Take cover!

Do not expect moral edification here. Don’t look for a message. The story below is all about military operations against innocent tomatoes.

You’ve been warned.

Once when I was young, I made myself a commando. Briefly. My comrades and I sacrificed ourselves on a bold and daring mission.

Our goal?


Why not?

I was 9, freshly moved into a suburban neighborhood from the popcorn farm[1]of my earliest memory, and I was bored.

Tommy, Frank, Holly and I huddled under the fat oak tree behind my house, the one whose roots tore up bare dirt ground and whose leaves sheltered us from the fierce August sun.

Holly was pissed. She tossed carrot-red hair and wrinkled her nose.

“My mom won't let me take my shirt off. No fair!”

I wiped dripping sweat out of my eyes, blinking against the sting of it. “So? I don't see your mom here. Who cares?”

I wiped my hand on cutoff denim shorts, the only fabric covering my body. We all looked the same, except for Holly with her grungy tee-shirt.

She shrugged. “I'm bored. What are we gonna do? Let's run under the sprinkler again!”

“Yeah!” I crowed, as I started to pivot, preparing to run.

Frank stopped us with a sharp snort. “We can't! Remember? Your little brother stepped on it and broke it last night. Stupid baby!”

“Dang it to heck,” I cursed.

Frank piped up, “I know! Let's be soldiers again and do a mission. Come on!”

We elected Holly chief. She always had the best ideas. Nothing scared her.

We crept through alleys behind back yards. Crawled through dust and gravel that scratched red tracks across our chests. At least Holly had that filthy rag of a shirt to protect her.

“Keep your heads down, damn it!” she growled. “Enemy in sight!”

Mrs. Johnson was puttering about her back yard, doing something stoopid boring with flowers.

“Don't let her see us!”

Frank coughed. Dry rasps. He'd been sick. Mrs. Johnson's head whipped around.

Tommy and I pulled in hisses of air and held our breath. I felt Holly squeeze my ankle till it burned with pain.

I shook her off.

“Stop moving!” she hissed.

I stuck out my tongue.

Mrs. Johnson scanned the bushes for a while, shook her head, and finally meandered toward the kitchen door, fumbling to open it around a handful of zenias and marigolds.

We froze in place forever to make sure she wasn’t coming back. Felt like forever. Maybe it was really 20 seconds. OK, maybe 10.

“Go go go go!” Holly ordered. “Charge!”

We scampered like filthy, starving rabbits into the garden, trying to be silent as we collided with one another and swore, fearful glances toward the house interfering with our bumpy bumbling.

My heart pumped adrenaline into my body. Tiny hairs spiked electric all over me. I gulped in deep breaths and grabbed as many ripe tomatoes as I could get my hands on.

A shriek sent me jumping into the sky.

“Hey, you kids! What the! Get the goddam hell outta my garden!”

My heart all but exploded!

I leapt and ran so fast my lungs caught fire. I sprinted down the alley and through the park, bolted around the block. I couldn’t hear a thing except the wind in my ears and my bare feet smacking sun-fired sidewalk squares.

Holly jerked my arm. “Stop,” she gasped. “Come on, man. Stop!”

She pulled and we collapsed into the green grass of some stranger's front lawn, panting.

“Where's Tommy and Frank?” I wanted to know.

“Babies couldn't keep up,” she snorted, holding out both her hands to wave around two plump, ripe tomatoes. “See? I still got mine. Mission accomplished!”

I looked down at my own hands to see I was also clutching my blood-red booty, even if the fruit was a little crushed.

Holly and I lolled on the cool grass in the shade of an elm. We ate our tomatoes, which tasted all the sweeter for that tangy viney smell that only tomatoes fresh from the garden ever have.

When you’re nine years old, though, it pays to be more choosy about your commando targets.

Mrs. Johnson only lived three doors down from me.

Holly and I both got spankings after supper that night.

Nobody ever said a soldier's life was easy.



Writer. Runner. Marine. Airman. Former LGBTQ and HIV activist. Former ActUpNY and Queer Nation. Polyglot. Middle-aged, uppity faggot. jamesfinnwrites@gmail.com