After the Tree book project

Straw in Berries

Swinging empty buckets from the cradles of my arms, I cross the acres of my ancestors’ countryside at dawn, searching for strawberries, searching for remedies I may one day need.

I had, on the eve of my wedding, remembered my grandmother’s fondness for the fruit’s healing properties. I’ve come to pick the berries in hopes of mastering one of her many secret recipes—a body cream to smooth away the callous sides of life.

Grandmama would simmer heavy milk, honey, strawberry grains and a hint of cocoa powder in a cast-iron pot until the ingredients reached a creamy consistency. I’d stick my index finger inside the pot to catch a dollop and rub the warm stuff into my skin. Gently.

“You smell good, child,” Grandmama would say. “Just like love.”

I’d raise my forearm to my nose and inhale deeply.

Hoping to get the recipe right for my wedding night and, thereafter, I persuade my fiancé to leave the city for an excursion to the country days before we exchange vows.

We walk now, across the acres, lovebugs clinging to our clothes and the strands of our coarse hair. We don’t swat the sticky insects away, though; we just keep walking, my long skirt raking a path in the wild grass.

A half-hour later, we push past an untamed brush and discover our treasure: long-forgotten patches of strawberry plants lining a rusted fence.

We bend, picking the berries peeping beneath the green leaves, examining the imperfect red lumpiness with our pinkies, loving the feel of the plumpness, teething the tips, squeezing the juice onto our lips.

By the time the sun sets, our bellies and buckets are full. We’ve eaten as many of the sweet strawberries as we could, but we do not discard the bitter ones.

In the morning, when we rise, our mouths coated with night breath, we use these sliced berries as spatulas to scrape the sourness from our tongues.

We dry them in the sun to make loofahs with which to scrub away our sweat and grit. For fragrance, we line berries on our tub and watch the steam-induced crimson juice slide down the ceramic side to mingle with our muddied waters.

We stand together, spraying ourselves completely clean, patting shower droplets dry with the berries’ soft leaves. And then, having perfected the callous-smoothing cream, we rub the grains into each other’s skin. Gently. Gently.

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