Jim Vogel

The Gift

Oil on canvas panel with repurposed antique cabinet style frame (frame collaboration with Christen Vogel), Image: 32"h x 12"w, frame open: 39.5"h x 24"w x 13"d, frame closed: 39.5"h x 15"w x 13"d, Item No. 17594,

Esposa’s Peaches

Short Story by Sage Vogel

 

“Esposa! We have a visitor!” Josefa Bendida Lucero called out to her daughter from the porch of their small home. “Esposa, ¡ven pa’cá!” 

The sound of her mother’s voice made Esposa Merenciana    cringe from where she stood atop the ladder placed beneath their oldest plum tree. She took a deep breath, sighed, shook her head, and continued picking the plump plums from the tree’s bowing boughs and placing them in a large basket perched on the ladder’s top cap.

“Esposa!” Her mother called again, her voice sharp and demanding. Esposa carried on, ignoring her. She could just barely hear her mother speaking to the visitor in a much nicer, more apologetic tone. “…certainly she wouldn’t mind if you joined her, go right ahead…”

There was a gruff, unintelligible reply and soon after came the sound of a large man’s footsteps tromping down the hill and through the orchard towards her. Esposa set her jaw and continued working.

She did not look at the man when he came to stand beneath the plum tree. He cleared his throat. She dropped an overripe, rotting plum to the ground near his feet.

“Señorita, how do you do?”

She knew the voice all too well, and plenty about the man it came from, thanks to her mother. Facundo Pablo Tafoya, eleven years her senior, first-born son of the valley’s richest cattleman. Facundo was a creditor, investor, confirmed Catholic, and, this she’d heard from her friends, a frequent fornicator.

“Señor,” she greeted him, and glanced at him. He was not a particularly tall man, though he was barrel-chested, with a full head of thick, black hair and a large, lustrous, waxed mustache. He wore a clean suit, shiny leather boots, and had a spotless, felt Stetson hat held casually in his strong, well-worked hands. He was the type of man her mother had married, and the type she desperately wished Esposa would marry too. This was his third time calling in as many months.

“I am well,” Esposa answered him. “And how are you?”

“I am very well, and very happy to be here. It is a pleasure to see you again, Esposa.”

Esposa hummed a noncommittal response. Undeterred, Facundo continued his courtship.

“Though, I must say, it would be much nicer to see you in a dress, especially from down here. Are those your father’s trousers?”

“My father is dead, he has no earthly possessions.”

Facundo snorted and stepped up to the ladder, grabbing a rung near Esposa’s ankle.

“Won’t you come down to entertain me? I have traveled a long way.”

Esposa gritted her teeth and pressed her lips into a tight smile.

“Of course, señor,” she replied, before hooking the now full basket in her elbow and making her way down the ladder.

Facundo let go of the rung and stood back to watch her.

“It has been too long, my Esposa, and absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say.”

“Do they?” Esposa asked, standing to face him. “Perhaps we should allow it to grow even fonder still, hm?”

Then she stepped past him and began making her way towards the house. She heard Facundo mutter something to himself before he followed, speaking to her back.

“You fascinate me, Esposa, I know no other woman like you, you know that don’t you?”

“Oh, but you’ve known so many women, Señor Tafoya.”

He caught up to her and grabbed her by the elbow that held the basket, spilling some plums onto the ground as he turned her around.

“Call me Facundo, señorita,” he said, his face contorted into his best impression of earnest admiration. “Or better yet, one day, perhaps not so far in the future, you will call me esposo, Esposa.”

Esposa stared at the bruised, dirtied, ruined plums that had fallen onto the grass. She pursed her lips and inhaled deeply, calming herself momentarily.

“You are as beautiful as I remember, Esposa,” Facundo told her, leaning back a bit so he could look her up and down while still maintaining his hold on her elbow.

Esposa nodded curtly, avoiding his gaze when it finally sought her eyes.

“It is rude to not say thank you to a compliment, señorita,” he advised her.

Esposa, enlivened by impropriety that she refused to take responsibility for, played at making amends.

“Oh thank you, you are so very, very kind Señor Facundo.”

Facundo, not a stupid man by several means, wasn’t fooled.

“You ought to be more polite, Esposa. Surely you must see my value as a suitor. You must know how fortunate you are that I am here, seeking your hand, once again. What can I do, señorita, to convince you that I am worthy to take you as my wife? Let me show what kind of man I am.”

