Lemonology by Gina Headden

My mother always said it was my nursery got me started: citrine walls like sunshine that made my future bright.

As a toddler, I played with lemons, rolled them on the floor, threw them like a ball and nibbled them, the way that toddlers do. I liked the taste, craved more. I begged Mum for lemon chicken, lemon pancakes, lemon drizzle, lemon this, lemon that, lemon, lemon, lemon and, at the sweet shop on Saturdays, saliva pooling underneath my tongue, I watched Helen weigh my lemon sherbets on a silver scale.

As I grew up, I wore lemon-coloured shirts. My first car, an old 2CV, was fiercely citric. As the sun sank each evening, I drank limoncello, or gin laced with ice and lemon slices, while my friends downed beery pints. They saw me as eccentric but stopped short of saying mad.

At university, I gained a Doctorate in Lemonology, a whole new cross-curricular discipline birthed by my extraordinary interests. I wrote a poem that crossed campuses and countries — ‘To a lemon, that Eureka moment’— which those in the know understand right away but dullards always miss. My Alma Mater offered me the Chair in Lemonology but, tempting as it was, I had grown tired of academia so I packed my bags and hitched to Andalucía where I found a place to live, complete with lemon trees that were mine to do with as I wished.

The blossom came – white with creamy lemon centres – gestated small green fruit that, swelled by the summer’s warmth, ripened glossy yellow, ready for the picking. Playing god, I made lemonade, created so much zing within it that the neighbours clamoured for my product. With the money they paid me, I rented room in a bottling plant and my wife — have I not mentioned her before? — my wife, Citronella, made the labels. Pretty things they were: a picture of our orchard on the front and, on the back, a photograph of baby me shared space with a brief history of LemonZing!

For six years we were happy, particularly so as we were blessed with two children, Pip and Verbena, who, as they grew, ran barefoot through the grass beneath the lemon trees.

I was well on my way to making my first million when things turned sour. That year the harvest failed and we found our business being squeezed until, like a battery going flat, all the juice drained from within us. We pared our costs right back but eventually, we had nothing left to give. I went to the bank and begged but their response grated: they saw no point in helping a business that was already shrivelling.

The trees withered, could not be revived. Citronella and I grew cranky, lost our common zest. When we could no longer stand the tart and pithy comments that passed between us, she packed her bags and fled with Pip and Verbena to her mother’s.

I stayed in bed where I glugged gin straight from the bottle. My hair fell out. My liver wearied, turning my skin a subtle shade of yellow. I shrank in on myself, foetal-like, lay still for so long my arms merged with my torso and my curled up legs blurred with my belly until I formed a perfect oval. My head bent forwards towards my arcing body and, as I felt my lips locking together, I breathed out one final acid chuckle: I had attained citric nirvana. In more ways than one, I had become the perfect lemon.

Gina is in awe of words and punctuation and the way they can be used. Her writing has been or will soon be published on audio platforms, in anthologies and in fiction and non-fiction magazines including amongst others Bath Flash Fiction Anthology 2021, The Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Longleaf Review, FlashBack Fiction, NFFD’s Flash Flood and The Sunday Herald Magazine. She lives in Scotland and tweets @gmdfreelance