Killer Tomatoes
Michelle Ross

The man who calls himself Uncle Rick, but who isn’t Lindsey’s uncle, knocks on the door of the house just as fog fills a darkened doorway on the television screen and the figure of Elvira emerges. Cut to a lightning bolt, then a rickety mansion, and then back to Elvira as she stumble-dances down the dark hallway, her immense cleavage dissolving into a flame. In the next shot, she’s lying on that red chaise lounge. She says, Hello, darling, and welcome to the show.

Through the crack between the door and its frame, Lindsey says, “Shana isn’t here.”

The man who calls himself Uncle Rick glows red beneath the porchlight, a novelty Christmas bulb Lindsey’s mother has yet to replace, though it’s March. He says, “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”

Lindsey isn’t going to invite him in, but Cheyenne gets up from the couch. She’s wearing what she calls her Madonna shirt, a white lace tank top that is see-through. She fingers the chain lock as though it’s an exposed bra strap. “Who do we have here?”

He says, “You can call me Uncle Rick.”

“He’s not my uncle,” Lindsey says.

What he is: an on-again, off-again hook-up of her mother’s, a man who has meandered in and out of their lives for years, like a stray cat scratching at their door for a can of tuna when the hunting’s slow.

This time around he’d been away a couple of years. Then last Sunday Lindsey woke to find him sitting at the kitchen table while her mother made pancakes from a box. He held up the syrup bottle, his index finger pressed against the glass woman’s sexless pillow of a bosom and said, “Shana, what is this shit? It sure as hell isn’t maple syrup.” When he turned and saw Lindsey, his eyes seemed to stick to her like chewing gum she couldn’t remove all the gluey threads of. He said, “I remember when you were no taller than my thighs. Now look at you. You have ten boyfriends?” She pictured herself sawed into ten equal pieces, like a piece of lumber. Her mother said, “She’s barely thirteen.” He said, “That don’t mean a thing.”

Now he says, “I didn’t say I was your uncle.”

Cheyenne unhooks the chain. “Your hands steady?” She cocks her hip and wiggles her toes.
“Lindsey’s paint job looks like a toddler finger-painting.”

He says, “I don’t paint toenails.” He’s looking at Lindsey, not Cheyenne. It’s like Jason Kink all over again. Cheyenne practically handing herself over on a platter, but the boy—in this case, man—licking his lips at Lindsey, who is offering nothing.

Elvira announces the night’s film, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! Then she says, “Speaking of grabbers, I have a few choice words for that guy in the supermarket who grabbed me by the tomatoes!”

Cheyenne laughs. So does the man who calls himself Uncle Rick. His gut quakes. It’s like the hard mound of earth marking the gravesite of Lindsey’s late pet guinea pig, Sweet Dreams Are Made of This.

Lindsey thinks about how delicate tomatoes are. Grab them too roughly, and they rupture. Elvira’s breasts look anything but delicate. More like bowling balls: set them loose down a lane, and they’d decimate every pin in their way.

Then man who calls himself Uncle Rick turns to Lindsey. “I should call you Licorice Sticks. Those legs of yours go all the way up to your neck.”

She pictures an overlay in a science textbook: a transparent plastic sheet printed with the lower half of her body and beneath that, a regular paper page printed with her whole body. The overlay version of her vagina lines up perfectly with her paper mouth. Like some kind of sex monster.

Cheyenne says, “Daddy Long Legs. Like the spider? That’s what we call her.” She props her toes up on the coffee table, opens the bottle of black polish. “It’s not fair she has big boobs when she’s so skinny. Skinny girls are supposed to be flat.”

The man who calls himself Uncle Rick says, “Says who?”

When Cheyenne introduced Lindsey to Elvira, Lindsey said, “Is she supposed to be some sort of a monster?” Cheyenne said, “What? You mean her monster boobs?” Lindsey said, “That’s not what I mean.” She’d wondered if Elvira was a vampire. Still, Cheyenne had been right in some way. It isn’t just the dress, hair, and make-up that make Elvira seem monstrous.

Lindsey says, “Stop talking about my body.”

Cheyenne snorts.

On the television, a woman washes dishes. A strange gibberish sound issues from the sink. In the drain, a tomato wriggles. The tomato shimmies onto the counter and down to the floor. The woman backs away. She screams. What the tomato does to her, if it does anything, happens off camera. The opening credits begin.

Cheyenne grins, says, “This is going to be hilarious. Is there anything more ridiculous than killer tomatoes?”

Not so long ago, Lindsey would have agreed that killer tomatoes topped the chart of absurdity. She isn’t so sure anymore, though. The idea of this man, who once propped her up on his shoulders at a Mardi Gras parade so she could see the floats, and who is about three times her age, now wanting to stick his dick in her seems every bit as farfetched as a killer tomato. But the way he’s looking at her, as though he’s considering an extravagant purchase, suggests otherwise.

Or take Jason Kink grabbing her breasts with the casual ease with which he lifts his backpack and lunchbox when the school bus appears. He told her that her own best friend told him Lindsey wanted him to touch her but was too shy to say anything. Lindsey called him a liar. But later, when Lindsey confronted her, Cheyenne said, “Are you kidding? You should thank me!”

Now Cheyenne says to Lindsey, “Maybe this is just the beginning.”

“What?” Lindsey says.

“Your boobs. Maybe they mean you’re going to get fat all over. Like you know how when you blow up those long, skinny balloons, the balloons plump up in just one little section at first? But then as you keep blowing, the rest of the balloon catches up?”

The man who calls himself Uncle Rick laughs with his hand on his belly as though to prevent it from experiencing the other fate of balloons.

Lindsey says, “I’m not a balloon.” Then she says, “Like I said, Shana isn’t here. And I don’t know when she’s coming back.”

“Who says I came by to see your mother?” he says. “How about going for a ride?”

Cheyenne says, “Where to?”

“Where do you want to go?”

Lindsey says, “It’s late.”

Cheyenne says, “A million miles away.”

“A million miles away it is.”

Cheyenne jumps up and grabs her purse. “You think the tomatoes are fanged like Dracula? Or that they slash their victims like the killers in Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre?”

Lindsey says, “Why don’t we stay and find out?”

His hand on the front door, the man who calls himself Uncle Rick says, “Maybe they kill in a way that you can’t imagine.”

Again, Cheyenne laughs. Like Elvira, Cheyenne laughs at everything, even the scary movies that aren’t supposed to be funny.

Lindsey wonders if the man who calls himself Uncle Rick is correct, that her imagination is stunted in this respect. But then he opens the door, and the red glow of the porchlight washes over him again, only this time, the light feels like a cue. Like lightning or cacophonous music in a horror movie. She can’t know for certain what will happen, but she is learning to anticipate the unthinkable.

Michelle Ross’s debut story collection, There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, won the 2016 Moon City Press Fiction Award and is forthcoming in 2017. She serves as fiction editor for Atticus Review. Her work has appeared in The Common, Gulf Coast, Hobart, SmokeLong Quartery, and other journals.