There is a peace is repetition by keara

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Under the Blackberries
by Allen L Burnet

There is order in repetition. He traced a soft line with his index finger across her bare skin, down the slope of her shoulder, along her arm, where it folded delicately across her torso. She lay between light summer sheets with her back pressed against him. Or was he pressing against her? He couldn’t be sure anymore; they had held this position for a few hours. His finger continued up the arch of her hip then descended toward the mattress, a slight brush against her soft hair, then a ninety degree turn for the return trip up along her belly and between her breasts. His wrist brushed her nipple as his finger navigated that valley. He followed her collarbone back to his staring point on her shoulder. He traced the path again.

They had met the summer before starting the third grade, 21 years, two months and three days ago, in a time when people still introduced themselves to new arrivals in the neighborhood. Cole’s mother had taken him with her to greet their new neighbors. There was a round of introductions and an exchange of baked goods, but that happen up high; Cole was down low, where kids stand. He heard a women’s voice say, “…and this is Kim, Kimmy, but we all call her Kipper. Don’t we honey?” Kim pressed tighter against her mother’s leg in response. “This is Cole,” his mother’s voice introduced him. He did not press against his mother’s leg. He watched Kim. She was all mismatched sizes: big green eyes set

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above a tiny turned up nose with a mouth shaped like a cartoon-kiss – and so much hair, soft brown curls that caught the light like a shampoo commercial. “Kim.” Cole tilted his head, as if registering something he had never understood before. Kim stepped behind her mother. Within a week or so, and with a little encouragement – including a batch of gram-cracker sandwiches filled with chocolate frosting – Kim got over her shyness. Summers pass slowly at eight years old and kids make fast friends. Young enough to get into trouble but old enough not to get caught, that first summer formed a bond that would last a lifetime. It’s hard to compare a child’s love with that of an adult, but anyone who saw those two kids together, knew: Kim Putnam loved Cole Gibson. She followed him everywhere. A pair of soon-to-be third graders with bicycles, they explored the boundaries of their known world: past the blackberry patches and out to the railroad tracks, in the ponds, up the trees, and always together. Cole and Kim were the only elementary age kids on their side of the Basin. It would be four years before Lori Wilcox would move into the neighborhood and become Kim’s best friend. Two years after that, Lori would die in the backseat of a 1973 Ford Pinto. When school started, Kim and Cole were the first to be picked up on their bus route; they spent fifteen minutes with the bus all to themselves. They always shared the same seat, the seat over the left wheel. It was the bumpiest ride and the wheel well allowed Kim’s feet to reach the floor. Also, that seat was not visible from the bus driver’s chair. The third grade seating chart placed Cole directly behind Kim – a mistake teachers in future classes would not repeat. While Kim quickly learned her

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spelling words and multiplication tables, Cole would sit quietly and play with her hair. On recess, while the other boys played kickball and tetherball, Cole would play foursquare or hopscotch with Kim. It was the summer before the fourth grade when Cole began his work on the blackberry-fort. The Basin was thick with blackberries, fields full of the thorny vines, large enough to cover a few city blocks and towering fifteen to twenty feet high at the center. Once all the berries along the outsides of the fields had been plucked, people would lay planks of plywood over the barren sections so they could get in deeper – get to the fresh pockets of plump juicy berries. These trampled down picking trails would eventually lead under the blackberry canopy and become dark tunnels. Over the course of that summer, Cole pressed one of these tunnels deep into the thick of the vine-covered field, and hidden in the shadows, he hollowed out the blackberry-fort. It became their secret playground under the blackberries. And there, at an age of innocence, when curiosity has no shame until adults assign it, Cole traced his finger across Kim’s belly for the first time.

How long ago was that? Cole thought back to that first summer in the blackberry-fort. Twenty years, 1 month and 19 days ago. He continued tracing his index finger along Kim’s soft skin, passing her belly button again. “You remember the first time I did this? We were kids in our fort; you kept giggling.” He pressed his face into her brown curls, “I love your hair; no one else should be allowed this much hair.” He took a small taste of her neck.

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“How long have we been laying here.” Cole raised his head over Kim’s shoulder and looked around for his watch. It was out of sight. He looked at Kim’s wedding dress; it lay close by, carefully folded. Her veil was swirled in circles on top of the gown. He had taken his time slipping the lavish garment from her body and he knew Kim would be pleased that he had shown such care with it. “I’m getting up. We have a lot to do today.” He stood up too quickly and caught his balance against the wall. He ran his fingers over the wallpaper. A pattern of vines, had he picked that? – or had Kim? He couldn’t remember. The way the light played off the design drew him back to that first summer they had spent together under the blackberry canopy.

By the end of that summer Cole had made a prize fort. He dragged in a musty roll of carpet he’d dug out of an abandoned shed, a few battered chairs, and even a broken down mattress that had been discarded along the railroad tracks. Kim added her touches as well; she brought in thick candles for light, some old pillows for the bed, and she found a gold colored curtain to serve as the fort’s door at the tunnel entrance. Blackberries only bloom in the spring and summer but the vines claim their land year round, short of a bulldozer, the blackberry-fort was there to stay. Fourth grade came with book reports, simple-division, and warbly sixteenmillimeter films. When it seemed like it might never end, the first white buds of late spring dotted the vines above the blackberry-fort. It was the sweetest harvest the Basin had seen in a decade, and as the berries ripened, Kim and Cole were released from school. That summer they dared beyond the railroad tracks, they

