Life’s a peach (unedited WIP)
© Christoffer Petersen, 2022
Aaron Auer held the fruit knife like a scalpel with his index finger pressed tight against the dull edge of the blade as he pierced the skin. His daughter, eight-year-old Silke Maria Auer, watched him. She swallowed at the first cut, eyes glued to the soft skin with its feather of invisible fur as her father cut, sliced and quartered the peach.
“For your mother,” he said, plucking a quarter of peach from the hardwood chopping board.
Silke’s eyes followed the precise movement as her father placed the thick slice of creamy yellow fruit, blushed with red veins, on a saucer. She knew it was destined for the top shelf of the refrigerator, along with a second piece for her sister, where it would remain until they came home the following morning.
“For Sofia,” her father said, placing her sister’s quarter next to the first.
Silke swallowed again as beads of nectar dribbled down the peach flesh and stained the chopping board with a sticky glob of juice.
“And for you, Mitzi.”
Silke flashed her father a look. She preferred Silke and were it not for the quarter of juicy peach he had just cut for her, she would have reminded him. Instead, she followed her father from the counter to the sturdy table in the middle of the kitchen. The table, like the chopping board, was a rich black colour, polished once a month, with swirls of love around the more stubborn stains that, try as her mother might, refused to leave the Auer household.
Her father pulled out a chair and Silke caught a whiff of his scent – perfume and sweat, at once tart and sweet – as she sat down. He pushed her to the table, and then, as if rewarding a dog for balancing a treat on its nose, he said, “Velbekomme,” and Silke reached for the peach.
Aaron watched his daughter eat and smiled at the peach juice as it dribbled over her lips and onto her slightly pronounced chin. Her eyes, like the peach, were soft – blue according to the soft afternoon sun, sometimes green when the sky clouded over. Her face was framed by black curls that tickled her shoulders as she leaned forward, catching the last drops of peach juice on her plate.
“Here,” he said, halving his quarter of peach with the fruit knife. Silke’s eyes flickered to her father’s face then focused on the half of the halved peach slice as he set it on her plate.
And then she ate.
Her father talked.
“Your mother called while you were playing in the yard. Sofia is going to be all right.”
Silke swallowed again, and the last of the peach juice soured on her tongue.
“If you are going to fight, Mitzi,” Aaron said. “You save your energy for your real enemies. Your sister, no matter how you feel about her, is not your enemy. She is simply younger than you.”
“Six,” Silke said.
“That’s right. And one day she will be eight, just like you. Then ten. Twenty.” Aaron smiled as a frown furrowed Silke’s tiny brow as she struggled to imagine being twenty. “But no matter how old Sofia is, you will always be her older sister, and you must take care of her.”
“Why?” Silke said, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“Because that’s what is expected of you, just as I am expected to take care of you, Mitzi.”
“You’re my father.”
“And older than you.” He smiled, revealing his chipped tooth, the one that fascinated Silke whenever she saw it. “When we left Berlin,” he said, sliding the last piece of peach across the table to Silke, “we had nothing. Now,” he said, gesturing at the kitchen, and the car on the drive just visible through the window. “We have many things. And your mother and I have worked hard for all these things, for you, and for Sofia. So, when they return from your aunt’s, I expect you to be nice.”
Silke caught the edge in her father’s voice, and the flash of steel in his eyes. She dipped her head, then, when he pressed his finger under her sticky chin, she looked up and said, “Yes. I will be nice.”
Aaron sighed and placed the knife on the plate. He collected the plates and then stood up, knocking the side of the table as a car bumped over the curb and parked on the drive. Silke’s heart fluttered, and she held her breath as she pushed back her chair and ran to the window. She expected to see her mother helping Sofia out of backseat, but instead she saw two young men, half her father’s age, perhaps younger. She caught her father’s eye as the men swaggered to the door.
“Silke,” he said.
She waited, watching his lips as they twitched, wondering what he might say next. He looked at her for a long minute, ignoring the first knock on the door, as if deciding what he might do with her. He licked his lips, then nodded at the chair.
“Sit there. Don’t say anything. Don’t leave the table.”
Silke sat down. She watched her father take the fruit knife from the top plate and frowned as he slipped it into his trouser pocket. A second knock, louder than the first, hurried her father to the counter where he deposited the plates before turning for the hall. He walked out of the kitchen and opened the door on the third knock. Silke listened as the two men chided her father in another language. They spoke Italian. She had heard it before, one night when she answered the telephone. Somewhere between the hall and the kitchen the men softened their tone and switched to English.
