THE GOLDEN PEACH

With all of the horrors inflicted upon us-as so well documented here at DD and elsewhere-it’s good to take a mind-break and go somewhere else.

This is a short story I wrote about 12 years ago. It was published in Bricolage, which has about 500 readers, in 2002. It used to be online but has since been taken down (along with everything else from 2001 and thereafter.)

I’ve been thinking about posting this here for quite a while and have finally decided to do so.

I recommend that you have a dictionary at hand or have another browser window opened to an online dictionary. (My brother laughed when I made this same recommendation to him, but later admitted that a “few” of the words were unfamiliar to him.)

I wrote the last sentence of this story first. Originally it had almost 500 words, but for the purposes of the story I edited it down to a mere 365 words. (Bonus points for anyone who can guess why it was originally just under 500 words.)

I hope y’all enjoy reading The Golden Peach as much as I enjoyed writing it.

THE GOLDEN PEACH

In 1897, long before my father left the family estate near Cashmere, Washington, and moved us all to Seattle, his father uprooted a wife and four children from the soils of Georgia and transplanted them to the bountiful Pacific Northwest, where prosperity and health smiled upon Grandpa and granted him a long and happy life, a life truly to be envied, a life filled with activity and alertness right up until he passed into stardust, thirty years ago, at the ripe old age of one hundred and four.

In my youth, within the cool confines of a handsome library filled, shelf upon shelf, with thick volumes much beloved, Grandpa frequently spoke to me, in a manner peculiarly his own, about the abstract mental processes which, in accord with intrinsic inner impulses, he variously characterized either as the source of his greatest joy or as the bane of his existence. The duality of conscious and subconscious factors defining not only the content but also the form of his unique verbal style, all inherently and inextricably interwoven in the formation of an inexplicable mental landscape, contrarily resulted in a mode of expression representative of the essential unity, the oneness, which constituted Grandpa’s being-there; for him, all such dualisms (mind/body, subject/object, e.g.) were subsumed beneath a superstructure of logic which could not countenance the actuality of such antithetical contradictions as being anything more substantial than convenient (if confusing) constructions, useful only to the uninitiated (i.e. neophytes in the metaphysical arts).

Grandpa sometimes speculated that the distinctive qualities of his cognitive faculties resulted from neurological damage, an aberration caused by a severe concussion incurred at the age of two, leaving him not incapacitated, but hyper-aware of the slightest internal or external vibrations. His heightened sensitivity to emotional landscapes could also be attributed to the loss of his father at that same early age and to his precocious awareness of the devastation wrought upon his mother by the twin blows of widowhood and the utter destruction of her home, her life, and her city in the depredations of Sherman’s assault upon Atlanta.

A concrete example from Grandpa’s own life should suffice to explicate the intricate nature of both his intellectual apparatus and his highly expressive loquaciousness.

As Grandpa was so fond of recounting the story of how the ultimate decision to ask for the hand of the woman who would become my grandmother had come over him, with the passage of time and repetition it eventually assumed an epic quality marked by a sublime subtlety and an uncanny awareness of the intuitions and motivations which had ineluctably catapulted him into a life of surprisingly gratifying connubial bliss.

Though Grandpa was fully cognizant of the complex ramifications and momentous repercussions this one most consequential decision would have upon the remainder of his life, before he sank his teeth into the fresh plump tree-ripened peach, triggering a flood of oneiric divagations not unlike Marcel’s madeleine-induced hallucination, other considerations, closer to the core of dearly held conceptions of both identity and self-respect and also more related to a well-developed definition of personal integrity, a veritable code of honor, predominated. Born into an aristocratic family of the Old South, Grandpa dwelt in an old-fashioned world where such notions were by no means unusual; numerous protracted late-night philosophical discussions with divers fellow students at The University of Georgia had revolved around this very issue; each young gentleman tried to outdo the others in demonstrating an unswerving devotion to upholding the revered regional traditions for which their fathers and forebears had willingly perished.

At the crux of the matter for Grandpa lay a tragedy and an oath, the latter perhaps given in an excess of youthful grief though none the less inviolable for that. Prior to proposing marriage to Henrietta, he had first to resolve in his heart this perplexing promise made two years earlier to another exceptional young woman, his betrothed, as she lay on her deathbed, caught in the final gasping throes of tuberculosis. “I will never marry,” he had solemnly pledged, filled with an excruciating emotion, certain that no woman could ever supplant the one who suffered so terribly before his eyes, certain also that even to consider such an eventuality would constitute an ignoble betrayal of the one who had come to represent the apotheosis of love and devotion. The tears streaming down his face as he watched the carriage roll from town, carrying away the lifeless remains of his beloved Sarah, seared into his memory a powerfully etched visual montage, which was augmented by an unusual auditory phenomenon that culminated in the formation of a firmly embedded array of neural synapses and permanently fixed in his brain a poignant disquieting reminder of all that he had lost.

