By Simran Khalsa
Youth tastes like summer tastes like peaches.
Like a red plastic chair, chunky and warm from sun. Like singing and screaming at your sister, basking in the afternoon light. Youth tastes like peaches. Tastes like summer.
It is the tree a walk away, past the lake and over the bridge, soaring on a bike geared towards forever. You are a duck on the water, legs extended, feet on pedals, head high, wind singing with the sound of Look! Look! Look! It is the tumble in the creek and the ice-cold snow melt water and the towering walking stick in your hand carved into art by the beatles.
It is in the process of falling, the tumbling dizzying descent into the pool of chaos below. It is in holding your breath with a hand outstretched to the stars as your feet break the turquoise stillness like a shriek. It is her, laughing from above.
Pleather armchairs are by no means a new phenomenon to you. You’ve sat in more than one can count, slumped over in the dark, makeup in your eyes. Part plastic and part real and part something else. The sweat from your palms glides over the dark material. There is heat.
“Youth?” the woman prompts. The woman you only met this morning, and yet feel you’ve seen lifetimes upon lifetimes of. Teased hair, a brown that’s almost red. She holds the microphone the way you once saw your father hold a gun, in the grasslands of Tennessee. “What were you saying about youth?”
The thought left your brain a while ago, hopped a train and booked it. Maybe caught a ride with the fly you’d seen earlier, circling the grip. You search your mind for it anyways, because the act of it is more important than the thought itself. Anyways, they aren’t even filming you, not really. They’re filming the book. And the look. And the idea of it all.
“One would’ve thought you’d write a tell-all,” the woman had joked, at the start of the interview. “After all you’ve been through.”
It’s you on the cover, you suppose. In the way that the microphone is your father’s gun. In the way that the girl they’ll inevitably flash a picture of at the start of this interview is you. The girl with purple hair and that nutcracker jaw. Sharp like glass.
Youth is the gas station on the way out of town. The night sky above, endless, in the way time is endless only to the young. It is the red brickwork and the smell of something flammable and the jacket with all the pins.
It is the anger, braised to a golden color, contained within the pages of a small black book that you’d thrown, almost, in the height of it all, as you left. It is your reflection in the dark glassy liquid on the ground and the fleeting momentary desire to burn it all down. The wondering of how far the fire might spread.
Youth is the wandering. To Nashville and New York and L.A. An ember on the wind, burning any dry grass just to stay alive. It is the last peach in a stall on the side of a dirt road where the woman with her sleeves rolled up tells you you should be a model, with a jaw like that.
“Twenty years ago, you wrote songs.”
“I write cookbooks now.”
“Any reason for the change?”
You could say it’s something in the formulaic nature of the world. In the way that everything depends on chemistry of one sort or another. The way anticipation heightens your senses. The truth, though, is that you’re not a runaway train anymore. Runaway trains don’t have the patience to sit down and write cookbooks. There’s too much momentum in the wheels, speeding forward with the violence of a cough, to care for the little things.
She wouldn’t accept any of those things as an answer, though. You know that.
“Any contact with your former band members?”
“We weren’t a band-”
“But have you been contacted by them?”
Band implies some level of cohesion, and the four of you never were cohesive. You were abrasive in all the ways young women are abrasive, in the sandpaper touch of coy smiles and the way the microphones would give feedback when one of you tried to get too close. Band also implies the world back then was about instruments and not about colored hair and jawlines and selling the idea of love.
Now you’re just trying to sell your book. “No,” you say. You do not mention the contracts in the way.
Youth is screaming.
The tires of the van skidding on the concrete as you nearly run into the curb, head thrown back in laughter. Denim jacket that’s always been too big on you caught around your elbows. Someone looks on from behind you, almost disapproving, but not quite. Her smile is too big for disapproving.
You’ve been touring for what feels like the entire length of the Colorado River. The desert is dry and hot around you, dusty in a way only this desert is dusty. Sand wedged its way into your metallic lipstick when you arrived, and she’d teased you about the way it sparkled.
This is the last gas station. The last hotel room. The last stage and the last stadium and the last time you’ll consider yourself only a fourth of a person. You’ve been a fourth, made of fourths, since you found your way into a plush grey office chair in Los Angeles and you met a man with a watch-tattoo who told you you’d be a star. You had to be, with a jaw like that.
You’re a face and she’s a voice and the personality and the body are in the back sleeping. And it’s not that this has taken something from you, because you weren’t a person when you stumbled upon this life; just looking to become one.
This is the last day, though.
Later, you’ll be onstage and she’ll say something that’ll make it’s way into your earpiece but not through the speakers. Later the button that’s been pushed since the day they made you the face of the group will finally fall apart, until all that’s left is raw wiring. You’re raw, don’t you know that? Touring rubs you raw. It’s all the sand, maybe, or the pavement.
And later you’ll be screaming, in the hallway of a hotel. And they’ll be screaming, too. Voice and face and personality and body and sometimes in your dreams twenty years later you’ll replay it and it’ll sound like a harmony, maybe. Youth is walking and then running, fast and hard out of there and not looking back.
Tennessee is cold when you return. Nothing like the desert. That’s what they say you are, too. Cold.
“Youth tastes like summer tastes like peaches,” the woman quotes at you, as the interview comes to a close. “You wrote that lyric in 1994. Do you still believe that?”
“Test out my peach cobbler,” you say. “You tell me.”