A freak lemon tree grew in the backyard of my grandmother’s squat stucco house where I lived after my mom left. My grandma said my mom planted the tree long before I was born. The lemons didn’t taste very good, bitter and dry, but they were bigger than the most massive grapefruit. “Special,” my grandma would say when I asked why they looked so weird.
After school, I played around the tree, creating stories involving wizards or fairies who added a magical ingredient that made the lemons grow so big. As they swelled, their juice turned bitter. But if squeezed in just the right way, they had properties that would save the world. My mother’s lemons were the most special in the whole universe.
I used to take the giant lemons to school for show-and-tell, but after a while, no one cared about them.
“You bring those gross lemons every time. Don’t you have any toys or a hamster or something?” the girl I beat in the second grade math contest said.
I did have toys, but they didn’t seem as important as my mother’s lemons, so I just quit bringing stuff to school.
When new kids moved into the neighborhood, I’d entice them into the backyard to get a look at the lemons. When they argued that lemons couldn’t be that big, I’d gouge my thumb into the pithy peel and pull off a chunk for them to smell. In spite of the distinct scent of furniture polish, some holdouts still argued, trusting their eyes more than the truth. I’d finish peeling and then split apart the sections, offering bites to anyone brave enough to try.
Girls stuck out their tongues to touch the pulp, instantly scrunching up their faces then throwing their bits on the ground. Boys plopped theirs into their mouths and tried to act like everything was fine. But around the time their eyes started to water, most of them spit. It was a rare kid who could swallow. Everyone left our yard agreeing the fruit was in fact a lemon. But after the initial bitter shock, no one cared.
On days when I couldn’t think up a new fairy story or just didn’t have the energy to save the world, I would sit under the lemon tree and try to remember whether my mother said goodbye before she left. On those days, I wished normal lemons hung from the branches of her tree.
Kait Leonard lives and writes in Los Angeles where she shares her home with five parrots and her American bulldog, Seeger. Her fiction has appeared in a number of journals, among them Does It Have Pockets, Roi Faineant, Sky Island Journal, and The Dribble Drabble Review. Kait recently completed her MFA at Antioch University.