Do I dare to eat a peach?
The best story in Sand, a Berlin-based literary magazine, is just a paragraph long. Called ‘Initiation’, it’s about forcing a boy to eat a peach. The great thrill of this story, by Christopher Linforth, is its viciousness; the boy wears a mask, making his mouth blank and inhuman: “We dug our fingertips underneath the mask’s fabric, past the nose down into the hole… Eat a peach, we said, pressing one into the hole.”
The theme for this issue is Taboo, and vivid, squelchingly physical transgressions are frequent. In Naked, by Milva McDonald, there’s a small, disgusting moment when the protagonist has to wash her best friend’s mother’s back, as punishment for sneaking a fizzy drink. Short stories, at their most compulsive, can jolt you into a new skin. Sand’s attention to the sickliness of touch is something that stays with you.
Below we’ve reprinted Initiation, with permission from the author, as well as Sand’s fiction editors Ashley Moore and Melissa Richer .
We grasped at the boy’s surgical mask. We swiped; we pinched; we clawed. We grazed the smooth surface, felt the hole in his face where his upper lip should have been. He ducked and weaved, bobbed away from our clumsy attack. His thin body was lanky, elastic, could dance around us with no trouble. Straps lassoed from the mask to the back of his head. The knots looked doubled, tripled, so many twists and loops that the straps would never be untied. One of us caught his shirt and pulled him over. He stood in the middle of us, raised his hands, egged us on. Three on one — we liked our odds. We had a bag of peaches, ripe, swollen, and we each took a single fruit. One of us lobbed a peach at his face, hitting his forehead square, sending the boy off-balance. He wobbled as he dodged the next one. We caught his wrist, then tackled the boy to the ground. All three of us sat on him: his legs, his waist, his chest. He shifted beneath us, his eyes ablaze. We dug our fingertips underneath the mask’s fabric, past the nose, down into the hole. He knew the leverage we had in ripping it off. Eat a peach, we said, pressing one into the mask. The boy didn’t speak. He shook his head. We leaned back, heaving the mask from his face, snapping the elastic straps. We rose, carrying our prize, passing it from one to the other. The boy finally stood. We saw the crescent of dark space, a mouth above a mouth. He took the last peach from the bag. His half-mouth slid over the furred surface, his bottom teeth holding the peach in place. He slurped the fruit, breaking its skin, devouring the sweet flesh, spitting the stone back at us.