To simply repudiate his given word was unthinkable, contrary to his nature, yet the return of Henrietta to Fort Valley Georgia after a three year stay in Paris presented Grandpa with a seemingly insoluble problem. Hattie (as she was affectionately known within the family circle), a gawky eighteen year old girl at the time of her departure for Europe, returned a much transformed young lady, one who displayed a natural grace and a sophisticated charm that captivated every young man fortunate enough to witness even such an ordinary thing as a stroll through town. Due to close familial connections and an enduring history of childhood camaraderie, Grandpa was thrown into a situation offering more intimate contact with Hattie than that afforded to the casual observer. Smitten as much by her wit, intelligence, and forthright character as by her physical beauty, Grandpa could neither fail to acknowledge to himself his precarious position on the horns of a dilemma which admitted no simple solution, nor could he evade the issue by resorting to benign neglect or, worse yet, avoid the decision altogether by fleeing town, either of which option would expose him as an unworthy coward. Appropriate respect and consideration for Hattie’s feelings had become necessary; she herself had not remained indifferent towards Grandpa, a fact made eminently clear by a certain smile bestowed upon him one afternoon in the park, a special smile directed at him alone, a smile that bespoke a desire and revealed an emotion which she undoubtedly had been concealing (perhaps even from herself) and which burst forth unbidden, unchecked by the usual restraints of feminine caution or prudent decorum.

Such were the circumstances confronting Grandpa that morning in 1888 when he plucked the sweet peach and sat leaning against the trunk of the tree, determined to reach a decision as to whether or not he would (or could) go down on bended knee before this gorgeous and desirable woman.

Prunus persica is an ordinary fruit not normally associated with the fate of a family; for us however, the common peach is paramount, and has been so since 1866, just after the Civil War, when Grandpa’s mother bought an orchard in Peach County, Georgia. Fleeing the fires that consumed Atlanta in ’64, leading five fatherless children while carrying the sixth, a shell-shocked two year old (Grandpa), and also secretly transporting fourteen pounds of solid gold, she’d sought refuge with an old aunt who resided in Fort Valley, the county seat. Two years later, using the final remnants of the fortune which initially had been acquired by her father during the Dahlonega gold rush of 1828 in northern Georgia, the southernmost reaches of the Appalachian Mountains, she invested in peaches, and thereby bequeathed to her descendants sustenance and a livelihood that persists to this day, despite Grandpa’s short-lived rebellion in 1897. That was when he, under the influence of family lore and tradition, had come to Seattle on his way to the Klondike to try his luck just as his maternal grandfather had done so successfully in the first American gold rush; but the power of the peach unexpectedly intervened and sidetracked him from these impetuous intentions; unbeknownst to him, newly developed irrigation in the lands east of the Cascade Mountains in the years just preceding his arrival in the Pacific Northwest had brought on a boom in orchards and, succumbing to the gentle persuasions of Grandma, he abandoned his foolhardy dreams of finding instant wealth in the Yukon and instead invested his grubstake in the more familiar yellowy-orange fruit she called “sweet gold”.

Thus, back in 1888, with a golden peach in his hand, Grandpa leaned back beneath the radiant sun against that tree in his mother’s orchard, and sat, torn and tormented by conflicting self-imposed demands, resolutely contemplating his life, his oath, his future, and his desire to bring to an end this ceaseless quibbling debate between will I and nill I.

Lost in ambivalent reverie, he hesitated; and when he at last bit into the fruit, he tasted not the sweet refulgence of the flowing juiciness but rather the bitter seed of long forgotten memories, memories buried like the long forgotten dead, those men who, unrepentant as Adam, had also tasted of the fruit before their final consignment to the burial grounds now covered with wild tangled weeds and dotted with broken obliterated headstones hidden in these obscure thickets guarded by prickly dewberry; memories that induced dreamy disjointed fragments, figments woven by Clotho into fantastic raiments, phantasmagoric yet elemental images forming a transubstantial exploration of fundamental mundaneness betokening ontological imponderables; memories arising out of the protean protoplasmic substrate perpetually relegated to tenebral unawareness; memories antithetically suffused with redolent wisteria, contrarily tinged by the emotive anodyne of mulberry pie and sassafras tea, sweetly imbued with the wonderment of a child enraptured by vernal eclosions, and exquisitely permeated by the luxuriant languor of contemplative sojourns in the realms of Beauty and Art; memories triggered by a fleeting mental glimpse of the scene that fateful afternoon as the carriage rolled away, leaving the town square and disappearing from view, leaving Fort Valley never to return, carrying his beloved Sarah and leaving behind a cloud of bone-dry dust hanging in the lambent light of early afternoon, and triggering the recussive reverberation of the town clock in the tower, tolling repeatedly, tolling over and over though the hands on the clock showed one, tolling concussively throughout the town, tolling echoless over the surrounding fields and orchards, sweeping up the South and tolling all over America, across the oceans and around the world; memories that roiled over the banks, rolling rivers of words, inchoate in the symbology of pre-verbal utterance, suggesting, not unequivocally asseverating, an atavistic relatedness to the primordial being-there which spawned all consciousness until, with the swiftness and finality of a dropped guillotine, the flood of memories, satiated by the inner flux of timeless transport, ceased to whelm and overwhelm and he saw the bitten fruit in his hand, the fluid motionless drips covering his immobile fingers, so that, in an epiphany of self-revelation, he thought: I will, I will.

4 comments

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  1. …are always appreciated.

    • RiaD on March 18, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    good peach to give you time to reflect….

    thanks very much for posting this!

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