by Lindsey Baker
When I was much younger than I am now, I spent many months in a small town in Peru. During the day I was with the women, cooking and weaving baskets out of thin, sticky straw. At night I joined the men in drinking beer that left our breath light and wheaty. I was able to migrate back and forth like that between the groups because I was American. As if my whiteness and stark, ugly way of speaking marked me as wise.
One of the men, Daniel, worked in the peach grove. Sometimes I would watch him and the other men work from the cool shade of the porch where the women worked. Daniel called me over to teach me about the fruit.
He pulled a peach down from a branch and held it to eye level. A tooth had died in his mouth and it stayed rooted, stubbornly, beginning to brown. He rubbed the fuzzy outside skin against my arm. With a knife, he slit the fruit to show me the inside.
“The flesh of the peach fruit is most often yellow,” he said, his English better than mine in its textbook propriety, the annunciation of each syllable filled with pride and hours of study. “But some cultivars have white flesh. White flesh, like yellow flesh, is tender and tasty.”
Flies buzzed fat and lazy from pregnant fruits to the mule waiting amidst the rows, wagon attached to his neck. The men would work until sundown when we would meet to drink our beers. I returned to the basket I was working on that day, to the women who spoke in quick, sharp bursts, the sweet peach juice stinging my tongue.
Years later, when I had returned to the States, I would stay in touch with one of the women named Cynthia. She liked to practice her English and I liked her. We wrote letters and sent each other packages, hers filled with pisco and coffee, mine with pistachios and glass beads. I asked her what had become of Daniel, the man who knew the peaches so well. He left town, she wrote. There was a fire in the peach grove and many of the men were let go for the season. He left to find work and never came back.
I imagined it—the hot flames, the sick wet burn of the fruit, the blackened roots of trees.