BLACKBERRY PIE • by Adi Bracken

Mom always told me my blackberry pie tasted like hers. We’d both be bent at the waist, shoulders hunched, sturdily pushing rolling pins through flour-coated dough in the tiny kitchen. Heat would pool at the back of my neck and under my arms as the oven crisped its contents. We’d make five, ten at one time and freeze them for Christmas. Their brown, sugary tops never lasted in the freezer, but the berries maintained their tangy flavor.

“I don’t know how that plant of yours in back grows the sweetest berries,” she’d say. “It’s not like you take great care of it.” She’d pluck one from the table, brush stray flour from it, and raise it to her pursed lips.

“She doesn’t take care of anything,” Gary would say.

It’s been years since I rolled out the dough. The scalloped edge on my store-bought crust reminds me of Mom’s ruffled apron — the blue one with stitched birds flying away from the fabric’s center. The ridges are too stiff, pristine, cut in a sharp perfection.

The bush died the same year she did. Its canes froze before I could prune them. Gary called it coincidence, but I called it a sign. I cried when he pried it from the ground with a shovel. He smashed it into the outdoor trash bin, beating its roots down with his fists.

“Did you have to be so careless?” I asked.

“It’s just a bush,” he said.

I kept busy tucking myself below layers of blankets in a dark bedroom.

The dark was sharp, almost tart. I wanted to taste it on my tongue and shoot it into my veins, but it floated around me in constant avoidance, hovering just enough to press against my skin. I imagined the dark also wore scalloped aprons. It might have sprinkled sugar while it criticized the way I displayed my miniature cactus plants across the kitchen window sill.

Gary called a therapist in town and made an appointment before I could protest. He scooped me out of my sheets and fought with my shaking feet as he slid a sock on each one.

The therapist’s name was Dr. Merriweather, and I found some sort of hysterical irony in it.

Gary was a smart man. His round, bald head held a fleshy peach color. The fruit of knowledge filled his large skull — or so I believed.

“One appointment.” Gary issued the command, one he enforced by grabbing my upper arm and pressing down with his meaty fingers. He released my arm when I was strapped away safely in his Volvo’s passenger seat. “If I think this guy is a shmuck, you can quit. But you’re going to at least one appointment.”

My arm bruised where his fingers pressed. Little purple dots erupted across my skin. I looked at Gary in the driver’s seat, burly and sure. His peach head suddenly seemed withered and sunken at the top. As I stared, the purple dots on my arm began appearing on his face. They marked his forehead and eyelids and the curve between his nose and upper lip. I blinked, and the peach was ripe again.

I pictured Dr. Merriweather as a five foot tall, balding man with a dictator’s mustache. Instead, he towered over me, a green bean waiting to be placed in a pan and fried in bacon grease.

“We’ll just talk a little,” he said. There was no notebook. No leather black settee. Just a few floral, puffy armchairs, a wooden desk, and a green bean.

“Do you like blackberries?” I asked. I sat in one of the armchairs, each of my arms planted firmly into its rests. My fingers made little loops around the flowers, and I realized I couldn’t recognize them. My mom would have said Amaryllis or Larkspur without hesitation.

One of his brows furrowed. “Love them,” he said. “Do you?”

“They remind me of my mom,” I explained.

“Tell me about her,” he said. He leaned back into his weathered chair behind the desk and folded his hands together in his lap.

I went to Dr. Merriweather several times before realizing Gary wasn’t actually smart and a full year before I realized my mother’s love wasn’t benign.

“Dr. Merriweather?” I once asked him. “Can I mourn her even though I — loathe her?” The final words squeaked out.

“Mourning is funny that way,” he said.

The darkness in my bedroom sank back under furniture and behind curtains. After I let the word loathe slip from my tongue, it disappeared completely.

Gary left a few months ago after I suggested he see a therapist himself.

I’ve been seeing Dr. Merriweather for two years, and I’m thinking about him now. A blackberry pie with store bought crust and fruit cools in the center of my kitchen table.

You bottle your anger up inside, he’s said more than once.

I form a shaky fist and hold it directly over the pie’s middle, pressing my fingers into my palm. With hesitant force, I punch the pie. It sinks in the center, and bits of blackberry goo hit the table and speckle my shirt. The top has cracked and split into different planes. The crust’s scalloped edge is still solid.

Raising my fist slowly out of the pie, I observe the sticky berries covering my skin. I lift my knuckles to my mouth and slide my tongue across them.

Bitter, then sweet.

Adi Bracken is the founding editor of Quiet Storm, a literary magazine dedicated to publishing works about illness. She has also completed work in the past for Queen’s Ferry Press and Fictionvale Magazine. Adi lives near Pittsburgh, PA where she educates students at the community college level and freelances in her spare time.

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