“It’s like…” was I going to say it? Fuck yeah, “El Dorado!” “El Dorado!” I repeated. “But for blackcurrants.”
“Blackcurrants?” Asked Paula. We were all stood in front of my counter which is the largest open area on the shop floor.
“Blackcurrants? Is that right?” I asked out loud. “No, blackberries,” I said answering my own question. I looked to Paula for confirmation. She nodded but not confidently. “They’re blackberries, right? Blackcurrants are… what the dickens are blackcurrants then?” I pulled my nose as it was itching.
“They’re the ones in Ribena.”
“Mmmmm,” I said thinking. “Maybe, get me a carton, yeah.” I fixed her with an expectant glare.
“What?” She asked.
“Only messing, I’ll get it,” I chuckled. As I passed Enrique on the way to the drinks aisle I grabbed him gently by the lapel and gasped, “El Dorado,” into his ear hole. The things they made Ribena out of were indeed blackcurrants and were not the things I was talking about. Just as I suspected! I put the carton back and wondered why there didn’t seem to be a blackberry drink. I might make one. Be like the Red Bull guy. Get my own sports team.
“We going to go then?” I asked when I was back in the huddle. “It’s now or never.” That was brutal but it was the truth. The whole thing – the way were were standing around, wearing clothes and planning reminded me of an advert for a film I’d seen. In that advert Brad Pitt and some other people had been planning things.
“I’m in,” said Paula.
“Enrique?” I asked. He still wasn’t convinced, the stupid fucker. “El Dorado!” I made claws of my hands and shook them.
“Ah! El Dorado!” Enrique said, slightly differently and better than how I’d said it. No, not better, just different. And then loads more foreign came spilling out of him. He ended it with, “si, si!” I looked at him.
“Understand?” I asked because he could have just said anything. “And for blackberries, yeah?”
“Si, ches. blackberries,” he agreed but his eyes were suddenly greedy.
“Okay.” That was sort of stress free.
“An’ a bean stack.”
I spoke too soon. “A bean stack?” I sighed.
“With…” Enrique coughed out a laugh. “With a giagante on top,” Enrique’s eyebrows were furrowed and mobile like caterpillars as he tried to contain himself. He pointed up to the sky. He looked in pain, like he’d been in the stomach.
“You’re mad!” Said Paula and Enrique started braying like a donkey. Enrique had, in his mind, said the funniest thing ever said. He was crying. I watched him. I didn’t really understand. El Dorado, that was mythical. Bean stalk, mythical but… ah, fuck it, life’s too short.
“Listen, it’s just the best, biggest blackberry bush in, well, probably the world. And I don’t think anybody knows about it. In fact I’m sure, and now, right now,” at this juncture I pointed the forefinger of right hand downward into the palm of my left, “the berries will be fucking perfect. So if we’re going to do it we do it now, yeah?” That was surely enough to convince them but I was going to hammer it home. “We’ve got one chance at this. People will see us. The location will be known. We must. do. it. now.” I impressed myself with my looking into their eyes – Enrique’s wet with tears and still a bit greedy, Paula’s, dead like a shark’s – and everything. I guess I was just confident because what I was saying was the Gospel truth. I had seen it. It wasn’t just my opinion, It was there and I could take them.
“Yeah, well let’s go,” said Paula who was, if anything, over convinced and was now coming down the other side. I looked at Enrique and he shrugged but when he thought I was looking away he faced Paula and pulled a big smiling face and pointed up to the giant that he’d mentioned earlier. I had a feeling Enrique was going to be reliving his moment of glory, when he’d said that thing about the beanstalk, for a long time and I knew if I tried to explain to him it was rubbish he would laugh even harder.
“Don’t fuck around,” I chided. “Don’t want to do it then we won’t do it. I’ll go on my own.”
“No, no, we go,” Said Enrique innocently. I stared into his eyes to test him. If he started laughing that was it, I was done, but he didn’t. I nodded.
“You can’t wear that though,” I said pointing to Enrique in his entirety. “Berry juice will fuck that suit right up.” Twenty minutes later we were walking down the lane next to the shop. Looking at our lengthening shadows on the dusty tarmac ahead of us I was minded of The Wizard of Oz.
