Forager

creative nonfiction by Mary S. Scott

Forager

Crataegus Monogyna (Hawthorn)

          The haw is the heart of the plant, my granny always said. Everything it’s got to give ends up in those fruit. So when I was twenty-five and everything I’d got to give had somehow ended up back in my parents’ house, sweating up their sofa-bed, folding fudge in the local sweetshop for £8.77 an hour, I took myself out to the fields behind the town. For a whole afternoon I stuffed berries into discarded shopping bags, tearing my hands to crosshatch on the spines. Back in the kitchen I seethed the fruit, pounded them with a potato masher and left the quivering mess to drain. I planned to make jelly with the juice, eat it every morning on hot buttered toast until the good stuff did its work on me. When I returned to the pulp an hour later, grains of rice lay mixed in the mush. White-headed maggots, they’d burrowed into the heart of the haws, only to boil to death when the heat ratched up. I stared at the massacre until my mother’s steps approached, then dumped the whole wretched load into the compost to rot.

 

Prunus Domestica subspecies. Insititia (Damson)

          Do you have to climb damson trees beside the main road? That was the first thing my mother asked when I returned home, weighed down with spoil, choked up with exhaust fumes. There must be safer fruit to pick. I wanted to explain that that was why I did it, because even the birds wouldn’t eat these windfalls, because rabbits don’t know how to wash off tar, because so many pigeons get squashed blue in the road without burst fruit-flesh adding to the slaughter. But Mum worries about me on the best of days, so instead I said, You could almost say I was picking damsons in distress, eh? Eh? and saw in her eye-roll that she would let this particular issue lie.

 

Malus Sylvestris (Crabapple)

          Since I don’t want to break my mother’s heart, next time I damsoned I stuck to the hedgerows. Open fields were not the best place to be when the dregs of Storm Dorian started blowing above, slapping the fruit from their branches faster than I could catch. Backpack catching briars, headphones choking me, I crawled into the canopy of criss-cross twigs and found a crabapple with my left foot. Its leaves were rounded facsimiles of the apple tree’s foliage, but the fruit blushed at me from the gloam, yielded easily as I liberated them to the book-lined cave of my bag. 

 

Sorbus Aucuparia (Rowan)

          Witch-hazel, we call it here, or wicken-tree, mountain ash, quickbeam; you’d be hard-pressed to find a train-track or churchyard without these trees lining the way. Stringing the leaves together will keep away the fae folk. Planting a rod in your garden will guard it from witching ways. Steeping the berries in vodka and sugar makes for a lovely liqueur. It was to that means that I went a-picking, one October afternoon when gloom burned tight into the space between my shoulder-blades. Earphones in, scissors slicing stems, I felt a presence behind me. A dog stood there, growling low, hackles drawn all the way over its gums. Its owner came quickly: Lola, come here! Silly girl. I smiled thanks and the dog slouched off, casting glances back every few yards: I know you’re up to something, lady! I carried on cutting but couldn’t stop wondering: what if, with every stroke of my blade, the tree was screaming, pain voiced in decibels silent to human ears?

 

Prunis Spinosa (Sloes)

          Back to the thorn bushes - blackthorn this time, their dusty blue offerings the final harvest of the year. For weeks I had been spying them in the hedges, bursts of colour like the pulse-spike after a shot. I relayed each sighting to my dad, whose answer was always, It’s not prime time. November, he said, was when sloes are the sweetest, after the first frost and subsequent thaw. They won’t be ready before then, he said, the ones you’ve seen won’t yet be ripe. My father knows every bird by name and song, can whistle with grass fronds and tell you which strain is the sweetest. He can cut fungi from trunks without scarring the trees and scratches every dog he’s ever met. He knows that the best spot for sloes is behind his old school, the patch he used to eye from the History classrooms on days when the chalk smelled too astringent. So at the end of November we walked through the woods, carriers and tupperwares strapped to our backs, ready to fill the jars we’d prepared with the season’s sour plenty.

          The bushes were bare. Charcoal thorns were all that greeted us. We stood and turned in the midst of the bleakness, straining our eyes for a speck of blue. Eventually my father said, It’s been such a mild winter. That’s probably why... He trailed off. I stared at his gloved hands holding the tupperwares, empty and staying the same.

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Mary S. Scott

Mary S. Scott is a British writer based in Chester, where she makes fudge by day and stories by night. Her writing can be found in Synaesthesia, Syntax & Salt, Flashback Fiction, and online at marysscott.wordpress.com. She sometimes twitters on at @Mary_Stella94.