It all started out with plain curiosity. Bernie and his wife just moved to the area. They originally hailed from Poland. Now that they had retired, they wanted to move and decided America was the place to be.

What seemed like every day, while his wife was out at the shops, Bernie would go on small sojourns, enjoying his retirement as he explored every nook and cranny of the town. Along dirt paths or under noisy byways, he didn’t care. All was an adventure to him. He frequently would stop to gaze at the landscape, whether it was wide open pastures or crumbling shopping blocks. And he would gaze with great intent. He would hold out a leaf and practically stick his nose in it, in an apparent attempt to see its cellular structure. Or he was really blind.

For several hours he would be out and about exploring and then come home. Dinner was at 5 on the dot. It was always porridge, for it helps with digestion and the creamy texture was easy on the teeth. Bernie would sit opposite Esther, his wife, in their sparsely decorated kitchen at the precisely organized kitchen table (a small yellow cloth ran horizontally from the chairs, with a ceramic plate depicting a scene of Polish chivalry on top).

The berries were maroon, a mix of red and purple, like some kind of intoxicated blood. Bernie stared at them closely. For the first few times he saw them, that was all he would do. Then one day, he plucked one off and started to nibble, for surely because they were berries, they were edible. They weren’t particularly tasty.

One evening, over his bowl of porridge, Bernie pulled out a few from his pocket.

“What are those,” his wife, Esther, inquired.

“Berries,” he responded, with a long pause. “Saw ‘em on my walk.” He popped one in his mouth and spilled a couple more into his bowl.

Esther watched him with reservation. “And you just what? Picked them? They could be poisonous.”

Bernie waited a good ten seconds before responding (for that was the kind of person he was, the kind that waits ten seconds before saying anything). “I’ve tried ‘em a couple times. They seem fine.” This was only half-true. Yes, he tried them but it was only a nibble. It was only that one nibble.

Esther was more than a bit curious. “Are they any good?”

He refrained from answering, still chewing. He plucked one from his bowl and handed it to his wife who took a small bite. She didn’t seem to particularly enjoy the taste. All she said was “interesting.”

Not that the couple would ever show it, but they were, in fact, enthralled by this. They had long desired to pick fruit straight off the branch and eat it, and they had never lived in a place where they could do so. The closest they’ve ever come to this were crabapples, which ended up being quite inedible.

And thus it began, albeit slowly. That evening, Bernie had sudden stomach cramps and couldn’t bear himself to finish his meal. They chalked it up to a rogue bout of indigestion and moved on with their lives. This became more and more common as the days went on. Sometimes it was stomach problems, others it was a burning throat. They debated going to the doctor, but felt it would just be a bother, and tried to ignore it, hoping that the problems would pass.

Later, Esther would join her husband on his walks. They would stop whenever they passed the berry trees, but neither was forthright enough to partake of the berries right then and there. Yet they weren’t really committed to the idea of simply walking past them either. Most of the time, they only sniffed at the berries, to make sure they were ripe (though neither were certain what kind of berries they were and thus neither were they certain whether they were indeed ripe or not). They received odd glances from joggers and fellow walkers, but they were old and didn’t care much what others thought of them.

Sometimes they were joined by a few friends, fellow immigrants in the area. They would try to show them the berries, but the friends were mostly nonplussed and ambivalent towards them. Though some would nibble on one on occasion. The friends eventually became nervous when one of them fell ill and passed away. She was nearing ninety, but the coroner did discover toxins in her system. Bernie and Esther, on the other hand, weren’t dissuaded by this and continued to enjoy their new habit.

One day, while Bernie was on his own and had his eyes practically pressed against the skin of the fruit, crossed paths with a jogger, and was nearly knocked over. “Careful there.”

Bernie just stared at him. He was unfamiliar with the language. Esther was the polyglot, but even she had grown tired of trying to converse in other languages. Generally she’d just smile and grin and hope they’d go away.

“You’re not going to eat it are you?”

Bernie, taking a cue from his wife, just smiled back and started shuffling along.

“Whatever.” The jogger pressed on his way.

That dinner, Bernie poured the berries just as he’d always been doing. They were redder and squishier than normal. Bernie stirred them into his porridge while Esther was a bit more hesitant. At that moment, she was still suffering from the nausea that she had when she woke up. “Do they look different to you?”

“Hm?” Bernie had already taken a bite, his spoon hanging in his mouth. Swallowing, “they taste fine.”

They didn’t. They never did. One could spend years trying to figure out why the couple ate them, and never come to a clear solution. Yes, they liked the idea of picking wild fruit and eating it later, like some traveler would do in a bygone era. But that couldn’t just be it. They very well could have been senile. After all, no one is dumb enough to eat an unknown substance that was so obviously poisonous.

But apparently they were. For a good couple of weeks, they ate the berries. They never tasted good, but they just kept at it. First Esther’s stomach started to worsen and it felt like it was about to burst. Then Bernie complained that his mouth felt like it was on fire, after apparently having been scratchy all day. Being the two most stoic people on the planet, they tried to masque the pain they were in and soldiered on. They both managed to finish their bowls.

They died, right then and there. The coroner had trouble telling when the time of death was, due to how decomposed the bodies were. It had been quite some time before they were discovered.

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