In summer, the soles of Eva’s feet were permanently stained crimson from playing barefoot under the huge mulberry tree that to her ten-year-old eyes seemed to take up a full half of her backyard. Every day she ran outside, squashing the fleshy berries to make their pulp ooze up between her toes. She liked the pretty red dots of juice that sprayed across the tops of her feet, in patterns that made her think of exotic tattoos on long-ago tribespeople in the documentaries that her dad sometimes watched.
Even scrubbing her feet in the bath before bedtime only faded them to a slightly less virulent shade, but she felt happy at the way the water around her turned a beautiful soft pink like the inside of a kitten’s ear. Mum always sighed and thinned her lips when she saw the soiled nailbrush on the side of the bath afterwards. When Eva didn’t clean her feet mum told her off for that, too, saying that the colour would rub off onto the bedsheets and ruin them.
The mulberries fell in their hundreds, and Eva never quite understood why her mother shunned the idea of collecting any for cooking. If it was anything else, she’d have lectured Eva about how wrong it was to let food go to waste and found some recipe or another, the way she always did to use up any leftovers.
“Your father loves mulberry pie,” her mother said without fail every summer, as soon as she saw that Eva’s soles had turned red. Eva would ask, unable to help herself, “why don’t you make him one?” even though the only answer she ever got was some reproachful comment about it being too messy, and mum not wanting to stain her hands.
That was strange, thought Eva, because mum could just wear rubber gloves. The one time she pointed that out her mother told her to go to her room and read a book, in the dismissive tone that made it clear Eva had yet again said the wrong thing.
“You’re just like your father,” mum snapped whenever she was especially frustrated by something Eva had or hadn’t done. Then Eva would overhear mum on the phone to Grandma later that night, when dad had gone out to his shed, talking about how alike her daughter and husband were. “He gets it from his own mother, of course,” mum would say in the same flat voice that she used when she discussed Aunty Bec’s divorce. It made Eva hate her father a little and no matter how many hours she spent trying to work out what she needed to change about herself to make mum like her more, she never seemed to find the right answer.
One year, dad spent a Saturday afternoon filling an empty ice cream container with plump, ripe mulberries before they fell off the tree and got trampled. Eva helped him pick them, and they giggled together at how red their fingers turned, making it into a competition to see who could get the brightest scarlet nails. He took the ice cream container over to his mother’s place, and two days later he came back from visiting her with a fresh mulberry pie that was still warm from Nanna’s oven. After tea that night he cut a huge slice and ate it with thick whipped cream, smiling, while mum banged the cupboard doors in the kitchen and glared at him when he wasn’t looking.
He gave Eva a taste, holding his fork out to her, and she screwed up her nose at how tart the berries were on her tongue. She told dad he could have it all himself. He looked sad when she said that, but Eva figured he wouldn’t really mind. She started to tell him about her idea to make a parachute so that she could jump off the top of the house, until mum shouted at her to stop being lazy and come and dry the dishes.
After his plate was empty he put the rest of the pie in the fridge, as if he was planning to have more tomorrow night. When he was at work the next day Eva’s mum bundled the pie into a plastic bag and shoved it in the freezer without even cutting it into slices.
“It’ll just sit there taking up space in the fridge and go off if I leave it,” she said sharply when she saw Eva lurking in the doorway watching her. “You know what your father’s like, he gets these ideas in his head and then forgets all about them. And stop cracking your knuckles, it’s disgusting.”
When dad got home he opened the fridge and saw that the pie was gone, but said nothing. For dessert, mum served store-bought apple pie — “for a special treat we can all enjoy, so be grateful for it,” she instructed them — and nobody mentioned the mulberry one. It was still sitting in the freezer months later, stuck to the side by a layer of frost, pushed to the very back of the shelf behind the packets of sausages and mince that mum bought in bulk and then parcelled out.
“Typical. He left it for so long it got freezer burn. What a waste,” mum told Eva, snorting through her nose and shaking her head as she threw the pie in the compost bin. Nanna died not long after that and as far as Eva knew, that was the last time dad ever had homemade mulberry pie. Now the berries just slowly rotted into the grass, and when Eva stopped to check her feet she sometimes thought they looked like she was bleeding.
Odile Mori lives with cats, a rose garden, and many musical instruments that she may one day learn how to play.
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