The Limes

by Jeff Oaks

I was afraid of what I’d find when I cut the lime that morning. I had had them in a green mesh bag, twelve or so, since he moved out two months earlier. Two days earlier, I had had to throw out the bag of macintosh apples I also bought that first Sunday. They’d gone soft, their skins puckered. The bags of lettuce had long gone brown and gotten thrown away. One failure after another. Why did I think I’d have tea with lime instead of cream that morning? It was a simple choice, a sudden urge.

The lime I picked up, a green ovoid, looked fine in the weird fluorescent light of the refrigerator. But in the regular 7 am light of the kitchen, the thing I chose seemed sickly, possibly gone bad, more gray than green. I wasn’t sure for a minute if it would be poisonous. Dust might spill out of it or a sinister smoke might burst forth, like the puffball mushrooms in the forests of my youth. As if the lime were holding its breath.

All of this went through me in the time it took to walk the five steps from the counter to the refrigerator and back. The knife was already out on the cutting board; the decision had already been made. The tea bag was steeping in boiled water, sugar had been spooned in, stirred. The electric kettle still steamed a little in its corner, turned off. I put the lime down on the cutting board and took the silver paring knife my mother and I bought at Kmart a week after he left me with no knives, and I put the blade against that frightening gray-green thing and hoped for the best. Leaned into it with my weight.

The apples had gone bad, it’s true, turned mushy and inedible, each one the consistency of cold wet oatmeal found in a dead man’s pocket. The lime, however, was something else. Its juice, as Keats might have said, “o’erbrimmed” its thin rind. It was positively savage, two halves so fierce with acids and sugars everything else in the kitchen suddenly seemed pale. Or maybe it was that something then became clear to me: how expectant everything had become in those two months of my living alone. How eager everything was to be put to use, not wasted.

Around that lime, the kitchen lit up with life like the manger around the Christ child. And there we were, poor tired things, gathered around the two electric halves, which virtually giggled with riches. And then I cut one half of the lime into quarters and then I picked one quarter up and squeezed it into my hot sweet brown tea. And then I drank. The lime juice ran down my hand to the wrist. I licked it off.

Outside a tiny flurry of what could hardly be called snow fell. It was the first snow, crystals of ice, none bigger than the prick of a pin, falling over the courtyard container garden I’d let get overgrown. Its solidity was a relief from the relentless self-pity. It was the first day I felt I wanted to go on living. Things would have to be moved tonight, into sheltered corners of the house, I thought, although earlier I’d planned to leave them all alone, to see what would survive without any help, what could live on its own without me.