The Raspberry Man

Melissa Juchniewicz

Dexter came out of the contractor’s shabby office holding an envelope like a candle, and Cassandra made a face of exaggerated surprise before he climbed back behind the wheel.

“You’re kidding,” she said.

“Open it.” He handed her the envelope.

“I can’t believe it. I thought they’d never pay you.”

“I know. Three weeks. Nowadays it’s anyone with a hammer and a paintbrush, forget the decent tradesman. Oh well,” he said, spraying gravel as he pulled out, “money in the pocket.”

She bit her lip. “Let’s fill the tank and take a drive,” she said.

They stopped at the Irving and she watched his hands in the side mirror. Every spot and scar she knew. Going into the station to pay, his familiar, lopsided walk favored the ankle that would never get better.

They headed for roads with no center line, where the prickly smell of manure made her laugh and pull the neck of her tee shirt up above her nose. At a sharp right curve she slid toward him and stayed there. Then she saw the spindly letters on a cardboard sign nailed to a tree.

Half pint dollar. Quart four dollars.

“The raspberry man!” she said. She glanced to the left to gauge his mood. He nodded.

At the door, Dexter shouted hello, then knocked and shouted louder. A thin voice came from inside.

“Come in! Hello!”

The screen door squeaked and they stepped into the pine-paneled kitchen. They took in the paint-flaked electric clock above the two-burner stove while the old man approached from the other room. His watery eyes sparkled as he reached them.

“I know! You want berries! They’re wild, so sweet. Here!” The old man held out a light blue carton and Cassandra took one of the garnet-colored gems. She pushed it to the roof of her mouth with her tongue and closed her eyes while the tiny pillows of sweet juice popped. When she opened her eyes, the old man was looking at her, smiling and nodding.

“I’ll buy you berries, Cassandra,” Dexter said. “Of course I will.”

The raspberry man looked at him and raised his eyebrows, then winked, some secret between men. Then he looked over at Cassandra. “And where do you live?” he asked.

She glanced at Dexter. “Just over the line,” Dexter answered.

“Good!” said the old man. “Spit these seeds out. You’ll see. You’ll have your own berries. Then you won’t come to see me!” He tipped his head back and laughed.

When they left, she put the blue carton on the dashboard of their home, and Dexter said, “I hope I’ll have something to do when I’m that old.” Even as the air moved past them through the vent windows, there was nowhere for the comment to go. Cassandra pictured him tenderly plucking with trembling hands, then she took another raspberry and thought, just some dirt where we can spit the seeds.

Photo on Visualhunt

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