CBC Literary Prizes

Strawberries by Terri Monture

Terri Monture made the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize shortlist for Strawberries.

2018 CBC Short Story Prize shortlist

Terri Monture is a Mohawk author and Indigenous rights activist based in Toronto. (Rosalie Favell)

Terri Monture made the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize shortlist for Strawberries.

She will receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and will have her story published on CBC Books.

Leah Mol won the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize for Lipstick Day.

You can read Strawberries below.

Warning: This story contains mature language and subject matter.

Can you see my house from over there? It's the split-level beige brick bungalow, nestled at the end of the street, with the tastefully painted navy blue door and the matching trim around the front window. I planted the white impatiens myself in the flower beds along the front and the driveway, and I personally chose the elegant cream-coloured swag in the window. I got it all at Sears. Gary never liked the way the house looked, he thought it was pretentious, but I just ignored him. I didn't want it to look like any of the houses on the reserve, and so of course now it looks like any other suburban house in a good white neighbourhood in town. Which is secretly what I wanted.

If you come around the back, you'll see the kids' climber and the little shed where we keep the kid's stuff and the lawnmower and the other garden tools. The sliding door that leads from the living room is open and there is a trail of blood splattering the patio stones like juicy strawberries, sticky in the heat. If you follow the trail, you'll eventually go past the lawn furniture with the pink print that looks so pretty against the dark green wrought iron. A little further and you'll go past the edge of lawn that marks the end of our property and the start of the field. My house is right at the edge of the subdivision, and the weeds are knee-high.

If you walk into the weeds due west, you'll find my body. I staggered out here from the kitchen, not wanting to bleed all over the white tile floor that I'm forever scrubbing, hoping the kids would never see the mess. I'm stretched out flat on my back, my eyes open and staring up at the sky. The knife is still in my stomach and I'm lying in a black lake of my own blood. I wish I could clean it up. There's a whole bunch of stab wounds across my stomach.

Some people might say it was my own fault, but I couldn't stand the idea of anyone knowing what was going on in my house. I wanted everybody to think that we were perfect together, especially since there was all this unstated opposition to us, from both sets of parents. Even after 10 years of marriage, my mother-in-law was stiff and formal with me. I thought she was like that with everybody until I realized it was just me. I don't think that she ever in her wildest dreams thought she'd have some dark-eyed, dark-skinned Indian girl as her daughter-in-law. And my parents, though they never said it openly, they wanted me to stay on the reserve. Marry a nice lacrosse-playing Indian boy, raise a bunch of kids that would go to the Immersion school. Not want too much.

But I wanted it all.

See, the thing is — it's so hard to say. Even though I'm dead.

Gary started to hit me after my little girl was born.

Flies keep buzzing around my body. There's a whole swarm of them crawling around the place where the knife is stuck in my stomach. I wish I could brush them off, but I'm having a real hard time with the vertigo. I'm up in the sky, I'm down on the ground. I want to see my kids but I can't seem to get to them.  Not yet, anyway. Something tells me I have to stay here until I'm found. I'm wandering around, looking at houses and I can hear people talking. Dogs are hunting in their sleep, cats want food, birds are bickering, there's a couple of deer out in the bush thinking about tender leaves. I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. Everything is welling up in me like a flood, I can feel it all.

 I'm not sure I like this, being dead. At least — I think that's what happened to me. I'm not really sure. There was no pain, except for the initial shock, the knife and me looking down at it and then back at Gary. I didn't even scream, that was the weird part. He stuck the knife in me over and over again until I just kind of went away. I was more surprised than anything. Actually, that's a lie. I wasn't surprised. Not really. I just wanted him to get it over with.  It was like that when we had sex. Or when he would beat me up.

No one knows I'm here yet, the kids are still at my mom's, and no one knows that Gary is currently in our van headed to the border at Fort Erie. He is crying as he drives, and when he wipes away the tears that squeeze past his eyelids, my blood is still fresh beneath his fingernails. He's trying to tell himself that it wasn't his fault, that I made him do it, and now he feels better. He always blames everyone else for shit he does, he can't help it. His dad was the same way. He had no other model.

I glance down at my body. It's turning weird purple colours now. I never noticed before but a dead body is pretty damn dead.  Now I know why people are scared of them. It's the final end to something that used to be breathing, walking and talking, praying and crying. It's an emptiness that's terrifying. No wonder our people had so many rituals around death.

I remember when we would go to funerals for the old people that my Totah knew, and in the funeral address that she translated for me, they would say for a man — "a tall tree has fallen" or for a woman "the blossom has withered away." I wonder what they will say for me, a girl who didn't want to be Indian, who married a white boy because maybe that would make me one too.

I feel desire and fear and anger and despair and despite all this — I'm craving strawberries, like I did when I was pregnant. The kind that you pick yourself in late June. When berries are still wet from dew and they are so red and juicy that when you bite into them, it's like an explosion of sweetness in your mouth you can feel right down to your toes, and you feel so good eating them. They taste like spirit food, like the good medicine that lets us know we're alive. This is what I want, this is what I'm hungering for. Maybe this is what I've wanted my whole life and am only finding it now. But this doesn't make me sad. It makes me feel — complete.

A car is pulling into my driveway. It's my dad; I wonder what he's doing here. Look, there's a path opening up, close to where my body lays. The path is a dazzling green, lit like jewels. It doesn't look real. The path is lined with strawberries. They are ripe and luscious. I take a look back at my house. Dad is ringing the doorbell. I want to tell him to come around back, but those strawberries — they are so big and ripe and I can see the dew clinging to them. I have to eat one. I look back at my Dad. He has a worried look on his face. I'm torn between calling to him and walking out to path. Maybe if he waits for me, I can bring him back a handful of strawberries.

Author's note: Among my people, we call the path that leads from this life into death the Strawberry Road.

Read the other finalists:

About Terri Monture:

Terri Monture is a Kanienkaha'keh (Mohawk) from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in southern Ontario. She is currently a staff representative specializing in human rights and equity at the Canadian Media Guild, which represents workers at the CBC, APTN, Canadian Press, Shaw Media and Thomson-Reuters. She became a union activist in 1996 when she was elected to her first bargaining committee at her then workplace, and has not looked back from that point. Her passion is worker and Indigenous rights, and spends far too much time thinking about resistance movements and various decolonization, anti-capitalism and anti-oppression activities. She lives in Toronto (Ateron:toh) with her family and likes to be close enough to her reserve that she can visit within the hour if she needs to.


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