Dying Wild- Stephanie Clark

When she thought of death, she tasted blackberries.  Those wild vines covered with sharp, bloody thorns and their late summer aroma of the sickly-sweet juice rising in the air.  Blackberries with their wildness, growing anywhere, intertwined through the grasses, the fences, the shrubs, unrestricted and uncontained.  A man could hack away at the creeping tendrils, cut away limbs and wrench out roots – and still the heart of the plant will sink deeper and continue to live on.

She thinks of all the nicks, bruises, and chunks life has taken out of her and still how her roots continue to spread.  She flexes her long, thin fingers and feels every hand hers has intertwined, other vines that gripped her hand as she grew.

Memories stick to her teeth like miniscule seeds.  A back garden run rampant by blackberries with thorns protruding at every angle to protect themselves from foragers, gatherers, and heartbreak.  Her father, stains of strawberry on his cheeks, a fiery being of fury and frustration who raged against the berries, against her stained fingertips, against her neatly sliced flesh.  He carved from the vine the sun seeking leaves, peeling the plant painfully apart from thinnest branch to thickest root before spreading salt along the open wounds into the soil.

The next summer the blackberries that grew were morsels of such a divine balance of salty and sweet that she plucked every single one and made herself sick on overindulgence.  He stormed back with a shovel, digging and wrenching apart roots as he tugged the plant from the soil, throwing the bramble away before admiring the gap in the garden.

Before long, thin young tendrils snaked across the grass setting down roots, climbing up rose bushes, choking late blooming chrysanthemums, and issuing forth the smallest berries she had ever seen that were tough to chew, but tasted of rebellion and earth.  A small thorn pricked her father hardest of all, stirring forth a frenzy that lit a wildfire behind his eyes. He scorched the earth, burning down the blackberry bush and everything it touched. The ashen soil would take several years to recover and from it would sprout prized roses and large tulips that could cup a bird – but never again would a blackberry sprout.

She returned for his funeral, a graveside affair of salty tears and sweet caresses.  The cemetery chosen was ringed with the rich green of lush blackberry bushes. Their colour was a vibrancy she could have never imagined, each berry was a small galaxy of purple that reflected back the eternal stars.  From the font of roots, the winding vines and leaves drew decomposing nutrients. Deftly, she stuck a berry in her cheek as the priest spoke in soft tones to the wind, and her mouth was filled with a sweetness like no other – flavours of trees and footprints of bees – her mouth was filled with wild death.  

When she thought of death, she tasted blackberries.  She hoped one day to die as wild as those vines.

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