The first man to enter the kitchen was tall and thin, with a sharp chin like an arrow pointing straight down to his shoes, which, Silke noticed, were shiny and expensive. Her father owned a pair just like them and she shined them on Sundays for pocket money. The man smiled at her, flashing creamy yellow teeth, brighter than the peach but darker than his pale skin. The man who followed him was younger, stockier, and wore his black hair slicked back with a thick curl behind each ear. He grinned at Silke, slapped the older man on the arm and whispered something in Italian.
“My daughter,” Aaron said, as he entered the kitchen.
“Right.” The younger man walked to the table, patted Silke on the cheek, then sat down beside her. “Everything’s all right,” he said. He jabbed his thumb into his chest. “I’m Danilo. You call me Nilo. Right?”
“Yes,” Silke said.
“He’s Ivo,” Nilo said, jabbing his finger at the older man. “You call him whatever the fuck you like.” Nilo raised his hands, apologising as Aaron protested. “You’re right. It’s right. She’s just a little girl. I know.” He looked at Silke and held out his hand. “I’m sorry. You forgive me? Right?”
“Yes,” Silke said, shaking his hand.
Nilo smiled, and said, “You have a name?”
“Like silk.” Nilo nodded. “I like it. Maybe I will call my next kid Silk. After you,” he said, letting go of her hand.
Nilo’s chair creaked as he leaned back in it. Silke watched the other man, the one called Ivo, as he leaned against the counter. Ivo opened his jacket and Silke saw the gun he had tucked into the waistband of his trousers. Her father saw it to, then looked at Silke, holding her gaze for a second, as if everything was going to be fine, before he pulled out a chair and sat down at the table.
“What do you want, Nilo?” he asked.
“Doctor Auer.” Nilo paused to smile at Silke, then patted her head. He turned to her father and said, “Do you want the girl to stay?”
“She stays,” Auer said. “Where I can see her.”
“Sure.” Nilo sucked at his teeth, drawing a look from Silke, as he said, “Then she hears everything we say. I’m not good at being a…” Nilo clicked his fingers at Ivo. “Hey, what is it I’m not good at?”
“Being subtle,” Ivo said, with another flash of his yellow teeth.
“Right. Subtle.” Nilo slapped his chest lightly. “It’s not my style. But I suppose if Mrs Abano wanted to be subtle, she would have sent someone else. So,” he said, with another smile for Silke, “the girl stays. The girls hears. And you, the father – you are responsible for the girl.”
Silke’s eyes widened as she watched the exchange between her father and the man sitting next to her. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small revolver. It made a dull thud as he put it on the table, just to one side, on his right, within easy reach. Silke stared at it. Her father glanced at it, and then Nilo leaned back in his chair.
“What does Mrs Abano want?” Aaron asked.
“She wants you to do for her, like you did last time.”
Silke caught the ripple of something in her father’s cheeks, and then it was gone, as if he had swallowed something bitter.
“I did what she asked me to do.”
“Right. And now,” Nilo said, gesturing at the revolver. “She’s asking you again.”
Aaron shook his head, and said, “I paid my debt.”
“Mrs Abano doesn’t agree. Besides,” Nilo said, leaning forward. “You have the special touch. The doctor’s touch. I mean…” Nilo pointed at Ivo. “You send a man like him, a real gangster. He pulls a gun on the street, there’s a bang!” Silke jumped as Nilo slapped the table. “There’s blood. There’s a body. The police come. They arrest someone. They let him go. The newspapers – those men with the cameras.” Nilo holds up his hands and flexes his fingers, on and off, like light bulbs flashing. “It’s all over the papers. Everybody knows who did what.”
“You want them to know.”
“Right.” Nilo slapped the table again, then nodded at Ivo, waving at Aaron as if he couldn’t explain it better. “The whole truth. Right there. You know it. But you,” he said, leaning forward again. “Your way is quiet. Your way is the thing I’m not.”
Nilo clicked his fingers, and Silke said, “Subtle.”
“Yeah, right,” Nilo said, patting Silke’s cheek. “You’re a smart kid. Smart like your daddy.” He turned to Aaron, adding, “You are smart, right? Doctor?”
Aaron licked his bottom lip before answering. “What do you want me to do?”
“Distract the judge.” Nilo said, his voice flat, direct.
“I did that.”
“Right.” Nilo tapped the table. “It didn’t work so well.”
“He didn’t come to work for two months.”
“Yeah, not long enough.”
Ivo stirred at the window, slipping his hand to the gun in his waistband. Nilo waved for him to wait.
