Here is the winning entry in the 1st RWISA TARGET THE TALENT Writing Competition:
“RASPBERRY STAINS AND TEARDROPS”
by Patty Wiseman
Bound by our past, etched in our memories, we are shaped by the experiences that changed our lives.
My tiny, sun-browned toes wiggled deeper into the warm, loamy soil of the raspberry field beside our modest wood frame house—my playground of choice. Hiding among the magical rows of foliage provided a perfect backdrop for my imagination to run wild. I was only four years old, flaxen haired, skin kissed by the sun—a veritable pixie. Today, the description fits exactly, you see, for I imagined myself as Tinker Bell deep within the orchard. I played among the jeweled berries, flitting about, skipping and darting here and there. The fenced orchard allowed me free rein to frolic without supervision, alone.
I ate the berries, of course. To this day, the succulent, sweet juice remains a fresh memory, a small joy to cling to, something to remember. I still buy fresh raspberries whenever I can to remind me of the first, and possibly the last, untarnished memory I have as a child.
Usually, my sister would come find me and bring me back to the house through the back door. Sometimes it would be Mother who called for me from the porch. They always knew where to look. Barefoot, disheveled, and smeared with dirt, but happy and carefree.
After a bath and supper, I’d beg my sister to read the story of Peter Pan and Tinker Bell to me, all the while planning my next day’s adventure in the raspberry patch. Sometimes she wearied of the same old story, so I would tell it to myself almost word for word from memory. I’d fall asleep with visions of fairy wings and stardust dancing in my head.
It was hard to understand why my sister wouldn’t come with me to this peaceful haven among the raspberries, to lose ourselves in make believe and forget the truth of our existence. Maybe she was already hardened to the inevitable and had no room for imagination.
Mother was only too glad to fling open the door and encourage me to scurry off to the raspberry fields. One less child to watch over. Because it was fenced, I suppose she knew I couldn’t wander off.
This particular day, my sister never came, and Mother never called. Instinctively, I knew it was time to go home, but until summoned my young mind reasoned I must stay.
I refreshed myself with berries, and let the juice run down my chin, where it continued to drip on my pink ruffled sundress. Somewhere in my child’s mind I knew this would turn out badly, but watching the stains spread into lovely patterns kept me spellbound. It was like a painting, a beautiful work of art, and I was the artist. The bodice of the dress, now adorned with bright red ‘flowers’, complimented the sparkling red ‘rivers’ flowing down the skirt. Fascinated, I bit into another berry, and moved my head to let the ‘paint’ find an empty canvas. The stains crept slowly across the fabric, inching along, the circles growing ever wider. I imagined myself a princess in a beautiful gown, ready for the ball. I even snapped a few vines to fashion a ‘tiara’ and placed it on my head. Oh look! There are glass slippers on my feet. I walked down the rows, regal in my finery, a princess indeed.
The late afternoon sun warmed my skin, the earth held me in her bosom, and the feel of the soil between my toes anchored me somehow. I’m not sure how long I was there, but I remember when the world I’d created went suddenly dark.
Shouting, angry words, and loud crashes pierced the air. The crown tumbled from my head, and I scurried under the protection of the sweet tendrils of the raspberries. Brown eyes squeezed shut, hands clapped over my ears. Even so, the fighting continued. I remained alone among the vines, reluctant to give up the fantasy world I created there, until the fighting eventually stopped. It always stopped, but something sinister always took its place.
I never thought to ask my sister where she hid during our parent’s tirades. She was three years older and always annoyed by my presence. There was a new baby, a boy, but still in the crib. Even at four, I knew life is best served if you learn to survive on your own.
No memory of my father comes to mind before that day. I’m sure I was too young to retain those earlier years, but from that day forward, the naiveté of childhood ebbed away.
The sun dipped lower in the bright blue sky, a warning I should return to the house, but I was unable to make the transition from fantasy to harsh reality. And so, I huddled there, waiting, trying to resurrect the dream of a princess on her way to the ball…but it was gone. I looked down on my dress. It no longer resembled a royal gown, and I began to tremble. The little dress was a hand-me down – from my sister. I always wore her clothes remade to fit me. It wasn’t a new dress, by any means, but this was the first time I’d worn it.
Now, the magic vanished and reality set in.
Without a sound, the sun disappeared, blocked by a large object. My eyes couldn’t adjust fast enough, and when they did—it was too late.
Father stood at the end of the row, hands on his hips, glaring. His voice was harsh and angry.
The words jumbled in my mind. I could only hear ‘ruined dress’.
Rivulets of tears ran down my dirty cheeks, creating clean pathways on my baby face.
He didn’t see the fear, the terror, only the spoiled sundress, my dirty bare feet, my mouth stained red.
I don’t remember the punishment…only the sun disappearing behind the blockade that was Father, arms akimbo—eyes red with anger.
A piece of Tinker Bell vanished that day, never to return.