Friday, 21 November 2014

XI) The Berries

(Please overlook my poor grammar/punctuation. I wrote this hurriedly at some ungodly hour)

They would play in the bush, amongst privet and blackberry, under twisted Kanuka trunks and atop the damp leaf litter. Their laughter could be heard echoing across the small valley, shouts of childish excitement or squabbles over who played which part, in what game, competing with the tinny sound of Greensleeves, as a Mr Whippy meanders its way along the back streets across the valley. Four blonde children, three girls, one boy, they could all be siblings, hunkered down to eat their picnic amongst the bushes, the youngest, a brother, was bored of being bossed around and he was going home now thank-you-very-much! The eldest his sister told him he would have to cross the paddock on his own then and watch out for the rabbit holes and could he even climb the fence by himself? He could? Well go ahead then.
The three remaining girls continued on with their picnic, they were used to playing in the outdoors by themselves, in the back gardens of each other’s houses, in the paddock in between, in among the bushes that fringed the two properties, and deep within elaborate gorse tunnels you had to reach on hands and knees. There was an old goat shed with rickety fencing, overgrown and smelling of dampness and mystery, which they shared too.
An old square of carpet, an old broken stove, shelving made from cinderblocks underneath a 2”4 plank, all that and a little elbow grease to remove the choking Kikuya grass and a perfect clubhouse was made.
Even on rainy days the children had plenty of places to play, and plenty of imagination to fuel it. Dress ups, wearing oversized blouses and swirling skirts, big floppy hats, a dress adorned with sequins, tiger ears, high heel shoes, a bunny rabbit suit complete with cotton tail or maybe a oversized handbag with a magnetic clasp and a string or two of plastic pearls? the dress up box was definitely the favourite place to play and many an afternoon or weekend was spent creating characters for their games, the likes of teachers, doctors, husbands, wives, hero’s, villians, damsels in distress… they played like most children do, with the usual balance of tears and imagination, excitement, enthusiasm, and plenty of power struggles to boot.

One of the children, she was followed by a dark cloud.
You couldn’t see it, it could only be felt, and when they were playing games together, the cloud tended to stay mostly at bay. This was not always the case though. Some days she could barely see for the dark mist that swirled around her, choking and cloying. On this particular day, when they chose to picnic in the bushes, and as she watched the siblings bicker, the brother stomping off back towards the house and their game dissolving quickly amongst the two squabbling sisters, she felt the cloud come rolling in.
She leant over and picked some berries off a nearby bush, she didn’t know what kind they were, some kind of flax berry, but it didn’t matter, they were dark and ominous looking and she knew they were inedible.
Clearing her throat she waited for the attention of her playmates before announcing…
Did you know if you eat these berries, you will be dead within minutes? Don’t believe me? Fine! I’ll prove it! Her friends didn’t notice the berries falling from her hand before she lifted it to her mouth and swallowed.
Instructing her friends to wish her farewell, for the poison was fast acting and there were only moments to say goodbye, she felt a twinge of guilt as her friends instantly dissolved into tears. She didn’t know why but she felt confused by their reactions, at seeing that her death, even just the mere thought of it, would actually bring someone to tears… she felt almost… happy, to see them cry.
 Eventually guilt was the all-conquering emotion and she confessed to them that it was a complete farce.
Walking back over the paddocks together she laughed guiltily and apologized profusely to the sisters, who were still rather unimpressed by the whole fiasco. She couldn’t understand why they didn’t find death as compelling a subject as she did.

 What she also didn’t know at the time of course, was that it would only be a week or perhaps less, until her friend, the eldest of the two sisters would be dead. She would ring to speak to her, and they would find her, dying, and shortly thereafter, she would be dead.

From that day on and for many years afterwards, she would often dream of racing across the paddock to her warn her friend, Don’t eat the berries! Don’t eat the berries! Oh for god’s sake, Don’t eat the berries!
She didn’t eat the berries, but she did cause her own death, and maybe this is why her friend, her neighbour, would forever feel like perhaps it was HER fault that her playmate chose to end her life, maybe she had passed on a part of her black cloud that day, when she stupidly invited death to their picnic.

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