The Mulberries Are Red
Tall, blue eyed, Venus Marie Wilson mesmerized towheaded Virgil Ray
Dueese. Every time he caught a glance of her she smiled. He took this to
mean she smiled at him and for him. Again he was in love.
In seventh grade he sat behind her and wondered what was going on inside
her head. Did she like him the way he liked her? Would she let him
carry her books? Could he walk her home? Did she like Shakespeare?
"How you gonna know if you don't ever ask her?" said , Homer Lee, "You
gonna keep messing around and somebody else is going to be doing all those
things. Shoot, might even be me." Homer Lee, knew better than to make
Virgil Ray too angry and backed off when Virgil Ray warned him about
making remarks about his girl.
"Your girl? That's what you think. What does she think?"
Well, Homer Lee was right about that. There was no doubt Virgil Ray liked
Venus Marie but did she like him?
"I don't know. I never asked her." The thought of just talking to her
shook him so bad he couldn't talk about it anymore.
"Better, do sumpin', cowboy." Homer Lee said, winked and walked away.
Well, boy, Virgil Lee thought, you better keep your eyes to yourself if
you don't want 'em blacked.
But he did think about what Homer Lee said, hard and long. That night in
his room he looked at himself in the mirror, trying to see what he
hoped she saw. Handsome, debonnaire, dashing. How about the truth:
towheaded, fat faced, squinch eyed, skinny cowboy in brass butted, ase
It came back to what he could do to let her know he cared for her. He
didn't know what she liked or wanted, besides he had no money. What could
he give that showed his feelings? Remember last time?
A couple of weeks back he had fallen in love with Patsy Jean and had the
same problem. What to do? Or say? He thought he had it figured out. He
had heard his Uncle Buck talk to ladies and they seemed to like his style.
He was a great ladies man; surely the world's greatest rodeo man knew
what he was doing.
Next morning he stationed himself inside the big white front doors of
Colonial Drive School. Way down the hill he watched Patsy Jean
materialize from a dot. The closer she got the shakier he got. Just as
she reached to pull open the door he popped out and said "Well, now let's
see. You lookin' just fine, sugar." Other kids hanging around, something
he didn't consider, busted out laughing. Patsy Jean went from peachy
smooth to red pepper hot. She yanked the door open and it caught him
smack on the nose. Instant blood and snot. So long, Patsy Jean.
So. A valuable lesson learned. Don't let your humming bird ass overload
your alligator mouth. He didn't think it was true love with Patsy Jean
His new love was different. Beautiful, her name made her even more
loveable, Wilma Jane. Over and over he repeated it, marveling at the way
it snuck through his teeth and rolled over his tongue. Of course, he had
known her all her life but up until then she was just another girl, a
friend who said hey once in a while. Now in the seventh grade both had
When he looked at her he couldn't understand the feeling that rose from
his stomach, up his throat, and out his ears. He didn't know what he
was going to do to let her know his feelings but it wasn't going to be
none of that smart alecky Uncle Buck stuff like looking just fine, sugar.
She was way too fine for that.
The solution came to him in the middle of the night; he jumped out of bed,
grabbed his loose leaf binder, set his mind, sucked his pencil, and
prepared to write. A sonnet, that's what he'd do. He'd write her a
By sunup it was done, a Shakespearean sonnet, neatly printed and dedicated.
Before breakfast he read it again. The more he read it the better it
sounded. He read it again then folded it three ways and placed it long
ways in his English book under Shakespearean sonnets. If old Willie could
do it he could do it. Now all he had to do was hand it to her.
Winter, cold and windy and on its way out, did not bother him. The glow
of creation filled him. The Muses rescued him; he glowed with
All the lights in the school were on when he got there. No playground
smiles today. It would be an auditorium day. What better place to impress
"What you gonna do?" said Homer Lee.
"Yeah, don't you know you supposed to recite a poem today in auditorium?"
"You forgot? I tell you Virgil Ray you better get your head out of them
books long enough to see what's going on around you. Boy, you a mess, you
Virgil Ray reckoned he was.
"What you gonna do, Homer Lee?"
"Man, I don't know. I don't know nothing about no pomes. Can you write
me out something real quick?" Virgil Ray looked around but he did not
see her. The place buzzed like a giant beehive.
"Who you looking for?"
"Just looking." They huddled in the fold-down seats at the end of a row
near the windows. Virgil Ray rubbed his head, thought and wrote:
There's blood on the saddle,
There's blood all around.
There's blood on the saddle
And great big puddle on the ground.
He handed it to Homer Lee who read it with moving lips. He read it
again. Then out loud.
