The peach hung there on a short branch, bending it out of true. It tossed a bit in the artificial wind, bounced, settled. Just within reach.
So many I remembered from my grandmother's farm, when I was a boy. There were so many we threw the rotted ones over the fence for the deer to eat. Back when there were too many. Back when there were deer, even.
The sun slanted through the glass overhead, a scalpel of light carving the garden in two. It had blushed the near edge of the peach to perfection, red and fuzzy like the hair on the arm of a young girl. I reached for it, felt it hang there, warm and eager, and plucked it.
"You got the last one," Harvey said. "If you'd come another day later, that one would've been gone."
It settled into my hand, filling it, as if it were made for my grasp. "I couldn't take the chance that I'd miss it," I said. "Although just the memory would be enough."
Harvey laughed bitterly, hard enough that the rasping cough began, rattling up from his lungs into his chest. Blood stained his hand where it covered his mouth.
I held out the peach to him. "It's yours, you know. You deserve it, hanging on this long."
He waved me away, bright red drops falling from his hand to the ground. "No. I've had all I want. You get this one, in memory of those little boys we were. There won't be any more. Don't waste it." It took most of his strength to say that much. The cough sucked life out of him. Out of all of us.
I held the peach to my nose, inhaling. The sweetness poured itself down my throat like an elixir. I felt ten years younger.
I turned the fruit in my hands, rubbing off the fuzz. "You'll itch later," Harvey said, perching himself on a chair.
"Worth it," I said. We'd once washed such peaches in the flow of the creek that ran along the orchard, letting the ice-cold stream carry off the fuzz toward the river. Then the first bite...
I shivered. That was what I'd come for. And why not? Nothing else we were doing was going to do more than prolong the inevitable. Perhaps the fifty or so of us that remained could come up with a way to extend our lives another month. Two at the most. But what was another two months of life if there was no living? To simply exist, on protein packets scavenged from what was left of the world? No. That was nothing compared to this glowing orb in my hand.
The peach came up to my mouth, just soft beneath the peel, smelling of paradise. I bit down. Sweet warm juice exploded out, onto my cheeks, running in a stream down my arm. I made no effort to wipe it off. The taste of the thing consumed me.
My teeth met at the pit, and I pulled away, letting the orange-white flesh tear free of the seed inside. I plucked the pit from the center and held it out to Harvey. He started to shake his head, then held out a bloodstained finger and thumb and lifted it reverently from my palm.
The glorious bite rolled around my mouth, sweet and juicy, almost too tender to need chewing. I closed my eyes, gave myself over to the taste of it. Another small bite, to make it last, but when I opened my eyes again, the peach was gone. I had meant to savor it, I thought. I had meant to...many things. But they were all gone, too.
Harvey took two steps across the browning grass to stand with me, looking out over what remained of his greenhouse. We both tried not to look past the glass to the dull gray beyond. For a moment, it was possible to pretend that this Eden was the world. As it once had been.
But the time for pretending was past.
Harvey selected a trowel from the cart behind us, and trudged a few feet off. He sank the blade of the trowel into the brown soil, lifted it as if it were made of gold, and dropped the peach pit into the hole. The trowel laid the soil over it like a young child's blanket, and he patted it with his hand in benediction. He stood up, his eyes still on the planting.
"It won't grow," I said. "Or if it does, no one will be left to see it."
Harvey lifted his eyes to me, let them slide past and out to the dead world beyond. "What does that matter?" he said. "We didn't see it when there were peaches everywhere, either, did we?"
I reached over and plucked a watering can from the cart. Clean, pure water. So little of that left. How many had died for the lack of it?
I took the can to Harvey and stood with him over the planted pit, then tipped the can so that a stream flowed from the spout, the water darkening the soil, puddling as the dirt struggled to take it in. The earth drank it dry. The can emptied. I had nothing else to offer as an apology.
"We were never more than caretakers," Harvey said, looking at the scant green surrounded by bleak ruin.
"Hell of a job we did," I said.
Harvey laughed again, and a drop at at time, the blood seeped into the ground at his feet.