Song: “Lemon Boy” by Cavetown
Mom didn’t like a backyard of decay.
It made them seem like trailer trash, she said. It gave the neighbors yet another reason to talk, and they had plenty already.
Your father made sure of that, she said.
Worst of all, it made their small dirt lot reek like clearance candles at the end of the season—not-quite tropical oases that were still on the shelves when the apple pie and pumpkin spice nonsense rolled in. Between monsoons, when the air became concrete, the stench wrapped around the white trunks and seemed to permeate the paint so much that Mom wanted to burn it all down and start again.
They had $37.58 in their checking account, though, so instead, she gave Noah a rinsed-out ice cream tub and assigned each rotten lemon a value of one nickel.
The arrangement worked for them as well as it could. Mom got to keep her slippered feet on the ottoman, and Noah got to buy a soda at the gas station if the sun wasn’t beating down too hard.
Whenever he went out to collect, Noah first turned over the ice cream tub and tried to reach the fresh lemons above his head. He couldn’t—not yet—even if he jumped and hopped and strained, but he dreamed of the lemonade stand he’d have someday. It’d have a bright red sign, and he’d have regulars who came from several streets down just for his recipe, and he’d buy a bike so he could go farther than his feet could carry him.
In the end, though, he always settled for the nickel lemons, and it was easy money until it wasn’t.
The yelp caught him by surprise.
He dropped the nickel he’d just picked up, and it rolled away, weaving through the other lemons until it smacked into the nearest tree trunk with another yelp.
Noah knelt in the dirt and tilted his head to get a better look. It certainly looked like a lemon, but he’d never seen one zig, and he’d definitely never seen one zag.
So he poked the rind with a stick, expecting a cockroach or mouse or chipmunk to scurry out. Instead, he heard a growl and watched as the lemon popped up and stood on its pointed end.
It pivoted, and Noah squinted, rubbing his eyes and leaning even closer. The rind had three brown spots that appeared, at first, to be bruises or rotten patches, but at this angle, the arrangement of them looked eerily like a face of perpetual surprise.
“What a rude little flesh scarecrow! Do you always—stop screaming—grab at strangers?”
“Answer me, runt! Who do you think you are?”
That was not the right response, apparently, because the lemon flopped onto its side and barreled into the crawl space under the house.