 Esposa looked out across the orchard, her sacred sanctuary. She had rid it of pests before, many different kinds by many different methods, and felt fully capable of doing so once again. What’s more, she’d do so by doing exactly as he’d asked.

“Señor Facundo, do you see those trees over there?” She pointed with her free hand, subtly freeing her captive elbow from his grasp as she did so. “Wait for me there, while I carry these plums up to the house.”

Facundo looked at her, his eyes narrowing. She widened hers, raised her eyebrows and offered a toothy smile.

“Alright,” he grunted, “But don’t take too long now, I’m a busy man, señorita. My time is quite valuable.”

“Of course, Señor Facundo. I will hurry, and, I promise you, this will be more than worth your while.”

Facundo tilted his head, squinted at her again, shrugged, and then walked towards the group of trees that Esposa had indicated. She watched him for a moment, noticing for the first time that he was rather bow-legged, before hefting the heavy basket and heading up towards the house. Her mother was waiting on the porch, sitting in her rocking chair, shelling peas and dropping them into a large pot.

“I hope you are behaving yourself, Esposa.”

“Always, mother.”

Josefa scoffed, not looking up from her pile of peas.

“He’s a good man, from a good family, wealthy, healthy, hardworking—”

“Virtuous, virile, voracious,” Esposa chimed in, setting her plums in the shade near the others that she’d picked that day.

“Oh, stop it, Esposa. There are none better than he, certainly not for a woman who dresses like a man and works like one too. You must accept the nature of men, and learn to accept your own place as a woman.”

“Yes, mother,” Esposa replied, kissing Josefa’s cheek before walking back into the orchard toward where Facundo waited. Her mother called out to her as she went:

“¡A la mujer casta y modesta, 

casarse poco le cuesta!”

 

A lady modest and chaste, 

left unwed is a waste!

Esposa’s eyes rolled up to gaze at the sky when she heard this. She kept them there for a few moments as she walked through the orchard, admiring the thick foliage and bountiful fruit of the many trees that she tended daily.

“Such a waste,” Esposa murmured, caressing a ripe cherry dangling from a low branch as she went by. “How very sad.”

She found Facundo waiting impatiently by the peach trees, smoking the last of a rolled cigarette.

“There you are,” he said, exhaling smoke in her direction when he saw her. “What are we doing then? I hope you don’t need me to pick something up or fix something because I won’t work in these clothes, señorita, not a chance.” He shook his head, took one last drag of smoke and then dropped his cigarette butt into the grass, squishing it into the ground with the heel of his boot.

“Nothing like that, no. I would like to give you a gift,” Esposa reassured him. “Let’s see…”

She moved to one of the trees and began circling its trunk, looking up into its laden canopy and deliberating as she moved.

“Nope, too small… Peck marks… Too ripe… Ah! There it is.”

Esposa reached up and plucked a peach from the tree. It was an exquisite peach, enormous yet well-shaped, with a deep, crimson blush that spread across its soft, velvety cheeks, except for where a splash of luscious yellow spread from the intimate dimple around its stem, all along the cleft of its suture and onto the delicate cusp at its blossom end. 

Facundo could smell the peach’s tempting fragrance even before Esposa placed it in his hands.

“A peach, eh?” He asked, looking at it and then looking at her, a knowing, mischievous look on his face.

“A peach,” she said, “for you.”

“Why, thank you, Esposa. This is very kind. I’m afraid I have nothing to carry it in to take it with me.”

“No? Well what are you going to do with it?”

Facundo scrutinized Esposa’s face, searching for a joke, a secret or anything that might clue him in to her motive concerning this tantalizing, mouthwatering gift. She gave away nothing, so he came up with the best response he could muster.

“I’m going to eat it.”

“Now?”

“Oh, yes. Right here, right now,” he boldly declared.

“Go on then,” Esposa encouraged him.

Facundo hesitated for just a split second longer before bringing the peach to his mouth and taking a huge bite out of it, spilling juice and bits of ripped flesh onto the ground and the front of his clean shirt. He smiled and moaned.

“God, this peach tastes amazing, Esposa. I’ve never had one like it,” he said, his mouth still full. He swallowed noisily and took another massive bite, his eyes staying on Esposa while he did so. She looked on without flinching, watching the man in the expensive suit make a mess of the peach she had given him.

