Oh! My drunken, backpedalling (literally — on her bicycle — much of the time) neighbor, I thought we already established that these lemons are not your lemons. In fact, only a month ago I believe I made it categorically known that these lemons, the lemons in my front yard on my lemon tree are, unequivocally, my lemons.
Maybe they belong to my wife, too, but in the unfortunate event of a divorce, I am sure any sound judge would rule these lemons my property.
You’re stressing me out, neighbor. I’ve run off on a mental tangent about the lemon laws (oh, yes, neighbor, I went there) when the point, really, is that only one month ago I peered out my front window, leeringly, as I often do, socially-anxious type that I am, to discover your inebriated figure straddling my lemon tree in a pseudo-yoga stance reminiscent of the Cow Face pose; and, well, it was then we determined, together I thought, that these are my lemons.
“Did you know there is a lady out there picking your lemons?”
That’s what my friend — my friend visiting from over 500 miles away for only one weekend — said. That’s the statement that encouraged me to peek out the foggy panes of the front door’s fake glass window. That’s what prompted me to discover, for the first time, neighbor, you picking my lemons. Was it not at that very moment that I threw open the door of my home — a door recently painted white to cover the odd and embarrassing sickly green paint job that was surely a thematic residue of the ’70s — to confront you on this exact front lawn where you now kneel?
Do you not remember how I raged into the yard that day, wildly stomping, taking a full minute to arrive next to you — even though only ten paces fill the space between my lemon tree and the front door? It is, after all, a minimal yard. Do you not remember the way I tapped my foot in a soundless, futile endeavor (given the terrain and all) to gain your attention, and when that did not work, how I cleared my throat in the judgmental way my mother often did as I grew up, to get your attention?
“Um, excuse me,” I said, as you will no doubt remember.
I know that I remember that I did not like the way you looked up at me to smile.
A wide, fence-line of teeth expelling a boxed-wine breath of words, something trite, something so guileless and infuriating, something like, “Oh hi, I’m picking your lemons, I hope that’s okay.”
You hoped it was okay to pick my lemons. What kind of statement is that in the second act of fruit-central treachery? As I remember it, I was appalled at your blatant indiscretion. Did my door not, now white, invite the common courtesy of a knock? Was there too much libation coursing through the rippling veins of your limp, flexible, tree-straddling person to consider asking prior to picking my lemons? Inside, I thundered that day, a thousand separate storms prepared to unleash their natural disasters on your person, whether directly or indirectly fruit-related.
It is my habit to consider my actions carefully before I act. That day, I considered placing my hands on your overturned bicycle and tossing it haphazardly into the activity yard of the church across the street. That day, I considered tying your uncombed locks of hair around the lemon tree’s branches itself, leaving you stranded. That day, I considered plucking an over-ripened lemon from the tree itself, smashing it in the ball of my fist over your head so that all its putrefied juices would flow onto your person. On that particular day, you see, neighbor, I was moderately upset. After all of this careful consideration on that historic day, as I was still towering above you in sober superiority, I took the following action instead:
“Yes,” I shrugged. “That’s fine. Just ask me first next time.”
It was when I turned away from you that day, tail fully between my legs; when I was turned; when my back was all you could see retreating; that was when you made your fatal mistake. “You never use them anyway,” was your discourteous response to my gracious and benevolent offer to allow you to pick my lemons should you only ask me first.
Your best course of action would have been to let my socially anxious personality swallow my unhealthy anger and shrug off your infuriating actions. This course of action would, thankfully, have meant that I did not have to confront the process of confrontation head-on, in confrontational style. But no, neighbor. With an offhand remark, you insinuated (such a dirty word, like your face most days, from biking through harsh landscapes unknown to me) that my lemons were wasted on me anyway, as I frequently allowed them to rot and fall away.
I paused for but a moment there, suspended in the wild emotion of internal frenzy. No one but God himself can judge the way I use (or fail to use) my lemons, and I remember distinctly throwing back a glance at you that should have defined this emotion, this internalized outrage, this — not suggestion but — mental command to you to back off step down shut your dirty lemon-picking mouth. All of this should have been clear in the mere reflection of my retinas.
Here we are, though, neighbor. As I glare out this window now, eyeing your kneeling person at the base of my lemon tree, bicycle in the background (balanced on the kickstand this time—I can tell it’s early morning), I see that the reflection in my retinas was apparently unclear. I see that you are not clear that these are my lemons, you did not sense my inner rage that day one month ago, and you’ve failed to seriously consider my request that you ask before making it your responsibility to prune my lemon tree with your greedy, citrus-stained hands.
This very moment, I realize, is one reason I cannot kill myself.
There are too many drunken lemon pilfers in this world to contend with, after all. If I kill myself, who will protect my lemons on my lemon tree in my front yard? Who will yank your yoga-posed body from the yard with the force a citrus-related crime deserves? If I know one thing about my life in this moment, I know that it is not the positive emotional relationships I foster daily that keep me alive. Is it my relationships with my wife, my daughter, or my animals that keeps me from tossing myself into the abyss? No. Instead, it is you, neighbor. It is you, you and your crimes against my fruit-scented humanity.
And it is with this realization that I let my fingers fly to the door knob and I throw open my front door.
Nikcole Wiles is a graduate student at the University of North Florida. When she’s not writing emotionally distant humor pieces or crafting her latest short story, she’s a) drowning in academia b) cooking her wife a gourmet meal (usually Ramen), or c) being vomited on by her daughter. All of her fiction and poetry is revised with the assistance of her wife and four cats.