Peaches5 March 2019
(Content warning: ill family member)
Next to the congealed broth and pallid sandwiches, those fluorescent peaches look sickly. The sliced chunks float ominously in radioactive syrup. They remind me of the liquids by your bedside, the chemicals coursing through your veins. You haven’t bothered peeling the cup’s lid. Your limbs are now fastened to the side of your bed, held hostage by the weight of your gown. I stare at the glowing cup. It wasn’t always like this.
Those limbs used to lift me high into the treetops of your orchard. You’d prop me up, arms strengthened by years of labour, while I searched among the greenery. I’d giggle with fear and excitement as you’d pretend to drop me. You’d always catch me, though. Always kiss me on the nose as fruit tumbled to the ground. Back then you were unshakable. Invincible.
The veins poke through your skin as the nurse comes round to change your fluids. She pulls up the left sleeve of your gown. She could easily fit her hands around your whole upper arm and bruise you removing the tubes with her delicate fingers. The black splotches from last week’s nurse are now yellowing. You nod towards your untouched tray.
“Here, have, Bec…”
“Oh, I’m fine, Nannu. You should really eat. Here, try to have these at least.”
The peaches from your orchard always blistered with natural juice. You’d sit with me in the kitchen after we went picking, cutting off the fuzzy skin. The inside flesh always the most glorious yellow, bleeding orange and crimson towards the pip.
You shake your head. The phosphorescence repels you. You’ve realised by now that nothing really cuts through that perpetual tinny taste. There’s no flavour other than lead, no smell besides sterilisation. You don’t even notice how the peaches’ artificial scent permeates the room.
You could always smell Nanna’s peaches on the stove, stewing in sugar and cinnamon. She’d be stirring them for hours, the summer breeze wafting the scent of spices through the house. She never served them without a generous dollop of fresh cream. You’d gulp down seconds before she’d playfully tell you you’d had enough. And you’d look at the last few spoonfuls left in my bowl, and steal one right in front of her. There was always the moment where you and Nanna would look dead in the eye at one another. It always ended in an outbreak of giggles. And her spooning up thirds.
She stopped bringing you food a few months back when she realised you couldn’t taste it, let alone hold it down. You stare at the tub of congealed fruit and feel nauseous. I try to think of something to say to loosen the invisible strings tightening around my throat. But the monitor suddenly beeps. The instant scuttle shatters the silence.
“I think we might just need another nurse or two in here. Sorry, Miss, it’ll get a little crowded—”
The nurse’s words are my cue to leave. I kiss you on the cheek, your chapped skin rough against my lips. Two more nurses enter the room, clamouring around you as your eyelids flutter closed. You’re tired, they say. The treatment was always going to be the worst part.
I hurry out of the ward, choking on the chemical air. The scent of those syrupy peaches clings to my skin. It burns my nostrils, poisoning my insides even after I’ve left the room.
I pass the markets on my way home. There’s a man packing a crate of bruised peaches into his boot. Their skin is stained with black smudges, furry coats sliced and bleeding. I notice one that’s fallen to the ground. Withered and weeping. Even the most succulent peaches on your orchard would sometimes end up like that, shrivelling up.
You drift into consciousness later that night. You’re startled. You haven’t been able to smell anything for months, yet this scent is heavenly. It’s the scent of stewed peaches, radiating through your house in the gentle, summer breeze. Your skin feels warm, your bones don’t ache. For the first time in too long, you’re alert. You’re here.