Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Fruit (10/10/05)
- TITLE: In a Peach Orchard
By Sandra Petersen
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The sun tormented him from a cloudless sky. Perspiration glued his shirt to his back. He needed to find a shady place to rest for a brief time. Shielding his eyes with one grimy hand, he squinted across the plowed furrows he was crossing. On the far side was a fieldstone fence and beyond that, a grove of trees.
Shelby quickened his pace. If those trees were what he thought they were, he could both slake his thirst and abate his hunger at the same time, besides sheltering himself from the hottest portion of the day. When he reached the fence, he slowed and reconsidered his plan. Rummaging in the grass underneath one of the trees was a boy. Shelby scanned the orchard behind. The only other sign of human habitation was a white frame house in the distance.
The boy straightened and stared as the weary traveler neared the fence. Nestled in his hands was a red-blushed peach.
Shelby gulped as the youngster bit into the fruit. Juice dripped down and stained the boy’s shirt.
The two strangers eyed each other, the boy with idle curiosity, the young man with a trace of suspicious fear.
The boy took another bite and wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve.
“Please,” Shelby asked, swallowing with difficulty. “I’m very hungry and I need a place to rest.”
The boy shrugged and Shelby climbed over the fence, still cautious. After all the distance he had come, he did not want to be caught now.
“You don’t live around here, do you?” the youngster said. “Where you from?”
Pretending not to hear, Shelby found a peach and flopped down on the ground under a tree.
“What’s your name?” he asked the youngster. He savored the first bite of the fruit, allowing the juice to wash the dust from his mouth and throat.
“Mine’s Shelby. And, to answer you, I’m on my way home.”
George frowned. “You a soldier?” he questioned as he surveyed the stranger’s dusty clothes.
“I wanted to join up but my pa wouldn’t let me.”
“You don’t want to get into this war, George,” Shelby muttered. “Believe me.”
The two remained silent for some time. Shelby remembered another peach orchard in another place, one damaged by artillery shells, and a Pennsylvania wheat field bloodied and littered with Confederate and Union bodies.
“You a deserter?” scowled George.
Shelby debated his answer. How could he explain to this boy, raised on Southern pride and honor, his reasons for abandoning the battlefield? He didn’t understand himself how his zeal for the Southern cause could turn to bile in his stomach so quickly at Gettysburg. Perhaps he saw too much bloodshed, too many good men on both sides die for a piece of rocky ground. Maybe in the heat of the battle he no longer believed that God in His Providence would grant the South victory.
“You are a deserter!”the boy accused, his eyes scornful.
“George, you weren’t there! You don’t know what it’s like to pray that God just gets you through a battle without having a leg shot off! You didn’t see the brigade around you be destroyed, the brigade general have his horse shot out from under him, see your best friend be carried away to the field hospital!”
George snorted, “Deserter! Yeller coward! Better men than you have died!”
As Shelby sought for a response, George’s eyes filled with tears.
“Better men than you have died, and they ain’t never coming back!” the boy repeated and swiped at his eyes and nose with his sleeve.
Shelby suddenly realized he need not fear this boy would turn him in.
“I’m sorry, George,” Shelby murmured. “I didn’t know about your pa.”
Leaving the boy to his grieving, Shelby continued on the journey home. He prayed those at home would understand better than George the hell he had seen and escaped. He began to question if they would.
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