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Like Father

by Andrew Broadous
February 2017 (Published in The Woven Tale Press, January 2019)



This story begins the way they often do: with a peach in my hand.


Too young to grow up but old enough to know better, I fiddle away my summer mornings, and one day, march across my backyard to an aging peach tree.


Any normal person would make cobbler out of peaches, eat them raw, or slice them up into a bowl of cream and sugar. Me? I wobble on the wooden posts of our fence, pluck off one, two, five peaches and rub their fuzzy coats with my thumbs. Then, with the eyes of a falcon, I hurl them at my neighbor’s house like ripened grenades. Each one explodes with spurts of juice against a tall window and slides into a gaping tin well.


The sound is a pluck on the world’s largest rubber band.


It’s a beautiful bass chord on the Steinway I always wanted to play.


Nearly every day in June, I wobble on that very fence, the peaches hit that window, the sound comes, and I get off scot-free. The End. This is the story I tell people when my father’s not around.


When he is around, he tells it like this:


After an afternoon full of peaches, a soft-spoken little boy nurses a sore arm by building a LEGO starship on the carpet of his basement. The doorbell rings, but he doesn’t care. Soon, he hears the faint hum of a woman at the door, then the dark chocolate voice of his father, which commands him upstairs.


He stands sheepishly beside his old man, who merely looks at him and says, “Did you hit this woman’s house with the peaches?”


The boy looks to the floor for several minutes.“Yes,” he squeaks out. He can’t fib, not because he’s a model child—which he’s obviously not at this instant—but because he might be afraid of what would happen if he did. Not that the truth would save him from a whipping with the same big spoon he’d use to make macaroni and cheese years later.


This boy tugs on his Workman gloves, and for the remainder of his soiled afternoon and into the soft light of evening, kneels in a sea of peach pits. His father points to where he’s missed chipping dried flesh from red brick. He buffs the window to a moonglow, concentrates on the glass. If he listens closely, he can hear that fabulous sound.

           

After my father finishes the story and the laughter dies down, I give the prequel:


In Compton there’s a black boy wiping the sweat from his face. It’s the late ‘60s, mid-June, and he’s got nothing to do. He’s left his G.I. Joes on the lawn, his baseball mitt under his bed. His two best friends, Jimmy and Ray, are on vacation. So, he decides to dig through the sweltering garage and finds a box of old lightbulbs. He blows over them and coughs. Tucking the box under his shoulder, he makes his way back outside and slumps on a curb.


One by one the lightbulbs pop onto the asphalt. Cars roll right over the shattered glass—twenty or so bulbs opening their electric guts all over the street.


One car in particular comes up the driveway.


The boy sees his father’s stern face through the window of the station wagon.


His father sees his son tossing his last lightbulb.


The boy knows the game is up. He’s lost. Gloves off. No rematch. Just the strong snap of leather and a stiff walk over to pick up the scattered pieces.


In the far future this same boy will have a son who’ll trade a box of lightbulbs for a tree full of peaches.

           

Now there’s howling laughter all around. I ask my father what motivated him to do what he did those years ago.


“They made a cool sound,” he replies. “It was addictive.”


Seconds later the oven timer goes off. The peach cobbler is done.