2006 – Lisa Ohlen Harris – Wild Berries

Non-Fiction selection from the 2006 issue

Wild Berries

by Lisa Ohlen Harris

On a borrowed minibike,
trespassing unknown trails, Jimmy soared off a precipice. He flew out over
huckleberry bushes and sticky-pitched Mountain Hemlock trees, growing wild
through the woods.

Ruptured spleen, they told
us, and rapid internal bleeding. They did all they could, but my cousin was
gone. He’d never be back to climb trees or steal any more huckleberries.

The summer before, when
Jimmy was fifteen and I was twelve, he found new ways to tease me. That afternoon
it was a small thing, a childish thing, between us. Jimmy didn’t play fair at
hide and seek. He climbed the tallest evergreen tree, the one with the sticky
pitch and the branches all crazy, sloping up instead of down. He sang my name
in a low, wavering voice, like a ghost calling for me through the woods. He
only fooled me for a second.

Grandma told me not to
bother with Jimmy if he was going to scare me like that. She handed me a pie
tin. Fill the tin with berries, Grandma said, and I’ll bake us a pie.

Out in the huckleberry
patch, bees buzzed around my ears, but I didn’t get stung. I picked the berries
right into the tin, mounded them up. They were the last berries of the season,
and I didn’t spill a single one of them on my way back to the house.

Grandma showed me how to
make the crust, forking lard into flour, sprinkling ice water to keep it
tender. Then she stopped and placed the fork on the table. I think she felt it
when he came into the room, how things were changing with Jimmy.

He was there, leaning
against the refrigerator with stained fingers and a mouthful of berries. I
suppose he’d meant to eat only a few, but that way the tartness explodes
between the teeth—well, it’s hard to stop eating once you start. You want to
taste the thrill of that first berry again.

The berries were in a pie
tin, Grandma scolded. They were set up high on top of the fridge. Anyone could
see that they weren’t for eating. A boy’s got to think things through, or else
he’ll never call himself a man. Jimmy looked out the window the whole time and
not at us. Of course I didn’t see it in him then, not really. That came later,
when all sorts of signs and signals show clear—looking back at memories of a
loved one lost.

With the few
berries left, Grandma made a miniature pie in one of her special tins. She
whipped up heavy cream for topping, and I shared it around—cream and tart and
sweet bites for everyone … except Jimmy.

I would have
shared with him, a huckleberry pie communion, but when the pie came out of the
oven he was off in the woods by himself. I guess he didn’t hear me calling. I
stood on the porch alone, holding a warm plate of pie. I can still see the
crimson juice soaking the crust.

Putting up the clean
dishes after dinner, I heard the screen door creak when Jimmy came in from the
woods. Sweaty and thirsty, he took a long drink of water from the metal dipper
Grandma kept hanging beside the sink. Then he grinned, those freckles like
huckleberries squashed across his nose. I tossed the dishtowel over his head and
ran, calling back to him, “You’re it!”

And we played hide and
seek in the dusk, scooting between fireflies, listening to a river of wind flow
through the trees, stumbling on roots in the half light but never falling,
never getting hurt.

One day the following
summer, Jimmy and his buddies, with hair over their ears and eyes and a few
joints to share between them, loaded minibikes in the back of a pickup. They
pushed the truck out of the driveway and on down the street, beyond earshot,
before firing up the ignition.

None of us heard him go.
On that clear June morning out in the woods, Jimmy didn’t think to check the
trail before riding on ahead of the others. He spun wheels in the dirt as he
took off, catching air where the trail rose suddenly, accelerating to the next
rise, hungry to taste the thrill again—blowing right past the wild huckleberry
bushes hidden in the woods, their berries not yet ripe.

Lisa Ohlen Harris is originally from the Pacific Northwest, but now she writes from her home in Texas. Her creative nonfiction has recently appeared in The Summerset Review and Rosebud. Lisa received a nomination to the Pushcart Prize 2006 from the editors of flashquake.org. Visit her website at www.lisaohlenharris.com.
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