“You see,” Nilo said. “On the one hand, it worked. The judge was very sad when his wife died.” He turned to Silke to explain. “An overdose. Too many tablets.” Silke stared at him until Nilo tapped the side of his nose, letting her in on a secret. He turned the finger towards her father, nodding as Silke’s eyes widened. “That’s right. Your daddy helped old Judge Bailey’s wife.” Nilo pulled a sad face, and said, “She was having these problems. Right? Difficulty sleeping. Well, your daddy helped her sleep. Right?”
“Stop it,” Aaron said, but Nilo ignored him.
“He put her right to sleep, forever. But when the coroner wanted to see the prescription, then sure, it was difficult.” Nilo mimicked writing a note on his palm, then peered at it, moving his palm closer to his face, then farther away. “Is that a four or a seven? I don’t know.”
Aaron pushed his chair back with a squeal of wood on the floor as he stood up. “I said stop it!”
Silke watched as her father pressed his hands on the table – it shook as he trembled. Nilo’s revolver wobbled, making a knocking sound, drawing a smile on his lips as he looked at it. When he looked away, Aaron slipped his hand into his pocket.
“Well, Doctor,” Nilo said, as he turned to look at him. “The plan was for the judge to be so upset, he would excuse himself from the case against Mr Abano. But…” Nilo shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe he doesn’t care for Mrs Bailey so much. Or maybe, like Mrs Abano thinks, he cares more for his daughter, the lovely Linnaea Bailey.” Nilo brushed Silke’s cheek, and said, “So young. Like you, Silk, only not so young.” Nilo rested his hand on the back of Silke’s chair and looked at her father. “The judge’s daughter whispered in his ear. She consoled him. She got him back on his feet. And now, he’s really back, and we were thinking…”
Ivo coughed and Nilo held up his hand, as if apologising.
“Right,” he said. “Mrs Abano was thinking. She’s the smart one. She thinks, however strong the judge is, he’s not that strong. And if something happened to his daughter…” Nilo let his sentence hang, as he waited for Aaron to finish it for him.
“She’s not my patient,” Aaron said, after a long pause. “I can’t help you.”
“You can’t help Mrs Abano?” Nils turned to Silke, and said, “You haven’t met Mrs Abano, so let me tell you what she did for your daddy, then maybe you can help him decide what he can do for her. Deal?”
Silke glanced at her father, but Nilo waved his hand in front of her face, then tapped her forehead.
“Look at me, kid. Okay?”
Silke nodded as Ivo took a step closer to her father.
“When you came from Berlin, you was just a baby. Maybe two. I don’t know. But that’s how Mrs Abano tells it. She told me the first time she met your daddy, he was begging to drive one of her cabs. You know? The yellow ones with the black squares?”
Silke nodded. She knew the cars he was talking about. And Ivo took another step closer to her father.
“Well, she talked to him a bit, asking if he knew how to drive.” Nilo smiled, as if he had been there when it happened. “Now, Mrs Abano, she’s smart. She looks at your daddy, and she knows he’s no cab driver. He’s too smart. She can tell. So she asks him what he does. And you,” he said, with another smile. “You know what your daddy does. Right?”
Silke glanced at her father, and he nodded. “He’s a doctor,” she said.
“Right.” Nilo nodded. “But you know I told you that already. Right?” He pointed at the door. “When we came in, I was calling your daddy a doctor. So, even if you knew, and I guess you did, then I still gave you that one. So now, Silk,” he said, with another pat of her cheek. “You owe me something, in return.” Nilo leaned back in his seat to look at Aaron. “Just like your daddy does. Isn’t that right, Doctor Auer?”
Silke gasped when her father pulled the knife from his pocket. She screamed as he turned around and slashed Ivo across the face, drawing blood from his cheek just as he had spilled juice from the peach. She screamed again when Aaron stabbed the knife into Ivo’s throat, pulling the gun from Ivo’s trousers as the tall man slumped to the floor.
Nilo reached for his revolver, grabbing it just as Aaron fired. He toppled off the chair and onto the floor as blood blossomed on the lapel of his jacket. Nilo lay on his side, panting as he gripped the revolver. Aaron ignored him and stepped around the table, reaching for Silke’s hand and pulling her to her feet.
“Silke,” he said, shaking her as she screamed. “Stop it. Stop. Stop it!”
She caught her breath, shaking, then hyperventilating, clutching at breaths until Aaron grabbed a brown paper bag from the counter. He had brought the peach home in it, now he got her to breathe in an out of it, until her breath was even, and she could listen.
“Tell me what he said,” Aaron said, holding his daughter’s arm with one hand and the pistol in the other. “What did he say about me and the judge?”
“I don’t know,” Silke said.
“You do know. Now tell me.” Aaron squeezed her arm. “It’s important, Silke.”
Silke stared at him.
He never called her that.
“Tell me,”he said.