It was not long before he’d finished, though he took his time sucking the last fibers of fruit from the peach’s pit before tossing it to the ground and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“I could never get tired of eating peaches like that one, Esposa,” he said, smiling widely and shamelessly, exposing bits of pulp caught in his teeth. “Such a fresh, sweet flavor, firm and so very, very juicy. Very satisfying, Esposa.”

Esposa took a moment to take in the spectacle before responding.

“Oh, I’m sure. I hope it was worth the wait. Have a lovely evening and a safe trip home, Facundo. And say hello to your mother for me. Adiós, y que Dios te bendiga.”

Then she turned and left him alone in the orchard, speechless, with moist, mussed mustache and a rather upset stomach full of too much, too hastily-eaten peach.

 

Josefa Bendida was far from pleased with her daughter. She scolded her repeatedly, going so far as to try and take away Esposa’s dinner plate before she had finished.

“Mother, I’m not a child, and don’t you dare take that food away from me. I grew it, I harvested it, I can eat as much as I want,” Esposa said, taking the plate back.

“Well, I cooked it! Which is something you should have learned to do long ago! You will be the death of me, Esposa! You are ungrateful and… and… foolish! Men like Señor Tafoya don’t come around everyday, and now you have insulted him and he likely won’t return.” 

“Good. I will not marry that man, mother. I refuse.”

“Oh, you are impossible! One day soon you will be old, and no man will wish to wed you.”

“So be it,” Esposa retorted, “I can’t think of any reason I would need a man in the first place.”

Josefa’s mouth fell open and her eyes began to water as she stared at her daughter in disbelief.

“How can you say that?” She managed to say, before covering her face in her hands and beginning to cry. Esposa immediately reached out to embrace her mother.

“Ay, mamá… We see things so differently. Please, don’t cry.”

After a couple minutes Josefa composed herself. When she’d wiped away her tears and straightened her hair she took Esposa’s hands in her own and pleaded with her.

“I will find you another man, mija, please. You don’t like Señor Tafoya, that’s fine, there are others. Please, let me find you another.”

Esposa looked her mother in the eyes and saw a certain pain there that she had seen more and more as the years had passed and she had refused to marry any of her suitors. There had been others before Facundo, and with each one that she rejected, her mother had grown more desperate.

“Alright, mamá. But you must let me test him in my own way.”

“Fine, fine, anything, just please let me introduce you.”

Esposa only nodded, which was enough for her mother.

 

Josefa, who used all of the charisma she spared on her daughter every Sunday after mass, managed to have a new suitor come calling only five days later. He come not on a mare, as Facundo had, but in a work truck, it’s guttural rumbling informing them of his arrival long before they saw it trundling down the road towards the house. Esposa was plucking a chicken on the porch, her mother preparing the oven inside for it to be roasted.

When the truck came to a stop the cloud of dust and exhaust that followed in its wake blew over Esposa, making her sneeze.

The man who exited was very tall and slender, his clothing clean but worn, his forearms corded with hard, wiry muscles, his lean face drawn and darkened from years of working in the sun. He approached her, holding out a handkerchief.

“Bless you, señora. My apologies.” His voice was much softer than his appearance would have suggested.

Esposa waved away his favor, “I’m fine, señor. It’s alright.”

The man nodded and pocketed his handkerchief. He put his right hand to his chest and introduced himself.

“I am Salomón Sanchéz, señora. I have come at the invitation of your mother to meet you and present myself as a suitor. It appears you are preoccupied at the moment, would you prefer I return at a better time?”

“Yes-”

“No, no, no! She is not busy, señor!” Josefa interrupted, exiting the house, wiping her hands on her apron. “She would love to spend some time with you, wouldn’t you Esposa?”

Esposa cleared her throat and stared at the chicken corpse in her lap, whose company she preferred. Then she ripped out a fistful of its tail feathers with great force, pulling off some of the bird’s flesh along with it.

“Of course mother. Here, you may finish this, then,” she said, grabbing the chicken by its legs and swinging it into her mother’s hands with a wet slap. “Come, señor Sanchéz, let us go for a walk in the orchard.” She stood, patted fluffs of down off of her pants and began walking down the hill, leaving her mother holding the chicken, with blood on her hands and a false smile on her face. Salomón nodded to Josefa and followed Esposa.

“Tell me about yourself, señor,” Esposa prompted him when he had caught up to her near the cherry trees. She knew of him, and his family, but they had never spoken in person before.