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climbed taller trees, reached for the bottoms of the ponds; and in the shadows under the blackberries, they tested the limits of their touching game. Each evening they returned to their homes with their hands, faces and clothes stained midnight-purple. Just before the start of the fifth grade Kim celebrated her tenth birthday. She received only one gift and it came with a certain amount of responsibility. Her parents had given her a kitten. A gray kitten with a white spot on his forehead and two white paws – as if his front paws had been dipped in milk. She named him Mittens. Although she had been told not to, the first day she could, Kim brought Mittens with her to the blackberry-fort. She introduced him to Cole; Cole was unimpressed. She tried to show him what fun a kitten could be, but he didn’t seem to get it. Kim carried her kitten to the mattress and began swishing a leafy twig in front of her pet. Mittens pounced and batted, his paws left white tracers in the dim light. Cole watched. Kim giggled and poked the stick out from under a pillow, then quickly jerked it back as Mittens’ paws flashed out for the leafy prey. She lay on her back and pulled her kitten up on to her belly. Cole turned and left the fort. Mittens’ soft purr lulled her into a doze. When she opened her eyes, Cole was sitting on one of the tattered chairs watching her. “I’m glad your back.” She smiled at him “Let’s go to the pond.” He’d had enough of the blackberry-fort for the day.

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“I brought towels,” she pointed. “I have to take Mittens home first, before my Dad gets home from work.” She ran a searching hand under the pillows; not feeling any fur, she looked around with a start. “Where’s my kitten?” Cole shrugged. Kim jumped up and began making a kissing sound, “Mmuoot, mmuoot, mmuoot – here kitty, kitty – mmuoot, mmuoot, mmuoot.” She searched along the edges of the fort in the dark vines – so many places a kitten could crawl into. She looked eagerly at Cole and the sparse light began to collect in her eyes. Her fragile jaw trembled and the salty water spilled down her cheeks to the corners of her mouth. Cole went to her. “W e’ll find him,” he assured her with a hug. But they did not. Together they searched late into the evening. Cole tunneled deeper into the darkness than he ever had; his arms and back where covered with scratched from the thorny vines. They called and looked and listened, and finally they lay together on the mattress – and Kim cried. It was a sad end to their vacation, but young minds seldom dwell – and the fifth grade arrived. They spent their school lunches together; Cole forced Twinkie filling between his gaped teeth and Kim laughed milk through her nose. In time, the blackberries bloomed again, and the two greeted the summer leading into the sixth grade with reckless freedom. They followed the river north and dared to climb the ridge above the old stone quarry. It was there, perched high above their world, that they discovered the abandoned Ford Pinto. It became their magic cruiser with rotted seats, a broken windshield, and urine soaked floorboards. They spent sunny days driving to

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exotic locations like Memphis and France and Saturn. In the afternoons they followed the river back home – to the safety of their blackberry-fort. Sixth grade intruded upon their vacation, but in return appointed them elder statesman of the schoolyard. It was a long year, their last as elementary children, but like the three years before it, sixth grade gave way to summer. It was their final summer before starting junior high school. During those carefree mornings they would forage the railroad tracks or make the climb to the abandoned Pinto. On hot afternoons they would seek the cool shade of the blackberry-fort. In quiet moments Cole would trace his fingers across Kim’s belly, but she no longer giggled – and for the first time, their touching game brought with it a blooming bud of unspoken guilt. There is a peculiarity about the end of an age: In the moment, it is rarely recognized for what it is. That was the last summer that Kim and Cole would call their own. As that summer ended, Lori Wilcox moved into the neighborhood.

Cole pulled his thoughts back to the present. “Who picked this wallpaper?” He looked back over his shoulder at Kim. She still lay peacefully in bed, with no intentions of moving. “Get up, get up, get up!” Cole carefully stepped over her wedding gown and knelt down to Kim’s level. He pressed his face through her thick curls and whispered into her ear, “As I recall, I did most of the work last night; I should be the tired one.” He pulled back and waited for her reaction. She feigned sleep, but ever so slightly he thought he could see the corners of her mouth bending into a smile.

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“I was just thinking of Lori – Lori Wilcox. I wish she could have seen you in that dress.” He stood. “Ok, I’m gonna run to the store for a couple of things. When I get back, if your still in that bed, I’m gonna pick up where we left off last night.” Cole turned to go; as he left he was struck again with the pattern of vines on the wallpaper – so strong was the connection with the blackberry-fort, and the summers he spent alone there after Lori Wilcox moved to the Basin.

Junior high started like a bulldozer. Kim and Cole only shared two classes together, but they made the most of them. The first was science; they would meet at Kim’s locker and walk together to the classroom. They were seated on opposite sides of the lab, but they had become used to that since the fourth grade – there seemed to be an underground network of teachers conspiring to keep them apart. Their second class together was history, the last class of the day. After the bell sounded school’s end, they would walk to Kim’s locker for her homework and then hurry to catch the school bus. Seats filled fast, and often they would be forced to sit apart. As the bus emptied, Cole would move closer to Kim; like a knight in a chess match capturing one position at a time until he found his way to her seat, until finally they could be alone on the bus – but now there was Lori Wilcox. The three of them would ride out the last fifteen minutes together to the north corner of the Basin. To Cole this seemed a great imposition, an intrusion, an injustice; but of course it was only a natural progression. Kim and Lori became giggling, pointing, whisper-close friends. One afternoon, as Cole maneuvered his knightly strategy

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to Kim’s seat, he found Lori was already there – checkmate, and it wasn’t even summer yet.

Five More Pages to Come…

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