The Red Lemon, by Elizabeth Cunningham
You’re finally awake. Black mold adorns the edges of your worn shoes. Hardened intestines litter the damp cement floor. There’s a pale hand next to you, with its fingers still curled around a light yellow eyeball. Your mind is still wondering if this is a nightmare. Soon, a realization sets in and you look down. The large metal shackles around your ankles are cold and tighten with every twitch. They dig into your flesh as you writhe and convulse. There’s no use fighting. Or is there? Come on. Remember what you did last time?
You struggle with the shackles a little bit more. Sweat pours down your brow and into your eye as you wince from the salt. Your head throbs like beating bongo drums. No other living thing is occupying this cell. The chains that hold the shackles begin to rattle. Clink. Ching. Clink. Snap! Freedom. The only problem now is what to do next. There’s still that matter of a heavy iron door that you haven’t the energy to open. So you turn around to examine your surroundings. There’s a red lemon lying on the ground near the iron door. In disbelief, you poke it, prod it, and peel the skin. Your stomach growls. Without hesitation, you devour the lemon. In the center lies a razor blade which only slightly nicks the tip of your tongue before you pull it out of your mouth. It’s sawing time.
With the iron bars sawed enough for your slender frame to crawl through, you enter a narrow, dimly lit hallway. There’s a skeleton of a bird lying near another door towards the end of the hallway. This door is made of solid oak wood and opens in front of you with very little effort on your part.
On your way out you notice a room with an unmanned desk and wooden shelf with several cubes full of various personal items such as cell phones, watches, and even cash. One cube contains your wallet and house keys. A constant pressure gnaws at your left leg as you begin to limp. There’s a wooden broom in the corner of the room. You break off the bottom part and use the handle as a cane. Regaining momentum, you walk closer to the flashing, red exit sign and the large iron door below it.
One small raindrop falls from the sky and onto the ground in front of you. A few seconds pass and larger, clearer drops join congregate in puddles on the concrete.
The images of home have faded from memory. You fumble through your pocket for your wallet, which contains a photo ID with your address on it. It’s time to go home.
You land on the front steps of your old house. The yard is littered with children’s toys, dirtied by the sediment that has been building on them for years. The discolored picket fence, once a brilliant shade of white is now gray and splintered. The house is no longer sky blue but dulled periwinkle. On the door, only half of a “No Soliciting” sign remains, frayed edges indicating a hostile tear from an apparently aggravated visitor.
With shaking hands, you begin placing the brass key up to the door handle. To your shock and simultaneous relief, the key does not fit the lock. You use your broom-handle cane to break the door window open, then reach through the newly formed space to unlock the door from the inside.
You are immediately greeted by family photographs as you enter the foyer, some with the head of a person cut out. A stack of legal documents consumes the coffee table. They look like divorce papers and personal letters between two people named Melanie Jikonson and Skye Jikonson.
You open a drawer of the table and find a bag of coke. You can’t resist the urge, so you do a few lines before continuing your exploration.
The kitchen draws you in with its familiar smells of lasagna and garlic bread. There’s a disassembled gun on the kitchen table but it doesn’t seem surprising, given the other contents of the house. It’s the suicide letter, written in sloppy cursive on yellowing legal paper. The signature jumps out at you. You pick it up to read the rest.
There are many things I wish I had the courage to tell you. Sadly, I am only a coward. Our children look so beautiful playing in the yard right now. I wish I knew how to use this gun but unfortunately, you never taught me. That’s one of many things you never took the time to do. I can’t live a life apart from you even though I can’t seem to live with you, either. Please care for our children. They deserve to be with the stronger one of us. Forgive me.
Forever and Always,
Your heart falls into your stomach upon reading those final words. Chills go over your body like knives cutting into your spine.
You walk upstairs and into the first bedroom on the right hand side of the dark hallway. White curtains blow horizontally as the wind and rain soak the windowsill and lime green carpeting. A queen sized bed occupies the center of the room with grace and elegance, adorned with green and white throw pillows that match the comforter, and antique porcelain dolls with grass green dresses and red hair. The white canopy was supposed to shield the former occupant from the treachery of the outside world. The noose that hangs from the ceiling fan suggests otherwise.
“What the hell are you doing?” yells a voice from behind you.
It’s a little girl in a purple dress and white light-up sandals who looks no more than ten or eleven years old. Her hands are on her hips and her pursed, pink lips and angry scowl remind you of someone you once knew. You struggle to find the right words to say. Your prolonged silence only enrages her further.
“I asked you a question, dirt-bag! This is my house. Why are you here?”
You finally muster up the courage to answer. “I thought this was my home.”
“It was. Now it’s not.” She responds flatly.
“Why not? I have nowhere else to go.”
“Not my problem. Get out or I’ll call the police.”
A thought crosses your mind as your realize that this little girl is squatting in an abandoned house. There’s no way she’d rat herself out which means you can call her bluff. Your eyes wander to a small painting of this girl hanging above the door where you entered the room. A sense of renewed hopelessness washes over you like the ocean’s tide.
“But I’m…your parent,” you protest in a soft voice just above a whisper.
“You were, Skye. That was…that was until you abandoned us.” Her stony voice was softening now as tears were beginning to swell in the corners of her eyes. A single tear streamed down the porcelain curve of her left cheek. Then more followed obediently, falling from each eye until they began crashing onto the floor. The walls began rattling violently and the bed slammed against the window, falling back to the floor with the headboard split in half. This was truly your daughter.
“That’s enough!” you scream, grabbing onto her shoulders. You shake her until she ceases her sobs with a deep sniffle. The peels from the red lemon fall out of your pocket like fall leaves and settle quietly onto the carpet, creating a contrast that’s clearly visible even from tear-soaked eyes. She looks down and picks them up. She clutches them in her fists before dropping them once more.
She grabs your hand and runs with you, without muttering so much as single word. Through the hallway, down the stairs, and into the kitchen you escape. She opens the screen door which leads to the back yard and in the center of the chaos of more children’s toys and gardening tools stands a lemon tree. Every lemon is red. You wrap your hand around the lowest-hanging fruit, moving on to touch the trunk of the tree where several carvings had been created over the years. Every carving is a wish that someone made. Circling the tree with a lion’s pace, you find the one you made:
May our children never bear this curse.
Elizabeth Cunningham is an author, entertainer, and digital artist. Cunningham was born in Chicago and raised between Northern Illinois and the Tampa Bay region of Florida. A drifter at heart, she writes characters who frequently find themselves on the move. The bulk of Cunningham’s literary work weaves mythical creatures with dark, urban fantasy backdrops. http://www.worldclassadventurer.com