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No Bitterness

David Mesropyan

Illustration by Sydney Owyang

I think I say something like, “I love bitter drinks,” and Elaine brings up that she has dried cherry stems I could make a bitter tea with (or maybe it’s the other way around; it doesn’t matter) and that she could bring me some, and I think I say something like, “Oh, sure.” Next Thursday, I’m back for my regular weekly shift at the garden, having forgotten about it, Antra and I are getting sticks from Elaine of a somewhat specific length to use as posts, and all of a sudden there’s a ziplock bag of dried cherry stems in my face. “These are for you!” Elaine says, or something. I say, “Oh, thanks,” remembering, taking the dried cherry stems. (Don’t quote me on any of this; memories are elusive, non-fiction is a fallacy.) “Where’d you get them again?” I ask. “I got them from a guy in the Central Valley,” Elaine replies. Now, it’s not that I don’t trust Elaine, it’s just that this man from the Central Valley makes me consider that I might be brewing my own poison... But, I figure it’s fine. I carry on with my work for the day, and Antra waits until we’re in front of another group of volunteers to say, “David’s bringing us tea next week!”

It turns out, I do not, because Eva texts the group chat saying that she and Mike will not be coming in on Thursday, so I decide to hold off on making the tea until the following week. (Also, Mike, I never thanked you for the apricot jam. Thank you.)

The next Wednesday, I get some Dixie cups for hot beverages with the help of a Target employee, grab some thermoses from my parents’ house, and realize I do not have enough dried cherry stems to make dried cherry stem tea for everyone. I hope there’s enough for everyone to at least have a sip, and I empty the contents of the ziplock bag into my pot, hoping my kitchen counter right next to the stove was a ‘cool, dry, and dark’ enough place to have stored the dried cherry stems. Based off of the instructions from a couple different websites, I soak the dried cherry stems overnight, boil them for 10 minutes in the morning, set them aside for 20, strain, and drink a bit after my breakfast as it is supposed to be a laxative. There is little to no bowel movement, and no bitterness. I decide it’s good enough for the garden, and I pack up my things and go.

Because I haven’t had my caffeine yet, I get a hot green tea from Starbucks and take it with me (something I’ve done multiple times before and need to stop doing, because I’m bringing a disposable container into the presence of the garden; besides, I already have the Dixie cups, and later, I find out the garden already had cups, something I suspected but didn’t confirm beforehand). I enter the Stone Garden, set down my things, my thermoses and Dixie cups on a picnic table, and begin my morning at the garden learning of the offensive front of our perennial war against our perpetual enemy: gopher traps. I help Eva check the traps, and Eva does indeed find one that has been set off. Naturally, there is a dead gopher inside of it. (It’s smaller than I thought.) Eva takes it to a corner of the garden where a bird can take it away for a meal, and then she asks me to see if I can figure out how to reset the trap while she turns on some hoses. I look at the trap laying in my hands. I carefully reset it. Eva comes back, and she gives both of us a small heart attack by accidentally setting it off. Next, we continue digging at the new row, and Ethan, a new volunteer, comes to help us. (Ethan and other high school volunteers have recently taken my title as the youngest person at the garden, but I don’t hold it against them. I suppose there are also the young painters who were already coming to the garden to work on the mural, but now I really can’t deny it.) We get to talking, and I talk quite a bit about myself, saying that I like to write, and then Ethan is moved to another job before I have a chance to ask him more about himself. A bit later, I take too long of a break because of Mela, Elaine’s 8-month-old German shepherd terrier mix, who seems to immediately like me more than Sawyer (who has seen me almost every week for over 3 months and still doesn’t let me pet her, but I don’t hold it against her). I also begin to tell more people that I brought the tea and that we can drink it later. I can feel a slight rise in expectation in the garden, and it makes me nervous. I think of the subtle taste of the dried cherry stem tea I tried at home, and I begin to think that I just brought everyone boiled, colored water to drink... I continue working. I tell Eva that I wonder if a bird will take away the gopher by the end of the shift and that I’ll go check if one did at the end of mine. Eva gets curious and goes to check if it’s still there now. I follow, but before I can see it she says that it’s still there. I continue working, close to the ground, and later, all of a sudden, I turn, and there’s Mela in my face, snuck up on me. She goes away before I can pet her. I keep going back during my shift to drink more of my green tea, keeps me thirsty. One of the times I come back, I’m met by Syndee who gives me some pink lady berries to be the first person to try from the berry plant that I helped plant. I can taste the pink, and I say, “I wish Rickel was here to try some too,” as she was the one whom I was helping plant the berries. But, Rickel is no longer with us. (She’s not dead, she just has a full-time job now; what’s the difference?) I return to the ground, digging up hardware cloth, and later, all of a sudden, I turn, and there’s Mela in my face again, snuck up on me. She goes before I can pet her.

Well, I’ve almost worked my typical 3 hours (including breaks), and I don’t want to work anymore, so I guess it’s time for tea time. I start to call people over, and by God, there’s a lot of people at the garden today. (Antra isn’t here though, ironically. Neither is Mike, who’s at a golf tournament. Good luck Mike.) After washing my hands and opening up the package of Dixie cups, I start to pour samples of the dried cherry stem tea from the thermoses into the cups as Elaine has everyone sit down at the picnic tables. Ethan also asked me more about my writing while Joyce was around (an important detail for later). Mela makes herself known by jumping onto a table that I’ve seen Sawyer jump on before, but the cat’s not around (probably because of the dog). The formation of a small crowd further raises expectations, and I try to temper them by saying that some people may have to share cups. I continue pouring the tea, and Eva remarks, “That’s a nice color.” I say, for mostly only the person sitting in front of me to hear, “Might be better than the taste.”

Elaine has everybody introduce themselves, and because I go last, I have plenty of time to overthink. I awkwardly say what my name is and that I have the tea, and then Elaine and I go into a short introduction of how this came to be. I also mention how the tea is supposed to be a laxative and that it didn’t end up being bitter for me. People are a little surprised by the latter fact. (Maybe I waited too long to make it and/or should have stored it someplace else.) And then, pretty soon, everyone’s grabbing a cup, even me, and there’s one left over. The tea really does have a nice color, a seemingly darker, fuller shade than the orange it was when I first strained it a few hours before, and I start to think it even tastes better too. The others at the garden seem to be enjoying it as well. It’s warm and smooth.

Because I’m not a nice enough person, I don’t think to pour the contents of the leftover cup back into the thermos and bring it back reheated for Antra next week, but luckily Syndee is, and she suggests that I could do that. Joyce also suggests that I could write a blog post for the garden about this. Elaine says, “Yeah, could you?” I say, “Uhh.. I could.” Anyway, after everyone’s drank their dried cherry stem tea, and I’m hoping no one’s complaining about feeling poisoned the following week, I gather up my things and go. As I drive into my court, I realize I forgot to check if the gopher was still there.

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