Christopher tm Herdt (cherdt) wrote,
Christopher tm Herdt

Devouring the Poison-Berries

While I was waiting for well_lahdidah yesterday, in front of Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen's Split Button, I saw a woman poking around at a small tree. She was probably in her mid-thirties, and had dark hair and a dark complexion, like that of a southern European or north African. I watched her out of the corner of my eye for a while, and it appeared she was plucking things off the tree and eating them. She was doing so fairly rapidly, too. Finally, I could not resist: I approached her, and as she noticed me she grinned sheepishly, a little dark juice staining her lips. She looked quite like an overgrown schoolchild.

"What kind of tree is that?" I asked.

"I don't know how you call it," she said. Her accent was quite good, almost imperceptible, but her vocabulary was limited. "These, you can try one. I do not know, maybe they are poison, I cannot be responsible. But they are delicious!"

They were very small, round berries, and the ripe ones were bright red. I guessed they might be pin cherries, so I ate one but spit out the pit, which in pin cherries are poisonous. It was a little sour and a little bitter and tasted kind of like I imagine it would taste if you ate a leaf off a tree. I did not find it particularly delicious.

I was denied, or perhaps saved, from further discussion when a friend of hers exited the library and started talking to her. I could not help but think of all the things my mother told my brothers and I not to eat when we were children. I particularly remember her warnings about the yew berries, the ones that look like olives with pimientos, but with the colors inverted. After that, anything small, round, and red we simply called poison-berries. This woman was gleefully eating poison-berries!

I, too, had eaten a poison-berry. I waited for the throes, but once again I managed to shirk death. I ate a poison-berry and lived.

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