“Not that one,” she warned me. “Even a tiny piece will kill a man.”
I stepped away from the white mushroom I was about to pick. I kept my anger at bay, trying not to think about using the Destroying Angel against my mother. But if I ever did, she would make me recite the Latin name before even having such thoughts. I said aloud, “Amanita virosa.”
My mother shook her head. “We are not here for them. No client of ours wants to poison their wife, husband, or competitor for now. Look for the liberty caps,” she corrected me as if I didn’t already know. Then she muttered out not to take what wasn’t needed. Not yet. Fall was just beginning, and we had time to stock up our store.
“Psilocybe semilanceate,” I said, well aware of what our particular assignment had been.
“I think it’s clear you know the scientific names. Now, just concentrate, please,” my mother said. She was in a mood as well.
I should be kinder to her. But I wasn’t. While I know she hadn’t meant to rob my future away from me, it still hurt that I was stuck following her steps and pampering her wealthy clients with their taste for the exotic. Clients who could do this themselves if they bothered to step out of their ivory towers into the woods and meadows. And we were at the wrong place to collect the hallucinogenic mushrooms. They grew in the grass fields, and we were deep in the forest. I wanted to point that out. It was just that she knew a special place—a teaching moment she had said when we had headed out before even the sun was fully up.
I let her take the lead as we walked deeper into the woods, leaving our car behind. I called her clients the chasers of dreams. They needed something, anything, to feel alive after they had exchanged their souls for money. At least, my mother’s profession let her be out in the woods all day, and she made a decent living. I loved it in here too. If I shut my eyes and slowed down my breathing, I could hear the susurrus of the forest. The birds were singing already loudly. Not as loud as in Spring. But these calls were for their amusement or to practice the songs of their kind. Even the animals couldn’t escape being taught. I wondered would they mope as I did when they were dragged out into the cold from a deep sleep under the covers?
I was just mad. There was no denying that. My mother had let my brother escape. She had sacrificed my future for him, and I was supposed to take that and be content she made me her successor. The successor of the illegal business, one might add. On paper, she sold the edible mushrooms we picked. She stored them in her pickles or dried and ground them into powder. But it wasn’t enough to support a family, especially as our father had opted out early on. I hated the fact that I still got this lump in my throat as I thought about him killing himself. I was only four, but I can still remember him rocking me on the rocking chair and singing the songs he had learned in the war before… My aunts said he hadn’t come back with a full mind, that he should have never started a family. So what did that make me then? A mistake? Better yet, his killer?
My mother took us to an opening in the middle of the forest. We had hiked in silence for the past hour. I didn’t mind. I think she was giving me time, so she didn’t press me as she usually would. She believed in fully disclosing one’s heart. That was why my brother had run away and gambled his college fund with the rich kids and then crawled back to have mine. Sometimes silence worked just fine. Sometimes it was better to be out of tune with yourself and pretend you and the world were what they should be, and as long as you didn’t make waves, you wouldn’t sink. I was my mother’s child, and I knew that was bullshit.
And my mother had been right. I could see an army of liberty caps pushing out between the tall grass when we arrived in a huge clearing. They shouldn’t be here. Still, they were. The fungal network underneath had to be fully immersed in the forest’s ecosystem for the bloom to be this rich. This place would keep us in supply until the next Autumn if we sold the mushroom in organic packing designed by me to the special few with a high price.
“Mark this day on your calendar,” my mother said. “They will be here for your picking every year. My grandma taught me this place, and I hope you will pass it on to your children.” She said that despite having already told her a million times that I wouldn’t have any of my own. She sounded like all the elders always did, “Just wait and see.”
I nodded, having no desire to start another argument.
She went to the left and me to the right and began selecting the liberty caps from all the other mushrooms. I was careful not to trample any of them. If I ever wanted to go to college and become an artist, I had to collect shit loads of them for the next few years. Luckily, the liberty caps had a short cycle, and you could pick them for several times in a season. My friends would laugh at me. They already told me, as had my mother and granny, that you didn’t need a college to become an artist. Either you were, or you weren’t. They said I had bought the rubbish the media had fed me; that college somehow made you the real deal.
I picked the mushrooms slowly and carefully, looking for the old and the young signs, not wanting to mix them into the wrong ones. But almost all the mushrooms there were liberty caps. Easy picking, as my mother had promised. I woke from my thoughts, having worked hard for an hour and a half, for my mother touching me on my shoulder.
“I brought tea,” she only had to say. So I left my bucket at the spot where I was, and we headed to a fallen log to sit and enjoy our breakfast. She handed me a sandwich, and a sliced apple, and hot tea, and we sat there in silence.
“It’s a beautiful morning,” she said carefully.
“It is.” It was.
“Are you feeling any better?” she asked with a careful tone again.
I actually was. The snarky part of me wanted to snap at her that no, but what could she have done? Fed her only son to the wolves? “Yeah,” I uttered.
“Good. I noticed you were already breathing better.” That was all she said and had to say. I drank my tea and ate my mushroom sandwich, and got to work.
Thank you for reading! I hope you have a pleasant day ❤
© K.A. Ashcomb