He is a red man all over, everyone can smell it. Even through the jasmine oil I apply so liberally before each shave he reeks of rusty iron and musk like the heavy gate to the bull’s field that was left open last year. I prattle on about the weather and tug my comb through his beard with my fingers crossed. Every time I snag on a knot I wince, afraid by the size of his huge hairy fists and the bulk of him sprawled across my biggest chair.
Strawberries are the taste of summer.
Text and audio work; 3.46 minutes
Written for The Surround Summer Album 2017
by Sarah Gillett
Strawberries are the taste of summer. Bite into one and it’s a nostalgic pleasure trip. The lazy slog and echo of a village cricket match. The twang of rain and tennis racket. The arrowhead dart of swallows quick and fluttering as a power surge, scattering across the screen as missing pixels.
This is the way I remember summer.
We are all given a free punnet of strawberries every week for eighteen weeks a year. Each punnet contains twenty-one strawberries and we are instructed to take one three times a day at mealtimes. It is always the same variety now, the White Opera supplied by Johnson & Johnson through Driscoll’s grocers. It’s important to check the label on the packaging carefully and scan the barcode to register delivery because there is a big market in bio-jacked food. If the bio-jackers intercept a truck they steal our food and replace it with old-time stock that doesn’t have the vitamins, minerals and boosters we need to survive. Our super premium food they sell onto the rich junkies for their puking parties or paradise tanks.
Since Roman times the strawberry plant has been used to treat depression. On our restricted diet it’s important for us to maintain healthy skin, bones, cells and strawberries are a great source of Vitamin C. Plus they contain loads of other vitamins and minerals that are generally agreed to be good for us.
They bred the red colour out of strawberries using genetic material from the Agriculture DNA Bank, because they didn’t want people to keep getting sick from allergies anymore. Around the same time the labs started adding the ‘summer’ experiential chemicals, coming to the rescue of the millions suffering with SAD.
It turned out that methyl bromide, a chemical introduced as a pesticide in 1932, was eating through the ozone layer. Despite a phasing-out introduced by the Canadian government in 1987 many countries, including the US, ignored these warnings and by 2017 the strawberry was at the top of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ of pesticide-contaminated produce. By 2032 our ozone layer was so damaged that the last of the icecaps melted and cities like London, New York, Beijing – cities we have read about in the library – disappeared under water – whilst other places dried up completely. A lot of things died, including people, plants, animals. We don’t have seasons anymore. It’s hot and windy in the day. It’s cold and windy at night. Alarms warn us when rain is coming.
The strawberries are grown underground, like the rest of our food. They are still harvested by hand.
I eat a strawberry. I can hear the sea shifting in my ears. I am on a beach watching the waves lick the sand. There are no unhappy summer memories. I am not unhappy. When I eat strawberries I am happy. I am happy.
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“And this is the sign for asleep,” says Alison, closing her index fingers and thumbs together in front of her eyes. “Go to sleep now my darling.”
She smooths out the duvet cover with her hands, uncreasing the printed astronaut suit, flattening the stars in their cotton void, repositioning the blue Earth from sliding off the side of the bed. She kisses Bill’s hair, feeling his fragile skull millimetres away from her lips. “Night night.”
“Night night Mummy,” he says.