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Berries on the Fence Line

My dad thumped into the kitchen. Dry dishes clattered against their uneven piles as he emptied the dry bin. I continued watching the DVD I had checked out from the library, “Breaking the Maya Code: A Feature Documentary by David Lebrun”, research for character backstory.

“I found another berry patch on the fence line. I’m going to plan on picking that one,” his voice rang across the dining room from the kitchen.

I turned my head to nod. My dog’s eyes opened wide just turned up over my knee. He settled back on the couch arm, gaze set out the window and across the branch framed fields still waiting to be planted.

“Not sure if I can protect it from the spray. From both sides.” He set mail down on the coffee table. “You’re still watching this? You must really like it.”


He remained staring at the television, always an addict for documentaries. “It’s pretty amazing.”

Crumbling monuments wrapped in jungles continued to move across the screen interrupted by interview clips from academics.

I sighed. “It’s not so amazing.”

“Why?” he wrinkled his forward.

“Well, I mean it is, but we give ourselves, or they-” I pointed at the screen. “They pat themselves on the back for this great discovery. But it didn’t have to be lost. I mean, when people asked me if learning Kaqchikel, the Mayan language in my Peace Corps village, was hard, I would say that it was for me because I am so visual and it isn’t a written language. But it is. It was. It could have always been.”

My dog, Solo, caught a glimpse of a car out the window and began to bark. The other, Bagel, fumbled with the blanket to stick her head out when my voice rose.

“I mean. To say it’s an oral language sounds quaint. But they were really advanced. This was written language for a literate people and it was burned. Taken away.”

Somehow the two things all of a sudden went together. These burned books and the black raspberries my dad found. I felt sick. A redder cultivated juice in the summer to come darkened and soured in my mouth. The brightest berries wouldn’t taste tart but of rust. I thought about the kids in school in Guatemala through the nonprofit I had worked for learning a foreign language as their first language and their first language second in a foreign script. What could those flavors possibly taste like in their mouths?

My dad wrapped his fingers around Bagel’s head and she began to lick his skin. There was a torn patch from the bare but still prickled berry vines. He shrugged. “We’ll have to clear out more freezer space.” He’s back to the berries. “I’m going to see what other patches I can find.”


“The tree that blew down along the ditch. It fell on the western patch. They’re alive, but they won’t give fruit this year.”

I turned back to the DVD. How long would the language wait for berries? These languages had already lasted hundreds of years to rediscover an alphabet. The door slammed in the wind. I stared out at the open fields still cut apart and turned over like brownies removed with children’s fingers. Bean stems wound over the dirt like wrinkled skin. Much had been invested last year for homogeneity and this coming year would be no different.

I buried my head in my dog’s golden hair fringed like a Quetzal’s long tail. The same assumptions were being made about the Mayan script and the black raspberries. They were “lost” when they were and are surviving under environmental threat every day. They were inferior or without structure to the more widely spread variety found in red mouths rolling their ‘rr’s. They should have been somewhere else or nowhere at all. But diversity was stronger, my dad’s find suggested. Berries on the fence line.

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