"Hey, Virgil Ray , 'at's purty good. Reckon I'll git a A?"
The tow headed Virgil Ray was not concerned about his recitation. He had
memorized more poems than he could ever recite. It was a hobby with him,
reading, memorizing and reciting poetry. Sometimes he did it in public
without realizing it. That's what Homer Lee meant when he said Virgil
Ray had better get his head out of them books. Not history books, or math
books, or geography books, or important stuff books. But them poetry
books, and story books, and play books, and myth books, and Shakespeare
books, all them books that ain't worth a tinker's damn. They'd confuse
him, make him forget where he is and what he's got to do.
Virgil Ray sat quietly, thinking but half listening to Homer Lee up on the
stage. When he finished the bee hive roared. Homer Lee cowed and bowed,
strutted and fretted, and made his exit.
"Next, Virgil Ray Dueese." Deep into what piece he would recite, he did
not hear. Somebody pushed him from behind and he moved toward the stage.
He climbed the steps, swept off his toboggan, bowed, looked out across
the buzzing and just as he said "To be or not to be...." he saw her about
three rows back.
Now here's another example of what a scatter brain Virgil Ray was. He
patted his shirt pocket, looking for his sonnet.
"Whattza matta, Shakespeare, forget the words?"
"Come on, Virgil Ray , nobody wants to hear that crap anyway."
"He must play for the Dodgers....he's a bum."
Virgil Ray smiled, walked across the stage, down the steps, to his seat,
fished out the poem, then plodded back the same way almost in his
footprints. He stood center stage until the jeering stopped, calmly
looking toward the teachers to do their job. They did and it got quiet.
" Spring Street Hill, A Shakespearean sonnet by Virgil Ray Dueese..."
"Oh, come on, Virgil Ray!"
"Git outta there, Virgil Ray!"
"You ain't no Shakespeare, boy!"
When they hooted out he went on:
"I walked the streets of the neighborhood
Where we became aware of each other.
On the corner of Spring and Carmalt I stood
And heard our voices laughing together."
"Whycha go back there and stay?"
He paid no attention and went on:
"Down Spring Street hill you came, hips swaying,
Face muffled from the cold, looking past me
At someone other than me, blue eyes gazing
Searching for something I could never be."
Miss Matthews, the voice teacher sitting on the first row twisted around
and looked to the back. Her mouth popped open a little at something she
wasn't sure she heard. She jerked back and sat erect. Virgil Ray waited
for the expected jeers but none came.
"You wanted safe, secure, warm things.
A cowboy like me would never do.
You passed with a pain that silence brings
And I cried and said goodbye to you."
Miss Fitspatrick, the principal inched down the isle, alert, tense, her
normally long stride shortened to short scooting shuffles.
Silence. Virgil Ray Dueese looked up, out and over the pasty white faces,
took a final breath and delivered his envoi:
"Blue eyes, easy swing, long legged strut,
You haunt me yet, girl with the pretty butt.
This concludes my recitation, thank you."
Flat pale faces looked at each other, mouths hung open, breath sucked and
caught. Snow swirled against the windows. Before his first step she
"Get down from there! And go to my office. Right now."
"Well, young man. Or should I say young animal? Don't just sit there
"I wrote a Shakespearean sonnet," Virgil Lee said from between his
"That," yelled Miss Fitspatrick, the six and a half foot six inch
principal, waving it at him, "is garbage."
"You can tell it's a Shakespearean sonnet because it has fourteen lines in
three quatrains rhyming abab cdcd efef and ends with a couplet gg..."
Virgil Lee said.
"You are an idiot. You don't even know the harm you have done."
He wanted to tell her that the point of the sonnet is in the last two
lines but her eyes forced him to look through the frosted window; he saw
grayness and wondered where Wilma Jane was.
"Get out of here and don't come back to school without your parents. Do
you understand?" He stood stiffly like an old man.
"No, Mam, I don't understand but I'll do it." He shuffled across the
room, out the door, down the hall and out into the winter.
Halfway down Spring Street Hill someone called him. At first he thought
it came from kids playing in the snow. When he passed them a couple of
the older ones pointed at him and laughed.
Sludging up the hill he heard it again. A girl's voice. He stopped, his
head down against the wind. A siren maybe? He cocked his head like a
robin listening for worms. Soft, silent, sounds.
"Thisbe is that you?"
A long moment passed.
"Yes, Pyramus, it is me."
"Are the mulberries white, Thisbe?"
"No, Pyramus, they are red."
He smiled to himself, and said to the winter:
Blue eyes, easy swing, long legged strut
You haunt me yet, girl with the pretty butt."
Author: Rocky Rutherford