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Fiction Contemporary

You’re trying to grow a lemon tree in your kitchen because the world is ending. But you live in Minnesota, and you’re pretty sure your partner thinks you’re crazy for trying to grow a tropical fruit on a kitchen counter in Minnesota. But you’re committed. You’re determined. You’re going to grow a lemon tree. And then, you tell yourself, you won’t feel so bad about consuming lemons because you won’t be consuming lemons from the store; you’ll be consuming lemons that you grew right here at home. And maybe you’ll be so good at growing lemons that you’ll start a small grove of lemon trees in a greenhouse made of reclaimed wood and recycled windows, and then you’ll have lemons all year long and you’ll give them out to your neighbors for free because you’re a good person with a generous heart and a surplus of locally-grown lemons. 

“I think we should rescue a goat,” you say to your partner one morning. You’re both sitting at the kitchen table, drinking the sour fair trade coffee you bought at the farmers’ market last week. You would like to give up coffee altogether, but you’re not quite there yet. 

You’re glaring at the open carton of milk next to your partner’s hairy arm. You start to think about the millions of miserable dairy cows forced to give birth every year only to be yanked away from their offspring, imprisoned in a feedlot, and suckled by the metal tentacles of those alien-like man-made machines. For nearly forty-five seconds, you strongly consider suggesting that you rescue a cow as well before ultimately deciding against it. 

    “Why a goat?” your partner asks, not looking up from his phone. 

    “If we had a goat, we wouldn’t have to mow the yard,” you say into your coffee mug. 

    Your partner gives you a look.

    “I’m serious,” you insist.

    Your partner shakes his head and returns to the virtual world in his hands. 

    “Did you know that a third of all drinking water in the U.S. is used for lawn maintenance?” you ask, gazing out the window at your neighbor, who is currently weed-whacking in a circle around their plastic mailbox. You live in a subdivision. You wonder if they’ll allow you to have a goat. 

    Your partner says nothing. 

    “Maybe we should move,” you add, taking another sip of your sour, but fair trade, coffee.

“So, what’s new with you?” your friend asks. The two of you are walking in the park. She is pregnant with her third child. You struggle to restrain yourself from making a judgemental remark about her decision to contribute to overpopulation instead of even contemplating the possibility of adopting one of the countless children who already exist and are in desperate need of a stable and loving home. But she’s your friend, so you refrain. 

    “Nothing much,” you say. “I’m trying to grow a lemon tree.”

    She laughs as if you’re making a joke, then realizes you’re not. “Why are you trying to grow a lemon tree?”

    “Lemons are the only things that help with my kidney stones,” you explain, “but they’re grown thousands of miles away and have to be flown to our grocery stores, which produces an obscene amount of carbon emissions.”

    Your friend nods the way a distracted mother or a very patient grade school teacher might. “I see,” she says.

    “I can buy almost everything else locally, grown within a 250-mile radius, but not lemons. Or coffee, unfortunately.”

    She keeps nodding, then looks at something on her smart watch.

    You start to think about religion, about how the older generation still asks the younger generation if they will raise their children in the church, if they will be baptized. You wonder if that question will change by the time the younger generation becomes the older generation. “Will you raise your children in the vegan tradition?” you imagine them asking. “Will they be carbon neutral?”

    You do not ask your friend this. You are tired of people looking at you with concern. 

    Your friend spots a hot dog stand and perks up. “Oh my god, a hot dog sounds so good right now. Do you mind? I’ve been craving one for weeks.”

    You feel the urge to make a face, but instead you stare at her blankly. “Sure, I’ll wait here,” you say. 

    While your friend orders a chili dog, you ponder the squirrels running up and down the oak trees in the park. You think about that one Ologies episode where the guest recalled another scientist’s theory about squirrels and raccoons becoming the next species to evolve the way humans did, using tools and developing complex systems of communication. You wonder if the evolved squirrels and raccoons of the future will have hot dog stands. You wonder if they will raise their children in the vegan tradition. You wonder if they will evolve in such a way that one day, 2.6 million years from now, one of their kind will try to grow a lemon tree on their kitchen counter. 

    Your friend walks over to the bench where you’re sitting, chili dog in hand. She sits down, then takes a bite and moans almost orgasmically. You think you might vomit. 

    “Sorry,” she says through a mouthful of processed meat and bread. “With kid number one, it was ice cream. Kid number two was pickles. Couldn’t get enough. But this one doesn’t discriminate; he’s happy with junk food of any kind.” She takes another bite.

    You stare at her, unblinking. She drops a glob of chili on her white sneakers. 

    “Damn it,” she says. “I just bought these.” She uses one of the thirty thin napkins in her hand to wipe the chili off her shoe. “They were only seventeen dollars on Amazon. Can you believe it? Never thought I’d be buying shoes online, but they fit perfectly.”

    She takes another bite. 

You stand up. 

She looks confused. “What’s wrong?” she asks. 

    “I don’t think we can be friends anymore,” you say. And then you walk away, wishing you were a squirrel. 

It’s been four weeks and your lemon tree still hasn’t sprouted. You did everything right. You used a pasteurized soil mix, you put plastic wrap over the top, you kept it moist but not soggy and warm but not hot. But still, nothing has happened. There is a dull pain on the left side of your lower back. You ignore it. 

    As you stand there in the kitchen, staring at the little pot of disappointment, your phone rings. It’s your mother. 

    “Hey, Mom.”

