That hot afternoon you took us to pick strawberries at a truck farm just off Dixie Highway, counting out change for three baskets to fill. The farmer took it and grinned at us in a way that seemed mean to me, but we wanted the berries, and you had used all your money so we could have them. “Ya’ll want some bubble gum?” The farmer pulled a few pieces of Dubble Bubble from his pocket. “I give it to them pickaninnies who work for me. Keeps ‘em from eating my fruit.” I saw that you were looking at him with some kind of revulsion – it crossed your face quickly, but he saw it, too – and then you said, “Thank the man for the offer, girls, even if you don’t want it,” which meant we weren’t to take it, and he looked you up and down, showing you he could look at you like that because you were a woman and what could you do about it, and then he smirked and said, “It’s stoop work. Gotta bend over to get at ‘em,” and you turned away from him and led us out into the field, but you didn’t pick the berries, and I realized that you weren’t going to let him see you bending over, and I saw there was something dark about bending over, and it made me uneasy so that I kept looking back at where he stood watching us, watching you. And I understood that if you bent down to pick a single strawberry, you would lose some battle still unknown to me, and it shamed me. We quickly filled our baskets, and after supper, the berries shined like stained glass on our plates. Now, so many years later, I sometimes think of him, the first man I ever saw leer at a woman, the first time I saw it for what it was. But it wasn’t the first time a man leered at you, was it, and were you thinking of your girls that day, of us growing up, and what that would mean, and were you thinking, Never bend over. Never bend, even though you bent, you bent every day until, at last, you couldn’t bend anymore.
Nancy Connors is a poet and writer whose work has appeared in Stonecoast Review, failbetter, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Phare, Midwest Review and others. She is the recipient of a 2023 Pushcart Prize for her poem, “To Cigarettes.” She lives in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley.