Lobotomized peaches lie evenly spaced on my front lawn.
I do not know how they got there, or why they are distributed the way they are. But peach halves are scattered across my yard, almost as a po-mo constitutional. They aren't just peaches simply cut in half and then arranged, each peach corpse still bears its hard pit, openly revealed under the sun. As if the great purveyor of this tragedy, the judge of all fruits, had chosen in a ritual dating back centuries the proper half of a peach, wielding a great hatchet and bringing it down upon the lowly peach, chosen the untainted half for acceptance, and leaving the pit-burdened waste to lie upon my grass. In terms of explanation, I assume that is all I'm going to get.
I go down the yard and pick up the peaches, noticing they are rather fresh, maybe purchased yesterday, or even this morning at 2, at a 24-hour grocery store. Whatever the reason, I take the fruit and throw each sorry half away, without telling anyone else about this occurrence.
Mind, of course, that this little anecdote wasn't told merely as a flight of fancy, to get you interesting in what's happening in my world, nor even as a great message, something that I'll reveal later with a charming tie-in to a peach cobbler, made by the wife I don't love anymore, and the conceptual art here on the lawn will reveal a very general, rather obvious truth that I was blind to before, because I'm an idiot. The true purpose of the peaches is beyond me; not because it's a great mysterious analogy that only careful analytical reading of the text will reveal, finding in the story more than I originally intended, but rather because the peaches were really there, and like all real things, completely unrelated to my life.
I got a telegram today. An actual telegram. "Clarence dead. Funeral Tuesday." I don't know a Clarence. Today is Wednesday. I try to stop the telegram man, but he doesn't seem to understand that it's not for me. He doesn't even appear to speak English. I throw the telegram into the garbage.
After I do so, I get a call from my mother. She asks me if I got the telegram. I tell it arrived just a few minutes ago, and who the hell is Clarence? She says there is no Clarence, that she just felt that it would be fun to send a telegram. Because apparently she and the family are in Alabama right now, where they actually have telegram offices. They never told me they were going on vacation.
"It's not exactly a vacation. Your father needed to come down on business."
"What kind of business happens in Alabama?"
My father is a middleman of cheap crap. He runs a secondhand store where we're from, which specialize in antiques and collectibles. The store is actually a front for the exchange of such items between sellers and buyers, for which my father actually collects a commission. It's all legal, not as bad as it sounds. But I often describe my father's business similar to that to new girlfriends, so they think that my dad is a badass illegal coke runner. In all truth, my dad is just the man people go to when they need to unload something their spouses bought.
"We've got a commission to transport some antiques from this classic little place down here, everything is in top condition. The most beautiful rugs and rocking chairs. We've already got a buyer for most of the estate."
I say that's great. We talk for a little bit longer about the estate, and other things we commonly talk about. She tells a charming anecdote about one of the diners they went to down there, and how they actually had a cockroach on the plate, like you see in the movies. About fifteen minutes later, she says that she has to get back to work while I say I have work soon. I have to hang up first.
I wonder if it was actually worth the commission to drive down to Alabama as I step out the door to work. I don't work at a job I will be talking about in five years, and I typically find it hard to mention in a conversation. My job is so divided from any human interaction that there is hardly anything worth thinking about while at work, let alone to relate after I come home to enjoy a drink with my buddies. So, I disappear for eight hours, and when I come back there is a message on my answering machine.
It's my mother. Her voice is completely different from last time. My father had been killed while he was moving one of the pieces of furniture at this place, apparently a 1930's safe had fallen off the back of the truck, crushing his ribs and lungs instantly. One of the two local boys they hired to help had dropped it. She was carrying out a lamp at the time.
I call her back immediately. She is crying when she picks up. She tells me more about it, and I listen solemnly. When she's done, I ask her if I need to come down there. She tells me no, I do not. She says that she's already made arrangements to bring Dad back home to be buried, as well as herself. None of the antiques will be coming back.
She asks me to come home on Friday, about when she will be getting back. I tell her okay, and I go to bed. It's about 6 p.m., but I don't really care. Maybe if I go to sleep, I'll actually wake up from this dream and everything will be okay.
