New term. New opportunities and challenges. New relationships to navigate. I think one of life’s epiphanies is realising that that how people treat you is much more about what’s going on for them than anything particularly to do with you. But as a school child it’s hard to hold onto that. This story has no bearing on any individuals or events in particular, it’s just a word picture about how we relate to each other.
“Mary came home from school, flung her bag across the floor and stomped upstairs. Her Grandfather watched from the corner. Her CD player went on. It was loud. She came back down to look for something and he could see she had been crying. He drew her to his knees, smoothed the hair away from her face (she had a habit of chewing it) and asked. “Did I ever tell you about the Bimbleberries?”
“No, Grandfather” she sighed. She didn’t think she was very interested. Grandfather came out with all these odd stories of creatures he’d studied as a scientist. But she hadn’t been able to settle to anything upstairs so she might as well listen. Besides, she was fond of him and didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
“I was shown them by a friend who was studying creatures in a pond. One day, beyond the usual insects, something else caught his attention. It was a writhing mass that looked like a bunch of tadpoles had hatched but stayed connected and he started to examine them more carefully.
They seemed to be joined together through tentacles that emerged from the under their bodies, if you could call it a body, that is. There seemed to be no limit to the number of tentacles they had attached to other ones. He realised they weren’t writhing at all – each tentacle was moving quite slowly, but the mass of them together gave the impression of constant movement. The only way he could describe their bodies was translucent blueberries. Because they were moving so slowly, he called them “Bimbleberries”.
“It sounds gross, Grandfather.” Mary was unimpressed. Why on earth was Grandfather wittering on about this odd and unpleasant sounding pondlife.
Grandfather went on to explain the connections between the Bimbleberries. Using a powerful magnifying glass, his scientist friend could see that the tentacles emerged from a soft underbelly – almost like a jellyfish. They seemed to move of their own accord, feeling around for other tentacles to cling to. Once they met, they started to intertwine, like strands of bindweed. Intertwining tentacles made a chord. He could see that bodies of those with strong chord looked fatter and healthier, so he guessed that the chords – where the tentacles intertwined, were how they got their nutrients.
Mary was getting impatient. “So, we’re talking about a creature that’s a cross between a see-through blueberry, a jellyfish and a tadpole with a bunch of strings attached”. “That’s right”, smiled Grandfather. “I bet you could do an amazing picture of them”. Mary shrugged.
“You’ll like the names he gave them.” said Grandfather. “What, Fred, Bob and George the tadpolefishberry?” retorted Mary. What about one called Dave. Daddy calls everything he doesn’t know the name of Dave.”
“Well Dave could be a good name for a Buzzberry”, mused Grandfather.
The healthy ones, with strong, intertwined chords were called Buzzberries. The stronger the chords, the healthier the Bimbleberry. Strong chords could be tugged and tested, and withstand a bit of fraying at the edges without breaking the connection.
But they weren’t all Buzzberries. There were some that weren’t as big – they had dents in as though they weren’t getting enough nutrients. Their tentacles were a bit more straggly and the chords they made were more fragile. One day when he was watching, he saw a smaller one put out a tentacle towards another one. They seemed to intertwine at first, but then snap – the tentacle of the second one had been retracted so quickly, it stung the first one, leaving it raw and jagged and hanging loosely. He saw that if that happened to a Bimbleberry a lot, its outside layer went from being soft to brittle, and it developed the dents. The sad thing was that the tentacles they put out became wispier and weaker over time, so it was harder for them to form strong chords. He called them the Brittleberries.
“What happened to them?” Asked Mary. “Well some of them didn’t stay Brittleberries” If they managed to make good connections they could grow into healthy Buzzberries. But the ones that didn’t sometimes became “Bristlers”. That was the name he gave for those who seemed to be inflicting the most damage on the chords around them- wrapping their tentacles so forcefully around another tentacle, thatt it broke, or starved the other Bimbleberry nutrients. Because of the constant movement, things could always change. Broken chords could be mended, but they would grow back more hesitantly. Bristlers didn’t have to stay bristlers but it would take some good strong chords before they could grow softer again.
Mary had forgotten her troubles by this point, and was comfortably nestled on his lap, with her mind in the world of the pond Grandfather was describing. His next words brought her back with a bump.
“He did say that smaller bimbleberries seemed to be able to sting each other quite badly. Particularly if two tentacles were forming what looked like it could be a strong chord and then one of them pulled away suddenly.”
“I felt like a Brittleberry today” Mary said softly.
Grandfather hugged her close. “I could tell” he said.
As she let herself relax, something seemed to be filling Mary up from inside. Whatever happened the next day, she knew that she had that strong chord holding her steady. And because of that, she knew she would also be on the look out for any Brittleberries she might help.”