I like to write short stories. They are a completely different beast from novels and I find writing them is a good way to keep nimble. There’s no room to waffle on in a short story—every word counts.
I hope you enjoy this little offering called Ugly Lemons.
The lumpy lemons thudded against each other as they tumbled from their brown paper bag into the fruit bowl. They lay there, taunting Kate with their imperfections. She frowned at them, knowing that to buy organic meant to accept produce that was not only eye-wateringly expensive, but also looked as if insects had been eating it. Apparently, the taste was better, but she was yet to be convinced on that one.
She turned away with a sigh. To purchase fruit with perfect, waxy, skin was tantamount to clubbing a baby seal to death in the eyes of her new friends. She’d be shunned at yogalates and ignored at the community picnic. The sleek, size eight MILFs in their skin tight crop tops and low-rise leggings, would whisper behind their manicured fingers as they power-walked past her house on their way to get a kale and turmeric smoothie from the organic café.
Kate longed for the good old days when nobody cared that their food had been doused in chemicals. Nature hadn’t been anywhere near the produce her mother brought home from the local supermarket when Kate was a child and it hadn’t done her any harm. Back then, the fruit and vegetable department resembled a candy store, with its impressive array of gleaming, blemish-free skins on display. Her mother would cruise the aisles, in a valium induced daze. She’d hum along to I’m not in Love, playing quiet and tinny through concealed speakers, and smile at the minimum wage workers behind the counters.
Nowadays, Kate had to lug her fair-trade wicker basket to the free-range butcher, sustainable fishmonger, organic greengrocer and then drive to the other side of town, in her hybrid SUV, to the store that supplied all-natural cleaning products made from oranges. God help you in anyone found out that you’d cleaned your bath with Jif.
The solar-powered door-bell rang and Kate winced. They were here. She knew that having the school centenary committee agree to meet at her house for coffee was a huge coup, especially as she had only moved to the area two months ago. This was her big chance, and she was determined not to stuff it up. She inhaled, and plastered on the smile she intended to wear for the next two hours.
“Hi!” Kate winced inwardly at the fake sing-song voice she automatically adopted as she pulled open the front door.
They were in a gaggle on her doorstep. Designer clothes and spray tan as far as the eye could see. A wave of expensive perfume rolled over Kate and clawed at the back of her throat.
There were the obligatory hugs and air kisses to get through, even though they’d all seen each other only two hours earlier at the school drop-off when everyone smiled and waved to each other as they disgorged their designer-label-clad offspring for another day of politically correct lessons at their peanut-free, we say no to bullying, school.
Miranda, Chairperson of the committee, and self-appointed ringleader of the mums-who-mattered, eyed the designer cupcakes Kate had snuck out to the bakery and bought this morning. She had become addicted to these little treats, never able to resist their lilac icing and delicate fondant flowers.
“Are they gluten-free?” Miranda bought her painfully thin hand up to her oddly immobile face and covered her mouth as if a cupcake was going to jump off the plate and assault her with its wheatiness.
Kate shrugged; her stomach dropping. “Um—I’m sorry I didn’t ask. I thought they were pretty—and they’re delicious.”
All background conversation ceased as the temperature in the room dropped five degrees.
“We’re all gluten-free,” Miranda said flatly. The others nodded their perfectly made-up heads in agreement.
“And I don’t eat refined sugar,” a woman with unnaturally white teeth and shiny hair added.
“I’m paleo,” someone else piped in from the back of the group.
Kate squirmed as icicles formed in the air. “Oh, I didn’t know.”
The silence stretched on for what seemed like an eternity. All eyes were on Miranda. In this moment she could make or break Kate. One word from her and Kate would never be allowed to join the centennial committee, let alone help out at the school’s weekly vegan sausage sizzle. She and her children would be cast into the social wilderness, and every woman in the room knew it. Kate’s eyes flicked from Miranda’s face to the offending cakes and back as everyone held their breath. The front door banged, causing Kate to jump.
“Hey, did I leave my phone this morning? I can’t find the damn thing anyw—oh—hello.”
Kate’s husband Dan strode into the middle of the subzero stand-off. She was never more grateful for her husband’s chronic absent-mindedness than at that moment. In a flash, the mums went from hostile-hoard, ready to rip her to shreds, to simpering school girls. Miranda pulled her face into as much of a smile as her attempts to stem the inevitable march of time would allow. She extended her skeletal hand with its bright red talons towards Dan.
“I’m Miranda, so pleased to meet you.”
Dan hesitated for a moment. Kate held her breath.
“Hi, I’m Dan, nice to meet you too.” He clasped Miranda’s hand and shook vigorously.
Kate winced, anxious that Miranda’s reedy arm might snap right off if he pumped it any harder.
The women crowded around Dan, introducing themselves in strict pecking order. By the time they were done, the atmosphere in the room had thawed considerably, and there was a relaxed background babble of conversation. Kate breathed a sigh of relief as she wiped her hands on the legs of her pants. But her respite was short-lived.
“Yum, you got those cakes again. These are awesome. Have you lot tried them yet?” Dan lunged for the plate of cakes, grabbed one and stuffed the whole thing in his mouth. His cheeks bulged as he chewed loudly, stopping only to lick icing off his fingers.
Kate stiffened as the conversation faltered.
Miranda’s tinkling falsetto laugh filled the room. “Oh, Dan, no cakes for us I’m afraid. We ladies must watch our figures.”
She smoothed her palms over her emaciated frame, lifting her eyes to Dan’s face. Again, Kate held her breath, praying that her husband would pick up on the hint. Tell her she doesn’t need to worry about her weight. Tell her she looks amazing. But Kate knew from experience that Dan was notoriously thick when it came to stuff like that. He was honest to a fault.
“Nah, that’s crap. Personally, I like a woman with a bit of meat on her.” He wrapped his arm around Kate’s waist and jiggled her.
She closed her eyes and died a little on the inside. There would be no recovery from this. They’d have to move, there was no alternative. She began to calculate how much they would lose if they sold the house so soon after purchasing it.
Miranda’s hands fell to her sides, and her mouth formed a tight sphincter. “Well, it’s been lovely, Kate. But I really must be going. I just remembered that I have an appointment with my iridologist.” Miranda clutched her gold festooned Prada handbag closely to her side and strode from the room.
The others looked at each other, confusion written on their faces before they too made their excuses and fled.
Kate slumped onto the sofa and let out one long shuddering sigh. She hated the tears that threatened. This wasn’t high school, she was a grown woman. Why did she care if Miranda and her flock of cronies didn’t want her in their clique? There was no way that she would ever fit in with them anyway. She wasn’t prepared to do boot camp style workouts five times a week, starve herself half to death, surviving on a diet of quinoa and goji berries, and let some quack inject poison into her face, and God knows where else, to keep everything tight and smooth. She wasn’t one of the ‘cool girls’ and she never would be. She looked up at Dan.
“Did I cock that up for you?” he asked.
She smiled and shook her head. “It’s okay. It was already going south before you arrived. I was kidding myself if I thought that I was ever going to fit in with them.”
Dan sat down next to her with a thump. “You don’t want that lot of bogus-betties for friends anyway. I could smell the fake tan from the street. Come on, have a cake. They’re awesome.”
Kate chuckled. “Yeah, go on then. Pass one over.”
Dan hauled himself off the couch and reached for the cakes. He paused, eyeing the fruit bowl before turning back to his wife. “What the fuck is up with these lemons?”
copyright 2016 K A Servian