The peach tree loved the young master of the house. She loved his golden locks and sapphire eyes, and the way he treaded her branches to pick mellow peaches at the top. She loved the way he laughed, his chuckle gentle and light, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. He leaned against her and spent many afternoons bent over books, his hair brushing the pages. She felt the warmth of his back against her trunk, and memorized the curve of his spine. His sweat soaked through his shirt and seeped into the lenticels of her bark. On these afternoons, the only sounds were the turning of a page and the wind rustling against her leaves.
The tree waited for the boy each day. She waited for him in his garden, among the flowerbeds lined along the wall, the triple-decked water fountain at the center of the courtyard, among his herbs, his hedges, and all the other parts of the garden she could not see from her vantage point. When she saw him walking toward her, looking so tall and certain, the tree shivered in pride that he was coming to her—to her, out of all the plants and trees he could choose from. A tingle rushed through her vascular tissues, and the sensation brought all her flowers to bloom in a single afternoon. Her flowers were not pink, like other peach trees, but a violent red.
In the summer the boy ate from her fruits. He bit into the tender peach meat, juice running down his chin, dripping into the grass and feeding the soil beneath his bare feet. The fruit core emitted a honeyed fragrance, inviting the boy to suck on its husk and roll the seed in his mouth before spitting it back into the earth, where the tree’s outstretched roots received, absorbed, and reproduced from the boy she loved.
The boy spoke to the tree sometimes. He paced back and forth and mumbled words she could not understand, or acted out scenarios before her, shaking his head midsentence to start over. Once he dropped to the ground on one knee and pulled out a black box from his pocket. He opened the box to show a beautiful rock that reflected the rays of the sun. He climbed up her branches to look at the stars above and the houses in the valley below, sighing to himself. She sensed a deep longing in her master, and an impatience to fulfill his desire.
One day, the boy stopped coming to the tree. For a whole autumn, the tree sighed into the wind, waiting, waiting till the sun set behind her each day, wondering if he might turn up during the night, or in the morning. Autumn turned to winter, then spring, till another ring was added around her trunk. She listened intently to the blue jays perched on her branches for news. The birds whispered of a new mistress in the house. The mistress loved roses, so now she and the boy spent all their afternoons by the rose bushes, picking one flower of each color to make crowns and bouquets. A thorn had cut into his fingers, causing him to bleed. The peach tree envied the roses for their thorns, for she had no such guile to leave marks on her master’s flesh. The boy brought his lady to the tree only once; she ate a peach and broke out in hives.
Many years went by, and the tree was forgotten. The peach tree’s branches hung low, and she wept sap from her wounded twigs. Her over-ripe peaches broke off and rotted beneath her, with only flies and maggots to fight over the flesh. Her fire red flowers paled from orange to pink, then white, till they stopped blooming altogether.
By the time the boy came back to the tree, he had become an old man: bald, skin covered in brown spots. His voice was a wheezy whisper, a ghost of what it once was. He came alone, hugging a wooden box. He lowered himself gingerly to the ground and sat leaned against the tree, the way he used to. The tree hastened to bend the curve of her trunk to the new shape of the boy’s stooped back. She flattened her roots to make a more comfortable seat for him, but the boy took no notice. He caressed the lacquer surface of the box and spoke to it, tears trickling down his face. The tree was reminded of the smaller box the boy once carried, with its sparkling stone; it too, had held his full attention.
The tree sighed. The sigh was long and heavy and turned into a gust of wind that toppled over the box. The lid fell open and its gray, sand-like content flew into the air and disseminated. The wind carried the ashes further and further, as the old man cried after the diminishing specks, running after them in vain. But a little of the ash settled to the ground, seeped into the earth, burying itself into the tree’s roots, and bringing with it a little of the boy’s love.
Vanessa Wang is an MFA graduate from the University of Maryland writing program. She lives in the Silicon Valley, where she writes short stories and manufacturing instructions for electric cars. Her stories have appeared in Kweli Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, and won first place in the Bethesda Annual Writing contest.