Peaches Water Blue – Emily Kate Hastings
She wanted the world. She wished for the first crisp bite of every red apple. She sought to paint a satisfying stroke across each of our white walls before leaving the room.
My Celeste, full of light, sat and thought and was filled with want.
That year I selected a gift she would treasure. I bought her a peach tree. Over the coming months and years, I vowed to nurture it into a masterpiece.
I came home on Wednesday afternoon to check on the tree. Light fell horizontally across the room, washing out the wall’s hue. Celeste sat enveloped in a faded blue blanket. She looked up, and fondness spread through me at the sight of her; Celeste’s eyes were like thin, clear ice over grey earth, the colour of earth in frozen winter. I addressed her, “Love.”
“Drafts fill the house.”
“Mmm. We should get in touch with Mike about the insulation and sealing the windows. I’ll phone him this afternoon.” I walked towards the large set of windows that formed the corner of our living room. The house sat high. Enough to see the water in the distance, which I knew Celeste loved, but we also caught the wind from the sea. The day was bright, but gusts travelled to us from the dark grey water.
“Our tree is holding up in the wind, but I need to ask the nursery owner about the tarp. I’m going to stop in to the library after work to see what books they have on gardening.”
“Mmm. Very windy. The water’s been unsettled all day,” Celeste of the glass house reported. She was the guardian over the depths.
That month, I visited the small library twice. Upon entering the orange boxy building, I navigated. I experienced a sense of euphoria when I came upon the sign that told me I was in the right place: Gardening. I was to become a great grower of this tree. A vintage poster hung on the wall beside the bookshelf; it read: Légumes et Plantes Potageres and featured scientific drawings of various root vegetables. I examined these sturdy plants, designed to weather harsh conditions, unlike my peach tree. The man who had sold it to me had instructed me carefully—such a young and delicate plant would not survive easily in our climate, but with the right care, it could be done.
What a sense of pride I took in the project; the little tree that would harvest soft, sweet delights. The second trip to the library yielded the perfect guide! A large instructional book, filled with smooth and inspiring photographs worthy of a coffee-table existence. There were three large pages devoted to images of the deciduous trees that bear stone-fruits. I found myself tracing fingers along lines, along the trunks to the slender branches, always to an end of plump glowing spheres; I meditated on their every detail: the colour of their coverings, a spectrum of oranges and dark yellow—but not as aggressive as mustard—simultaneously bright and calming, like the most inviting sunset you could imagine; ever soft and vulnerable to bruising if handled too callously; and underneath—the juicy yellow flesh that offers a delicate aroma and a taste most sweet and pure; and finally, then, the heart, where the skin has grown around a wood-like husk. I imagined their velvet touch, their curves, and longed to see such warm colours in real bloom.
Planted together in winter, Celeste and I had grown. As the first few years of our marriage flowed through time, I was enchanted to watch Celeste’s movements as spring, summer, and autumn’s colours passed across her skin. One evening, Celeste prepared a meal of white fish and watercress, placed in her delicate way upon subtle ashen plates. I smiled across the table at her, watching her slender hands pick up the chunky silverware; two years before the tree, I had indulged Celeste in purchasing the more expensive set of extra heavy weight flatware, despite feeling that it was slightly less practical. It pleased me to see the regal set adorn our table. I sat with satisfaction and knew Celeste would be equally content with the robust window seals Mike and I had installed.
The first year of the peach, I watched as Celeste sat by the window, looking out at the sea in our tall, slender house. I smiled to myself often as she shrouded herself in pastel blankets, which slowly became pallid in exposure to sunlight. With improvements to the insulation and no chance of air infiltrating such grand window seals, my Celeste would not go cold, yet I suppose by habit, she was ever shrinking into the covers. She gravitated to a wool blanket we had received for our wedding, a glacier-blue gift from someone on her side of the family—her sister? I cannot recall. Seeing Celeste and her glass reflection, I routinely imagined the day I would walk to our yard below the window to behold branches bowed down with health. From that cheerful scene, I would pluck a present for Celeste. I would present her with a platter worthy of the queen of the upper observatory: it would be the first saturated drop of richly-dark paint on a watercolour page—that stone-hearted fruit on one of our dove-grey plates. Celeste’s eyes would open like blossoms, the apples of her cheeks flush like roses, and her lips become cherries as blood moved within her. Celeste would feel her heart thrive at seeing this jewel.
