The Ghost of Berries

It was bad enough that his mother was dying. Her eyes went yellow and she moaned all night. The scar between her thumb and wrist bone opened again, and a livid wound lived there, unsealed, obscene, and red. The same darkening blood seeped from her pores, speckling her arms and legs with clot-red spots, small as pinched ticks. But her mouth was the worst of it: he watched her thirsty tongue shrivel and split, her teeth gone soft and twisted as salt-hills, brown triangles spreading across her gums.

It was bad enough that his mother was dying, but then she started talking about fruit.

“I’d give anything for an orange,” she’d whisper, licking her parched lips while he passed the damp rag across her forehead. “Just an orange. Seeds, or seedless, I don’t care! To peel one and let that zest smell hit me in the nose. We used to buy them by the dozen. They came in segments, little segments. Big as an ear and filled to burst with juice.”

When he fed her, twice a day, he rolled spent tubes of nutrient paste into tiny, silver scrolls to force the last tastes out. He spent precious rainwater drowning her fevers, hauled her bedside pail away and sloshed its mess on their dying tree. Sometimes he lingered in the yard, watching the yellow sky through the crooked branches, even as she called his name.

He squeezed a tear of blue goo on her pink and cracking tongue, his own stomach grumbling.

She shut her lips and closed her eyes and sucked, remembering. A wet kissing sound slapped behind her nose.

“Blueberry,” she croaked.

Phoo, poo—she tried to spit it from her mouth.

“If only you could know,” his mother said, “how much this is not blueberry. This is the ghost of blueberry.”

Click here to read the rest of “The Ghost of Berries,” a new short story by Joe Fassler. (Boston Review, March/April 2013)

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    My story “The Ghost of Berries” in this month’s Boston Review.
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