The Great Strawberry


by Robin White

 Story of Month

Haruki no longer had anybody to go fishing with, and so he went with a Robot he named Francis. Francis' given name was Arthur Alcock, but once Haruki had told his wife that it put him in mind of tweed and deep green leather, they'd agreed a change of name was in order.

Francis had greeted Izanami, Haruki's wife, with encouraging levels of compassion. He took in her frailties and met them with indulgent tenderness and humanity. His flesh was cool and metallic and he placed his hand upon her brow whenever she grew hot, lay his refrigerated forehead against her neck whenever she would flush.

'You are good to my wife,' Haruki had said, a week after Francis' arrival. 'Not many are kind to a sick old woman.'

'But she's not a sick old woman,' said Francis, in accentless Japanese, 'she's a young girl, grown old.'

And there was some truth in that. Izanami's body didn't slouch, nor did her skin sag or her face wrinkle. It simply grew frailer every day, until she could no longer get out of bed. Haruki and Francis had arranged her bedroom so that everything she needed was in reach, going so far as to carrying the fridge into the room, with a great many huffs and puffs, so that she could feel the cool air whenever she wanted.

When they'd been younger, Izanami had gone on fishing trips with Haruki whenever he'd asked her to—which was every time. He caught Tai, Japanese Snapper, which she grilled to a delicious consistency on the beach, while Haruki pulled his little boat out of the surf, tied his sail to the mast and scrubbed the deck of the innards of fish. The last time they'd fished together, Haruki had needed help to get the boat out of the surf and neither had the energy to cook, let alone scrub. They'd attached the boat to the back of their car on its trailer and driven home. He'd made them peanut butter sandwiches which they ate over a single plate. Holding each other in bed, he'd cried when he saw how exhausted she was, her chest rising in exaggerated little divots and dips.

'Why don't you take Francis fishing with you?' she asked, propped up in bed on a raft of pillows.

'Francis?'

She nodded. 'Why not?'

'You fish with me.'

'I can't fish with you.'

'You fish with me,' he said. He shook his head and shivered, feeling a ripple along the back of his neck. 'You'll get better and then you'll fish with me. You'll grill the Snapper and I'll tie up the sail and we'll eat, as the sky grows dark.'

'Haruki—'

'Izanami. No.'

When she slept, Haruki watched baseball. Darryl Strawberry was the God of the North East. When Haruki was alone, he thought of Strawberry as a giant, his swing knocking little planets out of orbit, out of the solar system. The twinkling lights around the stadium were the stars and the planetary ball eclipsed every one. The great Strawberry, he called him. The Great Strawberry of the Yankees, once of the Mets. Always of New York.

'But why this player?' asked Francis. 'There are many. Many who are as good.'

'None are as good as the Strawberry.'

'Why does he play for these Yankees?'

'Because he is of the Yankees. Once he was of the Mets. But now he is of the Yankees of New York.'

'Are they a better team than the Mets?'

'Infinitely.'

'Ah.'

'What?'

'This is why he is of the Yankees. They are a better team. He has moved up.'

Haruki shook his head. 'He is of the Yankees now because he is of the Yankees.'

'He had no choice?'

'No.'

'He is a slave of the Yankees?'

'Not a slave. But indentured, in his heart. He is of the Yankees.'

Francis nodded. Haruki, satisfied, turned the volume up and watched the Great Strawberry swing.

When winter came, and Izanami grew sicker, Haruki worried more and watched baseball less. He sat on Izanami's bed every day, reading to her from books of poetry and American trash fiction. He let her wear his baseball jersey to ward off the cold, secretly hating how it accentuated her frailty. Doctors came and a priest, none of whom had the answer that Haruki wanted. Francis stopped the Priest as he was leaving and they spoke for a moment, before the holy man stepped into a battered Keijidosha car, which spluttered its way along the road and out of sight.

Inside, Haruki sat on the floor of the kitchen. He noticed Francis' arrival and wondered, for the first time, how they managed to make him look so human.

'Why are you sat on the floor?'

'I could not sit on the bed, again.'

'Why?'

'Izanami will not get better. Will not fish. Will not laugh or cook. She hurts. I hurt.'

'Izanami hurts?'

'A great deal.'

Francis paused. 'I do not like that.'

With a delicate quiver, Haruki laughed an almost laugh and lay back on the kitchen floor.

Francis, stepping past him, made his way to Izanami's bedroom and tapped on the door.

'Izanami?' he whispered. There was the briefest of stirrings inside. Francis tapped again. 'Izanami?'

'Come in, Francis,' she said. 'Come in.'

Haruki caught the fish, but Francis didn't cook them. For Izanami's funeral, they would make a wonderful dinner.

'Of what are you thinking, Haruki?'

'Of the Great Strawberry. I wonder how many home runs he will hit tonight, out past the stars.'

He reeled in the biggest fish of the day. Francis clubbed it with the end of the oar to make it still, and together, they drew the boat back to the beach.




BIO: Robin's work has been published in Dogzplot, Pidgeonholes and others besides. He splits his time between teaching English in the U.K. and teaching Natural History in Brooklyn, New York.