Strawberries are Sweeter in Memories

Submitted into Contest #96 in response to: Start your story in an empty guest room.... view prompt


Sad Fiction Teens & Young Adult

There’s a cabin hunched and crippled on the rock face of the roaring waves. Standing slightly crooked amidst the dancing reeds, swaying grass, and the seasonal wildflowers; it’s a white beacon with its paint peeling and roof caved in just a bit in the middle like the dip of floorboards often tread. One window gazes out over the neverending expanse of the foamed water, glass fogged from time like the glazed-over eyes of a lover. 

Walter glances out this window with a sigh that empties his chest and stirs the lingering sadness, rustling the leaves of it like a breeze in the midst of autumn. He runs his fingers through his hair and pretends that he doesn’t tug on the strands to distract himself from the ever-present ache in his chest, the furnace behind his eyes that’s burning on the coal of his grief. 

His grandfather was an irritable man, and he came to this little hut of a house just to get away from any other living soul, but knowing that—stumbling upon his mother’s and father’s sad voices overheard through doors— and facing the fact it in the form of a vacant guest room are two different things. He glances at the corner filled with senseless junk and empty boxes stacked over the undressed mattress. I wish you would’ve let someone in for a change. It’s not as bad as you might think. 

Packing up the old cardboard with lingering trinkets that he barely recognizes is harder than he would have thought, and Walter spends time examining each one with shaky care; the little glass statues his grandmother used to collect, layered in the thick coating of dust. An old camera empty of any film and cracked at the corner. A coffee mug, decorated with black and white faces he doesn’t recognize with a broken handle and a chipped rim. A collection of stories typed out during long hours hunched over a typewriter, pristine and without a single typo. A book Walter doesn't recognize that is worn and moth-bitten, one that gives off a pungent smell of coffee and cigarettes when flipped through. 

Eventually, he comes across something that he does recognize; the photo of him and his brother’s strawberry picking down in the country. The memory grabs him by the back of his neck and tugs him under like a strong wave sweeping your legs from underneath you and surrounding you like a plunge into the cold depths before you can realize what’s happening. 

The smell of the mint plants next to the strawberries, and the way the red juice bled onto their fingers, staining them pink. His brother wanted to have a competition on who could pick the best ones, and by the end of it, they were damp with sweat in the July heat as they thrust their full baskets into his grandmother’s face. She had chuckled and declared them both winners, a tie, and that was as satisfactory as the honey-sweet breezes lifting the hair off of their overheated heads. 

Walter remembers reaping the rewards of their victory, sucking on sweet fingers and chewing on ripe berries as his grandfather called out to them with his brand-new camera in hand, smiling like he used to. Their startled faces, wide eyes, and bright cheeks are signs of their surprise.

But Walter remembers laughing right after, running up to his grandfather and jumping at him; remembers the way that his grandfather lifted him up into the air and clutched him to his chest, his chuckle rumbling against Walter’s body, warm and happy, like placing your palms on the hood of an old car and feeling the vibrations of an engine, heated under your touch. 

It hurts more than he thought, remembering it. A cut that turns into a stab that turns into a slashing wound, the twisting knife of half-blurred memories digging deeper into his chest. 

“Found something?” 

His brother’s voice is quiet but startling anyway. Walter glances up and finds him leaning against the doorframe. Standing and brushing off his knees with a fake nonchalance, he hands the frame over and watches as his brother’s face creases with pain. He’s sure that if he were to look, his own face would be the same.


They stand there together, remembering the old days, traveling back to the country and the smiles and the laughs, back when their grandfather used to sway along with their grandmother to the music from a busted-up radio bleating tunes gone stale. 

Back when their grandfather was happy. 

“He was an asshole,” Walter says, hugging his arms to his chest and looking out the window to avoid his brother’s hurt gaze. 

“Yeah.” That voice scratches and claws out his brother’s throat. He can almost feel the way the repressed tears yank at his vocal cords because his own voice feels the same. “But I still miss him.” 

“Me too.” He takes back the photograph. His brother doesn’t mention it as he tucks it into his bag rather than hiding it in one of the boxes. They stare out the fogged window together. “It’s been a long time since we saw the sea, huh?” 

“I didn’t miss it.” 

Neither did Walter. It reminds him of a freshly cut gravestone, a long car ride occupied by silence and falling tears, a photo of his grandmother on a table, and strangers swathed in black apologizing to him and his brother for something they were not responsible for. It reminds him of a tie choking his neck as hot tears fall down his face and his father’s hand on his shoulder, his mother’s arms cradling his brother beside Walter as he sobs into her side. 

It reminds him of the urn on the mantle in their parent's home, accompanied by a miracle in the form of a photo; a picture of his grandfather smiling. 

“I didn't either.” 

“Do you miss him?” His brother’s voice is meek, a sign of vulnerability that he hasn’t seen since they were boys. Walter meets his teary gaze with a sad, sad smile. 

“How could I not?”

May 29, 2021 14:16

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