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Lemons, Kate Hargreaves


Winn scrapes the seeds from a lemon slice and lines them up along the edge of the table. The split skin at the edges of her nails stings like it does when she scrubs her hands with anti-bacterial gel, but she keeps hold of the rind and pulls it to her mouth, wedges her teeth into the pulp and sucks hard.

Winn’s a lemon eater these days. Snags her incisors on four to five fruit a day. She grows bitter when the grocery store lemons dent and ding, even at 30% off. Tosses and prods and gropes and presses for plump bodies and firm skin and spring and bounce and tart. Picks the best fifteen she can squeeze and calls it a shopping trip.

Detox lemon water: halve one lemon, one lime, squeeze into cold filtered water and leave the fruit to steep. Add half a medium cucumber (sliced) and a nub of ginger (grated). Drink three glasses a day to detoxify the skin, the liver, and the cuticles.

Winn’s a do-er, not a half-doer or a halver or a lime-cutter or a ginger-grater cucumber-slicer. If half one lemon in water washes through the veins and kidneys and pores and hair, then one lemon neat will scour. Two lemons bitten—not juiced—will scrub, and three, four and five should strip and sear the insides.

Nate’s mother used to scrub the kitchen floor with vinegar and lemon to pull stains from the grout. Juice from half a lemon, two litres of water and two cups of white vinegar.

Winn split the sides of her mouth in second grade, sucking vinegar from plastic packets at the neighbourhood Burger King, waiting for her dessert. She ate half the ice cream and chucked the drippy cup, pushing fistfuls of vinegar packets into her corduroy pants-pockets to tear into at home.

These days she’s off vinegar and onto lemons. A lemon a day keeps the scurvy away and four or five will wash you out.

Winn burns when she pees. Sweats lemonade. Rubs lemon slices on her scrapes. Pours lemon juice into her hair. On her shoulders and arms. Sits in the sun. Lightens.

Winn prods the pulp between her teeth, teasing it loose with her tongue. Scrubs it out with a brush. Notes the pangs of enamel beginning to peel. She snaps floss into impossible gaps. Her gums redden and let go.

Winn’s teeth send shocks through her nose when she bites into lemons 55 and 56. Lightning bolts behind her eyes, she chews the seed and swallows. Hasn’t spit since 40 or picked since 24.

Winn scoops the rinds together onto one counter tile, blocking them in with crumbling grout borders. She lifts one piece with her right hand, digs the nail of her forefinger deep into the bumpy yellow and pulls, waxy rind pushing her nail up away from its bed, filling the space between nerves and nail. Whatever nail is made of. Shark bones. Rhinoceros horns ground into fine powder. A long white moat wriggles across the rind. Winn draws the lemon to her pulsing teeth. Digs. Chews. Chokes back hunks of the bitter stuff.

Winn can make a lemon go further than a pound of ground beef. She threw lemons over the barn at Melinda’s wedding two summers ago for luck. Melinda’s drunk brother-in-law threw a slider instead. Winn’s lemons sunk into the damp grass on the other side of the building. The burger stuck to the chapel window ketchup-side-front and streaked down the glass for almost a minute before it hit the ground.

These days, Winn doesn’t bother halving her lemons. Hasn’t peeled one in two-and-a-half weeks. The girl who spiral slices her apples to avoid lockjaw dives into lemons whole, her five-a-day habit bubbling through her teeth. Winn cuts her incisors past the rind and coughs.

Must be those toxins breaking out through her lungs.

Toxins run from the corners of her eyes. Toxins singe the tips of her hair, sear her cuticles. The lemons strip the toxins from Winn’s stomach and guts and heat pours out of her. Winn, on the bathroom floor, sucking on a peel. The shakes are just the toxins leaving you. The sweat and the clear chunky vomit mean you’re almost empty. Soon your insides will be scrubbed up, Winner. Clean as kitchen grout.


Kate Hargreaves (she/her) is a writer and book designer in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. She is the author of three books of poetry and fiction with a second collection of poetry, tend, forthcoming from Book*hug Press in 2022. Find her work at CorusKate.com.

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