Bruised Eclipse

    by Anesce Dremen

    “Do you accept card?” I sheepishly held a carton of blueberries.

    “Of course.” He frowned as if I had inquired what year it was.

    “Excellent.” I retrieved my card from the depths of my bag. “I haven’t seen blueberries this thick since I left North Carolina.” His frown deepened. “I, uh, grew up on a farm.”

    I had just emerged from the PATH station, and circumvented Manhattan’s Saturday rush when I encountered a farmer’s market. The first vendor sold organic produce, lush blueberries included. Intimidated by the price, I roamed through tables and swallowed embarrassment as I retreated from local jams, overpriced crystals, and expectant vendors’ smiles. I strolled tentatively, curiously appraised produce but embraced the imminent disappointment that plump figs weren’t available here, either. Vendors offered other blueberries, cheaper blueberries, but they didn’t balloon like the bulging bellies of those by the front. These organic blueberries exceeded my budget, but I couldn’t resist myself.

    After leaving the tented area of the farmer’s market, I flipped open the plastic container. I couldn’t resist nibbling on tempting bubbles as I walked toward my Couchsurfer host’s apartment. When the first blueberry burst in my mouth, I trembled. It suckled a tart flavor that was sweeter than the artificial flavors of mass produced blueberries for the unwitting supermarket.

    A primal groan shuddered my frame and I stopped walking. I paused in the middle of the sidewalk, at the crossroads of this blossoming tourist junction – like those pesky tourists who crowded Times Square to take poorly angled selfies. I became that annoying, bumbling individual for a single blueberry.

    I tilted my head, stifled a moan, and bit down gingerly, not wanting to rush the cascade of memories captured within the delicate skin. I peered down at the unassuming container: pebbles with rims of midnight blue, a teapot blue inner hue, and the familiar gush of sapphire surrendering its juices.

    I could feel the warped ice-cream pail between my bare ankles. The blueberries in the second week of July were typically so thick that a bucket could be positioned underneath them as hands skimmered over their cluster. Blueberries thumped as they hit the plastic ice-cream tub or thikk’d as they fell into a tin can. That was prime time: where you didn’t need to individually pluck each blueberry. Immaculate July mornings resurfaced: hot pink flip-flops and my twig legs decorated with remnants of mown lawn adhesed by morning dew. This was the best time to harvest, as the humid North Carolinian heat wouldn’t yet submerge you.

    My greedy hands plucked lazily; bleeding reds trailed at the corner of my adolescent mouth, and painted the bottom of the bucket in lumpy teapot blues, midnight blues, violet bruises, and the occasionally smattering of raspberry red for the broken berry. I would selfishly sequester the best blueberries from my bucket – my hungry hands unrelenting until a worthwhile stomachache ensued.

    We’d carry a stack of eight buckets: ice cream buckets long emptied, enough for each of us to fill two apiece. When still little enough, I’d crawl beneath bushes that chortled above me; my goal had always been to find the largest cluster of overgrown blueberries – the ones that were a third of the size of my eyeball: those were the ones that detonated with either the sweetest or the most tart flavors. A gamble worth embracing spider webs to collect.

    A singular peach tree stood in sad company beside the three rows of blueberry bushes. That was our designated pee-pee spot when we couldn’t run back to the house in time to make the toilet. It was the only tree on the property that died an untimely death. We blamed ourselves.

    It had been four years since I left, never to return.

    I rolled my tongue around the erupted blueberry and reluctantly swallowed it. I continued walking as tears peppered. I plucked three from the container and plopped them into my mouth as I crossed numbered streets. I sniffed, touched by the memories I was catapulted through: nearly two decades of itchy morning dew, varying shades of pink summer clothes, and light scratches along my arms from protective bushes. I scooped a handful of blueberries and deposited them shamelessly into my mouth, allowing departed seasons to linger on my tongue. Two blocks away from my host, less than ten blueberries remained.

    I grew up where the blueberries were abundant, where cherries offered tart release as they sprung beneath pine trees, and where honeysuckle glimmered as hummingbirds darted. Behind the house I was locked inside, blackberries grew in taunting temptation alongside poison ivy in the east, and a fig tree towered in its 300 plus year might to the west. Blocked from the kitchen window view was a tree where crab apples rotted in the ground until we reluctantly brought out the rusted red wagon to collect them to throw over the fence to the cows. In the front yard was an oak tree that stood mighty – once, the branch that my mother cut crashed down to split my head open.

    This one carton could not equate the endless supply among the three extensive rows of bushes. So I returned to the organic produce stand, and clutched two cartons of those luscious blueberries perilously close to my chest.

    “They were just so good; I had to come back.” I stared down at the checkered tablecloth as he swiped my card again, unable to express how I could come back for more blueberries here, but I could never go back there. It wasn’t safe.

    I ran away from my family and legally changed my name to protect myself. The bowels of the earth had offered a sweet retreat from the abuse I endured. But as much as I missed home cooked meals and as much as I chastised myself for not collecting recipes before I ran away, I could never return to that forsaken place. Lush blueberries be damned.

    I looked up as he handed back my card. On the background of the tough plastic was a snapshot of the Great Wall; I sometimes ran my fingers over the sixteen raised digits when debating about an unnecessary purchase. I held my breath, remembering how far I’ve traveled since leaving.

    “Thank you.” I met his periwinkle eyes, sweat collected beneath his unassuming pale blonde hair.

    “You have no idea how much this means to me.”

    Anesce Dremen is a U.S. writer. A first generation college student and domestic violence survivor, she studied in four cities in China with the support of the Critical Language Scholarship and the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship. Her work has been published in Stillhouse Press, Persephone’s Daughters, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Tea Journey, Tiny Spoon, and Shanghai Poetry Lab, among others. She is a 2022-23 Fulbright-Nehru ETA in Kolkata, India. Anesce is often found with a tea cup in hand, traveling between the U.S., China, and India.

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