Colin’s Lemon

Dorothy waited in line at the bus shelter with her shopping trolley in the torpor of mid-afternoon. Through the windows of the approaching bus she could see the lively faces of high schoolers and hoped there’d be a seat.

            Halfway down the aisle an angular boy mumbled and stood up. As Dorothy was sinking onto the seat with relief, panic seized her. She’d forgotten to buy the all-important lemon. Oh, just this once would Colin be content without? Surely chives from the garden would do. Chives might add an interesting flavour. She wouldn’t say a word about the lemon until the fish was in front of him. Not that she was frightened, but there was just no knowing, and even after 50 years, 50 years, Colin was unpredictable.

            Ettie said Dorothy was so accustomed to this unpredictability that if Colin were ever to be magnanimous and forgiving, she wouldn’t know what to do with herself. The thing was, mused Dorothy, Ettie’s outlook was tinged with an alert suspicion ever since her husband’s bowels had twisted up in knots. Ettie’s opinions were to be taken with a grain of the proverbial. Nevertheless, these chats often unsettled her. It was almost beyond imagining, a life without Colin.

            She reached into her bag and pressed the fish in its wrapper. Still cool. It was a nice, plump snapper. It should please Colin. Damn shame about the lemon. What had she been thinking? She checked her watch. Should she go back? But it was so very hot! What she’d give for a cup of tea.

            She pushed the buzzer. ‘Driver, I’d like to get off,’ she called, hauling herself up.

            The driver’s arms were stretched across the steering wheel. He shot Dorothy a puckered glance of impatience in the mirror. ‘Pulling out, ma’am,’ he said. ‘You can get off at the next stop.’

            ‘But I forgot to buy the lemon,’ Dorothy exclaimed.

            The driver held her gaze.

            Somebody behind her snickered.

            The doors hissed open.

            Dorothy descended into the blazing sun.

            The 50 paces to the greengrocers felt like 500. Shopping was taking the stuffing out of her lately, but Dorothy was reluctant to sign up forhome delivery, sincetruth be told it was nice to be out of the house.

            Lemon purchased (75 cents – highway robbery), she trudged back to the bus stop. What an awful afternoon. The fish could go off in this heat. Her head throbbed. The shelter was full. No one stood up for her.

            It was five o’clock when she finally stepped through the door and crossed into the living room.

            Next to the stepladder and a can of WD-40 lay Colin on his back with his mouth open. The ceiling fan squeaked overhead. Dorothy waved a hand over her husband’s glassy eyes. She leant down and pressed two fingers to his neck, recoiling at the odour.

            ‘I bought you a lemon,’ she said, loudly, ‘to go with your fish.’

She reached into her trolley, pulled out the lemon and positioned it in the hole of Colin’s mouth. ‘There you go,’ she said, with a nod of approval. ‘Just the way you like it.’

From This Person Is Not That Person, a collection of short stories published by Puncher & Wattmann. In stores February 2020.