“The Peaches Are Cheap” from LOOK! LOOK! FEATHERS by Mike Young
It occurred to me, hanging out with Mike Young last weekend, that I/maybe we have not talked enough about Mike’s really fantastic collection of stories, LOOK! LOOK! FEATHERS here on HTML Giant. I will endeavor to do so, to at least offer an impression of each story, over the coming weeks.
So, PART ONE.
Placed at the beginning of the book of stories is “The Peaches Are Cheap,” a flash meant maybe not just to be itself, but meant instead to be the slow, disjointed, “look around, case the joint,” opening of all that comes after. It’s a couple of dudes in a car, and all the stuff they see—all this stuff that promises to act like hooks through the rest of the book. These hooks on which we hang the answers to our “where the fuck are we” questions. Hang the things we unpack to learn about where the whole where of the book is.
There are contradictions. “It’s August, and it smells like grass and fruit snacks.” So it smells natural, but also chemical. It smells like grass, and we all get that. Emily Dickinson knew what grass smelled like. So did King George. Also, it smells new and young and unfamiliar with things that are old, and unfamiliar with the way knowing how grass smells is also knowing a connection to Emily Dickinson and King George.
There are images and interruptions:
We drive and see things: old fences, a barbecue in a motel courtyard.
“Are you guys semi or official or what?” I ask.
Note the way that sentence works. The specific thing (the barbecue in a motel courtyard) helps you get a sense of what the general thing (old fences) probably look like. A drive that takes one by a motel likely does not take one by a small stone fence. It takes one by chainlink fences, probably. Maybe tall wooden fences. Not old English cottages. Just edgetown houses and businesses. Note, too, that the plural “fences,” suggests a longer cruise in a car, as does the ambiguity. “Some old fences,” will be seen on a much shorter drive. “A couple of old fences,” too. “Old fences,” could go on forever, and a drive can go on forever, even if a story is only two pages long.
The pattern continues. The characters in the car talk and see, talk and see. They see shirtless skateboarders—the evidence of a town with an abundance of spring and summer. “We see dust motes and Kool-Aid stains,” so readers know the sun is making it to the horizon and the car is maybe old and the people driving it are having issues with maturity. A really good writer will do that: use a bit of a sentence like that to juxtapose, say, external solar truths with internal psychological truths. All without you consciously noticing.
They trade fake ambitions: one wants to be a firecracker. The other a basketball star. The other a steamship captain. They go to the store and get peaches and eat them from the can. They have the kind of ambitions reserved for the ambitionless. They are brothers who have grown up and missed the fact that they are grown up:
We used to shove each other off of rope swings. We used to shove each other off of fire escapes. Now I work for the gas company. He works at the post office.
The escalation of their bad behavior is there. The way they tested the boundaries of their safety, but did not test the boundaries of their aspiration.
The narrator gives us a brief glimpse of the future: “By September, my brother will be seeing the supermarket teller and scoring free beer.” But that is the only moment where we get away from the now of the late summer drive into an oblivion of torpor. And in the future we see: more torpor.
It’s back to the ride, with the promise of another tomorrow. It ends:
I drive home with my eyes open, then I drive with them closed, hoping to hit something, anything…
And that’s the thing about paradise. Sometimes you want a snake to show up and make a little trouble, because paradise is fucking boring. Crafted in the right language, though, a story about it is not. See: The Bible. See: “The Peaches Are Cheap.”