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"Red Raspberries": Second Place, Family Circle Fiction Contest 2011

When I return with my grocery bag of beef jerky, corn chips and soda, I pull my bike into the shed at the back of the house. I notice immediately that something is not right. The back door to the house is thrust wide open. I panic as I run through the house, peeling through every room. GiGi is gone. I left her for literally ten minutes and she was in a coma. My heart is racing as I climb on my bike. I don't even know where to go. I ride up and down our street, calling her name—knowing that she will not recognize my voice. I curse at her under my breath. I curse at my bicycle when I realize I will not be able to get her home on it if I do find her. Heat is rising to my cheeks. And I can't tell if the panic which presses from inside my ribs is from the fear of not being able to find GiGi before my mother returns or the fear that I will find her and she will have one of her outbursts making it impossible to get her back home on my own. I realize that I must look wild—whipping around on my bicycle in frantic circles. I slow down so that my neighbors—who are very close with my mother—don't suspect that anything is wrong. And, while I know that I could enlist their help to canvas the area for the daft old woman, I do not want to incriminate myself by letting on that I had given her a chance to flee our home.

The world is spinning too quickly and I feel like I am going to be swallowed by it. I feel lost. And then, as I am turning the corner to ride down the streets behind my house, something bizarre happens. I can taste fresh raspberries on my tongue. It's as if I am swept back in time—back to GiGi's garden where I am picking plump red raspberries off of the thick plants that wove a green blanket along the chain link fence in her yard. I am small again. We are sitting at her kitchen table with the sun lazily setting beyond us—two bowls of fresh cream and our raspberries before us. Her hazel eyes are gentle, knowing, peaceful—like I remember them. She reaches across the table and lovingly places her warm hand over mine. "GiGi?" Her name becomes a question on my heart. I swallow hard and the sweet-tart taste of red raspberries fills my mouth again; and, the warmth of her hand burns over mine. The words are yanked through my mouth from a deep place inside me, No one asked me if this was okay with me! And then there is the taste of warmth and salt as tears stream down my cheeks.

As if a curtain is lifted before me—I find her sitting on an iron bench at a grassy triangular intersection. I prop my bicycle against a tree and cross over to the bench, unsure of how to approach her. She looks like a statue- with her frozen gaze. She also oddly looks like my baby sister when she wakes from a nap—groggy, disheveled, innocent. I slide onto the bench beside her. For a heartbeat she does not acknowledge me and then there is the awakening. A faint light in her eyes as she turns to me. Even though she looks exhausted, frail, she smiles and the beam brightens her eyes. "Charles." She says the name like it is the answer to a question that's been plaguing her.

"Yes," I answer.

"Charles, do you remember when we planted the raspberries in the yard? Do you remember how the year after we planted them, they suffered—there wasn't any fruit?"

I nod, deciding to play along.

"I was so disappointed. We had just lost our second baby. And, we were so far from home. I wanted the raspberries—to remind me of our farm back home. You told me to have faith. It wasn't time yet. Do you remember that?"

"Yes," I say quietly—feeling as if I am eavesdropping on a conversation not meant for my ears.

"And then the next summer we had our boy—after so much heartache we had him. And the yard was filled with raspberries." A look of pure contentment washes over her face and her shoulders drop in a sigh. "We had too many raspberries; we had to invent recipes for them. You told me life is like that raspberry summer—patience and faith bringing forth an abundance of days both sweet and tart. And it is all in our hands to decide what to do with them."

She places her hand over mine—it is warm and her whole life, all of the good stuff is coursing through it. I thought that I had made peace with the idea that I had lost the great grandmother I had known and loved. I thought I said goodbye three years ago when she stopped remembering our names or recognizing our faces. A feeling of dread seeps into me and I realize that I don't want her to stop talking. The uneasiness I usually feel around her is gone. I will be her Charles if she will tell me more stories. "GiGi?" I whisper. But, she doesn't hear me. She doesn't say anything more. We sit, the two of us at the intersection. I know my mother will be frantic. I know that I will get in trouble—unforgivable trouble. But, there have been so many awful days. And, GiGi is lost now in a lovely memory. And I cannot find it in my heart to interrupt her.

Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.