by Kathryn McMahon
Blackberry bushes are always green as are the ferns and the pines full of shadows. Just because they don’t change, don’t let them convince you that nothing else will. For now: can you make it to your mailbox? Don’t let the boys see you hurry. That only makes it worse.
Dread is sour, unripened panic in your throat. Last time, the boys pelted you with berries and you had to wash fruit-blood out of your hair. Blackberry blossoms wave you on. Come on. Go.
After the rain, the slate-purple pebbles in the asphalt look almost like blackberries. Almost. One day you will read why you have more cones in your eyes, why you see more colors. Long ago, another child had to compare two berries and decide which one was poisonous. You’ve gotten good at choosing colors. You wear clothes that mask grass and berry stains and do laundry when you’re home alone.
You like being alone. You search for stillness because it doesn’t exist in the space between Mom and Grandma. Remember when you used to hide in the bushes? You pick and dry their leaves for tea like Grandma taught you. Good for her gout. You add sugar to yours even though her thick, gummy smile warns not to.
You watch the boys noticing you hurry. One day you will learn how your peripheral vision stretched to gather up more than theirs. Long ago, another girl watched for predators, her legs built to go miles. Yours still can. Your shirt sticks under your schoolbag which bumps and slaps as you start to run up the hill.
The boys’ feet kick up, too.
Yesterday, Mom gave you the shears and told you to trim back the bushes. You got all nicked-up and she said, never mind, you need to know how to conquer a little pain, we all do. You didn’t collect the canes out of spite. Leave them, and more blackberries will grow where they fell.
There is a bend in the road and the bushes don’t stop and neither do the boys but you have a head start, keep going.
You’re too tall now—overgrown—but this is where you used to hide. You’d wear a raincoat so the brambles didn’t catch, and sit. So quiet. You spied on Steller’s jays eating and even deer brave in the dusk, their enormous eyes looking out from the sides of their skulls. Wide rays that stared deep into the low, blue shadows. And their teeth—their teeth were always so much bigger than you expected.
Running, you bare yours.
Stinging nettles chase the blackberries up the hill. Dotted among them grow dock weeds with leaves as broad as spinach, which is how Grandma eats them. When you were littler, she used to rub them on your nettle stings to snuff out their burn. One day you will study why their thorny trichomes break. You will examine fifty different chemicals and tease a few into new tinctures to stare at in blue, electric shadows, your eyes large behind glass. Pouring and sorting, you’ll measure out what some will call medicine, and others, magic, and you’ll wish you could’ve given it to Grandma. You, her strange, mirrored child; the one she was supposed to have.
You fly around the bend in the road. There’s your mailbox. Blackberry canes lay in the ditch, leaves brittling under the sun. You drop your bag and snatch up dock weeds, rub them all over your hands. You tear off lengths of nettle and scoop up canes, hands ablaze with muted fire, but it feels good that way.
Around the corner come the boys, bare-armed, bare-legged. You run at them: feral, green girl, always making Grandma proud.
Kathryn McMahon is an American writer living abroad with her British wife and dog. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Booth, Passages North, The Cincinnati Review, Jellyfish Review, Split Lip, Atticus Review, and others. Her work has received various nominations and been selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50. She was also a finalist for the SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction. On Twitter, she is @katoscope. Find more of her writing at darkandsparklystories.com. This piece was a finalist in the Gigantic Sequins 7th Annual Flash Fiction Contest.
Art by Art Editor, Michelle Johnsen
Michelle Johnsen (art editor) is a nature and portrait photographer in Lancaster, PA, as well as an amateur herbalist and naturalist. Her work has been featured by It’s Modern Art, Susquehanna Style magazine, Permaculture Activist magazine, EcoWatch.com, EarthFirst! Journal, Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, and used as album art for Grandma Shake!, Anna & Elizabeth, and Liz Fulmer Music. Michelle’s photos have also been stolen by AP, weather.com, The Daily Mail, and Lancaster Newspapers. You can contact her at mjphoto717 [at] gmail.com.