Okay, so it’s not quite a microfiction.
“Mrs. Ingraham’s babying that damn peach tree,” Edna said in a low voice to Kate as they washed the windows in the bookshop. “I don’t know why she bothers.”
Kate didn’t understand it either. The little tree had no business being in northern Wisconsin where the winters raged like some wild grieving animal and the springs were sullen, brimming over with dirty melting snow that turned to gritty mud. Mrs. Ingraham was somewhere Down South. Nobody knew where Mr. Ingraham was. He had gone away down south somewhere, and had come back with his pretty bride.
She watched as the woman carefully pruned the brittle branches that hadn’t made it through the winter, her dove-brown hair shining in the late-afternoon sun. The tree had been there for three years, but hadn’t yet borne fruit. Maybe it never would.
Mrs. Ingraham was still tending her tree when Kate and Edna locked up the shop at five. She looked up at them, lifting a hand hesitantly as her mouth curved shyly. Edna gave her a brusque nod and marched off down the sidewalk. Kate lingered. “Your tree made it through the winter, then?” she called out at last.
“Yes ma’am,” Mrs. Ingraham said. She looked up at Kate again, and Kate realized the other woman was quite pretty. “Somehow it did.”
“I just can’t imagine what made you want to bring a peach tree to Wisconsin,” Kate blurted out.
Mrs. Ingraham smiled. “My husband bought it for me when we married. He told me he’d never met anyone as sweet as a peach till he met me.” Her cheeks bloomed with shy color. “He told me he’d plant me a tree and when it came into bloom, he’d have made a bunch of money in the mine and would be able to come home and we’d have us a peach pie.” She lowered her gaze. The springs that had come and gone without sign of her husband hung in the air between them unspoken.
“I’m sure he will,” Kate murmured, suddenly embarrassed. She smiled at Mrs. Ingraham and then hurried off down the sidewalk to her own home.
As she did every day, she passed the dry goods store, where Michael Schroeder worked. As he did every day, Michael Schroeder stopped what he was doing to watch her pass. His dreamy blue eyes were never so focused as when he gazed at her.
The weeks passed, and the belligerent early-spring snows came and went. Every time so much as a flurry fell, Kate watched through the bookstore window as Mrs. Ingraham wrapped old quilts around her tree to protect it from the cold. The quilts slowly fell away to tender golden-green leaves that unfurled delicately, and then to peach blossoms that made the entire neighborhood go slightly, giddily mad with their fragrance.
Kate said hello to Michael once, on a particularly beautiful afternoon. His eyes widened, and then he smiled. His smile was as sweet as a ripe peach. “Hello, Kate.”
One sleepily hot afternoon, Kate and Edna drowsed by the register in the bookstore when the door burst open, Mrs. Ingraham as animated as they’d ever seen her. “Kate, you have to come look right now,” she said. “It’s a miracle.”
Startled, Kate followed her across the street, and watched as Mrs. Ingraham stood on her tiptoes to pull down a slender branch heavy with summer leaves. “Look,” she breathed, pushing leaves aside. “It’s the first fruit.” There, cradled tenderly in her hands, was a little stone-like green peach, delicately fuzzed.
“I can’t believe it,” Kate breathed. “It actually bore fruit!”
Mrs. Ingraham’s eyes shone as she looked back at Kate. “Now I know he’ll come home,” she said quietly. “We’re going to have peaches this year. I’m going to make us a pie and he’s going to come home.”
Kate smiled, but knew her doubt was written across her face. Mrs. Ingraham knew too. “It’s all right, honey,” she said. “I know you think he’s long gone. But I believe. He’ll be back. He said so.”
Kate returned the bookstore, but the conviction with which Mrs. Ingraham had spoken continued to swirl uneasily through her mind. What made her so sure? Kate had never been certain of anyone in her life. Her own father had died when she was just fourteen, and her flirty carefree days had died in the dust before they’d ever begun, with the seven other siblings at home to care for. She had never had a fellow even make a promise he had no intention of keeping, let alone a fellow who wanted to keep his promises to her.
More peaches joined the tiny first peach in the hot golden days that followed. Every day, Mrs. Ingraham smiled at Kate and told her she’d be baking a peach pie for her husband soon, as the sun grew warmer and warmer and the days stretched out, linking lazy fingers so that the summer became one endless golden stretch of long days and brief nights.
Kate and Michael said hello regularly. In early July, he began walking her home.
In the beginning of August, Kate locked up when the sun was still bright enough to dazzle. In the brightness, she almost missed the man walking down the street. He looked like many other Wisconsin men, with his blond hair and beard, the shirt that might have once been white and was now the color of old dust. He hesitated before the little white fence that ringed Mrs. Ingraham’s yard.
Then there was a flurry of movement, like a dove taking flight, and Mrs. Ingraham flew into his arms, the little picket gate swinging wildly from the force of her eruption. As Kate slipped away into the sunlight, she heard the words Mrs. Ingraham kept crooning to her husband.
“It bloomed, it bloomed.”
Kate reached the dry-goods store. Michael was waiting for her, handsome and quiet. She took his arm, and looked up into his eyes. “Hello, Michael,” she said softly. “I want you to kiss me.”