“Walk casual,” I said.
It wasn’t even a marathon which I could run, we only had to walk about a kilometre but after half that distance Enrique was moaning. It was his own fault. I’d told him that fashioning a suit out of bin liners to go over his suit was a mistake and that he’d sweat like maniac but he thought he knew best. “We’re nearly there,” I told him as he shook liquid out of his armholes.
I was a bit pissed off because I’d run down this lane hundreds of times without ever seeing another human and yet the day I didn’t want to be seen there was a car. I’d seen it approaching and looked up at God and shook my head. I felt a bit like how Jesus probably did on the cross. Well fucked off. Lord, why must thou fucketh witheth meeth?
“Calm, yeah?” I said to the other two as it neared. The lane was narrow and we had to stand on the grassy tiny hill side bit to let it pass. There was plenty of room even though it was a Range Rover, but It didn’t just pass though, oh no, it slowed right down. Even when it was practically past us and had no reason to travel slowly, when it was clear to accelerate away, it didn’t and its driver did a right old nosey-parker gawp.
“What?” I mouthed at its driver and then it did accelerate but I sensed the driver looking at us in his rearview mirror so, even though it was now a hundred metres down the road I again asked the back of the Range Rover, “What?”
I guess Enrique did look odd, and Paula was carrying a mop bucket but so what? There’s no law against that. Paula nearly fell climbing down from the tiny hill and had to grab onto Enrique for balance. When she grabbed his black plastic sleeve Enrique sweat came squirting out of the wrist and dripped on her making her scream.
I marshalled them back onto the road as if they they were disabled old people, to make it look natural. It wasn’t actually natural for me to help them step off some not very long grass but I was over thinking it. I was stressed because I knew the next bit was the dangerous bit. We had to cross a field.
I have friends who will walk across fields with gay abandon but I don’t like doing it. I always imagine a farmer coming out and telling me off. I don’t know why, maybe it happened once when I was little and I’ve repressed the memory? I really don’t remember but I don’t walk across fields unless I absolutely have to. I’m concerned I’ll damage the crops even if they haven’t grown.
“Across here,” I said, checking over my shoulder and making sure the Range Rover had gone. That guy had been the farmer, I reckoned. It was possible he’d come back.
“I am melt!” Said Enrique the Snowman, and even though now was the time to hurry I stopped.
“And what exactly can I do about that?” I asked and actually waited for a reply. Enrique just turned the sides of his mouth down and shook his arms again and held them out so I could see the perspiration drip from his hands. “And?” I asked. “I told you that. Fucking hell,” I said.
“Is it much further?” Asked Paula at precisely the wrong time.
“Fuck it, let’s go back,” I said turning and starting to walk back. I was back on the lane and turned. I hoped they were where I’d left them but they were following me.
“We’re not going now, it’s only over there!” I said pointing at the far edge of the field. “We’re there now!” Paula and Enrique looked at each other. “Come on,” I said, trying to remain calm, “this is supposed to be fun!” They can put that on my tombstone.
IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN
“What are you going to do with your share?” I asked as we neared the twisted thorny hedge that was home to an absolutely incredible crop of blackberries. There was no answer. I was thinking of my wife’s face when I came home with a load of blackberries. She’d start making jam immediately and we’d be a proper family.
The field was baked hard, lumpy and difficult to walk across but there could have been seeds I couldn’t see, and we might have been killing those seeds by walking on top of them. That would explain why the farmer in my mind would be so angry when he caught us, which he would unless God had heard me moaning at him and decided to give a break.
I looked back at the lane which was now in the distance. You couldn’t see the lane but you could see where it was. It was empty. The one time there’s a car on it we were on it, unbelievable. I chuckled. As I was chuckling I looked at Enrique and my chuckle stuck in my throat. He didn’t look well at all. Sweat was literally pouring down his grey, expressionless face. I thought about asking him if he was okay. I was even going to put a, ‘dude’ on the end. Are you okay, dude? The dude would be there because he clearly wasn’t okay. It would have been compassion. I didn’t ask him and decided it would be better if we just hurried. “I hope it’s still there,” I laughed but I was a bit nervous. Enrique was dying and Paula was quiet. I jogged the last few metres waving them on with symmetrical upwardly sweeping arm. I was going to play a trick on them. I stood near some brambles and waited for them to catch me.
