“Arkansas Traveler, Green Zebra”

I love you. I’m taking Cody. I’m leaving you forever.

There are all kinds of tomatoes in the world. Arkansas traveler, green zebra, black brandywine, Amana orange, pink mortgage lifters. You can make them into salsa, relish, spaghetti sauce, and catsup. You can bake or broil or puree or juice them. You can stuff them with cheese, ground beef, egg salad, or guacamole.

Don’t think I mention tomatoes as a clue. At least, not a specific clue. I don’t have a girlfriend in Crystal Springs, Mississippi, who was the former Tomato Queen. I don’t have an uncle in Napoleon, Ohio, the Tomato Capital of the World, who is night watchman at the soup factory there, offering to let us stay awhile, sleep on his sofa till we get back on our feet. It’s like this. There are all kinds of love in the world. I want the best for you, and I’m not it. You’re cool as a cucumber, even as the numbers two, four, six, eight, steady as water torture. I’m a jalapeno pepper, a skyrocket, a live coal. Multiply the seven dwarves by the sixty-four colors of crayon in the big box, by the fifty-seven varieties that the old horseradish bottler himself dreamed up as a logo. At least that many kinds. The old bottler was a numerology fiend. One of his advertisements in New York City was a forty-foot-long electric pickle. If numbers or neon could change my mind, I’d let them. I’d listen to any line of thought.

In fact, I already have. They’ve convinced me of only one thing. I’m still going. I want to be somewhere with a back yard, a tree to hang a swing from, at least a strip of dirt where I could put in a few tomato plants. With neighbors and a playground down the street and no busy highways nearby. No traffic roaring in my dreams, no horns and brake screech waking me at daybreak.

The tomatillo is a cousin of tomatoes, nightshades, ground cherries. It hides its fruits inside a papery skin. These days I’m also a husk. Sore back, grime and paint flecks on my skin that I can’t scrub away, cracked knuckles, hair falling out, hair going gray. Working overtime to set money aside.

I’m traveling light. So is Cody. One cardboard suitcase, one change of clothes, one photograph. A lady who collects things for the poor came this morning. She cleaned out my closet, my bureau, my bookcase. You can have the other pictures. Mine is a picnic when Cody was small, a flannel blanket spread out in the shade, a thermos bottle and a jug of wine, plastic dishes, an inflatable wading pool in the background. The three of us. I don’t know who took it. I don’t remember anyone else being there. We didn’t keep up with family and friends like we should have, back then. We turned down invitations. Didn’t reply to Christmas cards. We thought we were enough.

So this is it. When you get back from your business trip, you’ll find this note beneath the bumblebee magnet on the fridge. Goodbye.

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