a Women Writer's' Showcase

By Rebecca Marshall-Courtois

I squeeze the peach in my hand, delighting in the way its skin tickles mine.  It succumbs to my touch, and yet springs back to life when I loosen my hold on it.  Its sweet, comforting scent beckons me.  I wish I had the appetite to bite into it.

I close my eyes and imagine its freshness in my mouth.  I can feel the juices dribbling down my chin, cooling me until the late summer breeze leaves me sticky.  And all too soon I can hear the sound of my teeth gnawing around in search of the last bits of flesh, and scraping at the withered pit.

I always insisted on planting those pits in our patch of a back yard.  I was young, naïve.  Faithfully, I watered the mound of dirt marked with a Popsicle stick and a scrap of paper with bleeding traces of a magic marker inscription that had washed away with the first rain.  Every day, I went to that spot, knelt down and inspected the churned over soil.  But those peach trees never seeded anything but fantasy.  Maybe the polluted climate of Queens didn't agree with peach trees.

Once a year, Mom and I borrowed Aunt Nellie's car and drove up to Northern Westchester for the pickings.  We admired the shiny greenery, immaculate lawns, and homes tucked comfortably away from the exhaust fumes of urban life.  Mom pointed out the houses she took the train up to clean three times a week on our way to the orchard, and described their interiors and happy inhabitants to me in delicious detail.  Mom always wanted to move here.   Now she's getting her wish.

I've chosen this spot for her. The wind carries the perfume of our past to her now.  Down the hill, I can just see the ladders leaning against the trunks, and the branches swaying heavily with fruit.  Baskets are scattered on the grass below them, overflowing with orangey-red balls that I can smell if I close my eyes and point my head in their direction.  It's as if she's also chosen this day.  Wisps of clouds race through the sky, and the sun makes the tree shadows dance to the gentle music of diligent bees and pickers' laughter.

I try to picture Mom, the way she looked on days like these.  I can see her overalls, the bib drooping over her pudgy middle.  I can see her stained K-Mart canvas sneakers, the laces removed to make room for her swollen ankles that are watercolored purple with splintering veins.  I can see the way the sunlight unveils the secret of her blonde hair;  too yellow, the "golden blond number four" clashes with the skin of the peaches and Mom's sunburned nose and cheeks.  I can see her bleach weathered hands eagerly plucking at branches.  I can see the toasted color of those fingers, the index and the middle of her right hand, that would  normally be pinching a cigarette, but are too busy to bother. And I can hear the cushioned plop of each peach landing in the basket.

My body fatigues, gives in to this oppressive emptiness it's been
carrying around for months.  It's over, but that's what makes me want to rush to those trees and pound out my rage on the trunks. I squeeze the fruit in my hand and feel the slippery flesh break free from its warm envelop of skin. I tighten my fist.  Juice splashes onto the sides of my legs.  Beads stain my black patent leather shoes.

Someone in the black clad crowd coughs.  A smoker's cough - thick with phlegm and fury.  This cough brings me down the corridor where the sound of my mother's hacking ricochets off the sterile tiles to mingle with the groans of other patients and the cheerful chatter of nurses.  I see Mom grasping onto the IV unit, her upper body jerking forward, tears on her face.  Again, I squeeze, harder.  The flesh oozes through my fingers, the dripping juices spark whispers from behind me and beside me.  They whisper, the way they whispered around Mom's body on the bed, as if they feared their voices might interfere with the functioning of the machines that ticked off her last days, second by second, heartbeat by heartbeat.

I face the wind, take a deep breath of its sweetness.  The scent
brings me back to our kitchen table strewn with freshly picked fruit.  I see Mom's busy fingers, gripping the paring knife so tightly that her knuckles turn the white and pink of the variety of peaches we never bothered with.  I see the mound of discarded skins and pits, leaking off the paper towel set before her.  I see her carve out the rotten parts of the peaches and add the browned and molding chunks to the pile.

Then her busy hands are replaced with the surgeon's hands against my will. Woven in front of his white coat, they remain still, and I stare at them and wonder if he's praying for her soul as he explains what he's just done to my mother's body. This man cut out all that was rotten on Mom.  And he cut again, and again, until he left me with nothing but a withered pit of a woman, buried under a white sheet that almost matched her face and the three inch roots of her hair.

I tighten my fist and the pit stabs me.  My blood blends with the juice, trickles down my wrist.  I toss the pit into the hole and it lands on the casket with a clunk.  Then I kneel down and scoop up a fistful of earth. The drumming sound it makes echoes in my mind.

I will come every day to this spot, and water the churned over earth, marked with a marble plaque and metal letters that spell out Mom's name and this date.  The Autumn rains will make those letters and numbers drip with rust, but I'll still kneel down and hope.  I'm no longer that young, and I'm not naïve.  All I'll find are memories of lost dreams.

Read Rebecca's biography and her great interview here.