“On the day of her birth, Peaches had been prophesied to be a traveler.” And so she turned out to be, traveling “here, there, anywhere” with Gram, Madeleine, Kahlil, and Bloody (who wasn’t—until the end).
Peaches is geared mostly towards young adults who devour stories with strong, adventurous heroines like those in The Hunger Games and Divergent. However, this tale does not take place in a dystopian future. Instead, Peaches is the eponymous protagonist born into the smalltown South and then inhabits its always new and newer capital, Atlanta. Any young adult will relate to her triumphs and trials with family, friends, school, and that bugabear called relationships. Peopled by curious folks and famous names (some long deceased), the work tracks Peaches on her outgoing adventures after dark in the big city and around the clock across the nation and the world. Peaches, there’s nobody quite like you.
An excerpt from Peaches is included below so designers can get a sense of Peaches’ personality and bravery - think Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) with a bit of Holden Caulfield’s (Catcher in the Rye) rebellion.
Recurring themes, and potential design elements, include:
-Graffiti portraits and scenes
-Atlanta skyline/hardscrabble little town
-Night swimming (pool)
-Friendship (sassy girls, gentle boys)
-The New South
-Southern literature (including authors Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell)
-Southern cuisine (especially boiled peanuts and fresh tomatoes)
School was only in its first year, brand new for Peaches. Already she was horribly unimpressed. Her class wasn’t writing yet, just barely reading, discerning what sank and what floated, and naming the colors of the rainbow. It was pseudo-learning and Peaches felt trapped.
She stood with her classmates waiting for the bell to ring as rain dripped from trees onto the roof, gently spattering the jacketed students huddling beneath the eaves. Brother stood at the school’s front doors, taking bets on college football and local Little League games. He scratched numbers in a notebook with a pencil, while dollar bills plucked and faded out of the air as older boys registered with the grade school bookie.
Brother didn’t bully kids out of their lunch money; he merely waited for human nature to guide it to him. Peaches sometimes wondered if there was an empty hole where his goodness should be. She did her best to avoid making bets with Brother, because he hated losing to her and would cheat her mightily. When they played blackjack for gumballs, he always dealt. It was exasperating not to be able to jump as far or run as fast as him, but one thing she could do. Peaches refused to lose a perfectly dealt hand to a slippery House.
She leaned against the wall and watched her kindergarten friends play hand-slapping rhyme games as they waited for the bell to ring. Staring around her small world, she wondered how the rain made green grass glow and dandelions stand out as bright spots of buttery yellow fluff.
The school bell tolled, and she walked towards the door, tracing her fingers along the rough bricks making up the wall. Each solid chunk of clay was part of the whole, though Peaches noticed each was slightly different from its neighbor, like snowflakes or fingerprints.
For the first few hours of the morning, her class was sleepy and subdued. Rain fell and the sky stayed as dark as on the day Noah set sail. She grew bored with the stories of Dick, Jane, and Spot and stared around at the circle of readers in the colorful classroom. Suddenly she leaned down and bit the little redhead beside her. A half-moon puffed and rose like a misshapen, doughy biscuit on the little girl’s arm.
The wounded girl screamed and the classroom erupted in laughter and babble, stirred by Peaches’ anarchy. Before her teacher could even sort it out, Peaches slid from her chair and walked down the hallway to the principal’s office, taking Brother’s seat on the red bench outside.
“Peaches, why did you bite her?” her mother asked over the phone.
“I dunno, Mama.” Peaches thought her head had decided, then told her mouth, and she was the last to know. She didn’t know her brain could go around her like that.
“Do you not like that little girl?” Mama tried again. “Did she do something to you?”
Peaches was surprised, and then grew stricken. “No ma’am, she was just sitting there. I like her fine, but I bet she doesn’t like me so much anymore.”
“Peaches, if you ever do anything like this again, you’ll wish you hadn’t.”
“Yes ma’am, Mama.” She apologized to the victim at lunchtime and gave her the cookies from her lunchbox. By the dismissal bell, they were friends again. Rain clouds gave away to a bright blue sky.
Peaches walked home reading a book held chest high. Brother ran past and knocked it from her hand. It flopped open on the roadside in a spine-crippling way, bouncing to land among weeds and scattered green shards of a Coca-Cola bottle.
"You'll get yours, Brother." Peaches stole the line from an old movie and delivered it like a gang moll, but with no cigarette. Her yellow braids swung like double pendulums. Brother tossed the book back at her in mock fear.
Trailing slowly towards home, arriving a few minutes after him, Peaches wondered why Mama wasn't waiting for her on the front porch. A partial answer came crashing through the window as a dish landed broken at her feet. Peaches stared at the porcelain pieces as if they were a message from God she wasn’t born to understand.
In the doorway she stifled a little-girl scream. A burly stranger teetered in the middle of the living room, ponging the air with a blue cloud of animal stink and liquor fumes. Propped near the door was a lean silver shotgun, another sure stranger in their house. Peaches hated it on sight, thinking it made the house look trailer trashy. She saw Brother clutching Mama’s side and was aghast to see the boy of stone in tears.
"Look at him." The man growled at Mama. "You gone and raised him a damn gurl."
The brute reached out to slap Mama with one of his big paws, clasping her face tightly before flinging it back. Mama's head whipped to one side. Blood trickled from her left nostril and her face radiated scarlet.
Brother began to hiccup and almost hyperventilate like the skinny, asthmatic boy he wasn’t. Something in Peaches, notified by the angry popping of bubbles, buzzed loudly and demanded that this was not the way it was supposed to be.