“Ta-da!” I said when I felt them on my shoulder. I held my arms out towards a… you know, I’m going to call it a thicket. A mass of thorns. Now there were some berries dotted about in the brambles but nothing special. Some of them were still red and most of the others were small and evil looking but that was just the joke. The good bit was actually hidden just around the back! Ha! I waited for Paula or Enrique to lambast me. All that for this?! I thought they’d say and I’d reply, all poker-faced, ‘yeah, good eh?’ And I’d keep that charade going for a few minutes. It was all about timing.
They didn’t reply.
“Yep, this is it!” I confirmed and then turned to Enrique. Enrique’s tongue was right out. I mean right out. Like, it was down to his chin and he was panting. He’d pant for ten seconds then his tongue would go in and he’d swallow and then it would hang out again and he was panting fast for another ten seconds. He was looking around though, so that was good.
I leant forward so I could see past Enrique to Paula. She was just standing there. So I stood up straight and licked my lips. It was fucking hot actually. I took a deep breath. “Only joking!” I announced without much conviction. “It’s around here,” I said and then jogged to the end of the thicket where there was the hint of a path.
It was hardly a path and you had to walk through it like a moon-man. Lifting your knees right up so they came down on the brambles that were knee height but if you were careful you shouldn’t get scratched. I did this funny walk through to a bit of a clearing.
It was all exactly as I remembered. I’m talking a sea of blackberries, but big juicy mother-fuckers. No old woman had found her way in here and taken all the good ones. This was untouched and seemed to be bathed in a magical Elven light. The other two hadn’t followed me through. I could see their heads. Enrique was still panting and looking around wildly but he seemed to have stopped sweating. He’d run out. That was possibly good. Or really bad. “Come on Paula, just lift your legs right up!” I said.
“Nah,” She replied.
“Well throw me the bucket and… and get him to sit down,” I said. I would normally have been furious but good Lord, the fucking berries, man!
Paula threw the bucket at me and I congratulated her on her aim and then set to work. “If you have to pull them then leave them!” I shouted as I picked. I am an expert.
“How would you know without pulling them?” Paula shouted back. A good point. I moved around the clearing and I didn’t even have to lean into the vicious, clawing undergrowth as they were all right there. In no time I’d filled the bucket a quarter full. I was moving anti-clockwise around the clearing and just grabbing the easy ones. It was incredible. I marked the woman’s poo so I wouldn’t step in it.
I’d found the place while partaking in a cross country running race. I don’t like cross country running but did it to get out of the house. I’m pretty rubbish at them. I like running at a set steady pace, not all up and down and around corners, so I was near the back. The field spread out but there was a woman not far ahead of me. She kept looking back at me. As the race progressed she kept looking back and I took that to mean she was in love with me because I’m so handsome. She kept looking back and then did a body swerve down the very path that lead to the clearing so I thought, that was weird.
I kept running for a bit but then something told me the woman had expected me to follow her so that we might make love. I went back to the hidden path. She hadn’t come back out, she was waiting for me. I made my way down and that’s when I saw the berries. And then I saw the woman doing a toilet. “Berries!” I announced looking away and at the berries and then I walked backwards back down the path, scratching the back of my legs pretty badly. “Berries!” I said again when I was back on the course, I then turned and ran to my car which was near the start and drove home. Because I hadn’t finished or told anybody I was going, the organisers had spent quite some time looking for me.
I avoided the woman’s poo and eventually I was back to the path. The bucket was nearly half full now but even only half full that was still a lot of berries, because it was a mop bucket. It was heavy. Holding the bucket with my elbow bent was a struggle. It was enough berries, more than enough. I was going to call it a day but then I saw a few more good ones and I couldn’t leave them and it was like I couldn’t stop. I’d stop and think, enough, and then see one that you’d be insane to just leave but plucking that one would expose another, and another.
I rolled my sleeves up because there were some real crackers I had to lean in for. My arms started to get scratched but in for a penny, in for a pound. “I’m coming out now!” I announced for possibly the 50th time but this time I meant it. It seemed to be getting dark but that was impossible. I tramped down the path, struggling to hold the bucket with my elbow bent.
