Poached Tomatoes

Someone has been eating my tomatoes.

Is it my snaggle-toothed neighbor? I don't think so, for even if he were of a mind to pilfer the ripening fruit, I doubt that he is nimble enough to scale the wall that separates our second floor balconies, where the tomatoes grow in enormous green plastic pots. No. The neighbor is not limber, and certainly not ambitious. He seldom plays more than a few related notes in a row on his electric guitar. Instead sounds tumble from his apartment, willy-nilly, video games, arguments, disconnected notes. He is not the sort to raid the tomato crop. Maybe if I were growing Pop Tarts, he would be a more likely suspect.

The tomato-eater is well organized. It eats only the ripest of the tomatoes, sucking out the best flesh and juice, and leaving the skin to hang on the plant. The eviscerated fruit remains on the vine, a cruel joke for me to discover in the morning.

Might the tomato-eater have a long, pointy snout? I am beginning to think so, based on the size and shape of the holes in the tomatoes. Last night I dreamed the culprit was a wombat, but this theory has been thoroughly denounced by all I have told. "Wombats live in Australia," my mother says with some authority, "not in Mountain View." In any event, I've seen pictures and a wombat has a blunt, not pointy, snout. I have no idea whether they even like tomatoes.

Perhaps it's a rat. Those scuffling, scrabbling, gnawing noises at night -- rodent sounds. "Is it a roof rat or a Norwegian rat?" Tom asks on the phone earlier tonight. I am not in tune with nuances of the local rat population. "Roof rat," I say, since I have heard it scuttling around on the roof, but I haven't heard it speak any Norwegian. Should it make a difference? Are there good urban rats and bad urban rats? The last rat I've encountered with any sort of appeal was a character in Wind in the Willows.

So tonight we set a rat trap. It is a device horrible in appearance, a mouse trap writ large, sadistic in scale. Peanut butter is the lure (although I'm half-tempted to put a ripe tomato on the trigger). As I write this, there is a loud snap, and some thuds. The trap is gone when I shine a flashlight out onto the balcony. I am full of remorse, no small amount of guilt, and perhaps a little dread.

I hope it went over to our neighbor's balcony for its swan song.

Sometimes I'd rather a mystery remained a mystery.


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