photo of lemons

Lemonworld by Rene Cajelo

It was a brighter shinier morning than any of us had known when a young pregnant woman announced to the nurses around her bed that it was too fine a day to spend all drugged up and dilated in a delivery room, and so walked away from the hospital and down to the park where she reclined like a monument on the wet grass, and with minimal fuss, proceeded to give birth to a tree.

I had the day off work. I shut the radio off and turned to you.

“That isn’t too far from here. Want to go?”

“It’s just the end of the world,” you said. “And I have all these blouses to iron.”

I picked up a wrinkled green thing from the pile on the floor.

“I’ve never seen you wear this before,” I said.

“No. You haven’t.” You smiled your dinner table smile, that familiar distance well-traveled.

“You know, I’m making an effort here.”

“I know.”

I wanted to stay and argue, but it was too fine a day for a fight as well, so I left you to your tiredness and set out for the park. The streets had changed in our time together, and nothing remained where we had left them. Old landmarks trembled in the throes of full collapse – I had gotten lost. A murder of drones wheeled overhead, banking like gulls through the big sky, and I lifted my eyes to them and let them guide me away from there.

I arrived at the park, crossed the packed lot to the pebbled footpath off the entrance. I met a few people headed the other way. Their expressions were radiant. They flashed me excited grins, thumbs-up.

“It’s a lemon!” they’d say as they passed.

The path ended in a meadow. Picnic blankets dotted the grass, unopened baskets and sealed bottles staking claims to family plots. The crowd had gathered in the middle of the meadow around a huge and spreading lemon tree. Children clambered atop their fathers to get at the lemons fat and dangling on the lowest branches. They sat on the shoulders of the tallest men in the world, but the fruit remained out of reach.

Of the tree’s mother there was no sign, long since swallowed by the gnarled and massive roots, hungry as any newborn, accepting of all.

The tree seized a sudden wind, sighed and swayed ecstatically. We swayed with it, the first dance. You had blushed so prettily. Overcome with young love and gravity, the fruit let go their tenuous hold and fell to the earth where we scrambled in the soil to retrieve them. Around me, people feasted on the soft yellow flesh, eyes and mouths glistening, then fell upon one another in the tortured, practiced goodbyes they had perfected over the long war.

I didn’t belong among them. I closed my hand around the lemon in my pocket and made my way to the edge of the grass where a stream wound into an old wood, and I walked alongside it as it ran through sparse underbrush and weathered crossings, and in a bend in the stream you were sitting on your heels rinsing gizzards in the water and laying them to dry on warm rocks like we were in a new country.

“Hello,” I said.

“Hello.”

“That’s a nice blouse.”

“Thank you.”

I took my hand out of my pocket, reached it out towards you.

“This is for you.”

“What is it?”

“All I have left.”

But it seemed I could still make you laugh, and the light filtering through the leaves that day was kinder than the light of any day before, and it falling on your face made you younger than I could recall both of us ever being.

Remembering, I said, “What would it take?”

You didn’t answer, just shrugged and went back to your work, quick brown hands deftly hollowing out body cavities, pooling entrails in slippery coils by your feet, the hair hanging over your face almost but not quite hiding the small wry smile that suggested this was a question asked before and we could only ever come to the same conclusion: a miracle, but it was just the end of the world, and high above the drones were flying in silent formation, magnificent eyes seeing free and true over us all, bearing west over the meadow, over the lemon tree and the mass grave, over the freeway where families sat in gridlocked SUVs loaded with coolers and beach chairs and spare cell phone batteries, thousands of summer souls following the columns of dust to Arizona to join the thousands more already gathered there, survivors of the heartland waiting for the earth to crack and the bay to form.

Rene Cajelo served four years in the military before deciding he’d rather just chill out. He’s been chilling out for a while now, and is quite good at it. Forthcoming and previous credits include Bartleby Snopes, Apocrypha & Abstractions, and elsewhere.

Lead image“Lemons” (via Flickr user Thad Zajdowicz)