I avoid everything in the house these days bar lemons. I use them to clean stains under the toilet seat and at night, I plunge them into my gullet in whatever herbal tea I decide I want. Yet I remain slightly disturbed by them. A friend, a great nurse that doctors envied for her bedside manner but who’s now an alcoholic locked up in a luxury apartment by a lake in Canada, said of lemons, they are the only magic lump of acrimony in life capable of cleaning the tumours straight out your shitepipe as soon as they are formed. Funny how this always stuck in another body part of mine after she said it, the head, and since then I’ve been carrying lemons about with me, in kitchens, in the alcoves of imagination and even hanging from the car mirror to make trips to Aldi smell that much better. The Indians revered lemons, but it was the Arabs who spread them throughout the Mediterranean in the second Century, and these days on Talbot Street, the canniest of down in the dirt dismal junkie pinches lemons from the newsagents to shove needles into as they mosey about looking bag-o-bones conspicuous. It cleans like nothing else, preventing lethal infections that may lead to having an arm chopped off. I told a Features Editor of a Sunday newspaper that, she looked horrified. I’ve known her a long time and no amount of exposure to real news makes her more used to the bad side of life. ‘We pop into that shop on Fridays when we’ve put our deadlines to bed, everyone on the late shift enjoys them in their G&Ts, how awful’. Lemon essential oil is used to relieve herpes symptoms, woo hoo! Considered a symbol of longevity too, and purification, love, and friendship, long drawn-out etcetera’s. Other times they become the salient metaphor for bitterness and disappointment (as well I know). Those Catholic twats, those men in dresses, those awful arseholes, linked the fruit to fidelity. I sometimes sit at the kitchen window massaging a lemon for no reason, staring out the back garden at the cat scratching the washing line pole, wondering if my hands are warming up the juice inside or interfering with its peace. You see chefs on the telly rolling them hard in their hands to make tasty dressings, and then cast them aside as they reach for a twig of thyme instead. I’d never do that to a lemon. I’d never loosen its juice to show it that it’s no use; what a pointless poxy thing for something so elegant and bumpy and odd. No. Instead I kill it in a bright yellow juice squeezer my lover ran through the streets of Dublin to give me one day after she saw it in a kitchen shop up near Stephen’s Green. She booted all the way back to the bus stop to give it to me, and it was such a small act of love (how could she have known I love lemons as much as I do!?) that I decided to stay with her no matter. If a person can do that for you, they will give you the last fur coat on earth when the real apocalypse hits like a ton of tits. Lemons and the moon: also a relationship there, used to honour lunar deities, purification rituals, and so on. They are, however, bad for tooth enamel but the rinds do particularly well in potpourri in nursing home corridors. The only place you can’t really bosh them into is your eye sockets. I would love a small electric car shaped like a lemon. I would like to turn heads as I drive to the library to take out books I’ll never read. People would point at me around town and I would shout “Lemon to you!” as I drive by, and on bridges, on motorways, the shape of my car would not get caught in crosswinds like those badly-designed Smart Cars PR executives rode around in back in the boom looking like the Class A wankers that they are. When I was a child lemon and orange were my favourite colours. I spent a long time in hospital as a baby, so maybe this was making good use of all that subconscious puss doing the rounds. I am going to finish up by asking my lover to make me a cocktail using sliced lemons and giant ice cubes I bought on Amazon Prime the other day for €12. The planet is failing, honestly it is. I’m not as worried as your average thirteen-year-old; I know I won’t hang around long enough to fry or drown or turn scabby with new forms of airborne leprosy on the way. Even my handbag smells of lemons from the lemony wipes I sanitise with. And last week, emptying the shopping onto the small pink chairs in the kitchen I sat on one by mistake and it felt like the gnarled fist of a massive menace telling me to get up off my arse and get back into life. If lemon trees can produce up to 600lbs of lemons every year, then you can shirk off this dreadful bereavement. My mother despised lemons.
June Caldwell is the author of Room Little Darker (New Island Books/Head of Zeus) and the forthcoming novel Little Town Moone (John Murray). She curated ‘Somebody’, an exhibition on Nuala O’Faolain at the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLi) 2020-2021. She is a prizewinner of the Moth International Short Story Prize and has been shortlisted for many more.