The other day, a woman sent her husband to the store for berries.

“Just berries,” she pleaded. “Just berries, OK? And please, not seven pineapples and no Cocoa Krispies. Just berries.”

Just berries?


Guests were coming for dinner — braised lamb shanks — and she had a cake in the kitchen. She also planned on serving berries with dessert.

Her husband, a good man who doesn’t gamble, do drugs or chase floozies, has one flaw. It manifests itself when he’s sent to the store.

Once she sent him to the store for pineapple before hosting a big Thanksgiving family dinner. He brought seven pineapples home. Why?

Because you always want guests to feel as if they can have all that they want. In his mind, causing a guest even a moment’s hesitation is a mortal sin.

“But seven pineapples?” she said those many years ago. “My God, what did you do?”

Everyone at Thanksgiving had a good laugh. And for years afterward, his two brothers called him “Seven Pineapples.”

Rather than say his name, “John,” they’d say things like, “Seven Pineapples has tickets to the Fire game,” or “Are we going to Seven Pineapples’ house or Pete’s house to watch the fight?” or “Where’s Seven Pineapples?”

Finally, mercifully, it faded. So he made that one mistake. OK, so he overdid it that one time. Nobody ever died from pineapple.

And when the man and wife would go grocery shopping together, he’d put tasty things in the cart and she’d put them back on the shelf, as if he were a child.

He hated that. Not even the governor told him what to do. So they didn’t shop together much anymore.

When he got to the supermarket, he checked his phone. There was an urgent text:

“Just berries. No Cocoa Krispies, no triple-cream brie, and no smoked liver sausage. No double-stuffed Oreos. Just berries.”

It was a red flag in front of a bull.

Dang it! He loved Cocoa Krispies. And real French triple-cream brie, and smoked liver sausage served with those horseradish sweet pickles made a fantastic sandwich.

But he decided that he’d stick to her plan. Just berries.

It was then when he spotted his reflection in the glass door. Just berries? Loser.

A friendly cashier recognized him, waved and pointed to the cereal aisle.

“The Cocoa Krispies are in!” said the cashier, gesturing at a stock clerk opening boxes. “They’re right there.”

He couldn’t tell if she was mocking him or just being friendly, so he smiled brightly to hide his shame.

And thus broken to bit and harness, he pushed his shopping cart drearily to the produce section, where berries were on sale.

He’d get blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries if they were decent. He might even slip in a carton of heavy cream, just for the heck of it.

As always, the produce section was well-stocked with salad greens, vegetables and luscious melons, grapes, pears, apples and so on.

Just berries, he told himself. Just berries.

“I’m sorry, but we’re all out of berries,” said the nice produce manager. “The truck didn’t come. I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry. We’re out of berries.”

The berry island was empty. There was nothing.

No berries anywhere in the store?

“No,” said the produce manager. “I feel bad, but no.”

He had to do something. So he went over to the nice gelato lady and ordered up chocolate gelato for the dinner.

“Coming right up,” said the nice gelato lady.

It was then when he saw them, on the nice gelato lady’s work counter, stuck in a corner, where she’d hidden them so customers wouldn’t see.

But he was a trained observer. So he saw them all right.

He said: “Those are berries. You have BERRIES?”

“What? Oh these?” she said, flustered, grabbing sheets of paper to cover them. “I guess so. I don’t know what these are doing here.”

There were several pints of berries of different types. But she put another bag on top of her hoard. She stared at the man. He stared at her.


He said: “My wife sent me to the store for berries, just berries, but there are no berries in the store. I’m a customer, you know.”

“Oh, you’re a customer? Oh, you want berries? We have some at the end of the frozen aisle,” she said. “Try frozen berries.”

He didn’t want any of the frozen berries. He wasn’t making smoothies. He wanted fresh berries for dessert. Just berries.

The nice gelato lady wasn’t nice anymore. She hovered over her berries the way a she-wolf guards her pups.

“Well, you can have the frozen berries,” she said again, whispering, but loudly. “The frozen berries, the frozen berries.”

“I want the fresh berries,” he hissed right back. Just berries!

About 50 feet away was the store manager, white shirt, head on a swivel, walking the aisles, looking for issues as store managers are wont to do.

They saw the manager coming. They stared at him and at each other. All he needed to do was mention her berry hoard.

Time stopped.

“Hi,” said the store manager, smiling a robotic smile, oblivious to the life-or-death drama before him. He kept walking.

The gelato lady started breathing again. So did the husband.

“You still want the gelato?” she said, weakly but with a smirk.

“Yeah,” he said, smirking back. “I’ll have the gelato.”

Just the gelato.

By John Kass

John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may send him email at [email protected]