by KELLY GARRIOTT WAITE
Fat navy beans simmer and bob in my copper-bottomed pot. A thin layer of grey foam gathers at the pot's edge, like the scum that gloms up along the coast, riding the waves that break from mother ocean to redefine the shoreline before she gathers them home, the ocean rejoining itself.
Drops of olive oil dot the surface of my bean water. Each droplet is an individual thing. Yet sometimes they agree to marry, these dots—to come together and become something greater. Two neat circles, distinct edges, suddenly cling to each other, no longer circles but a shape with many curves. A blobbish thing. An island with a meandering coastline bobbing in the pot, a bean-skin boat sailing past with a tiny speck of thyme clinging to its bow.
Having nowhere to go, no shore to rearrange, the most ambitious of my bean water leaps from the pot and sets sail in my kitchen, looking for somewhere interesting to land. Perhaps it will someday join the ocean.
I pick up a spoon, scrape the foam from the beans, toss it in the sink. Were it so easy to remove the pollution from the world: a silver teaspoon, a quick flick of the wrist.
* * *
My old corn broom is no longer fit for service. Its bristles, once so strong and proud, have been consumed by duty. The old broom hoards what it sweeps, working the dog and cat hair into a tumbleweed and hiding it among its bristles. From time to time I pause in my sweeping to pull it out.
I picked up a new broom today. A plastic broom. I'd been to three different stores looking for corn brooms without luck. I don't like the thought of plastic bristles massaging my hundred-year-old floors. These old floors deserve corn: things natural, things of the earth.
But my floors are dirty and the old broom isn't worth its salt. And yet, it takes awhile to fit a new broom to my hands. Hands and broom must become acquainted before learning to work as a team. The thin metal handle feels clunky and light. The broom's head doesn't angle the way the old broom did. The plastic that covers the junction where bristles and handle meet, an entirely unnecessary piece, clatters against the stairs. I imagine them bruised and sore when I've finished. With this broom, sweeping is not a labor of love.
And there's the problem of disposal. What to do with the solid wooden handle of my old corn broom? It seems a shame to throw it out, still perfectly serviceable as it is. I delay. I set the broom on the back porch, intending to use it for the withered birch leaves that have begun to accumulate there.
* * *
I used to love the seventeen-year cicadas until I learned they were responsible for the destruction of my blueberry man's entire crop. Now my relationship with the cicadas is tenuous at best. I loved listening to them at night. I loved watching them emerge from their brittle brown cases, stretching backwards and lengthening their bodies. But I love my blueberries more.
Yes, there are other places where I can pick blueberries. A farm near my mother's house has a small patch. Another, near Lake Erie, is full of the sounds of children. But, as with my corn broom, I've grown accustomed to my blueberry man; he reminds me in so many ways of my father, who died a year ago this month. I must adapt if I am to get what I want: blueberries for the freezer, a clean home.
Blueberries announce when they're ripe. They declare fully with their fat blue bodies that it's time to pick them. Sure, you have to watch for the occasional pink spot that marks a berry that hasn’t yet softened into sweetness. But, in the main, blueberries are forthright beings. Use your eyes carefully and you're guaranteed success.
Blackberries are more reticent, a bit more—dare I say it?—secretive. Before you pick a blackberry (which is, in fact, not a single berry, but an accumulation of them), you have to get to know it a little. You need to give each berry a little handshake. If, in the introduction, it falls into your hand, it is ready to go into your bucket. If, however, it’s reluctant to part from the bush, if it puts up a fight, if the vine bends like a fishing pole with a well-muscled trout on the line, know that you must leave it behind. Despite its size, beauty, and apparent ripeness, this berry needs more time before agreeing to be picked.
You can fill your blackberry bucket quickly with mere acquaintances or you can leisure your way through the patch, making friends slowly. Best to wait and let the tart berries sweeten. Better to take home a half bucket of sweet than a bucketful of bitter. But blackberry season comes later, of course. I’m picking ahead of myself.
* * *
Blind Cat sleeps on a rust-colored cushion in a wicker chair in the sunroom. He's on his side, his straight orange back facing me, his face steeping in the sunshine that streams in through the windows. When nature calls, he will rise and pick his way across the wooden floors, bumping into a dreaming dog or two as he goes. He will leave behind on the rust-colored cushion a dusting of hair, which I will forget about and sit on and wear on my clothes the rest of the day.
* * *
Now, as evening fades to night, I sit on the front porch. My son and his friend play Frisbee on the street, their music streaming loudly through an iPhone. And although it's late and the neighbors may be getting angry at the noise of these boys loving life, I let them linger.
A stray lightning bug flickers, not realizing, perhaps, that its season has ended. Katydids saw. And now that my blueberries are tucked into the freezer, I admit I enjoy the cicadas singing sweetly in the background.
Kelly Garriott Waite
Kelly Garriott Waite writes from Ohio. Her work has appeared most recently in The Citron Review and The Journal of Wild Culture. She picked blueberries last week and is looking forward to blackberry season. Sometimes she sweeps the back porch with the old corn broom.