    “The goddamn printer isn’t working again! My class is in an hour and I need my worksheets!”

    You sigh away from the phone, then take a deep breath. “All right, tell me everything you did after you turned the printer on.”

    Nearly eight and a half minutes later, you’ve successfully solved your mother’s printer crises yet again (which required nothing more than replacing the ink). While she waits for her worksheets to print, you tell her about your lemon tree. 

    “You can’t grow lemons in Minnesota,” your mother says.

    “Yes, you can. You just have to keep them inside.”

    “Hm, okay, we’ll see.” The printer makes a rhythmic mechanical sound in the background. 

You imagine your mother as a raccoon, her reading glasses at the end of her gray snout, tapping her tiny fingers on the desk impatiently. 

“Hey, Mom.”

“What?”

You look at your lemon tree. Or lack thereof. “Do you think you’re a good person?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you think you’re a good person?” you say again, changing your inflection. 

    “Well, I don’t think I’m a bad person,” she says. “And I raised you, and you’re a good person. So that’s a mark in my favor.”

    “You think I’m a good person?” you ask, the ache in your back beginning to flare. 

    “Of course I do!”

    “Why?”

    “Honey, I’d love to sit here and shower you with compliments, but I’ve got to get ready for my class. We’ll talk later, okay? Thanks again for helping me with the printer. Love you.”

    “Yeah, okay. Love you.”

    Without warning, you start to cry. 

The next day, you plant another lemon seed. Actually, you plant three, just to be safe. When your partner comes home from work, he points to the three little pots of soil on the counter. “What are you growing now?” he asks. 

    “Lemons,” you answer. 

    He gives you a look you can’t quite read. Then all of a sudden his expression and demeanor change. “Hey, let’s go out tomorrow night.”

    “What for?”

    “Just for fun. We haven’t been out in ages.”

    You open your mouth to respond, but he cuts you off. 

    “How about that new vegan place downtown?” His eyes are too wide. He’s too close to your face. “We can ride our bikes.”

    You agree to appease him more than anything. He kisses you on the forehead, then walks out of the kitchen looking satisfied. Then the epiphany strikes. He’s going to propose. 

    You hope to God he didn’t buy you a blood diamond. 

It’s a little chilly on your way to the restaurant. You’re glad you decided to wear the sweater you bought at the resale shop last month. The sweater has lemons on it. In fact, it was the sweater that gave you the idea to grow your own lemons in the first place. 

You spot the restaurant up ahead, and then your eyes move to your partner, who’s pedaling in front of you. You wonder what you’ll say when he asks you to marry him. Then you wonder if the evolved squirrels and raccoons of the future will be monogamous, if they will hold ceremonies to celebrate their love. 

You’re so invested in your wondering that you almost don’t notice your partner pass the restaurant. 

“Hey!” you yell at him. “You missed it!”

He looks over his shoulder at you, then motions for you to follow him and speeds on down the road. 

Confused, you bike another four blocks until finally he comes to a stop in front of your friend’s apartment building. 

You’re a bit out of breath as you pull up next to him and ask, “What are we doing here? I thought we were going to the restaurant.”

He looks at you, his expression pained, as though he’s forgotten his lines.

“Everyone’s already upstairs,” he finally says. 

“What do you mean? Who’s upstairs?” you ask.

“Everyone. Your parents, your brother and sister, your friends. They all came.”

You can tell by his tone that the people upstairs aren’t here to celebrate an engagement. 

“I don’t understand what’s happening,” you say.

He struggles to get the words out. “We’re worried about you, Jen.”

“Worried about me? Why?”

“Let’s just go upstairs and talk.”

“I don’t… Wait a minute,” you say, the lights in your mind starting to flicker to life, “is this”—you point to the apartment building—“an intervention?”

He looks at you guiltily.

You laugh. This is ridiculous.

But his expression doesn’t change.

Slowly, your laughter dies down, falling flat on the pavement before you like a deflated balloon.

“Why on earth do you think I need an intervention?” you ask, genuinely stumped.

“Jen. You’re completely out of touch. You’re distracted all the time, staring off into space, incapable of carrying on a normal conversation. You’re cutting out friends for no reason. And you’ve become weirdly obsessed with the pot of dirt on the kitchen counter. It’s not healthy!”

“Wait. You think I’m the one that needs an intervention?” you rejoin. “I’m the only one trying to be better! It’s you, all of you, who need the intervention! Not me!”

“Jen,” he says softly. “Listen to yourself.”

After a sad and heated staring contest, you calmly agree to go upstairs, suddenly feeling very itchy in your lemon sweater. Your partner seems relieved, but nervous. He’s saying something about your friend, about how concerned she was after that day in the park. But you’re barely listening. All you can think about is the cloud of carbon dioxide created by the cars your loved ones drove to get here. And then you picture a squirrel in a business suit driving a sedan to work, yelling in his tiny high-pitched voice at the crotchety old raccoon woman crossing the street. And then your back starts to hurt and you think about buying more lemons because even if your seed sprouts, it’ll still take at least two years for the tree to bear fruit. And then you wonder if maybe the world is ending…because of you. 

August 12, 2022 20:58

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3 comments

Penny Whiting
14:46 Aug 18, 2022

I really enjoyed this. I love the use of second person, you don't see it often but it worked so well for this.

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Amanda Fox
14:24 Aug 16, 2022

Second person so rarely works, but this is just delightful.

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Kasey Kirchner
19:14 Aug 16, 2022

Thank you so much Amanda!

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