Peaches by Wanda Stephens

Driving down the highway, the salesman saw a sign that said, “Peaches.” It was so decorative he figured those people might buy a vacuum cleaner. As he made a sharp right, the tires spun up gravel while the car fishtailed then straightened.

He breathed a sigh of relief and looked down a dirt road. Tree-lined, no room to pass, he drove at a crawl. Not thirty seconds later he met a rusty pickup. The salesman hit the shallow side ditch with his right tires. From the truck, a tanned graying man stared at him out of the hole where a window had been.

“We don’t get many visitors. I do hope you ain’t one of them vacuum cleaner salesmen. We don’t need no vacuum cleaners. We got a broom. It works just fine and it’s cheaper.” The truck driver had a gun rack that held a double barrel shotgun and a new Browning rifle.

The salesman knew guns. He cleared his throat. “Well, uh, I’ve come for…peaches.” He waited for a response and got a rather delightful one. The truck driver smiled a gap-toothed grin.

“Why didn’t you say that in the first place? She’s at the house, and she loves company, if you know what I mean.” The truck driver winked, tipped his hat and drove on down the road. The salesman continued on his way, confused by what the driver meant. It was a while before he could even see a house. In a clearing, there stood a huge barn with a loft and rope hanging from it. On the front of the barn was the same beautifully painted sign that had a fresh ripe peach, with a face and eyelashes. The sign had the word, “Peaches” on it in elaborate script. Beside it stood a little shanty, mostly white but weathered. A dead tree trunk held beer bottles on each limb, and a board that read, “Bewar Attak Mule.”

The man looked futilely for the mule. Since the pickup man had said they didn’t want a vacuum cleaner he was just deciding to leave when the door opened. Standing on the porch was a lovely young woman. Jane Russell looks with long wavy black hair, cropped top, and painted on jeans. Tears were in the right places, accentuating her physique. She was eating a candy apple, lips red with the coating.

“What’cha want?” She asked, licking the apple enticingly. “Want some?” When the man’s eyes widened, she giggled and said, “I meant apple.” She waited.

“I’ve come for….” Clearing his throat, he nervously lowered the window, “Where’s the mule?”

“About that sign, that mule’s been dead. I made that sign to scare away salesman, ‘specially them vacuum cleaner salesmen. Hey, like Pa says, we got us a broom. And, I use it…sometimes. What do you want?”

The man decided to leave, but the woman-child approached the window. She leaned low to look into his car. The man cleared his throat loudly, and said, “I’ve gotta go. I’m late for an appointment.”

“I see one of them fancy smancy vacuum cleaners in your back seat.” She leaned lower.

“That vacuum cleaner is for my…girlfriend. I just came down here for…peaches!” Despite the sign he saw no peach trees. He was about to drive off, when the girl kissed him on the cheek, through the open window. Her lips were sticky sweet from the candy apple. Breathing hard, he licked it off.

“You’re in luck. I’m Peaches. Pa painted that sign. Him and Mama named me after real peaches. They raised good crops of the fruit, but after they had me, Mama got the flu and up and died. She’s buried there by the well. We ain’t got no money these days. Pa says that I’ll have to help out. I do what I can.” She smiled and kissed the salesman again. Want’a see the milk cow? She’s so pretty. A prize.” She reached into the window and pulled the salesman by the tie. “Pa won’t be back for a long time. If you don’t want to see the cow, I can show you sumpum else.” She smiled again.

Nervously, the man got out of the car, expecting to see a roan coming up—but no mule. The girl grabbed his tie again and dragged him toward the barn. As they walked under the sign, he got an idea of what may be going on. “Do you have lots of…men by here?” He licked his lips and swallowed.

“We get ‘em all the time. They come down that dirt road yonder, tryin’ to hoodoo Pa and me into buying whatever they think we need, but we think we don’t. Not many of ‘em ask for me by name, like you. Come with me and I’ll show you sumpum special.” The salesman followed. “Ain’t that the prettiest cow you ever saw?” she asked as she passed the cow, not stopping. She began to climb a ladder to the hayloft. “Don’t be shy.” The salesman climbed.

***

With hay in his hair, the bedazzled salesman stared out of the barn opening, saying, “You showed me stuff I’ve never seen.” The girl had shinnied down the rope hanging to the outside. The salesman went down the ladder to find her eating the rest of her apple.

“A little spending money would sure come in handy,” she said, coyly. The salesman pulled out a folded hundred and handed it to the grateful girl, who promptly hid it in her bosom. “Now, I can pay the doctor…what’s ‘hiv?’” The girl licked the apple and looked at the salesman.

“What do you mean? I’ve never heard of hiv.”

“Last week the doctor told me I had hiv, but spelled it out like I’m some kind of dummy.” She walked toward the house.

The light bulb came on. A “dead man walking,” the salesman opened the car door and headed for the highway. When he met the pickup, the driver asked, “Did you find Peaches?”

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