Silke swallowed, and said, “She went to sleep.”
“Mrs Bailey.” Silke looked at her father’s hand. She plucked at his fingers, but he ignored her. “Your hand,” she said. “It hurts.”
“I’ll stop when you tell me what you know.”
“I don’t know anything,” she said, as the first tears trickled onto her cheeks. “I don’t know anything.”
“Nilo told you,” Aaron said, waving the barrel of the pistol at Nilo. “What did he say?”
“I don’t know.”
“You do,” he said, shaking her.
Silke lifted the paper bag to her mouth as if she might breathe into it, but her father pinched it from her fingers.
“Tell me, Silke,” he said.
Silke clenched her fists, pressing her nails deep into her palm as the smell of gun smoke and blood forced its way up her nose, through her pores, into her body.
Her father squeezed her arm, ignoring the scuffle of feet on the floor behind Silke.
“He said she couldn’t read the number.”
“On the prescription. Maybe you wrote the number five, or the number six.”
“It was four, maybe seven,” Aaron said. He squeezed her arm again. “Did he say anything else?”
Silke shook her head and the tears collected on her chin. Aaron sighed and let go of her arm. She sniffed, staring at her father as he took a breath and stood up. Silke looked up at him, then tugged at his trouser leg.
“What?” he said, looking down at her.
“I remembered something.”
“You don’t have to, Mitzi.” Aaron smiled. “What you already remembered is just fine.”
“But he said you put her to sleep. To make the judge stop working.”
Aaron’s face paled as he looked at his daughter. There was blood on his hands, and he looked at them, as if noticing for the first time, focusing on his hands, not his daughter, as he stepped to one side and raised the pistol.
“I’m sorry, Mitzi,” he said after a long, ragged breath. “But you remembered too much.”
Aaron raised the pistol. He pointed it at his daughter’s head, then paused, changing position and moving closer to Ivo’s body, as if planning the shot. Silke watched him, her feet stuck to the floor as if she was stuck fast in peach juice. She watched her father raise the pistol, and then stared down the barrel as he stared back at her.
“No one, not even your mother knows,” he said, as he tightened his finger around the trigger. “And I’ve worked too hard to let it all go now. You understand, Mitzi? Don’t you?”
Silke shook her head slowly. There was so much she didn’t understand.
She didn’t understand why the strange men came to see her father, why they had guns. She didn’t understand why her father hid the knife, nor why he had to hurt that man, to cut him until he bled and died. And she didn’t understand why her father had shot the other man, or why Nilo, who was supposed to be dead, was on his knees as her father pointed the pistol at her.
She didn’t understand why her father didn’t see him.
But she understood one thing when Nilo shot Aaron – her father would never call her Silke again.
“Kid,” Nilo said, as he slumped onto a chair at the table. “You gotta help me, kid. Okay?”
Silke tilted her head to one side to see around the table, to look at her father’s body, and the bloody hole in his shirt.
“Kid?” Nilo wheezed as he talked. “I need your help. Okay?”
Silke turned to him then, and Nilo tried to smile.
“My father shot you.”
“Yes,” Nilo said. “And I shot him back.” Nilo held up a finger as he caught his breath. “He was going to kill you, Silk.”
Silke opened her mouth to correct him, thinking that she really wanted him to call her Silke. But the way he said Silk, like it was a nickname, was nice. Better than Mitzi, the nickname he used instead of her second name. She didn’t like Mitzi at all, but Silk was okay.
Silke walked to the kitchen counter and poured a glass of cold water. She took it to the table and placed it in front of Nilo. He coughed once, then took a sip.
“You’re welcome,” Silke said.
She kept her eyes fixed on Nilo, on his face, avoiding the bloody wound in his side as she waited. He took another sip of water, then slid the glass onto the table.
“Tell you what, Silk,” he said, catching her eye. “This is pretty fucked up. If you help me out of here, I’ll make sure Mrs Abano looks out for you, okay?”
“Okay,” Silke said.
“And then, when I’m patched up, we can talk about what’s next. All right?”
“Right,” she said.
“But first, I need a doctor.” Nilo smiled as he thought about something. “Just not that one,” he said, with a nod at her father’s body.
Nilo pushed off the table and placed his hand on Silke’s shoulder. He kept her on his left as they walked out of the kitchen, shielding her from the sight of her dead father, thinking it was the least he could do.
“Tell you what,” he said, as they reached the car. “I’m feeling a little better. Maybe we could pick something up on the way, eh? How about that? What would you like?”
“Peaches,” Silke said, without hesitation. “Lots of them.”
I’m working on this – one of many projects. I wrote this short story to explore Silke’s character and her origin story. We’ll see what happens.