The Fragrance of Peach Flowers
By Cianna Garrison
You cracked open my rib cage like a vault. Then, I watched you as you worked, wiping the sweat from your brow, knitting your hands, and lacing your fingers in origami shapes like you were about to make shadow puppets. At least, that’s how I thought of you when you talked about leaving. I was lying under a cathedral of trees in the orchard, dirt scraping my back, grass cutting at my ankles, imagining you like this. The thick air felt like a noose; it hugged and cradled me while eliciting rivulets of sweat down my back and neck. You were watching me with hawk-like intensity from your spot on the blanket, telling me how you’d get out of our moth-eaten town and never look back, even for me. You said you’d leave in the fall, no matter what. I chewed on my lip as sunlight shone through the leaves above me, sparkling like stars.
I was at your family’s farm in Texas almost every day that summer. We sat in the shade of the orchard. The nearby train called, leaving a long, melancholy whistle, its chuff, chuff, chuff increasing in urgency, saying, Let’s go. Let’s leave this place behind. The buzz of the cicadas hummed all around us. You pointed to the insects and asked, Did you know cicadas spend most of their lives underground? I shook my head and said, I’m not an entomologist. Laughing at my wisecrack, you told me they only come out above ground for a fleeting part of their lives. Hatched from eggs laid in twigs and branches, infant cicadas burrow underground as nymphs, feasting on the sap from tree roots. Adult dog-day cicadas flood the trees annually every summer, but while they live between two to five years, they spend just five to six weeks above ground to mate before they die. I wished I was one of them: an insect who lives in the dark until it goes on its final pilgrimage in the light.
You sat up and crawled onto your belly—your movements like low, brooding flames—pausing to put your hands on my hips, waist, and lips. I wish I could unravel you, you whispered. I should’ve told you you’d already unraveled me. But you wouldn’t have believed me anyway.
Summers were always like this. I held my breath as though I would never breathe again. You traced the symbols of the earth on paper, felt the magnetic pull of the ground, and repelled against it.
Come and see one of them, you urged, getting up from your spot on the blanket. You found a male cicada buzzing on one of the trees near the edge of the property. Its body was black, brown, and green—a camouflaged armor.
Shh, you put a finger to my mouth. I pressed my lips together. My eyes moved from your face to your hands. You had cupped your palm, scooped up the bug, and held it out to me. It stopped its mating song.
Cicadas are just trying to survive, you said. Their whole existence is about living, eating, and mating. They don’t have to worry about anything else, like if my dad’s peach crop will yield as much as last year or if they’ll ever get out of here and make something of themselves.
I thought: These insects only know magic. The smell of fresh summer rain and soil, the taste of sweet sap, and their flurry of buzz-saw music.
Peach trees provided the most prolific deciduous fruit crop in Texas, and your family’s farm had been selling them since you were a baby. You always seemed worried about the crop yield, maybe even more than your dad.
You grinned at the insect and said, The whole point of their last few weeks is to reproduce. A male sings from a tree to attract a mate.
I placed my chin on your shoulder and examined the cicada’s eyes. They were dark green, tinged with black. I admired its wings, the farmland, and you, hunched over, studying the insect. I took it all in like a great deluge would sweep it all away.
When the moon was full, shining like a phosphorescent opal, I thought of Amy Lowell’s poem, The Garden by Moonlight. The scent of peaches wafted through the air. The garden is very still, I uttered. It is dazed with moonlight. You smirked and lounged against a peach tree, reclining your head back, listening to the rhythm of the words, indifferent about whose poem it was. Rising from your spot, you plucked a fresh, plump peach from the tree and fed it to me. The syrupy juice traveled down my chin. The sweet fruit was our tree sap, the orchard our tree trunk. When the moon’s silver light hit your eyes, they shone black like a cicada’s.
You grabbed my hand and led me to the barn. Its wooden beams creaked and groaned like a ship of old. You pointed to the dilapidated machinery and the rotting beams where termites had begun to feast. Some planks were charred from the barn fire two years ago. The blackened wood still smelled of smoke and charcoal. I remembered when it happened—furious flames licking timbers, your father panicked, you standing there, staring, eyes glazed as you rushed to save that beam of wood on the barn door, the one with your dead mother’s initials. Your dad cursed at you; let it burn.
