Street Fruit | Danusha Goska

Street Fruit

by Danusha Goska

Instead of growing fatter, the mulberries on the Dodds Street tree are growing longer, like blistered black pinkies, dangling. The tree has an unblocked southern exposure. I stood in the street and went over it like a cedar waxwing. Waxwings are fruit-eating birds; sitting on a power line, they will pass a berry from mouth to mouth, so all can share. This is a community-building behavior. With avian attentiveness I carefully selected the longest, blackest fruit, which, just jostled, dropped into my hands, my mouth, onto my sneakers, and, splattering purple onto the white cotton, into my breast pocket.

A young woman in a plain beige skirt and white blouse worked in the yard; when she bent over I could see her underpants and down the front of her shirt, though I sought no such access. Her front door was open and Henry Purcell’s “Fairy Queen,” rang from the house. Maybe she’s a music student at Indiana University, Bloomington. At first she and I did not speak, or even acknowledge each other’s presence. I finally remarked, “You have the best mulberries in town.”

“Well, thank you,” she said. “Would you like a container?”

I didn’t know how to say no. I didn’t know how to communicate how I feel about eating fruit for free on the street, how it reminded me of being a kid and cruising the shimmering hot macadam streets of Wanaque, NJ, on my bicycle, dressed as I was now, in cut-off jeans and shirt tail hanging, shoeless, scouting out ripe choke cherries and gobbling them down by the handfuls, knowing full well that eyelash-sized worms wriggled their way through every one, and that I crushed them under my molars along with pulsing magma-red wild cherry flesh, not caring that I was eating bugs, feeling that this was the closest I’d come to being what I wanted to be: a peasant child who had never immigrated to America, a wild animal, invisible to humans and unable to speak their language, a hunter-gatherer eons before civilization had set in, a welfare brat crafty and slick enough to survive on what I could find each day, my skills rescuing my unschooled immigrant mother from knuckle-gnawing factory labor thus defying the last-name-ends-in-a-consonant, native-born, 1960s American welfare state for sustenance.

“No,” I said. “The mulberry skins are too fragile. They get mooshed if you try to collect them.”

“Well, come get them anytime,” she said. “I tried them a couple years ago, and I don’t like them.”

We went about our respective activities: garden work and gathering, until I took off after I ate so many mulberries I began to get queasy, that summer-queasy when winter has been long and pinched and summer fruit are free.

Danusha Goska is a writer and teacher living in NJ. She is the author of Save Send Delete.