Lemon Tree

Lemon Tree

Dani dumps her keys in an empty candy dish and leads you by the hand down a narrow hallway into a faded bathroom. She perches askew on the lip of her yellowing clawfoot tub and runs hot water. Steam fogs your glasses. Behind her, one of the white wall tiles is split and broken like a gap in a porcelain smile.

Dani swirls the pooling water with her fingers tips and then shimmies out of her clothes in front of you like you’re not even there. You undress more slowly, folding your clothes neatly and placing them on the sink in an almost prissy fashion. The water is so hot you can barely stand it, but Dani’s slight weight resting on your chest pins you there. She shifts against you, one knee breaking the water like a pale iceberg. You slip an arm around her, cupping her small breast, stroking it with your thumb. Her tangled hair smells like citrus and cigarettes.

“Tell me something you’ve never told anyone else,” she says.

You’re dreamy with heat and want. Maybe that’s why the story floats loose up from the depths.

You tell her it was a sprawling party that couldn’t help but draw police. When they arrived, you hopped a fence into an alley. It took ages to find your way back to your apartment complex, only to discover the lock to your front door jammed again. You scaled the wall to your balcony and lifted the window. You were halfway in when you saw the woman asleep on the couch. That’s when it clicked: this wasn’t your apartment. You froze mid-intrusion, watching the slow rise and fall of her breath. She was out. Utterly vulnerable to your presence. And for one flickering moment, before you retreated, it thrilled you to wonder at the possibilities.

Dani asks if it made you feel like a big man to know you could hurt someone. You admit, yes, it did. You felt wonderfully sinister. Potent. Wind roars against the window, rattling its frame like a passing train.

You tell Dani it’s her turn to tell you something she’s never told another soul. She fishes a dented pack of cigarettes from her puddle of clothes on the floor, lights one, and offers you a puff from between V-ed fingers.

“I’ve always wanted a lemon tree,” she says. “Not a small one, either. A big one. It would be nice to look out my window and see bright yellow fruit hanging off the branches. I’d keep some in the refrigerator all the time and cook with them. I’d put little slices of lemon in all my drinks. Learn to make desserts like lemon meringue pie or meltaways. Someone I knew had a lemon tree. I was jealous. He didn’t take care of it. The tree withered. Died.”

You tell her that having a lemon tree sounds nice but that it’s impossible. The winters. Dani says she’s not worried. One day she’ll go somewhere warmer. California, maybe. One day she’ll just be gone.

“Just like that?” you ask.

“Just like that,” she says. “People like us vanish all the time.”

You hear a floorboard groan from the hallway. It could be anything. The house settling. A cautious footstep. You ask Dani if she has a roommate.

“Shhhhh,” she says. “Everything is going to be fine.”


About the Author

Keith J. Powell writes fiction, CNF, reviews, and plays. He is co-founder of Your Impossible Voice and has recent or forthcoming work in Paranoid Tree, Ellipsis Zine, Bending Genres, 100 Word Story, and The Disappointed Housewife. Find more at www.keithjpowell.com.


Image by Hans from Pixabay