Peaches, Saline, Sun
rating: +9+x

I love peaches because one time I was doing a road trip through desert country and we were dehydrated and starving. On this winding road that went over sagebrush hills and salt flats, and we came down this bend and there was just a shack. Timber and ragged cloth to flay in the sun and orange-bitten sign chipped and peeled from the wind and sand. But it wasn't empty — imagine, now, a shack like from a movie, all run-down and lopsided and warm dry wood baked in the cold-hot iron desert sun so glowing with radiant blast furnace heat. Now drop that from your mind, fish rotten from the inside at a wet market — this shack was not that.

Imagine this. An old hobbed-together shack with fairy lights and globe bulbs attached wherever the wire strings reached. All sorts of melons and fruits and water and fresh-made cups of juices with the pulp still glistening, tables of exotic and strange fruits I had never seen permeating the back, the aroma of dead-ripe asian pear and persimmon a fermenting haze where my olfactory bulb should be, a miasma slick over my skin like an almost-alcohol slippery slick sludge-slime. A thousand fruits of a different colour each, all on little stands — all of this, in a shack somehow bigger on the inside than the outside, it seemed, or just constructed using building code violations like a checklist, all aluminum shipping container siding and pale cloth draped over the gaps to keep the sun and sand and wind out — all this, we pulled to a stop, and the hum of a powered vending machine that hums and buzzes, and instead of a floor a lively carpet straight atop the raw sand between the roadside and the shop exterior, a welcome mat made huge and tabled with all the food that could not fit inside.

Chilled drinks in glasses lined the whole edge of one table. Fruit pulp ones. In the sun, condensation beaded like saliva drowning from a tongue.

The heat of the desert drove us out of the car. Seeing those drinks, those crisp melons, those gargantuan apples, those thick ripe plums with skin taut to bursting — we weren’t even hungry. We just found this place, and the heat in the car immediately overwhelmed, an unwelcome but expected passenger shouting and screaming. Burning eyelids, burning eyes — did you know your scelarae can get sunburned too? We drove up, and did not think where this man kept his frozen sweets and fruits needing refrigeration or ice cream bars or vending machine — all this — plugged in, but I remember justifying to myself — in that unconscious way we assume that the sand will be dry or the night will be cold and full of wonder forgotten moments before we fall into slumber — thinking that the shop’s electricity was realistic, assuming there were solar panels in the back. Certainly no generator, because we would have heard it, and the desert is so very quiet when it needs to be.

The fruit shack had no name. No sign, no anything.

So we're driving, the heat is screaming, the car A/C isn’t working, and we pull to a stop — no parking lot, no side of the road, just park the car on the road because there haven’t been any other cars for miles and this is the only road down this winding stretch of dunes. I had not wondered about the electricity, but I wondered about the dunes: how do you make a road on dunes and expect it to stay? The asphalt looked fresh, almost slick and wet from melting under the sun. Would our tyres stick? How did the dunes not shift and leave the road behind? But then we are out of the car, and there is a cool breeze coming from the nameless fruit stand, and this guy comes out and he has the cracked and wrinkly blasted and parched desert skin one gathers after marrying oneself to the desert and all its nighttime promises, and two kittens on his shoulders and one in his arms — the tiny kind, less than a year old and still fitting in the hands. I don’t think he ever told us his name.

We went in and exchanged hello-how-are-yous and we’re-from-places and can-we-pet-the-cats and we only had a little cash on us but the prices were the best I had seen in years so we pooled our pocket lint and splurged on a whole carton of the hugest, plumpest, tightest-skinned taut and bursting peaches so soft like you would not believe, little golden baby seals so fuzzy. We loaded the whole carton cardboard and all into the unused seat in our car and we played with the cats and chatted with the man and nobody asked where the fruit came from or why we had dodged his question when he asked for our names, and when we were done after what felt like two minutes but actually turned out to be two and a half hours the sun hadn't moved an inch in the sunglass-blue sky. We rolled the windows down so it wouldn’t get too hot, bundled in and we still hadn't eaten the peaches or drunk anything but then we did, we pulled away and we passed around the peaches and they were the ripest and sweetest and most hungry things, it was like biting into a sunset after a nuclear bomb. Heavenly, and each peach was the size of a whole child's head so they lasted minutes, felt like hours, days; the juice got everywhere, running down our hands in neverending rivulets so sticky, that heady miasma of ripe fruit engulfing like the wet maw of a toothless dragon slurping us up, peach-dragon? and our clothes were wet and cold from the temperature inside the peaches unaffected by the desert heat at first and then hot as the sun and sand-grain blast-wind caught up as we gritty-moved our tyres, unstuck them melted and stringy from the road, got into our hair and on all our faces like you wouldn’t believe and we were the peaches, weren’t we, gummed up in the seatcovers and wrecking the whole inside of the rental. So good though, so dead-ripe, and we promised we'd go back to that fruit stand with no name. When we came back a few days later, up the same winding road, same u-shaped bend it was gone. No sign, no trace, no kittens, no man.

Maybe it was part of the heat exhaustion, or a hallucination from the desert sun. But I love peaches to this day.

SPSS haunts my dreams. It comes for me with gleaming claws. Help.

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