“Yes, señora. I am a farmer, as my father and his father before him. My yields are the best in the valley, and better every year. I know of no other man who can farm as well as I. I am the youngest son in my family, and the only who remains on our estate. My older brothers have all gone off to seek fortunes elsewhere, but my fortune and future is here, in the soil. I admit, I think them foolish to chase imaginary opportunities while I work the land I love and live well from it.”

Esposa eyed Salomón and saw a small smile play across his face as he spoke of his land. 

“I see. And why haven’t you wed?” She asked, one of the questions that her mother had specifically forbade her from asking. She saw Salomón’s smile fade and his expression turn serious. They had moved into the plum grove.

“Well, I am perhaps not as old as I appear, señora. I had my twenty-third birthday last April. I have waited only because I have been preoccupied with restoring our land to its former glory, after my brothers’ neglect.”

Esposa was surprised, for Salomón did indeed appear much older then twenty-three, only three years older than herself.

“It is the labor that has aged me,” Salomón confessed. “My mother now urges me to find a wife before I lose the last of my youth.” He snuck a glance at Esposa then, one of very few since his arrival. 

Esposa took her time before responding.

“What do you want from a wife?” She asked as they passed into the first row of apple trees. This was not a question her mother had prohibited, though only because it had not occurred to her. Not that it mattered, for Salomón had not heard her.

“Now this is a lovely trick,” he said. He was touching the tall maypole that Esposa had erected beside an older tree’s trunk, and was admiring the complex web of strings that were slung around the larger branches and tied to its top, high above the canopy. “And necessary, too. I have not seen a tree so full of apples since I was a child and my father was still alive. When they ripen this tree would surely have broken in many places if this device was not here, you know.”

He was in awe. Esposa felt a measure of pride for a moment. 

“Who did this? I believe I might be able to learn a thing or two from a man who knows techniques such as this.”

Esposa sighed, turned and began walking away.

“If you think the apples look good, wait until you see the peaches,” she called back to her new suitor, who did not hesitate to follow her again.

“My god,” was all he could say when he saw them. “My god.”

Esposa bit back a smile and then began circling one of the trees, her favorite. When she saw a particularly impeccable specimen, she carefully plucked it and held it out to Salomón. He took it reverently and turned it over in his hands.

“This fruit is flawless,” he whispered. It was, perhaps even more so than the one Esposa had blessed Facundo with, as it was even more perfectly ripe, just a bit sweeter, with a more uniform orange hue, and shorter, softer fuzz.

“Thank you,” Esposa said, freely expressing her gratitude at the compliment.

“May I taste it?” Salomón asked, sneaking another glance at her.

“Do with it what you wish, señor,” she permitted, watching him carefully.

“Right, right,” he said, cradling the peach in one hand while the other retrieved his handkerchief. He then lay the peach into the cloth and took out a shiny, clean pocketknife and, ever so carefully, began cutting the peach into equally-sized slices. When he had finished that, he wiped his knife clean, put it away, and then gingerly plucked the pit, a freestone, out from the deftly dissected flesh. He held it up close to his eyes and scrutinized its wrinkled, pitted surface. Then he grunted with approval.

“May I?” He asked Esposa, holding it up.

Esposa shrugged, not sure what he was asking. 

Salomón put the pit in his shirt pocket and then turned his focus to the flesh.

“Just beautiful,” he said in his oddly soft voice. “What bountiful trees you have here, what ample harvests they must yield. Truly magnificent. Such hardy, fertile stock.”

Esposa said nothing, realizing he wouldn’t hear her even if she did. She crossed her arms, watched and waited.

Salomón held one of the slices up and stared at it for so long that Esposa wondered if he was ever going to eat it. Finally, he took a bite, carefully, ritualistically, as if it were sacrament. Once he tasted the fruit, however, he quickly took his second bite, finishing the slice. He swallowed, took a deep breath, and tried to control himself as he reached for the second slice.

With great restraint, Salomón proceeded to eat each and every slice at a very steady, efficient pace, giving himself a little pause between each one to prepare himself. It took him much longer than Facundo, and he was, perhaps, more satisfied. This, of course, mattered very little.

“If you would, señor, drive your truck as slowly as you can as you drive away from the house, to keep the dust down,” Esposa told him when he had finished. “Safe travels, Salomón.”

 

“You are impossible to please, Esposa.”

