Picking Peaches in Del Rey
by Kristopher Paul
I went to work by myself that day because my mom was busy crying. The work is a killer. The soft flesh is easily bruised, so they must be picked, and packed, by hand. The fuzz clings to the backs of my hands like wet fabric sheets. It itched like hell, it always does. And it never seems to go away.
The last time I went to work by myself, I saw a coyote. I was at the end of a row that ended on the back road to Sanger. It was alone too. The male coyotes are not always pack animals. The males can be more of the lover and leave-her type. Lone wanderers, some of them. It was born of the same dirt that gives life to the peach trees. It paused, then nodded in my direction and continued on its way. I guess that’s just how they do it. Alone. Those poor mothers. First, they lose the partner, then, when they are old enough, the pups leaver her too. Sometimes, sometimes one stays behind.
My dad thought it would be better here. But then, when the going got too tough, he got going. Then, when times got tougher, my older brother, the first to graduate high school, joined the marines, and left too.
They shouldn’t call wetbacks “pollos”. They are brave. They take risks. They come over and work hard. They live in squalor and then, and then, when they can’t pick in the fields anymore, when they lose the war with a life of pointless toil, they run back down to Mexico. Some of them do.
Sometimes, when their children can’t win the war within themselves, after fighting a war for others in a foreign land, they take their service weapon and turn it inward, on themselves. Maybe only some of them should be called “pollos”; when they can’t bury themselves in picking peaches anymore.
When I get home, I will ask my mom if she knows anything about coyotes wandering through the peaches in the fields.
Kristopher Paul is many things, among which he considers the most important are husband, father, MFA graduate student and full time high school English/Drama teacher. In his little spare time, he writes, plays drums and makes short films. He is from California’s Central San Joaquin Valley.