Issue 67, Fall 1976
They were touring New England, escaped lovers in mid-June, when the signs sprang up, hand-lettered in red and green on shiny white boards. 5 Miles to Skyvue Strawberry Farm! the first one proclaimed, followed in due course by Skyvue Strawberry Farm, 1 Mile on Left and Pick Your Own at Skyvue Strawberry Farm 10 to 4.
“Let’s,” she said, squeezing the brown corduroy of his knee.
“But what will we do with them?” he said, thinking of tonight’s motel somewhere in the Champlain Valley and tomorrow’s drive down the Hudson to their separate suburbs. He would leave her at the train station just as he had last year, and the year before, and the year before that. As if she had ridden the local out from Grand Central, she would take a taxi home.
“Eat them. Take them home. Oh never mind!” she despaired. She had caught sight of herself at the taxi stand. Strawberries spilling out of her shopping bags.
But he had down shifted from fourth to third and then at the last declarative sign. Strawberries Are Rich in Vitamin C, to second. They turned in at the driveway, rose up a winding dirt road, and were there.
They had come from the translation seminar held each summer at a small college in the Adirondacks. He specialized in Hungarian, which was not, however, his native tongue. Always from the bottom of his suitcase he took out the two volumes of his German-Hungariari dictionary. These stood on the bureau, on a succession of bureaus on stolen weekends throughout the year, grave necessary friends of their liaison. She spoke no foreign language, but served the conference as administrative assistant, cutting stencils each morning, collating pages of prose and poetry in bilingual arrangements. She saw to it that the original always appeared on the left- hand page so that the work under discussion might lie as fiat as an open-face sandwich.
That first summer she had come to the conference unexpectedly, filling in for an ill colleague. She was a shyly attractive woman in her thirties, tallish and slender with long brown hair that she wore tucked discreetly into a knot at the nape of the her neck. It was rainy and raw; she had not brought warm clothing and the man who was not yet her lover had loaned her a comforting maroon ski sweater in which, he assured her, she looked properly waif-like. It smelled of his brown tobacco cigarettes tinged with camphor. When he smiled, she was dazzled by one off centre gold tooth. She began wearing her hair loose about her shoulders and in town she bought a pair of dangling imitation-gold earrings. He came to her room the fourth night, whistling nonchalantly up the stairs of the old brown building, a sheaf of papers in his hand. Raindrops had peppered his beret and she propped it on the radiator to dry. But the papers were in Spanish, five versions of a Neruda poem left over from that morning's workshop and out of his mackintosh pocket there came a bottle of cognac. At dawn, holding his shoes, he went lightly down the fire escape onto which, luckily, one of her windows opened.
A highway bisected the campus. Porches of the college buildings overlooked it and words were often lost in the drift of traffic. Snatches came through: “Do you see this as an exercise?” “Do you set yourself models?” “The basic concept is very good, really very good. ... ” Logging trucks passed in both directions, confusing her. Those great prehistoric-looking tree trunks, stacked like her sons' Playschool toys, rattled past in their chains. Perhaps there were sawmills at either end of this mountain gap? The process of overlap struck her as an apt image for translation.
Skyvue Farm provided its own boxes; wax-lined cardboard trays, really, for picking. What he was to do with the damn things was another story. They could be given away, he supposed. Bartered against the motel bill, a hundred miles down the road? The view, or if you will, was truly incredible. To the west, spruce- and pine-covered hills the color of bleached denim. East, looking into the determined sun of Vermont, three small, connected ponds with ducks on them. And stretching its plateau in a commodious rectangle of what he took to be easily ten acres, this expanse of strawberry field still swallowing up its odd assortment of human forms as people entered, were assigned their rows, and sank to their knees or buttocks. Some few mote or less leaned down, tumps high, and dug the it hands into the plants, or rested one palm on the earth for equilibrium as they picked.