Her legs geared up like a cartoon character readying for takeoff and her brain boiled as she ran tripping and stumbling towards her enemy. She embedded her teeth in his ankle, biting deep into his meaty leg. She pushed her teeth through khaki skin, layer after layer, heading for bone. He smacked her and whirled her up against furniture, trying to get her to loosen her hold. As he crashed his full weight upon her,
Peaches’ eyes closed sleepily as the breath in her lungs grew stale. Something pounded on the thing that trapped her, and pounded again and again. Finally, the big body rolled off of her. Peaches slumped over, weak and puppet-like; her collapsed skin puckered, her veins refilling after being squeezed dry.
Mama stumbled backwards, dropping the bloody encyclopedia she had used to beat him when he was crushing Peaches. His skin had broken under the repeated slamming of the book and red poured thickly upon its pages. The black-haired angel called Mama reached out to dust his jaw with a final swipe. Her tiny, clenched fist made something crunch inside his mouth.
Mama shoved Brother towards Peaches, and he dragged his sister into the nearby linen closet. Peaches whimpered and tried to fold inside herself. Brother told Peaches to hush and be still. But her whimpering grew louder—and angry.
Brother told her again to be quiet, because it would all be over soon. Peaches called him names, angered because he didn't pull Mama into the closet with them. Brother tried to hold her back, but Peaches burst out of the closet, yowling like a cat in heat as she slunk surefooted to the man’s back.
Mama now lay mannequin-still on the floor. Doors slammed shut in her mind and locked. Peaches jumped back into the brawl like a movie sailor. Mama’s mouth opened slightly as she recited old prayers to patron saints, slurring through lips swelled from an earlier hit.
Peaches seized a piece of firewood and hoisted it slowly over her head, and behind the intruder, her legs apart, balanced like a gymnast ready to jump the beam. It dropped like a cop’s baton, bashing the man’s skull with a spray of blood and popping bone. Goliath fell to earth as the girl glowered above him.
Mama stepped over the slumped remains and seized her daughter close. Peaches spat on the man, then began to shake. She had never spat in her life.
Mama was embarrassed to have police cars in front of the house, more embarrassed at the gathering of neighbors. Peaches wondered where they were when they were needed.
One cop bent close to Peaches, chucking her chin kindly. “You are one strong lil' gal.” He looked over towards the slumped form. "That big boy ain’t been knocked down too often.”
Brother kicked at the unconscious pile , his little boy sneaker mussing the man’s dirty, checkered shirt. The police officer waved him away. "Boy, don’t kick your daddy."
The truth cleaved Peaches’ soul. Peaches stared at Mama, but her mother’s eyes were glazed over and unseeing. She hoped no one thought the man was her daddy. Peaches held her side where it hurt, and the policeman turned to Mama. "Your gal’s rib might be broke, ma’am." Mama gingerly probed Peaches' left side. Her daughter yelped like a pup with its tail shut in the door.
A deputy approached to take a statement. Mama was polite to guests. Concluding, she said: "Thank you, sir," and pointed at the shotgun leaning sedately in the doorway. “When you take him away from here, please leave the gun.”On his way out, the deputy looked at Brother, arms crossed over his chest. The boy stared at his father's face in shock. He recognized a bit of himself.
As her greatest mistake was handcuffed and dragged out the door, the brute began to stir and tried to lean close to kiss his former wife. She recoiled and Brother snapped a hostile slap inches from his father’s face. The door shut, and the intruder disappeared as quickly as he had come.
Alone with the children, Mama gathered her brood and waited for the world to tilt back onto its familiar axis. It was just the weird, wonderful little family again, cracked and bruised, but still breathing. Brother approached the shotgun, but Mama told him coldly: "Never ever, Brother."
After washing her face, Mama poured two glasses of creamy, white milk, and set a plate of cookies on the kitchen table before beckoning Brother and Peaches to sit down. Brother took his place at the table. Peaches waited for her mother to say something, then realized Mama had tucked it silently away.
Peaches left the kitchen, returning with an orange plastic record player. She propped it on the counter and plugged it in. She chose a record from one of Mama’s yesterdays, and as the music began to play, Mama seemed to float away. Peaches thought there was something bold about this manner of escape. Taking her seat at the table next to Brother, she ate her cookies and drank her milk. Her rib still ached.
It was just three of them again, mother, son, and rebellious spirit, as the old music played. A sweet smile broke across her face like morning sunshine. It was a moment when her two little monsters looked like beautiful, dirty angels, as if she had somehow managed to do things right. She adored the son of her heart and the daughter of her soul and gave thanks for the momentary blessing of easy and slow.
She thought of death and the obituaries she read every morning Every day, she threw prayers skyward in the hope she would never see her own offspring’s little bodies in small coffins.
Peaches thought it felt like a good life for a moment. Turning up the volume on the record player, Brother stood to grab hold of his little sister’s hand. He swung her around, and they danced like Lilliputians for the giant.
Mama smiled, watching them with her chin resting on one hand. Then she stood tall, throwing her arms in the air and roaring like a grizzly bear. Brother and Peaches squealed as they scrambled towards the living room. Mama chased them, catching Brother first and flipping him over her shoulder. She tickled him as Peaches clambered over the back of the sofa in a hasty getaway.
Mama caught Peaches with ease, careful to avoid her bruised left side. She hooked her arm around the little girl’s waist and swung her high. Mama held both her bundles of joy close, one laughing so hard she couldn’t breathe, while the other was as silly and gleeful as the giggling little girls he despised.
The song glowed as if something holy and strange acted upon it. Its transubstantiation grew wings and blew what was stagnant and past far out of sight, birthing new life in each fresh echo of strings.
Mama forgot the child coffins, Peaches forgot that she was a biter and a fighter, and Brother forgot that he was the son of a beast. The family slept peacefully that night, dispersing dreams in communion with each other and with all the souls beyond.