cool, steady temperature of the garage.

Tomato stem2Audrey L’Amie is an English instructor and writer. More of her works can be found in Migrations: Poetry and Prose for Life’s Transitions and Beauty of Diversity Beyond Male Perspective. She is currently working on a novel, The Depth of Winter.