This week’s update from The Bitter Southerner is all about peaches. (Do y’all read The Bitter Southerner? If you don’t, you should – it’s the best overview of the best things about the so-called New South I’ve seen; I like it way better than the Oxford American.) August is prime peach season, and I am very much a fan. The best boyfriend present I ever got from anybody before I met my darling Thunder was a gallon bucket of fresh peaches straight off the tree, still warm from the sunshine. And as anybody who’s ever driven past the Peachoid water tower in Gaffney can tell you, they are an inherently sensuous fruit. Legend has it that Eve gave Adam an apple; historians who speculate about that kind of thing say no, it must have been a pomegranate. Nonsense, says I – no woman would have risked getting herself and her lover kicked out of Eden for the privilege of picking out pomegranate seeds. Me, I’m pretty sure it must have been a peach.
So anyway, feeling as I do, naturally I wrote a story about peaches and sex. It’s the anchor story of my anthology Eat the Peach, and this is an excerpt. The heroine, Susannah, is a filmmaker who has just crashed and burned at a festival and come home to rest and regroup at her Grandmama Ikey’s peach farm.
I was at Grandma Ikey’s house for three more days before I met Dylan. Grandma Ikey couldn’t have been more amazing. She was a lot older than I had expected her to be. All my friends’ grandmothers were still holding on to that raw-boned, hair-dyed tightness thing. But Ikey was beautiful. She wore her hair in a long, white braid down her back, and her body was curvy and soft. Any old dude would have counted himself lucky to get a piece of that. And sitting beside her on the back porch shelling peas, I noticed that we had the exact same hands, and for some reason it gave me hope for the first time since I’d gotten on that bus in Colorado.
The next morning when we were making breakfast, we heard a motorcycle pull up in the backyard. “Oh good,” she said. “I want you to meet Dylan.”
She had already told me about Dylan. He owned the land right next to hers. He grew cotton and soy beans on his land, but he leased Grandma Ikey’s land to grow the peaches, and the two of them owned a farm stand and ice cream parlor out on the highway together. The way she had described him and twinkled when she talked about him, I had expected him to be about her age; I thought he must have been her boyfriend. But when we walked out on the back porch, we found a country hunkerrific of no more than thirty-five climbing off the bike.
“Morning, Ikey,” he said. “How are you?” He had messy reddish-blondish hair and a scruffy beard, and he was built to pick up trucks.
“I’m just grand, darling,” Ikey said as he came up the steps. “Just grand.” He put his arm around her and kissed her on the cheek, and she laughed like a girl. “Dylan, meet my granddaughter, Susannah.”
“Granddaughter?” He offered me his hand to shake. “I can’t believe it.” I took it, and a kind of warm, electric current ran through me that made me want to smile and hide at the same time. “You must be tall for your age.”
“Now, now, stop all that,” Ikey scolded, still smiling. “Come on inside; we were just about to have breakfast.”
“Thank you, Ikey, but I couldn’t,” he said. “I figure I’ve got just about enough time this morning to change the plugs on that old truck of yours.”
“Oh, piss on that truck,” Ikey said. “Come eat your breakfast.”
“I made biscuits.” Eve offering the apple couldn’t have looked slyer.
Dylan looked at me and grinned like we had a secret, and I noticed he had the bluest eyes I had ever seen. “Well, I can’t say no to that.”
I hadn’t seen Ikey make biscuits, but as soon as we walked in, she took a big pan full out of the oven, plump and cushiony and golden brown. “Get the honey out of the cabinet, Susannah,” she said. “And see if you can’t find a jar of those peach preserves in the back.”
“You told me you were out!” Dylan said.
“I might be,” she said, putting the biscuits on a pink willow plate. “Look way in the back.”
“Susannah, your grandmamma makes the best peach preserves in the world,” Dylan said, pouring himself a cup of coffee. “We get people stopping at the stand on their way back to Yankeeville from the beach every year just to buy a fresh jar. Last year she didn’t make any, and we just about had to set up a crying pew out front.”
“Stop being so silly,” Ikey said, dishing up the scrambled eggs and bacon. “You want me to slice up a couple of tomatoes?”
“Not on my account,” Dylan said.
“Susannah likes them, though, don’t you, sweetheart?” she said, patting my cheek as she passed.
“I do.” It had been so long since anyone had noticed I liked something without me saying so, I was shocked. But I had eaten a sliced, homegrown tomato from her garden every meal since I’d arrived, so I supposed it wasn’t all that shocking. Still, it was nice. “Grandma Ikey, are these the preserves?” I pulled out a sticky mason jar full of amber goo.
