In the morning everything had been fine. Then I came home from work to find her sitting on her packed bags and smoking in the living room. (We had a rule about that, but since she was leaving, apparently all bets were off.) She looked past me through half-closed eyes when she told me that it wasn’t working out, that she was leaving, going back to her ex in Chicago. Oh, and her flight was at eight; could I drive her to Logan?
I drove her to the airport, because this is the sort of man I am.
I‘d put her suitcases in the trunk; I was too taken aback at her sudden decision to leave to wonder what was in the plastic grocery bag she kept looped over one wrist. I navigated Boston traffic in stunned silence, eventually pulling into the passenger drop-off lane at Terminal B. Double-parked and with blinkers on, I wrestled her suitcases to the curb, and apparently by way of a tip, she handed me the plastic bag: “Here, I was going to make something out of these lemons, but I ran out of time. Use them so they don’t go bad, okay?” And then she turned to a skycap and I was two feet away but miles gone from her life.
Back in the car, I put the bag on the passenger seat. Five minutes later a cab cut me off, and the lemons spilled onto the floor, rolling around in the footwell all the way back home. They smelled sharp and clean.
When I got home, I fished them from the car and brushed off the sand and road salt. They were perfect: large, firm, that shade of yellow that only comes in citrus and crayons. Their rind was invitingly dimpled and vaguely oily to the touch.
With the first, I heeded an old adage and made lemonade. I had to add sugar four times before it tasted right, and then I messed it up by adding too much mint.
I squeezed and zested the next two to make a lemon pie from a recipe I found in a cookbook I’d never opened before. It turned out quite well, though I couldn’t eat it fast enough by myself and eventually had to throw a third of it away when it got moldy.
I put the last lemon under my pillow before I went to sleep. I’m not sure why.
Three days later I could still smell her cigarette in the living room when I found that I had voicemail from her: she asked if she’d left a bag of lemons in my car. If so, could I mail them to her?
I pulled that last one from underneath my pillow and sent it overnight express. Because this is the sort of man I’m trying hard not to be.
(nominated for a Pushcart Prize; first appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of Vestal Review)