The air hung thick and still, an invisible curtain between the world and me. Voices from pickers in nearby rows looped in and out: laughter, cussing, echoes of a life I used to live before I realized I was trapped in a nowhere town full of rusty machines, drowsy streets, and haunted by the smell of livestock.
Endless flats of peaches, red and orange in the sun, sat like two-toned marbles waiting to be scattered. I wanted to overturn all the crates and then whip Jacques to the ground.
The farm truck chugged up. Mason backed in to hitch up the trailer and cart it off to the packing plant. Then I saw it: Mason was wearing my missing long sleeve shirt.
A lightness fizzed in my blood. I was overcome by a feeling of superpower, of limitless ability. What happened next melts into a multicolored blur: I see the farm truck backing up to the trailer full of peaches. Then Mason, a plaid streak, dashing behind the truck and cranking down the trailer hitch; a flash of Jacques stepping backwards, his round eyes bulging.
With a speed and agility I never knew I possessed, I dashed across the row and lunged into the open truck. The keys dangled motionless from the ignition, a still frame lodged in a nauseating rush. Without so much as a slam of the door, I yanked the truck into drive and crashed forward, granite foot to the gas. Rising voices, confused and angry, clamored in the growing distance.
My eyes rolled over to the cloudless sky, down the long row, past the ladders and brown-skinned pickers as they flickered by. The truck, a rusted 1996 Ford Bronco, creaked at the ill-connected trailer hitch. It felt like the weight of the peaches was tugging the truck back. For some time I felt like I was moving but getting nowhere, or that the orchard suddenly expanded for miles. The truck hit an uneven patch and rocked violently from side to side slamming the door shut. It began wheezing louder with the growing speed. Just then the gravel driveway, opening like a mouth into the road, jumped out of nowhere. I jerked the steering wheel to the left to follow it. The turn dislodged the hitch on the trailer and the truck veered followed by an awful metallic screech raking over my eardrums.
Before I realized what had happened, the truck kicked forward like its namesake. With the weight of the trailer torn off, the engine power lurched the truck to jump forward so hard it nearly pitched my body through the back of the cab then in the next instant towards the windshield. The bumps and dips of the uneven orchard floor launched Mason’s water jug over the center console towards the back. Loose change ran along the bottom on the cup holders and a loose peach shot from the dashboard to the passenger seat.
I looked in the rearview mirror for the first time. The torque sent the trailer spinning off the truck and onto its side. A warm explosion of peaches blossomed over grass and gravel. I was at the edge of the orchard and Mason, a long-sleeved speck waving his arms like a broken windmill, was running forward as fast as his stiff legs would allow. I couldn’t hear him, but I almost felt the stream of damnation gushing from his lungs.
I turned the wheel, this time to the right, and zoomed out onto the rolling country road that ran through Otton like an artery.
It was Semwick Road; the road Mason told me Mother died on in a car crash. I was four. I don’t remember much about her except what Mason told me and the little, random clips that sometimes flashed into my mind. For instance, I remember her hands. Long fingers, dark skin, soft. I thought about that a lot. No one I knew had soft hands except the guy Mason invited over around come tax season.
My mother’s name was Philipa and she was from Jamaica. She worked as a farm hand until she and Mason got married. I’d wrestled that much out of him. She was the only topic that was off limits, aside from new farm equipment. I’d bring her up and he’d damn near hurl something at me. How she ended up in Otton is a mystery to me. How she ended up with Mason must just be tougher than the mystery of life.
The scene I saw in the rearview is an image I’d store in my head forever: the scramble of peaches, the splintered creates, the wooden trailer leaning broken and helpless on its side. At the time it seemed surreal, like it was happening to someone else. It never occurred to me to stop or to turn back. I felt I could go anywhere. A primal part of my brain told me to keep moving, and fast, toward the expressway.
The town was a four-mile stretch and it was even longer to the nearest interstate. Four miles of Otton, four miles of Mason, of familiar faces and mailboxes, welcome mats and tractors; four miles, too, of local police.
The peach-inflicted burning was now a distant throb behind a roar in my head and slushiness in my stomach. As I drove, I saw plumes of dust billowing from the grain fields in harvest; amber clouds rising from combines back ends. I could smell the seasonal sweetness in the air like fresh-cut grass. The whirr of farm equipment buzzed by; Cornfields fanned out before me, each row ticking past like the second hand on a watch. I couldn’t outdrive them; they seemed to run tirelessly alongside the truck.
The closer I got to the highway, the traffic thickened and at the sight of a state trooper two cars ahead I started sweating to the point were I had to blink the salty stuff out of my eyes. Heat waves tadpoled upward from the road, rhythmic wiggles of the air. I inched forward until the traffic had me hovering right up behind the state trooper. In a nervous flare my eyes started dashing about. How fast would Mason call me in? How long would it take this trooper to find out I was committing grand theft auto? The trooper turned her head towards me. She was a frowning woman with small eyes. For a flash, our eyes met. I quickly looked at the passenger seat.
She knows, I thought. The lonely peach resting on the seat suddenly became interesting. I noticed there was a scar on it scabbed over with a clear dried sap. We never got every worm with the pesticide.
I stared at that peach until a blast from a truck’s horn made me look up. The traffic had moved on, more than a football field ahead.