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Post Road Magazine #33

The Raspberry King

Suzanne Warren

My sister was the one who showed me “The Raspberry King.” She was fourteen and I was eight. Her gifts—like The Lilac Book of Fairy Tales— were more than gifts. They were instructions in who and how to be.

The bearer shapes the recipient to her gift, bending her to receive it.

In the illustration: two sisters, one older and darker, the other younger and fairer, like us. The two girls come upon the wizened Raspberry King. He is small, with a huge, grotesque head. The worm cupped in a berry becomes the gnome king—a spell unspun in the telling.

A frondy raspberry cups red light. When detached from the stem, inside and outside of the berry can be traced in one unbroken line.

I couldn’t extract the story of the girls from the real-life story of her and me. Did the Raspberry King wear a berry hat or were we ourselves the berry wearers, one on each finger? And, which was cause for greater delight: the beauty of our newly-adorned hands or the act of eating, berry by berry, each lipped off the fingertip, as if tongue and fruit were sisters?

A fruit apiece sheathes our thumbs, pinkies, ring, middle, and index fingers, making a velvety dick of each.

My sister was always the dark one, emphatically herself, while I was fair as tracing paper. The night she got her period, she showed me her new breasts.

The Raspberry King was old, unpleasant to look at. Breath sour, he spent evenings and weekends far from the call of his family, with a book and a glass. His kiss left a foul scent.

My mother stained her lips a dark purple that matched her lilac maxi skirts. That year the women ringed their eyes with kohl, donned glimmering rags over boots laced to the knees, as if ready to sojourn deep in an enchanted forest. She walks in beauty like the night, I wrote in the notebook given to me by my sister, not realizing those words were not mine.

Once, my sister caught me trying on her bra. The fleshy pink cups puffed stiffly from my chest. “Can’t anything just be mine?” she snapped.

I was disappointed when the king entered the picture, and I realized the two sisters out berrying were not the point of the story. The older one weds the Raspberry King and vanishes with him into the forest.

What about the one left behind? Does she return to the cottage, crawl into the bed now absent her sister’s warm body? Does the Raspberry King visit her in her dreams? Does she entertain him too, there in her bed? And is it with guilt or sorrow or relief that she awakens alone, the bed empty, her whole life ahead of her?

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