At the end of the path, stuck to the brambles were torn up black bags and parcel tape. Fuckers went, I thought but checked the plastic anyway to make sure Enrique hadn’t actually literally melted away leaving a shrunken skeleton. I laughed at my stupidity and then picked up the bucket and headed back to the shop. I wasn’t annoyed. How could I be with what I’d picked? With each step the handle of the bucket bent slightly, that’s how many berries I’d picked.
It was late. I’d been ages but it was an incredible evening and I whistled as I went. It was still warm, crickets were making that noise which means it was over 16 degrees and there was rustling from the undergrowth as rabbits and other things fled from my footsteps. I was happy. Near the lane I heard something big move in the hedge. I smiled and stopped to look in, expecting to see a cute woodland creature but instead I saw a mess of black shiny hair and a tracksuit top. I nearly died and I wanted to run but I couldn’t compute what I was looking at.
I dropped the bucket which was so bottom heavy it didn’t fall over. It was something alive near a tracksuit top in the undergrowth. It was dark in there and it’d soon be dark out here. I looked around this time wishing a car would approach down the lane, how ironic! But no, God’s a joker like that. I shouted at the hedge, hoping to startle whatever was in there into revealing itself as being a badger but nothing moved.
I leant over, my heart going mental and spread some brambles apart and peered further in. A white face from the floor turned to me. “Hello,” it said. I’d gone mad, I couldn’t breathe, or move. My muscles tried but they’d just tense all together rather than in any order that would facilitate motion. “I was, erm…” The face said.
“Carol?” I croaked at the third time of trying, the first two had simply been gasps.. It looked like Carol.
“Hiya!” She replied.
“What are you…”
“I fell in here and now I’m stuck,” she said, chuckling at her predicament. I looked around again.
I pushed my hands in, ignoring the pain and grabbed what I assumed were the shoulders of her red tracksuit top and started pulling. It must have been painful for her but like me she didn’t show it. “Oooh!” She’ said as I pulled. She lay prone as I pulled her through and eventually I did pull her all through. She lay for a moment and then stood straight and then I noticed something amazing, something unbelievable. I think I’ve mention that Carol was quite unappealing to look. She looked fine at the fair but generally she looks like she’s been dragged backwards through a hedge and yet the act of dragging her backwards through a hedge had not made a difference. So she didn’t look like that. I now knew she didn’t look like she’d been dragged backwards through a hedge. She just looked bad.
“You look good,” I told her. She was cut up pretty badly.
“I was following you and when I saw you I just jumped in the hedge.”
“Cool!” I said. “What about the fair guy?”
“Good, he was a fucking dick,” I told her.
Anyway we made a date and we’re going to go out.
Or are we? Because after she ran off I was walking down the lane, changing the bucket from one hand to the other when that hand began to hurt, when a car approached. Now? Fucking God you dick! I thought. It still wasn’t full dark but the car had its lights on. I squinted as it approached and nearly had to hold my forearm up to shield my eyes. It stopped next to me. I was a bit annoyed. “What?” I asked whoever was driving. The window slid down electrically. It was the mad, depressed woman who I’d gone running with and who had then lived in Enrique’s office creating art. She was famous now.
“Jamie?” She asked.
I couldn’t remember her name. “Oh, wow!” I said so she wouldn’t notice. I should know her name by name. “God, how are you?”
“Oh, you know?” She replied. I didn’t. She was rich, going by her Lexus.
Anyway, she mistook the scratches on my arms for self-harming and I didn’t correct her and she wants to go out with me too so we can talk about our feelings. We’re going out soon. Can you even believe that?
I got back to the shop with the berries and found Enrique drinking blue Powerade.
“Check it out!” I said dropping the bucket again. Enrique nodded appreciatively. “Try one!” I urged, taking one out and blowing the spiders off it, well, most of them, and I handed it to Enrique who popped it in his mouth and grimaced and made a clicking noise. “You get the odd bitter one,” I assured him.
“Yeah, I’ll just make some jam!” Exclaimed my wife when I brought a tub home. “Just wait there while I go and get the jam making kit!” She then ran to the cupboards and started banging them. I didn’t realize she was being sarcastic until she sat down without a jam making kit.