Josefa had not moved from her chair by the window since she had watched Salomón return to his truck, head hung low, to drive away down the road at a painfully slow speed. Esposa sat at the table, sucking the most tender, delicious bits of meat from the freshly-cooked chicken’s breastbone.

“This chicken pleases me,” she said, licking her lips.

Josefa did not respond, she only continued looking out the window, watching the brilliant display of golds, reds and purples in the evening sky. She did not speak until it was fully dark. Esposa was seated in front of their silver mirror, braiding her hair.

“Whatever he did, Esposa, surely it cannot have been so bad… He has such a lovely reputation, he is such a gentle man.”

Esposa said nothing and continued braiding. Josefa sighed, rose wearily from her chair and came to stand behind her daughter.

“My Esposita… What is it that you want?”

“Not that man.”

“But why?”

“He failed my test, mother. I will not marry him”

Josefa sighed again and took her daughter’s braid in her own hands, to finish it for her, as she’d done when Esposa was a girl. When she reached the end she tossed aside the twine that Esposa had planned to use and took a length of red ribbon from a nearby drawer with which she tied a neat bow on Esposa’s hair instead. Their eyes met in the mirror.

“That will surely come untied while I sleep, mamá.”

“We shall see,” Josefa said. Then, “I will find you another man, though it won’t be easy. It is bad enough that you do not attend mass with me anymore, Esposa, but now you have rejected two of the most eligible men in the valley. I don’t know what I am going to say to defend you. You are lucky you are so beautiful, mija.”

Then Josefa kissed her daughter atop the head and retired to her bedroom with a tired, “Good night, God bless you.”

Esposa stared at herself in the mirror for a long while, thinking about what her mother had said. When she was certain that Josefa had fallen asleep (for her snores were quite loud, so loud that if she ever heard them herself she likely never would have slept again), she opened the drawer her mother had taken the ribbon from and retrieved the large pair of scissors kept there.

 

“Esposa!”

This time her mother’s voice was right in her ear. Esposa jolted awake, almost head-butting her mother, whose face was inches from her own, pale and shaking in the gray light of the dawn.

“How could you!”

Esposa sat up and pressed her back against the wall to make some space between herself and her mother, in case she needed to defend herself. She had never seen her mother so furious, angrier even than the time she had wrestled and beaten the neighbor boy when she was eight-years-old.

Josefa’s eyes were wide and bulging, her lips pressed so tightly together that her mouth was a rigid, featureless slit. Neither of them said a word. Then, without warning, Josefa reached out with a claw of a hand and grabbed at Esposa’s hair, tangling her fingers in the chopped ends of her so recently magnificent mane.

“Stop it mother! You’re hurting me!” Esposa protested as Josefa pulled back, yanking her daughter’s head to the side and ultimately pulling her from the bed and onto the floor. They struggled for a moment, until Josefa tugged again and pressed their foreheads together.

“You listen to me, you spoiled, rotten little thing. You will marry the next man I bring here, and you will do whatever it takes to make him accept your hand. I don’t care how ugly you look, or what ugly things you have to do to make him blind to your disfigurement and your insanity. Do you understand?”

Esposa felt the sweat from her mother’s forehead wet her own, felt her hot breath burning her cheeks, and heard her teeth clicking as they snapped together while she spat out these hateful words. In an instant Esposa’s fear became anger, and this anger found fuel in frustration that had grown in her for many years. Without hesitation she raised her hand and slapped her mother as hard as she could across the face.

Josefa’s hand came loose from what was left of Esposa’s hair and she sprawled backwards onto the floor. Esposa stood up and loomed over her mother. Shaking from adrenaline, she pointed into Josefa’s face and spoke.

“No. No, I do not understand. Nor do you understand me. I will not do as you say. I will not marry anyone who does not deserve me, and you cannot make me do so.”

Josefa whimpered, put her face in her hands and began to weep, her entire body shaking. Esposa looked down at her mother for a moment longer. Then she stripped off her nightgown and dressed herself back in her work clothes, put on her boots and left the house, slamming the door behind her.

She put herself to work in the orchard, toiling with great vigor, burning off her anger by striking her pick and spade into the earth and swinging her axe against dead trees and felled logs. After several hours, however, she realized that her sanctuary was not well-suited for providing productive outlets for such violence, and that what she was doing, though spirited, was accomplishing very little. She had slept fitfully the night before, knowing her mother’s reckoning was imminent, and it came to pass that her weary body won over her tortured mind, and at last she collapsed beneath a cherry tree.