Now you moved closer to me, skin on fire, eyes mischievous. After a kiss, you showed me the inside of the barn, the way beams of light slipped through the cracks of the timbers, cascading down in streaks. I kicked my shoes off and danced in the light, flitting between streams of magical silver and darkness, back and forth, in and out. You caught my hand and danced slowly with me, our chests touching, the scent of dreams gone up in a blaze, of injured wood worse for wear. You sang me a song, vibrations from your vocal cords buzzing between our bodies as we moved.
One day, you told me about the hidden room in the farmhouse. You needed something to do because your dad was in the hospital. It was his heart again—the second heart attack since last June. Ever since your mom died, it was like he’d given up, and you were somewhere else, far away, drifting through places you’d never been in your hazy astral plane. I wanted to go with you wherever you went. Was your mind somewhere in Boston, in the city? Somewhere far enough from home, where you could cast off the dust of the orchard, the smell of burned wood, the taste of overripe peaches, the image of your mother?
It’s these damn peach crops. The farm. It’s going to kill him, you murmured. No one knows if he’ll make it. I have to wait until visiting hours to see him. You wore your dad’s old cardigan sweater. Its hunter-green hue complemented your eyes, the flecks of gold in your irises popping out like pyrite in a riverbed. Why couldn’t he just let this place go? You agonized.
Downstairs, your aunt clanged pots and pans in the kitchen. She was watching the farm in your father’s absence.
You guided me up the stairs to your dad’s office. Inside, the air was stifling and empty; dust had already gathered on the desk. I scratched my head when you pushed massive stacks of books aside from the wall, letting them plummet like felled trees. You’d uncovered a door and searched for the hole where the doorknob used to be. Then, using a slotted screwdriver, you manipulated the latch and opened the door.
Come in, you bowed to me, eyes shining from under your grove of eyelashes. They were like the orchard below: dense and numerous. I strode inside, where I was met with the smell of lilac, honeysuckle, and fresh earth. The room was reminiscent of the garden outside, with potted plants full of flowers along the white walls. Strings of photographs hung above our heads. A large, oval window showed the land below us, letting in a golden glow of light. The light bounced off the white walls, giving us halo reflections on our heads.
It was my mom’s sanctuary, you explained. Dad keeps it tidy. He comes up here sometimes. To grieve. Not sure what he did with the doorknob. He doesn’t let anyone come in here. He doesn’t know I know how to get in.
I surveyed the room, afraid to ask how your mom died. You’d never told me. My eyes were damp with tears when you gestured to the photographs. She was beautiful, wasn’t she? You touched her printed face. Her eyes had fool’s gold freckles like yours.
We sat in the light by the window and waited until the moon had risen.
What are you going to do? I asked.
I don’t know, you said.
The orchard was an altar below, the moon a silver coin.
Are you going to leave? If he’s okay?
I don’t know.
You shook a brown paper bag at me and opened it. In silence, you handed me a peach. We let the juice drip onto the floor, and the air was all lilac, honeysuckle, and peach flowers.
I imagined spring’s honey-scented peach tree blossoms around us, framing our diminutive lives like a baldachin. I imagined us starting over as nymphs, born underground in a safe cocoon of dirt and debris, a tangle of root systems supplying us with nutrients. After years of safety, we would shed our infant skin and find ourselves freed, mature dog-day cicadas with black-green eyes and armored bodies, protected from the insatiable aches of reality, the intricacy of what it means to be human. You would buzz to attract me, clinging to your tree, and I would search to find you. There would be nothing else.
Cianna Garrison lives in California and has an ever-growing TBR pile. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Welter, FERAL: A Journal of Poetry and Art, and The /tƐmz/ Review. In her spare time, she likes to sing, craft, and act. You can catch her cat mom posts on her Instagram @cianna_garrison or follow her work at ciannagarrison.com.