Janine always ate her gummy bears head-first. When she was in a good mood, she’d bite the heads off and stick them on different colored bodies. Sometimes I laughed with her and other times I winced.
I could almost feel her dentures closing ‘round my neck as she cackled and swallowed each chewy delight. There was a lecture for every bear, regardless of color or size and I was witness for the crimes of each before judgment was passed.
It’s cheesy and pointless. But I love her for it.
“Company!” She crowed, flashing a cheeky little grin as the cobweb of wrinkles smoothed out at the corners. Her gnarled fingers reached for the striped candy bag I clutched in my hands. “Mine?”
“Yeah…I mean, yes. Hi Janine.” I handed over the precious treats and nodded to the nurse standing in the doorway of the nursing home. “We’ll stay outside, thanks.” I pushed her wheelchair to a corner of the front porch for our visit.
“You’re a bad little boy.” She cooed at a yellow gummy bear, holding up a green bear in the other hand. “And you’re a jealous little girl! You two deserve each other!” A smirk registered as she happily gnawed the heads off and stuck the bodies together. “Lookit!”
I made myself smile. “…clever.”
Janine snorted. “You’re not writing it down.”
“Oops.” I pretended to remember, deliberately fumbling through every pocket of my trenchcoat before pulling a battered notebook from one pocket. “Repeat it again?”
It was the question she wanted.
It was a game I played.
“How come he’s bad and she’s jealous?” I sat on the ground at her feet, notebook resting on her lap as I watched her sort through the bag for another green and yellow pair.
“He’s cheating on her because she’s so overprotective.” Janine triumphantly produced another matched pair. “He’s a lemon, but she’s a real lime.” She winked conspiratorially. “Write it down!”
“I finally got an apartment, Janine.” I scribbled in the notebook, looking up to accept the smooshed bears she held at my lips. “Fank ouf.”
She pinched my nose. “Manners! No talking with your mouth full!”
I chewed and swallowed. “It looks over the river…it’s closer to the university, so I save a half-hour of driving every day. Mom doesn’t like it and Dad says I’m throwing money away on such a tiny place, but it’s cozy. I think you’d like it.”
“The lemon liked little places.” She mused. “But the lime needed lime-light. She was a city girl, green through and through.”
I scribbled that down. “Paster Maguire says hello again. Try not to skip church this week—it makes him worry me about you.”
“The lemon worried a lot, but the lime didn’t.” Janine frowned. “Keep writing!”
“I am…I am!” The pen traveled across the page. Janine couldn’t read. She wouldn’t know what I wrote. “My second script is being reviewed by the drama club. They said they might produce it this semester. I had fun writing it even though it was a lot of work. You were a great inspiration.”
“Lime worked very hard for everything, but lemon threw it away.”
“Pesky lemon.” I crumbled into her fantasy, tucking the notebook back into a pocket and sticking the pen in my hair. “…poor lime.” Picking out the yellow and green bears, I deposited them in her waiting hands. “I’ve got to stop at the dry cleaners to pick up my suit, job interview at nine tomorrow—if I’m lucky, I’ll be a junior in the sales department at Busco!”
It is time to leave.
A peck on the cheek is mandatory.
“Yeah. I mean, yes. Next week.”
Another kiss for the other cheek.
I love you, grandma.
The nurse is ready to take her patient back. I watched them disappear. I have a hundred things to do, a billion of them important—but no way to express them, no way to share them.
For all that I am, with all I could write.
I have no words. I cannot cry.
So I run away.
To memories. To people. To ghosts who can’t remember me. I smile. I laugh. I pretend.
My writer’s life is bittersweet—more bitter than sweet.
I pretend I can’t see, can’t hear, can’t feel. I lie so everything seems alright.
In the end, I’m a lemon, cheating on myself…and a jealous lime, wishing I could wake up from another slice of reality, because I messed up.
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