Peaches

A single wasp wanders idly from one peach to the next, sucking out the juices that seep from beneath the cracked skins. On impact, these half-rotten fruits burst open like little water balloons of syrupy summer sweetness; the insects feast without their usual urgency; they know we’ve left these for them.

I lie on my stomach with my face just inches above the nearest one, breathing in its fermented aroma and waving a lazy hand at bees that buzz too close. I watch a millipede work its way in and out of the holes at either end, and ants in a parade tapping their antennae as they sniff out a morsel or two to filch under the watch of the larger bugs. The grass is alive with movement.

I flip over onto my back and stretch in the heat of the sun on my naked chest. I’ve been out in the orchard all day, tossing the dropped fruit into heaps for my grandfather to shovel onto the wagon later and haul off to the compost heap. The buckets of moldy fruit make me dizzy with their putrid, too-sweet aroma and the little clouds of spores that erupt from the mold growing on them. I’ve been licking my fingers of juice as I’ve been piling the peaches, and now little blades of grass stick to my chin. I think I might fall asleep as I watch the clouds drifting overhead, making their swirls of mountains and oceans and castles I'll never visit.

The orchard is my grandfather’s greatest delight. Any guests who make the trek to this 100-acre jewel in the middle of New York state are invited (treated, in my opinion) to a tour of the assorted fruit trees, each ripening in sequence: plums, apricots, peaches, cherries, pears, apples. Down in the lower forty, strawberries, tomatoes, and corn compete for attention. All of them coaxed from seed to fruit by his firm and patient hand, tended and nourished and culled as needed.

At dinner, my grandfather’s eyes gleam at me with pride and with anticipation. Tomorrow, we will pick all of the peaches. They are just ripe, yielding only the slightest bit to the touch. A gentle pull on the stem releases a ball of perfect velvet into my palm. I picked one, and ate it secretly behind the sauna, because we’re not supposed to have them yet; we are only to eat the drops. It was a moment of bliss and guilt so maddening that I had to run into the garden and weed two extra rows of beans to atone for it. But tomorrow, we will be allowed to pull them from the tree, and not wait for the windfalls, nature’s cast-offs, the almost-good-enough. Tomorrow my grandmother will make a pie from the best of the best, and we will enjoy these few perfect gifts before we take the rest to market.

I fall asleep in the small featherbed, smelling peach on my face despite my grandmother’s swipes with the washcloth. The breeze outside picks up and lulls me to sleep with it sibilant hushing. In a dream, I hear its whispers grow into a snarl and then a howl, and I wake up, trembling from the nightmare I must be having. Outside, there is a terrible noise. It’s a skittering, clawlike sound on the roof and walls. Branches, blowing? Leaves? I’m confused; there aren’t any trees this close to the house. The tapping escalates, becomes a pounding; a clamorous, insistent drumming that can mean only one thing to those of us who live our lives by nature’s whims.

It is the sound of hail.

I run downstairs, my eyes manic, anguish roiling acutely in my belly. I see the silhouettes of my grandparents at the window, my grandfather encircling my grandmother’s shoulder with his arm. My breath catches in my throat and I make a small, mewling sound. I run to him and bury my face in his jacket, and sob out all of my grief into that rough and smoky embrace. I cry and cry, as I listen to the roaring, clattering monster subside and finally retreat.

My grandfather lifts my chin and smiles into my eyes. I can’t bear to look at him, but I must, because you don’t turn away from a face like that. Silently, he leads me to the lean-to and opens the door. I look past him, past the tractor, to the crates standing stacked for tomorrow’s harvest. Then I see them. They are crates piled high with peaches, picked at the last moments of the day after young children went to bed. Peaches saved by a timely warning and a few neighborly hands. Peaches, glorious velveteen orbs of summer sunset, piled into wooden boxes and lighting up my grandfather’s eyes for me.







This story was inspired by
JJ's task of the week, Flash Fiction Friday. This week's assignment is to write about a storm. Want to play along? Go see JJ at Purgatorian; he'll tell you how.

22 comments:

Finderz said...

That was peachy. I almost fell asleep in the sun smelling the peaches with you...

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

Great little story.

Anonymous said...

I skimmed it first, got to the end, and thought 'anguish in her belly, her breath's caught in her throat, she must have gotten stung by one of those insects from the beginning of the story and now she's dying.'
But then I read it through and decided, while it was much less life-threatening than I thought it would be, it's still a nice story.

FRITZ said...

This is life-praising. I enjoy the metaphors at work--community equals persistence of life.
"The field-sprouts of Fourth-month and Fifth-month became part of him;
Winter-grain sprouts, and those of the light-yellow corn, and the esculent roots of the garden,
And the apple-trees cover'd with blossoms, and the fruit afterward"

-A Child Went Forth, Walt Whitman.

Bobby said...

I really love the way you express emotions. It really makes the reader feel them as well.

Nice work, SG.

I am posting a short story this morning, mainly focusing on peaches and why I hate them (nothing to do with your lovely story), with a minor storm involved.

Not sure if I will keep up the Fiction Friday thing, but I may try. It is sure cheaper than the creative writing class I want to take.

Sleep Goblin said...

You are a beautiful person. I love you.

Haha! My wordver is dryffic, because you're terrific!

Monkey's Human said...

I so loved this. I felt lulled by it too. Peaches... warm, fuzzy, fragrant peaches. Sigh.

Beautifully rendered story as always.

Harry Yak said...

ditto to what gobby said. you really are a gifted writer.

all will flock to you.

Rob Seifert said...

Marvelous! Beautiful writing. You created a mood in your textures and tastes - a sensual context in which to experience the story. The hail startles the reader out of this reverie and the gentle love and support of the grandfather and the community ease the reader back into sleep and bliss-filled dreams of fresh ripe peaches.

RCS

Bill said...

I meant to comment earlier ... you've got a great descriptive ability - you evoke place in a tangible way. That's probably the area I struggle with most, so I always admire others who can do it.

And love peaches ... we use to have two peach trees in the backyard in the house I grew up in.

Michaela said...

Great story! You made me alittle nervous with that hail though!!

I used to pick peaches and apples with my mom, and you really brought that memory back for me with that short story!

The real me said...

Nice story... made me long for my grandfather!

larin von smartass said...

loved it. innocent and wholesome, but still so mature and vivid. you are a great writer!

badgerbob said...

With the exception of a lack of gratuitous sex and violence, it was a beautifully written story.

JJ said...

Wonderful, Spinner. The best car chase since French Connec... eh? Oh, I meant to say...

Kidding. I loved it. You always manage to walk just this side of the sentimental.

Melody said...

Wonderfully written story. I used to live on a ranch that had a pecan orchard and I found myself spending a lot of time there. Even though pecans don't carry the lovely fragrance of peaches, there's just something about trees bearing fruit that seems soothing, feminine somehow, or maybe nurturing is a better word. Like your grandfather.

sweet trini said...

i know i'm ridiculously late but being in trinidad should be an acceptable excuse...this story is delightful. walk good.

Neo said...

Spin -Yeah baby yeah! ;)

Kid Ric said...

Merry Christmas and the happiest of happy New Years.

Peace, love and light.

Sylvana said...

Aw, geez! You scared me!!
If those peaches hadn't been saved, I would have cried.

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred said...

You need to write.

This is good stuff.

Master Enigma said...

I stumbled in her and was so delighted. Excellent. I was there watching the whole story develop. Such nice pleasant style. A great work.