Snakes In The Briar Patch

Last night I opened the fridge in search of a snack and saw the carton of blackberries I bought at the grocery. I washed a handful and ate them standing at the kitchen sink while staring out our old casement window. The security light hadn’t kicked on yet, so it was dark outside and lonely. As I stood there eating the tart fruit and feeling the seed grit between my teeth, I remembered a briar patch of berries once grew next to the tin-roofed barn at my parents house.

In late June or early July, we’d walk through the old farm gate and across the field, all of us together, to pick blackberries in the summer heat. My mother warned constantly of snakes, but my brothers and I didn’t care. We just tried not to prick our fingers on the thorns as raced to fill our baskets.

I remembered my stomach usually hurt by the time we were done. I ate more berries than I picked, though I knew once in the kitchen my mother would rinse them off and give us a bowl of sugar, and we’d sit at the table and roll the berries across our little white mountain, and they tasted even better than what we ate off the vine. And I remembered my brothers’ stained fingers and the dark purple wounds on their clothes. My parents had all boys, and being boys they looked at berries and saw little grenades, perfect for throwing and exploding on clean white T-shirts.

But that’s all gone now.

My father hacked the blackberry bush down after Nathan died. He doused the vines in motor oil and burned them way out in the field, past the pond and the thick line of trees. From the porch, I watched the black smoke curl over treetops and, for a moment or two when the wind shifted direction, it looked like my tree-house was on fire.

My mother told me it was because of the snakes nesting in the briar patch.

The next year my other brother was back in prison. At the start of summer my father got rid of the barn. I watched that too from the back porch, watched him fasten the log chains and pull it down with his truck. It took them all day to haul off the blue-grey tin and burn the timber out there in the field, in the blackberry ashes. 

I hadn’t thought of any of that in years. Didn’t realize those memories were still there, waiting for something to pull them up again in a chain of thought as strong as the chain that tore them down. It all seems sad, I suppose, but I’m okay with those memories--at least for today, right now, this moment as I write this. I think I've come to understand a little about life and our attachments and our fears. I just hope I don’t spend mine trying to kill the snakes nesting in the briar patch.

You can't get rid of them with a scythe and a black-smoked fire in field.

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