Peaches

J. B. Jamison

Her name was Lucille. Some called her Lucy, while others in town called her “Lipstick Lucy”. The old folks in town knew her last name, but no one ever used it when they talked about her. And the old folks in town just talked about her, never to her. They didn’t go out of their way to be cruel to her. They didn’t go out of their way to be nice to her either. When you walked passed Lucy she looked you right in the eyes. She didn’t say hello. She didn’t appear to be saying anything at all. She just looked. Most folks found it unnerving, especially those who knew the stories.

The young people in town just knew bits and pieces of the story they had overheard. But they recognized strange when they saw it. And, as young people sometimes do, they went out of their way to be cruel to Lucy. They called her names. They laughed. Lucy just looked into their eyes until the young people got bored, or too afraid to keep it up.

 No one had ever heard or seen Lucy say or do anything that might be mean or threatening. She just looked at them. She looked into them. And it seemed like she knew things. Some said she could not speak. Others said her voice could stop the birds from singing. There was even the time, according to the talk at the church bazaar, Lucy had been seen standing at the fence talking with Carl Landry’s labrador retriever the afternoon before Carl had his heart attack and died. Others said that was just another made-up part of the story.

Lucy wore red on Saturdays, and blue the rest of the week. Her dress, her socks, shoes, gloves and hat: red or blue. Regardless of the day of the week, Lucy’s lipstick was always red. Bright red. It was thick, and it covered her lips and half of the distance between her upper lip and her nose. Her cheeks were caked with white powder, and her eyebrows were thick, like her lips, and black. But her lips were red, and once or twice an hour she would pull out one of the sticks she carried in a pocket, carefully twist it open, and add a fresh layer. She didn’t use a mirror. She just painted.

Lucy always wore a hat. And gloves. And they were well-worn. Someone said they were the same ones she had worn to Church. And that was years ago in the old Methodist Church. Before the fire. She went to church every Sunday then, all by herself, sitting in the front pew. The blue-haired ladies in back would tsk-tsk about “Poor Lucy”. Everyone knew her father, Pete, and the fact that he wasn’t much of a father. Some said he wasn’t much of anything, though they did admit he made a pretty good drunk. And none of them were surprised the Sunday Lucy came to church and said her father had finally taken-off. He had spent most of the day Saturday putting in the new stones for the sidewalk. That night Lucy said he went off to the Rod & Gun and just never came back. A few folks did some looking around, mostly because they felt sorry for Lucy, but Pete stayed gone. Lucy said she was old enough to take care of things, and no one seemed eager to offer anything else.

This afternoon, like every afternoon, Lucy sat on the little bench next to the door at the grocery store, eating a peach. Always one peach. Some people remember the afternoon the store had run out of peaches. Lucy stood by the empty display for several minutes. Bob, the store manager, walked over and apologized that the new shipment was late. Lucy just looked at the empty display. She said nothing. Finally, she walked to the bench and sat down with tears drawing lines through the white powder on her face. Bob drove across town to his competitor’s store and bought her a peach. Some watched to see if she smiled, or said a thank you, or nodded her head. She just ate the peach. When she was finished, she put the pit in her pocket, repainted her face, and walked out the door.

There were many thoughts about the peaches. Some thought it was because it was a peach tree her father had planted first in their little orchard. And second. In fact, the orchard was all peach trees. Every year, they would see Lucy’s father pick the ripe peaches and carry them into the house. What happened to all those peaches became another part of the story. Did they really eat all of those peaches? Was he making wine and storing it in a hidden basement? Could one family really eat that many peaches? After all, it was just Lucy, her father, and Lucy’s sister, Jenny.

No one was sure which sister was older, Lucy or Jenny. And no one was sure why Jenny never left the house. She went out in the yard once in a while when her father was still there. But since he had been gone, she never left the house. Not even to help pick peaches or sit on the little swing on the porch. As people thought about it, they had never seen anyone sit in that swing. Even the neighborhood cats seemed to give it a pass, even on those mornings when the sun warmed it up really well. If you asked today, most people in town, even the old timers, had never actually seen Jenny. Old Widow Henderson claimed to have seen her one night in the backyard doing some kind of dance in the moonlight, but Widow Henderson was also known to make things up now and then.

One summer afternoon a few years back, while Lucy was eating her peach, a group of boys took it upon themselves to investigate the story. Ronnie Corbett was the one who ended up on the bad end of the dare and found himself opening the back door of the old house and stepping inside. He came running out a few minutes later, earning the back-slaps of the other boys who led him to the grocery store to buy him the bottle of pop he had earned. As they walked in the door, they saw Lucy and her peach. She looked at them. She looked at Ronnie Corbett. Ronnie stopped. She looked into his eyes. Ronnie turned and ran out the door. He never spoke of his visit to the house. Ever.

If they were pushed to answer, most people would say that Jenny never actually existed, but was just another piece of the story. The only thing people really knew was that Lucy left the old house every morning to walk around town, stopped to eat her peach, and walked back in the old house each evening just as the sun was beginning to set.

And, today, Lucy finished her peach and put the pit into her pocket. She walked back to her corner. The old house was in need of repairs. The old porch swing was hanging from one rusty chain. The old orchard was overgrown with weeds and brush, and a lot of peach trees of all sizes. Lucy walked through the gate, or where the old gate would have once hung, and began walking up the old sidewalk her father had finished the afternoon before he left her.

Lucy bent down and brushed the leaves off of one of the stones, and gently rested her hand upon it. Her brightly painted red lips cracked into a smile. She cleaned and touched the second stone. She smiled again.

Lucy took the peach pit from her pocket and tossed it into the orchard and walked into the house.

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