“Oh good,” she said, taking it. “Half a jar left.” She set it on the table in front of Dylan. “Now let me get that tomato.”
“You’ll have to persuade Ikey to teach you her recipe,” Dylan said.
“That might be arranged,” Ikey said, putting down the sliced tomatoes and leading me to the table. She took both our hands and said a brief grace.
“That sounds great,” I said. “Learning the recipe, I mean.” Dylan took four of the biscuits and broke them open on his plate, then slathered each one with preserves. “Is it really that good?”
“Taste.” He popped a piece of biscuit in my mouth.
“Oh my God,” I said, actually moaning with my mouth full, it was so good. Sweet and tangy with an edge of spice, perfect with the hot, flaky biscuit.
“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, Susannah,” Ikey said, patting my hand. “It’s only a biscuit.”
“So good,” I said. “Grandmamma, that’s amazing.”
“Aren’t you sweet?” she said, but I could see from her eyes she was pleased. “Dylan, eat some eggs and bacon before you give yourself diabetes.”
He grinned that secret grin at me again. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Maybe I will teach you that recipe,” Ikey said.
“I’d love that,” I said. “If I’m here that long. I mean, I don’t know how long I’ll be staying.”
“Are you just here for a visit?” Dylan asked.
“Sort of.” All the way there on the bus, I had tried to imagine what I’d say when people asked me what had happened. It was all so humiliating and silly, and besides, what would people like Ikey and Dylan know or care about stuff like my film career, anyway? But he had asked, so I supposed I had to try. “I’m a filmmaker.”
“Wow,” he said, looking genuinely impressed.
“Oh, you don’t want to hear about all that,” Ikey said. “Besides, I want to talk about you. Did I hear that fiancée of yours tearing out of here after midnight last night?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Dylan looked embarrassed, but I couldn’t tell if it was for me or for him. “I made her pretty mad, I think.”
For the next twenty minutes, the two of them hashed over his engagement to a woman Ikey obviously couldn’t stand—a schoolteacher from the sound of it. But I couldn’t have cared less. I couldn’t believe she had just shut me down that way. I ate the rest of my breakfast in silence, lost in my own thoughts.
“I better get started on those plugs,” Dylan finally said, pushing back from the table. “It was nice to meet you, Susannah.”
“You too.” I shook his hand and was again vaguely aware of how warm he felt. But I was still busy being mad at Ikey.
“I hope to see you again while you’re here.” He kissed my grandmother’s cheek. “I’ll leave the keys on the hook.”
Ikey stood at the back door and watched him go while I got up and cleared the table. “That is one fine specimen of human,” she said. “A woman could do a lot worse than to get herself lost with something like that.”
“He’s cute.” Botox hadn’t made it out here to the sticks yet, but the horny old lady trope apparently had.
“Baby ducks are cute.” She turned back to me. “That’s a man.” She saw what I was doing. “Oh, thank you, sweetheart.”
“You’re welcome.” I put the dishes in the sink. “It’s the least I can do after crashing on you like this.” I squirted in soap and turned on the tap.
“You came home,” she said, putting the butter in the fridge. “Everybody needs to sometimes.” She picked up the jar of peach preserves, now almost empty. “I’m glad you came.” She screwed on the lid and put it back in the cabinet. “You better put some hot in that dishwater, honey, or the germs will carry us off.”
“Oh.” I hadn’t planned to actually wash the dishes, just sort of soak them.
“I’ve been waiting on those elves that come to finish half done housework all my life,” she said. “They haven’t shown up yet.” She handed me a dishtowel. “I’ll wash. You dry.”
“I still cannot understand what Dylan sees in that girl of his,” she said, turning on the hot water and bathing both of our faces with steam. “Why waste your time chasing after somebody who won’t want you until you agree to be somebody else? But she’s got her mind on that piece of land—and that ass, unless she’s dumber than she looks.” She handed over a slippery plate. “You’ll meet her eventually, I’m sure. Then you’ll see.”
“Grandmamma, why wouldn’t you let me talk about my movie?” I could have brooded in silence for several more hours; it’s one of my best things. But I didn’t think Ikey would care. “Are you ashamed of me?”
“I’m very proud of you,” she said without missing a beat, as if this had been our topic of conversation all along. “But you aren’t ready to talk to people about that.”
I wanted to argue with her. But of course she was right.
Wanna know how she gets rid of the bitchy fiancee? Get your copy here.