We stroll down to the raspberry fields. The soft sun and the delicate fruits calling us seductively, irresistibly. Raspberries are my favourite fruit – soft, succulent, symbolising summer; sultry and slightly sexy. Forget strawberry fields, for me it is raspberry fields forever. Let me take you down.
She started picking eagerly from the first row. Why wouldn’t she? The fruit was abundant and perfectly ripe after weeks of rain. Rosy, red and ready. I chose to go to deeper into the field, where the bushes are untouched and virginal.
She follows me there and we stand on opposite sides of the aisle, pulling fruit off the bushes like warehouse operatives picking goods off the shelves. Everyone has ordered raspberries. We talk and chatter about many things without looking at each other. It is often easier that way. We pick our words as carefully as we pick our fruit. Pushing back leaves, avoiding nettles – they look so similar.I ask her if there is anything she has not said to me that she has never dared say. She says there might be.
We select carefully – scrutinising the colour and texture – ripe but not too ripe. Some try to hide coyly, not ready to be picked yet. I pinch the delicate fruit between fingers and thumb and tug. I love the sensual elastic resistance of the stalk. The berry breaks away all too easily – separated forever from the umbilical cord which has created it. Raspberry fields are killing fields. Thousands of fruits separated and removed every day. We lick the blood off our fingers.
She gleefully boasts that she is filling her two baskets more quickly than I am. That is because I am wickedly consuming a few samples as I go. Justifying myself to nobody in particular when nobody is looking. I am just checking the quality, honestly.
She tells me she is looking forward to the chocolate cake in the teashop. I tease her for her indulgent eating habits. We are what we eat, I say, for the millionth time in our long marriage. She indulges me. She is slim and healthy and will outlive me with all my self-righteous eating.
But then she confesses to eating fruit when I am out of the house. Is this the thing she never dared to say? Is she a secret fruitaholic? Now I understand the inordinate amount of orange peel, banana skin and apple core in our kitchen bin. And here I am, encouraging her secret habit with the most irresistible of fruits.
We talk about our older children. How we miss them. She has calculated that she needs to see them at least every 6 weeks or the separation becomes almost unbearable. We wished we lived closer to them. She has read an article I posted on facebook this morning. “Children need their parents, even grown-up children – but they just need them to be alive, they don’t need them in the same room.” I am wondering whether the berries we are making independent from their bushes will feel the same?
I am worried that I am personifying the raspberries again. The rows of bushes like rows of houses. Full of happy, bright little berries. What will become of them after we have plucked them away from their parents?Are they destined to be jam, ice-cream or yoghurt? Or to be eaten fresh with cream? Or chosen simply to be frozen? I consider the randomness of the raspberry race.
We kiss and hold our free hands as we carry our selection back to the teashop. She buys two cakes. One for her and one for our yet-to-be separated younger son. He wont get free cakes at university. I have sandwiches and a healthy salad. Casually reading the ingredients on my pomegranate dressing I discover it contains raspberry-flavoured vinegar. I suspect that raspberry didn’t expect to end up pickled. I guess it would be disappointed, maybe slightly embarrassed. Hardly a proper job for a fruit. Even though it was “a subtle slightly sweet foil for a lightly mixed salad”.
Back home the wicked witch tosses our catch into a cauldron and boils them on the stove. Jam tomorrow then. Yummy.