The Hope of Strawberries

It wasn’t that it was sunset – though the golden hues that decorated the plain horizon reminded her of the quiet changing of autumn leaves – as it was the end of her day. She sat with her knees bundled beneath folds of blankets. Fresh strawberries sat on a porcelain plate on the boundary between night and day, a line that was slowly creeping forward like the advancing lines of a contemptuous foe. She’d brought the plate from home. It wasn’t particularly special, though, it had to be said, she didn’t give any credence to the taste of strawberries either. But each of them, the plate and the strawberries, felt necessary somehow. Like she had no choice. She had to bring them with her. Here. To the very limit of her own territory.

An owl watched her curiously. He had been eyeing up a harvest mouse a moment or so ago but the little thing had scurried away at the sound of his wings flapping. Now, hungry and irritated, the owl watched the woman watch the world and wondered what the human word was for Oostaphan.

She wrapped a third blanket around her shoulders and buried her nose in its smell. Laundry detergent, cigarette smoke and something else all mixed together into a lacy concoction that made her head swim. She felt that now was an appropriate time to cry. She didn’t. But she felt like, had she wanted to, now would be an excellent time to let go of a few tears – if only to stop the aching behind her nose. But no, she wouldn’t cry. She couldn’t. So, she plucked a strawberry from the little plate and bit into it instead. Stray juice ran down her lips and galloped for her chin. Wild and free the juice ran hard and fast, knowing that if it could just reach horizon it could be free. But the woman’s hand was too quick. With a gentle whoosh stirring the growing night air, she smoothed the juice from her face and threw the strawberry head down onto the grass.

The harvest mouse listened to its heart thrum in its ears, a furious angel song that whispered blessings and reprimands in equal measure. He knew he shouldn’t have strewn so far from the bracken. He’d known it. Every fibre of his being had begged the very sinew of his ligaments to stay hidden beneath the thorns. But that smell. Oh! That delicious smell! The harvest mouse was many things: a loyal borrower of straw, a heavy user of the snaking river, a viciously funny addition to any gathering of mice, and a gregarious singer in the correct company, but strong-willed against aromas as potently delicious as this one? No siree bob. He was not that. And still, even now, as the acid in his muscles was only beginning to slacken its grip, his nose was twitching, debating whether or not to make another dash for it.

She reached for the green stained bottle and relished the cool smooth curves of its body. The label was rough where the glass was smooth but she forgave it all the same. For, was she not right that it would taste as fabulous, regardless of label or glass or…fuck. Fuck, she swore beneath her bald dome, which pooled the moonlight in an untouchable pond of lunar white. Fuck, she clucked her tongue, stinging one of the sores in her gums. “Fuck,” she whispered white wisps of breath that drifted high above the advancing lines beneath. She’d forgotten to bring a glass.

The owl left its branch like a bolt of snowy lightening as it spied the pink feet of the hungry harvest mouse. The woman jumped, little white pills falling from her hand like hailstones, as the dying caw of the mouse zipped through the air – gunshot! – before returning it to silence. She didn’t understand the word, but the owl did. Curious, it thought to itself, that a harvest mouse would care so deeply as to lose its life in the hope of a strawberry.

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