The Lime Monster

The pickers would tease me about the lime monster as if they thought I were afraid, as if they really knew she existed. “Don’t wander too far back. You never know what it’ll do.” Their faces would beam in the August sunshine as they gulped water from old soda bottles. Apples piled at their feet in bushels, some already rotting in the grass, their skin bruised by over-eager hands.

“Don’t go near that stuff. It’ll boil your skin,” my father would warn, turning his attention back to the vinegar-smelling rice hulls, remnants of the cider press.

I did not listen as I ran through the orchards, a journal tucked into the pocket of my overalls, a pen jammed through my ponytail, and sat in a pear tree near the lime pile, waiting for her to rouse. Perched there, I would write, collecting snatchets of stories like flailing butterflies in a net, my eyes on her: a white mound like an iceberg or a bleached Mediterranean cliffside. But I knew what it really was: the scarred, protruding eye of the lime monster, hidden away below.

She would sing to me in her gravelly voice, cantos and dirges, songs of the earth long-forgotten, of stones, roots and seedlings abandoned. Sometimes I would feed her, ripping out pages from my journal covered in my childish scrawl. She would gobble up the words, the pages sinking deep into the soil.

For a while, I feared my father would discover us, follow me through the orchard on the tractor, the oversized tires ripping through the earth. I would hide in the canopy of the tree, listening to the grinding gears of the tractor and my father’s shrill whistle as he drove near and then beyond to the next field over.  No one ever used the lime or, it seemed, even knew why it was there. “My grandfather must’ve used it in the wheat fields before he converted that over to cherries,” my father would say, without knowing for sure whether it was true. Conjecture and hand-me-down idioms were how he planned his day, his land, his life: the first thunderstorm predicted the first frost; a ring around the moon whispered of rain, but so did flocks of birds foraging or cows with their tails to the wind. He lived off of the mythology of the landscape, ignoring the sprawl of suburbia inching its way closer to our borders, their cookie-cutter homes designed to divide our farm.

That is until they learned of her: my lime monster. The developers and city planners shake their head and whisper of poisoned land, recalculating their taxes, redesigning their tract houses.

She is my last hope, the only protection he left me with. He never told me anything useful like when to prune the trees or how to rotate the crops. I was too young then; I had more important things to do like homework and lessons. And when my lessons were done, I spent my days wandering through the rows of trees, the high grass skimming my bare knees. As my hips widened and my fingers grew knotted, I dreamed of faraway lands and wrote down my stories, feeding them to her, an offering, to quench her, a sacrifice for my protection.  Nowadays, as my shaky hands can no longer hold a pen, I still feed her, telling her the hand-me-down myths that I dimly remember, of the birds I hear so rarely, of the cows that chewed their cud the same way I now let apples roll around in my mouth, my teeth all but broken.

No one dares come near us, unsure of what she can do. Some fear she will eat holes in their pipes. Worried mothers wring their hands and conjure up possible illnesses she might infect their children with.

The others are gone now, the trees overtaken by blight, the soil sapped of their nutrients. “The land is good for nothing else but development,” the contractors write to me in cloying letters, trying to convince me to sell. When they are bold enough to walk onto the farm to talk to me in person, they take one look at her and blanch and stutter. Suddenly they realize the land has drainage issues or it would be too expensive to connect plumbing so far from the sewer lines up the road. I nod, my greying hair tied back in a loose braid down my back, and smile as I lean against my favorite pear tree, sap and fire blight lesions oozing from it, staining my clothes in that old familiar way. New developers will come in time and we will go through the same disappointing dance. 

But for now, we sit together like this, the lime monster and I, guarding one another. She enjoys the quiet, enjoys the blights and decay, my own decrepitude as she listens to my grunts as I try to climb our faithful tree. My arms are too weary to lift my sagging body and I sigh and lay down next to her. She devours the stories I drop, my throat burned by her basic breath. And I wonder: will I ever see her face sprouting up like last year’s bulbs, green and dew-soaked? Once my stories bleed into the earth, only then will she sing again, pushing her way through the rotten earth to take what is hers.



Originally published in The Future Fire, Issue 52, January 2020. Reprinted here by permission of the author.