Usually, my imagination provides me with a ready source of entertainment but sometimes it interferes a little too much with reality. When I was a kid, I experienced this lesson a few times, fortunately with no long lasting repercussions. This is one of those memories:
The summer sun was baking down and I scuffed my bare toes through the dust. It puffed up around my feet in little explosions. I felt like a giant trampling on things as I headed for the shady road at the back of the farm.
Once I reached a small clearing, I entered another world. It was dark and cool under the trees; ferns and small bushes edged the road. I began to search under the leaves and at the base of tree trunks for elves and fairies, who were probably slipping behind branches at the sound of my approach. Just then a big bush with white berries caught my eye.
I gazed at those berries for a long time. They had little black dots on them and they were somewhat puffy. First they looked like little bums, then I decided they were more like pillows. I considered pulling one off the branch and tasting it. I knew I shouldn’t eat strange berries but I reasoned I could just put it on my tongue and surely if it was poisonous, it would taste terrible and then I’d spit it out. I imagined my hand reaching out to pluck the berry, then popping it in my mouth. Then I also imagined myself writhing on the ground, choking, while fairies jumped out from their hiding spots to rescue me. They fed me sweet nectar from flowers and I could breath again. I sat up, thanked them and said I would come back and visit sometime.
Back home, Mom was busy baking bread and sweating in the heat of the kitchen.
“Where have you been for so long?” she asked.
“Out back, walking…Guess what? There are some really neat white berries back there on a bush. I wonder what they are…” I replied, thinking I better give her some idea of what she was facing if I fell into a coma or whatever.
She swung around to stare at me and her face got white as the berries.
“Did you eat any?” she demanded.
“Um…I don’t know…” I answered, remembering the fairies and elves that had seemed so real.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” she said and her voice was rising and her frowns were showing. “Quit playing and tell me. You have to tell me if you ate any!”
“I don’t know…” I repeated. She was scaring me with her angry voice and frowning face. I couldn’t remember if I’d really eaten them or not. What if I had? Maybe I was dying. If I said “yes” she might feed me castor oil like she did after them time I sniffed the gas. If I said, “no” she wouldn’t believe me because I’d already said I didn’t know.
Her face was really mad now and though her glasses were steamed up from peering in the oven to check on the bread, her eyes were still burning into me.
“You tell me right now, or I’ll get the wooden spoon,” she yelled.
The wooden spoon cured my indecision-I sprinted out of the house. I knew it didn’t matter what I said now. I was in for it, so my only hope was to run away and hope she’d forget about it. If I had eaten the berries, they might make me run faster, or maybe I’d keel over dead and then she’d be sorry.
I never knew my mother could run that fast. Neither of us ever did figure out if I’d eaten the berries.
PS: The berries are symphoricarpas-aka snowberry, corpse berry or ghost berry. They are poisonous unless harvested at the right time and prepared in just the right way.