The Strawberry Festival | by Wyatt Bonikowski


It was red through and through. I reached my hand deep in the inner leaves. An ant crawled across my knuckles dragging a broken leg. I tried to help by pulling the leg off, but I broke the ant in half and its two pieces went round and round trying to find each other. Red ones are the sweetest. This one was a little soft in the middle and the sweet was almost rot. I fed a piece to the dead ant.



White at the top below the green. A few hard green growths. I asked Mother to slice them off because I didn’t like their look. She slid the thin knife quick and quick and quick again. She didn’t cut her fingers like the time she peeled the squash and shook spots of blood on the wall. The hard green growths stared at me like poked-out eyes. They tasted sour at first, then ice or cucumber, then sour again. A sour end.


Father took a bite. Mother took a bite. Sister took a bite. I took a bite. We were a family, and we shared the good and the bad.



Sister gave me one she had collected in her skirt. She held them in her lap on the ride. She tossed them in her lap on the ride. She asked for my hand and put one in. I said, This is one from your skirt? It’s warm? She lifted my hand to my face and gently pressed the fruit against my teeth. Soft and warm. Don’t eat the soft ones, Mother said. But I wanted to eat the soft ones. The soft ones were not what they seemed.



Mother picked a perfect one. It shined dark red and glossy, like glass. She showed it to the bad kid. The bad kid’s father pointed. Just you look at that good one! he said. But the bad kid banged his fists against his eyes. The bad kid’s father held the bad kid’s arms at his side and whispered numbers in his ear while the bad kid screamed. Mother put the perfect one in the bad kid’s mouth, and the bad kid held it on his slobbering red tongue until he was not bad any more.



Brown. A peculiar eye like the goat that ate Father’s hat. A hanging beard like the goat that stood on its house and loosed a strong yellow stream down its roof. I dropped the rotten one in the horse dung. I dropped my ice cream in the straw and slipped my red balloon into the sky. Father caught it on film and hung the print in our hallway. Was there some secret? visitors asked. Father would unbend his crouched form and rise up insect-like on his metal braces, arms and legs turned obliquely inward, while Mother and Sister rushed to either side to support him. The muscles in his face twitched; one eyelid seized shut until a tear rolled down his cheek. Outsiders called it crying, but among ourselves we called it a nasolacrimal duct obstruction. There was no secret, but we let them think it.



The end of the carton was mush and slime from the rotten ones we crushed. Sister and I took turns dipping our fingers and sucking. Mother made a strong face. Father ran the car off the road and spun the wheels in a ditch. The people came out of their houses. What were you thinking, and with children in the car! they said. Father stuck his finger in their faces. He took out his wallet. The police came and by then it was night and the lights were flashing blue and I fell asleep and woke and fell asleep again. Then Father was carrying me, huffing short sharp breaths, and I thought he was counting and that he must be up to one million by now. In the morning he was still lying in my bed and his face was dark and Mother shouted at Sister, Call an ambulance! Call Marianne! And Marianne the babysitter held me on her lap in the quiet house.



In the middle of the night Father crawled into the house and ate the pile of strawberries I had left for him on the kitchen floor. Then he crawled to my room and begged at the foot of my bed. But I gave you the rest, I told him. He pawed under the bed and tore up the carpet looking for more, but the strawberry festival was over.



Wyatt Bonikowski’s stories have appeared in Atticus ReviewDevil’s LakeFairy Tale ReviewNecessary FictionNew World WritingWigleaf, and other journals. He can be found on Twitter at @wbonikowski.