When I talked with my mother this morning, she didn't offer to put my father on the phone. Nor was it thought that I would actually want to talk to Dad. I was only interested in his business, and he was only interesting in mine. My dad worked hard, it was probably only fair for him to die on the job.
I didn't do any crying until maybe Saturday, so we'll ignore everything else that happened until then, like me asking for time off, and me not telling my girlfriend that I would be gone, and the $500 flight back home, and the reunion of the family once again, etc. We didn't talk at all about anything, we all retired to bed quickly, as if we were exhausted from the travels.
It was on Saturday that we visited the man at the funeral home. He acted as if he did this often, and I imagined that he did. He was talking to us about the arrangements, and said the death notice had already been posted in the paper, with obituary to follow soon. All this stuff that we already could have figured out on our own.
The funeral guy, I guess they call him a mortician or something ghastly like that, he mentioned that he's already made arrangements, and if it's wasn't too soon for us, he was wondering if we wanted to do it, the funeral he meant, on Tuesday.
Our mother and I shared a moment here, as we both looked at each other with a sense of morbid dread in our hearts. I don't know the opposite of a joke, but I'd imagine the feeling we felt was one similar to the one shared during an inside joke, only in reverse. You know, the opposite of that pleasing knowledge that is shared by only the closest friend. Two or three years from now, my mother would refer to my father as Clarence in a conversation, and nobody would understand her.
But this was not the place I cried. The funeral home is almost invulnerable to tears, the efficiency and the indifference of the mortician blocking the sorrow as all the arrangements are made. No, after we decided that Tuesday would be fine, despite that ugly terrible feeling we both had, I needed to get out of the house. I borrowed my father's other truck, it took me twenty minutes to actually start the car, so washed with sorrow as I was. It didn't happen in the truck though. Once I finally got the truck started, I went to McDonald's, and got the fattiest item on the menu, and ate with vigor. My dad hated McDonald's, thought the burgers tasted like cardboard.
I took my drink and went back the truck, and drove the two blocks to the Wal-Mart supercenter. I went inside to take a look around. It hadn't changed. I walked as quickly as possible amongst the aisles, not really looking at anything, just walking.
No, it wasn't until one of my dad's customers had found me. I had worked for my dad for a while, and most of his regular visitors knew of me, how I was off in the big city, doing what they didn't know. They would often at least say hello to me, despite the fact I had no idea who they were.
He was a large man, weighing at least 300 pounds. He ate at McDonald's 5 times a week. He wore the largest size jeans that could be found at CalStores, Wranglers by trademark. He also wore a plaid shirt and red striped suspenders. Big thick glasses and a baseball cap stating him as a Vietnam veteran. I didn't know him too well, so I didn't know enough to avoid him.
"Hey, Mike's boy," he said to me, and I stopped, saying hello.
"Do you know when your father is going to have that china set in the store for me?"
I shook my head, maintaining the same demeanor I had in high school, then quickly realized why I was back here. I asked him if he'd heard. He hadn't. I told him. He was deeply sorry. Grabbed my shoulder and told me to he knew how hard this could be. I just looked at the ground, and shook my head, didn't want to relate with him. He patted me on the shoulder again, and said that he was sorry again, and started to walk away, letting me know that my father was a good man. I thought about telling him that the reopening of the store was already being discussed, that the china set was probably already in, but thought that it would be considered an awkward thing to say.
And it was. It would have been a terrible thing to say, especially before the funeral. But what could I have said? Nothing.
I remembered then the time when I was driving with my father through the smaller towns, on the way back from picking up an estate. As we drove through the village, there were a couple of girls walking down the street, only about 15, just barely understanding sex, barely understanding boys. They were still wearing oblivious girl clothing, large T-shirts borrowed from their fathers, jeans. But they had pretty faces and huge boobs, still noticeable through the T-shirts. I looked, and my father looked. We both noticed we looked. He turned his head forward and said, "Remember, son, you're never too old to look."
I was by the kitchenware. Nobody else was around.
Are you still thinking about the peaches? Forget about the goddamn peaches.
About the author:
Josh Krehbiel is a writer based in California. He use to run a wildly unsuccessful online literary magazine, and he writes a fantasy-ish serial that's being published at www.RPGTimes.net.