The cultivation of the Prunus persica is a labour of patience, persistence, and steady vigilance. Another year passed, and I learned to listen even more intently to the growing plant, which demanded my renewed devotion each day; I celebrated my success!, but was not too proud to seek expert help when warranted, which involved the nursery owner, and even a telephone call to a long-distance gardening helpline on one fretful occasion.
Secondary to my chief task of growing this magical tree, I happily observed that the project grew many positive qualities in my personhood as well. The gardening magazine I now received in the mail had articles that indicated such. As you grow plants, you grow yourself (a mantra!). I enjoyed when opportunities presented themselves to share such delightful anecdotes with colleagues at work who showed interest. Margot had proudly shared about losing the baby weight within the year; Beatrice was engaged; and Florian was enjoying his existence significantly more after realizing that he had suffered for years with an easily amenable condition of poor vision. And soon, my tree would produce its blissful fruit.
As its time neared, I anticipated this favoured fruit of kings and emperors. It was as if the world around me was joining to prepare to celebrate the awaited birth. And Celeste—I had perhaps spent less time with her over the last period of growth, as work had been demanding, and she had been away for two weeks; it seemed that my every free moment had been spent kneeling before the tree—but even Celeste now showed signs of anticipation. Though we rarely discussed the tree in its third year, I could see how she spoke differently to me—I suspect she knew what surprise was to come and understood my task! Years ago, Celeste had planted some incredible surprises herself, the most significant being the party to celebrate when I had been hired. I had no idea that my warm-hearted Celeste was to gather my most cherished humans—even Phillipe who lived across the country!—and create the most delicious, intimate atmosphere for a rare evening all together. Perfection! Late into the evening we had laughed. I loved seeing Celeste overcome with laughter that rumbled her whole body.
The night that Celeste returned from her trip, my sense of the peach-tree’s imminence was ever so acute. Would I present it to her as breakfast in bed, I wondered. But what would Celeste say! No matter how inviting the plump gem, she would not bite into the juicy flesh anywhere near our pale duvet.
Celeste’s suitcase sat just inside the bedroom door. With joy, I placed it upon the armchair for her. Suddenly, in my core, I felt she was missing from me. It had been days since I had studied her beauty. I found her in the highest part of the house in fading light by the window, three glasses of half-drunken water placed around the room. I walked towards her with a slight skip in my step.
Slowly, she moved her body, but did not turn from the window.
“Do you see, Love?”
Silence. Celeste! The suspense!
“The tree—” I prompted.
Celeste investigated. After a few moments, which seemed unbearably long! she said with wonder, “Flowers. The tree has flowers?”
Perplexed, I stood behind her. Celeste had this ability to see the world with such wonder, as if for the first time.
“Yes, Love, the tree has flowers.” I was glowing. “They’re preparing the way.” I kissed her head.
Celeste turned and looked up at me for a long moment. There was a look in her eyes that I could not discern. As light faded into dusk, Celeste’s eyes shone … eyes that always reminded me of spectacular bodies of water, now lit up like candles in ink-black puddles. Suddenly, I—was she crying? I felt helpless to recognize her.
Then the strange dissolved from her. Celeste spoke. “Like a flower girl at a wedding. The bride is coming.”
I watched my Celeste as she gently unwound each window, pushing out the panes. Finally, she opened the glass to the East. In that moment, the moonlight came in to us. And it was large and yellow and warm.
Emily Kate Hastings (she/her) is an artist, writer, and speech-language pathologist from the East coast of Canada. She can be found drinking ginger-lemon tea in the Himalayas between hikes, reading in Viennese coffee shops over a plate of bread dumplings, or snowshoeing in the winter forests of Canada, depending on the day. She has worked in Canada, South America, Europe, and Asia, and frequently documents her world travels in photography. She currently makes her home in vibrant Shanghai.