>THIRD GRADE SWEET

>At the age of 57, she discovered maple syrup. She doused her breakfast with it. She drenched her lunch in its sweet autumn thickness. She boiled and baked and stewed her dinner in it. She travelled miles out of her way to buy great vats of it, exchanging money under bridges and behind seedy hotels for supply straight from the trees, only hours old.

She fell in with a maple tapper, Jonas Wilms, who had good strong arms and his own evaporation pan. There were freezing nights and warm sticky days out there in his cabin, and the taps in the trees flowed freely. Sometimes, when Jonas was asleep, she would creep out to the biggest maple and unplug the spile and bucket. She would put her mouth straight to the tap hole and suck the warm warm syrup straight from the tree. It tasted of nature: bark and earth. But it was by far the best thing she had ever tasted.

She was on her knees when he found her, doubled over, limbs strict with rigor. The first fingers of the morning’s light inched ever closer, but he reached her first. Jonas pounded his heavy fists into her chest, but her life was well gone. Carried away by that maple syrup, the blackest brew he had ever seen, dripping a mournful path down the bark.

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