Strawberry Girl

670 words total
93.3% of words within GSL. (97.9% excluding proper nouns)
Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease Score: 93.2
Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: 2.7

Her name was Mari, but everyone in town called her Strawberry Girl. She had a small face and her nose wrinkled when she got angry. As a child, she had picked strawberries freely from the neighbors’ fields. She had eaten until her lips were a deep red. Most of the people in town were farmers, but Mari’s family did not grow anything. Her father was a high school teacher. Her mother was a nurse. And from Monday, Mari was going to live in Tokyo and start her life as a university student.

When Mari had turned eleven years old, she had started working on the neighbor’s farm in the summer. She had helped pick strawberries. She had been careful with the fruit, twisting and pulling it from the plant gently. At the end of the day, Mari’s ankles had been stained green and her face deep brown from the sun. She had worked every summer until she had turned fifteen. That summer, her parents had sent her to a special school so she could study for the university entrance examinations. At the time, Mari had thought it had been a kind of punishment. She had not been able to see what a test, so far in the future, had to do with her summers in the fields.

On the Saturday before Mari left for university, Mr. Yamada, the neighbor, was waiting for Mari and her mother at the gate. His hair was white. He had small lines all around his eyes. It was early morning, but the sun was already hot. Mari wore long white gloves to protect her skin. She and her mother wore large straw hats. Mr. Yamada smiled and handed them each a large basket. Mari’s mother tried to give him some money, but Mr. Yamada just laughed until Mari’s mother put the money back in her pocket. He said, “Our Strawberry Girl’s going away.”

Mari showed her mother how to pick the strawberries, but her mother was no good at it. Her mother pulled hard and the fruit broke free of the stem. Mari explained how the fruit ripened too quickly with no stem. Her mother called her, “Professor Strawberry Girl.” Her mother bent from the waste to pick the fruit. She ate more strawberries than she picked. Mari never bent over. Instead, she kneeled down in front of a plant and picked only the largest, reddest fruit. She slowly filled her basket. The sun warmed her head through her hat. Somewhere, two birds were singing to each other. She thought about the cake she was going to make in the evening.

Someone called her name. No, not her name. Someone called out, “Strawberry Girl, Strawberry Girl.” It was Mr. Yamada’s youngest son. He ran easily across the field. He stopped in front of Mari and her mother and held something out to them. It was a red and white can of condensed milk. The boy was wearing an old blue hat. His skin was very dark. His teeth were very white. He told Mari’s mother to put the condensed milk on the strawberries if she liked sweet things. The boy swept his hand out across the field. “Eat as many as you like,” he said. He ran off. Mari waited for him to look back, but he just kept running.

Mari poured some milk onto a strawberry for her mother. The white of the cream was shocking against the deep red of the fruit. Her mother tasted it and clapped her hands in delight. Mari put a drop of white onto a strawberry for herself. She took a bite. But it tasted sour. It was the taste of something still green inside. The taste of something not quite ready.

Mari didn’t make a cake that night. She said she felt tired from being out in the sun for so long.  She went to Tokyo on Saturday, a day earlier than planned. She left all the strawberries on the kitchen table. There were too many for her mother to eat. Some went bad in an early April heat wave.

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