This story is by Lisa A Van Ahn and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The mulberry tree’s branches out front were bearing down with fruit. Becca was hiding under her covers. The delicate berries she typically harvested in July for her well-known jam fell to the earth, dyeing the ground around it purple.
Becca held herself rigidly under her blanket, dying inside with the memory of her purple fingers and mulberry-stained giggles of last year. Nothing was the same. Today she would make a change.
Bob was unavailable in the shop welding parts together and creating another masterpiece of distraction for his latest client.
He left Becca’s bedroom well before dawn for at least five months now when her tossing and crying began. He’d make a coffee and exit the house quickly to open the chicken’s coop.
Today was a breezy and beautiful day for July. It was a perfect day for a wash to the old truck out front. He filled a bucket with soapy water and walked around to the side of the house where his 1978 Ford sat on a far, ill-forgotten side of his property.
He hadn’t thought about the day until he saw the stains of fallen mulberries on his windshield and noticed the hens pecking at the berries staining the earth.
The back of his palm stained purple while he brushed off the driver’s side of his windshield and mumbled under his breath, “Oh, Becca. I’m sorry.”
He stopped a took a breath to try and release the pain in his heart.
He felt a familiar wave of heat rush through his body. He was used to feeling this shame and pain run through him by now.
“I need to stop everything, go inside, and give her a hug,” he thought. “Can I tell her I’m sorry again? How do I ever stop telling her?”
But the was so much to be done.
He needed to run into town to grab supplies for his latest project, pick up chicken feed and grab mulch for his next landscaping job; it was only the beginning of his to-do list.
He took another look at the tree, dropped the bucket of warm, soapy water from his grip, and lugged himself back to the shop.
Now he was trying to get the remembering of that day out of his mind. All he could think about was how mad he’d been and when he yelled from the bottom of the ladder. How could he get that mad? How could he forget how much he loved her for even a moment?
Becca laid in bed thinking about standing on top of the ladder. She was picking the ripest mulberries. Eating one or two at a time and then putting one or two into the bucket next to her. She loved mulberries and couldn’t wait to make her jam. She was the happiest she’d ever felt in her life. She’d been waiting and trying for so many months. This morning, her test came up positive. Finally! She couldn’t wait to tell Bob and was thinking about making her jam and share the welcoming news with him at the same time.
Bob sat in the shop thinking about mulberries, washing that old ford, and the million other things he needed to do. He still felt like he wanted to run to Becca, but he didn’t know how to do that anymore. He didn’t know how he could ever forgive himself for that day and knew she never could.
“So much to do,” he muttered to himself.
“So much to do. It has to get done today”, Bob thought.
He grabbed the keys to his other truck and backed out of the driveway. He slowed down outside the bedroom window and fought the urge to stop everything and go in and hug her. Tell her how much he loved her, how sorry he was, how he’d take everything back and start over right now with her. He wanted to bridge the pain of their loss together and promise never to make a mistake again. He desired to hold her, cry with her.
His shame wouldn’t let him do it. So he ripped past the tree and peeled out onto County Road 19 instead.
He’d been so mad that day. He ran up to the bottom of the ladder and yelled at Becca to come down. It wasn’t her fault. He’d gotten a pink slip. He was scared but turned it into anger and couldn’t believe she hadn’t even paid the mortgage yet, so they’d gotten a late charge too.
He yelled up at her, “Come down right now, dammit!”
She smiled sweetly at him and said, “In a minute, sweetie, I’ve gotta get these mulberries off the tree before they go bad.”
He couldn’t bear her carefree attitude, and he grabbed the ladder and yelled again, “Get down here now!”
Becca pulled the covers from over her head and peeked out at the sun coming through the window. She heard Bob’s truck rip out of the driveway and knew it was time. Becca fell from the tree once. The fall was devastating when he grabbed the ladder while she was on it, and she miscarried the baby.
After months in offices with white coats telling her she’d never conceive again, she knew they were both in a cycle of depression. She’d spent an entire year languishing in bed, unsure of how to connect with her well-meaning husband. He felt devastated about the accident. She knew that, and he’d only intended to get her attention. The results were tragic and today marked a year since her fall and her loss.
She put on her wedding dress. She’d promised to love Bob forever. She did. She wanted this moment to showcase they could get everything together. She walked down to the shop with her white lace trailing behind her and grabbed the fated ladder.
They’d spent enough time wasted after one tragic day and today was the day it would change. She brought the ladder to the base of the tree. Today she would harvest berries again. Today she and Bob would start over. When he came home, he’d see they could begin again.
Bob was in town thinking about mulberries and Becca’s jam and how much he loved her. He was thinking how one sour berry can ruin the whole bunch and how she was always crazy about getting those berries off the tree to turn them into jam and make them last, and then she’d eat most of ’em while standing on the ladder.
He smiled, thinking about it, and quickly left his merchandise cart at the hardware store. Today he and Becca would start over. He was going to hug her and love her until they could begin again.
He raced home. When he pulled up next to the old Ford, he saw Becca stained with fallen mulberries under the tires in her wedding dress. She was unresponsive to his touch and cries. The broken ladder was standing lopsided near her sharing a story he didn’t want to know.
The thing about mulberries is they don’t have a shelf life. The day you pick them, you must eat them or preserve them. That’s why you never see them in little plastic containers, with slits on the sides like other berries. You can’t save a mulberry for longer than a day.
“You can’t save love either,” Bob thought.