As Esposa’s eyes began to shut and just before she fell into a deep sleep, she saw her mother walking down the road in the distance, wearing a black shawl and black skirt, moving quickly and with great purpose. Then Esposa slept.

 

While her daughter slept, Josefa journeyed to seek out a man and his mother who, under normal circumstances, she never would have approached with the offer of Esposa’s hand. They were not far away, indeed they lived closer than any other family, but there were certain concerns that she had regarding the man’s nature that had previously prevented any serious consideration. Now, in manic desperation, she approached not just to make an offer, but to offer a plea. And so it was that Josefa managed to conjure a suitor in a shorter span of time than she had ever managed before. He arrived in the orchard that very day, so soon in fact, that when he found her, Esposa was still fast asleep.

 

“Psst. Hey. Esposa. Wake up.”

Esposa stirred, the familiar voice mixing with her dreams of peaches that were so fuzzy that their hairs could be braided. She was not roused until she felt herself being gently shaken. She opened her eyes to a blurry figure before her.

“Who’s there? What do you want?”

“It’s me, Esposa, Celestino.”

“Celestino? What are you doing here?” Esposa asked him, rubbing her eyes.

Raúl Felipe Celestino Durán, who asked his few friends to call him Celestino, was the neighbor boy that Esposa had once beaten at wrestling. Now he stood before her, a man, though unlike any other Esposa had ever known.

“I have come to ask you to marry me, at our mothers’ bidding.”

Esposa laughed out loud and looked up at him in disbelief.

Celestino’s hair had thinned quite a bit since she’d last seen him, as she’d always teased him it would, though he had kept it long and coifed to try and hide this fact. His fair face had a sheen of sweat on it, and he was fanning himself with both hands. His clothing, as usual, was fine and clean and the aroma of sandalwood hung in the air around him. He seemed ill at ease in the orchard, and was shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

“You’re joking,” Esposa said as she stood and brushed off the seat of her pants.

“No, Esposa. Your mother visited our house earlier today and spent the morning convincing my mother that our marriage was the best possible option for the both of us.”

“Of course she did. That woman…”

Celestino laughed uneasily and then hummed a few notes before blurting out, “I think she’s right.”

“What?” Esposa snapped, staring at him with a look that was almost angry. “How-”

“Because, Esposa. Because… Well… I know. I know you. I know about you.”

Esposa squinted at him. She stepped forward, making him step back.

“You know about me?”

Celestino then took a deep breath, puffed his chest out and stood his ground. Esposa realized he was much taller than her now, and he was not as frail as she’d always imagined him to be ever since their childhood scuffle. 

“I know about you and-” he started to say.

“Ah,” she interrupted him. “Ah, ah, ah.”

Celestino closed his mouth and did not say anything more.

She paused and scanned his face for any hint of ridicule, judgement or malice. She found none. She thought hard for several moments.

“Come with me,” she said.

She took him to the peach tree and began to circle it, taking longer than before to find just the right peach.

“What are we doing, Esposa?” Celestino asked, trying to wave away a bumblebee that had come to investigate his fragrance.

“Here we are,” she plucked what she considered the perfect peach from her tree and held it out to him. Its was almost perfectly round, very plump, and the groove running from its stem to bottom was especially deep and inviting.

“Oh,” Celestino said, holding his hand out, not to take the peach but to decline it, “I don’t like peaches. Thank you though.”

“You don’t like peaches? Who doesn’t like peaches?” Esposa asked, incredulous.

“I don’t. I don’t like the fuzz, it makes my tongue itch.”

Esposa withdrew her offering and looked down at it.

“What am I supposed to do with it?”

Celestino laughed. “I don’t know, don’t you like peaches?”

“I love peaches, they’re my favorite fruit.”

“Then enjoy it yourself,” he suggested. “Can we go up to your house? I think I’m getting a sunburn.”

“I don’t want to. I don’t want to see my mother,” Esposa said, eyeing the house on the hill.

“She’s still with my mother. They’ve become best of friends, bonded by their recounting of the many trials and tribulations forced upon them by their horrible children,” Celestino said, performing mock distress.

Esposa laughed at that and agreed that they ought to retire into the shade of the porch. As they walked together up to the house.”

“So you don’t like peaches… Do you like cherries?”

