She Foraged for the Sweetest Fruit by Starlight

She closed the book and placed it on the table. It was time to go. She would not wait for him any longer, even though Edward had said, “Stay at home, love, and wait for me,” because that must have been hours ago, days ago, even…and where was he?

Out picking blackberries, she thought. He with that old hat pulled over his bare head and a couple of pails, whistling something happy.

Once, she would have gone with him. But that was before she fell down the stairs and everyone said next time she might break a hip, so no more blackberry picking for her. And now it was dark outside, and here she was, just sitting. The dog used to stare at the door like this, waiting for Edward to come home.

Wait, said the clock, ticking past midnight.

Wait, said the sleeping cat, and the book on the table. If her grown son were sitting here instead of sound asleep upstairs, he’d say the same.

“Well,” she said to the ticking clock and the sleeping cat and the book on the table, “I’m not the dog.”

She rose, carefully, and stood there a moment considering the book: The Little Forager’s Field Guide, by one Adam Vanderaart, who offered drawings of roots, mushrooms, and berries and such, as well as practical advice for finding them. Edward had heavily annotated its pages in his own neat script and underlined its instructive first sentences: “The earth will yield its treasures to those perseverant souls who know where to look. Hunger, I have found, tends to sharpen the eye.”

She slipped the book into the pocket of her robe, tied the belt around her caved-in waist, and went to the door. Her rascal of a son had installed a screechy alarm at the top of the door, but she had seen how he switched it off when he thought she wasn’t looking. Now she did the same and slipped out into the cold night.

The bright moon, floating low in the sky, squinted through a tangle of bare branches as she limped along. By the time it had set, she had lost her slippers as well as her way.

The woods were a black, jumbled mess. But sometime before dawn, they yielded this vision to her: Edward, young again, in his jeans and canvas jacket, deep inside the sharp teeth and claws of a blackberry bramble, pushing aside the prickly canes with a gloved hand while the fingertips of his other hand loosened their good fruit. She had refused to follow him into that dark place, not wanting to go back to teach Monday morning looking like she’d been rolled down a hill in a barrel full of cats. So she had stood at the side of the road, picking the easy fruit, shooing flies, and slapping mosquitoes.

When he finally came crashing out of the depths of the thorny bramble, he was scratched, bleeding, and ecstatic: more than a quart of sweet fruit, foraged from back there where no sane creature dared venture. She shook her head, saying, “I don’t know about you,” but he caught her hand and lifted a blackberry to her lips. Its faint scent reminded her of just how starved she was.

As the fruit yielded to the tips of her teeth, she looked up; the heavens were still heavy with starlight. “Now tell me that isn’t worth it,” he said. She laughed at that, because what could she say? She wasn’t the scratched and bleeding one. Instead, she leaned teasingly close to his sweet face, murmuring, “Got any more?”

It was not until the following July that the property owner, out clearing brush, found her body lifted up among the wild blackberry canes. The Vanderaart field guide, its pages bloated by many rains, was still tucked away in her robe. A single cane had grown through the dark hollow where her tongue once lay; and at its green tip, a cluster of three ripe blackberries pushed against white teeth, ready to burst.

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