Virginia Woods

New Peach

In the morning I will put a peach in my daughter’s lunch bag. I brought it home this evening, showing it to my daughter as I put it in the fruit basket. She told me she’d like to have her “new peach.” I kissed her head and said she would surely have that peach, but she’d need to wait overnight for it to become perfectly soft and ripe.

My daughter will take the whole peach, as is. She will bite clean through the skin and won’t mind the fuzz. She eats the flesh until she has cleaned the stone, which she puts inside her cheek and sucks for juice. When I was young, my mother didn’t think this was the right way to eat a peach. I lived in Georgia, so we often had peaches in the house, brought home by my father in small paper sacks with handles and stacked in a shallow wooden bowl. If I reached for one, my mother would be watching. “Let me,” she would say, and take the peach from my hand. She would peel and cut it. When she peeled and again when she cut, the juice would run down her hands and forearms. She didn’t let me touch or get otherwise involved, even though I would have gladly licked the drips from her elbow before they had a chance to collect in the stainless steel sink over which she worked.

Between peeling and the cutting, my mother liked to let peaches “sit.” She would peel a few and put them on a plate, covering them with a damp paper towel. She put the plate in the refrigerator so the peaches could chill down. It was best to eat cold peaches on a hot day. To get them good and cold took at least an hour, and during that time the peaches were not to be disturbed. I was to go read a book. But sitting in the next room, I could never keep my mind off the peaches in the refrigerator, waiting under a thin blanket, jars, bottles and plastic boxes crowded around them. Once I heard my mother leave the kitchen, so I went in and opened the refrigerator door. The peaches were there, shrouded mounds. I pulled back the paper towel, which nearly disintegrated in my hands. The sides of the naked peaches glistened, organs pulled fresh from a body. I reached out and lifted two, one in each hand. Wet-headed babies. I drove my fingers deep into the fruit. My mother must have heard the sound of flesh penetrating flesh, because she suddenly appeared in the room. “Stop!” she said. “No more for you.”

There were many things that my mother said not to touch. Things that were sacred. “The only penis I’ve ever seen is your father’s,” she once told me, perhaps as a warning. I had already seen one penis – that of my next door neighbor. When we were both five, he came over and peed against the side of the house under my window while I watched. The next day I tried to pee on the house and ended up wetting my shoes.

I thought of those peaches when I was in high school, kissing a guy named Boyd on his dad’s bathroom floor. It was a party, and he had invited me into the bathroom. It was so familiar – toothbrushes and soft towels and the smell of liquid soap. We sat on the bathmat with our backs against the tub, first talking, then kissing. It wasn’t my very first kiss. Still, I don’t think I was ready when Boyd got up on his knees and pulled down his pants. “You don’t have to touch it,” he said. “Just let it be next to you.”

It hung in the dusk near my eyes, changing shape: First a baby, then a bird, then a little man. All the while it was a certain color – the color of a peach, undressed rudely by a mother with a knife. I said a rough prayer. Then I turned my head to the side. This new thing pressed up against my ear. I watched the wall, hummed and tried to re-arrange the tune. Outside the door someone laughed. My ear wasn’t mine any longer. Maybe it belonged to him. Maybe I could give it to my mother, now that I had seen so much more than she. Boyd and I stayed for a while longer in the bathroom, barely moving among the pipes and tile and towels. It was becoming dark. Now that I had reached this point, there was nowhere else to go. Nothing to do but wait, hovering. The nightlight by the sink, sensing darkness, turned on by itself.

Virginia Woods grew up in Augusta, Georgia and worked as a Japan-based correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and other publications. After nearly a decade in Asia, she left for New York City where she spent several years in the financial industry. She recently moved to rural northern New York State with her family and is now spending her days playing fiddle, playing with her children and writing her first book of fiction.

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