“I like cherry wine. Have you got any of that?”

“As a matter of fact I do…”

Esposa and Celestino spent the afternoon together, drinking cherry wine and conversing. They relived some childhood memories and then shared details of mutual misadventures that had been born of their mothers’ attempts to find them suitable spouses. When the wine was gone, Celestino stood up to leave.

“This was nice, Esposa. I’ve missed you.”

“I feel the same, Celestino,” Esposa admitted.

“I have to say, though, you may want to trim the ends of your hair a bit, it’s crooked just there-“

“Oh, shut up,” she groaned, then she shooed him. “Go home.”

“Adiós, Esposa.”

“Adiós, amigo.”

Esposa watched Celestino go, teetering a little as he walked down the uneven dirt road back to his house. Then she sat back down and waited for her mother to return.

The sun was setting by the time Esposa finally spotted her mother walking slowly, much slower than early that day, back towards the house. They watched each other warily as she drew nearer. Her mother did not speak as she passed by where Esposa sat, but chose to do so when she was halfway through the front door.

“You don’t know what I went through to do that, Esposa.”

“Perhaps I don’t, mother.”

“Please don’t tell me I wasted my time.”

Esposa thought for a moment.

“Let’s speak of this another time. Today has been a very long day.”

Josefa nodded.

“Alright,” she said. “I am going to bed. Good night, mija.”

“Good night, mamá.”

Josefa went inside. Soon, sooner than Esposa would have guessed, she heard her mother snoring inside.

The moon rose, a perfect half-moon, and shed some light onto the porch. Esposa took up the peach she had picked that day and examined its beauty in the moonlight for a few moments. Emboldened by the wine, and justifying her actions by thinking that she couldn’t bear to waste such a perfect peach, she made a decision. She waited a while longer, then she stood up and began to walk down the road.

She walked for nearly an hour, twice as long as she usually would, because she had not called ahead and planned to meet halfway. When the house’s silhouette came into view, she slowed down a bit. As sad as it had been when he had passed away, Esposa was glad now that Pepe, the old hound dog that had lived here, would not sound the alarm at her arrival. She snuck around the back of the house and quietly rapped on one of the windows. When there was no response she rapped again, starting to feel foolish.

This feeling melted away when she saw a figure come to the window. She waved and the window opened.

“Esposa?”

“It’s me.”

“What a surprise.”

“A good surprise?”

“The best surprise.”

Esposa smiled a very big smile, then she said, “Come with me, let’s go to the river.”

“Really?”

“Yes, come on.”

“Alright. Wait here while I put on my shoes.”

Esposa waited, leaning against the house, her big smile stuck to her face, with no sign of leaving.

“Help me out the window, por favor.”

Esposa turned and held her hands up to the window. The moment their hands touched again, Esposa’s heart began to pound in her chest. When Rosabel’s feet touched the ground and they stood face to face, Esposa embraced her and held her tightly.

“I missed you,” they said, one after the other.

“You cut your hair,” Rosabel whispered when she felt it.

Esposa nodded, suddenly nervous while Rosabel fondled her shortened locks.

“I like it.”

Esposa’s smile grew, then she took Rosabel’s hand and they walked to the river. They sat together on the bank, wrapped in one another’s arms, listening to the water rush by.

“I brought something for you,” Esposa said, taking out the perfect peach. It had a couple small bruises on it now, but it didn’t matter.

“Oh, a peach! Thank you, Esposa,” Rosabel said, accepting the gift and kissing Esposa hard on the mouth in thanks. They both blushed in the moonlight. 

“Of course, mi amor,” Esposa whispered, caressing Rosabel’s hair.

Rosabel took the peach in both hands, pressed her thumbs into the indent near its stem, and split it exactly in half. She handed one half back to Esposa and wasted no time in taking a big bite from the other. Esposa looked down at the half that Rosabel had given back.

“What?” Rosabel asked.

“You don’t want the whole thing?”

Rosabel shook her head, took the other half back and held it up to Esposa’s mouth until she took a bite of it.

“Of course not, mi amor, I want to share it with you.”

Esposa found herself equally enamored by Rosabel’s loving gesture and the ambrosial flavor of the peach. Rosabel laughed, took another bite and said, with her mouth full:

 

El durazno más delicioso

es el que se comparte en un espíritu amoroso.

 

 A peach shared with your lover, 

is far sweeter than any other.