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Palpable and Sweet
It came with a tiny box, a satin green ribbon, and no return address.
The nurse flew into the room and laid the package on her night side stand. Then, wordlessly, she drifted out in a flurry of blue scrubs and graying hair. The bedridden patient smirked. Basket-case. That was the medical diagnosis.
Brushing off the behavior, she reached across the table and drew the box into her lap. It was a rough wooden crate, enveloped by a satin ribbon, the shade of emeralds. Brow furrowed, she shook the box firmly. Something thumped inside. A present?
The ribbons were smooth and cool to the touch. She fumbled with the neat little bow on top, pried the ends until laces slid from loops and strings crisscrossed. A final tug, and the bow glided into a smooth, long trail of satin and half-opened package.
She dug her nails into the tight lid and yanked a good few times. The cap popped off, and she carelessly threw it aside. She was too eager for her strange present. Mouth dry, heart fluttering, she had never been this excited over a silly gift.
The box's interior was rugged and wooden, and her eyes widened. Inside was a peach, a simple fruit.
She lifted it into her hands. Its weight was warm with sweet nectar. Its skin was sun-ripened and tender, carrying a piece of the sky into the windowless bunk. Its scent was a scant fragrance of wind, water, earth, and its sweet sap.
What was it doing here?
More importantly, should she eat it?
Her stomach always tossed and reared at the thought of hospital food. Fruit seemed to be a heaven-borne gift, natural and always genuine and sweet.
She brushed her thumb against the fuzz of the peach. Then again, it could be last fresh fruit she would ever eat. Perhaps it would do her well to save it, savor it when she was ready.
She set the peach back on the box and yawned raucously. That settled that, and hopefully she could doze the rest of the day away.
But the sound of something, brushing harshly and scratching against the outside of her wall, made her snap awake with a start.
Alarm consumed her as scratching reverberated from the narrow corridor. She shut her eyes tight, pulled the paper-thin sheets over her head, but there was little she could do to detract the peculiar racket.
Once again, she played it stupid. Grunting with exertion, she emerged from the bed and limped feebly to the doorway. All she could see from it was deserted white; it was a soulless color that swallowed the walls, doors, rooms, beds'
A shadow at the end of the hall snatched her breath.
It was tall and dark and writhed to its own invisible breeze, though all was still. Captivated, she didn't even have to think to move forward. Each step was slow progress, but she felt satisfied as the twisted figure began to morph into a shape. A golden light drenched it, a glow she had long forgotten about. The sun.
Her stomach dropped when she finally stood close enough to see it.
It was a tree. It was a short tree with a thick, brown trunk. Its leaves shined like that emerald ribbon, frosted with morning dew that glittered in the metaphysical sunlight. But the objects of her fixation were the ample fruits growing on it. As the branches roughly caressed the wall, they fell to the ground and accumulated. They were peaches, and there were a startling number of them.
She squinted into the light, but like a fairy's flutter, it had vanished. All that remained was the still tree, its roots protruding from the white-tiled floor.
This couldn't be real.
She smirked as she moved in to touch the bark, waited for it to ebb magically. Perhaps it had been the morphine, the lack of food, or the hours spent alone that had conjured this hallucination. Either way, she was ready to be sent back.
Her fingertips brushed against harsh, gnarled bark.
She froze. She blinked. She withdrew her hand before reaching up for one of the leaves. It was smooth and cold and frosted with dew. Her breath hitched as she slid her fingers to one to one of the peach blossoms: soft and satin. Then she stooped down to pick up a peach: warm, fuzzy. Real.
Carefully, she harvested the peaches, placing them one at a time in her gown, watching the stack grow with an odd sense of swooping delight.
At least she could have more than one peach to savor.