The man who smells of lemons dresses in brown and red. He stands, still as a bleeding tree, in a city parking lot. Every day he plants himself in his usual spot, where tarmac cracks radiate outward from his feet, like roots. Every day he stands and waits for a white-hot sun to crack open and spill over his head. Every day, alone.
Today, though, a crowd infiltrates the parking lot, as if risen from the cracks like steam, and the man who smells of lemons becomes an object of interest. When I check in, he is at the center of a circle of people. The circle’s voices run into each other like lemon juice dispersing in water, but from my vantage point, I can hear enough to get the zest.
Lemon-man doesn’t move, even when surrounded. His thoughts drift, like desiccated leaves. I have been close to him as skin and have not been seen.
A woman’s voice rises. She says that the man who smells of lemons’ pitted skin resembles an old fruit of the citrus persuasion. True. He is sick, she adds. Someone should send for a nurse. Or a hearse. But we, the observers, do no such thing.
When the man who smells of lemons sinks to his knees, the circle steps back. I adjust my equipment. Then I hear an elder suggest that someone should fetch a glass of water. True. But who will hydrate this hybrid, wilting in our presence? And how to water him? The parking lot has no faucet, and no hose. The circle has no glass. The city is deserted.
And then, even if water is found, who will aim it at the lemon man’s open mouth, or pour water round his roots? How will liquid soak up through the knees of his dirt-colored pants to nourish him?
My forearm rests on a window ledge. I don’t move my eye from my rifle sight, but I know that the sky is pitiless. I take a sip of aquavit.
A child from the far side of the circle—a girl, maybe nine or ten—walks forward and prods the man who smells of lemons with her bare foot. The man topples over onto his side. His scent rises, sharp as recollection.
At first, lemon-man lies as he fell. Then he twists his head and looks at the little girl. She smiles. He spits—but he has no strength and the spittle falls onto his own cheek.
The little girl returns to her circle. The circle disperses, sliding sideways into another time. The man who still smells of lemons—or so I suppose—doesn’t move. From where I sit, I can’t tell if his spittle is sour, or if it stings.
A flower, red as his shirt, blooms at the bridge of his nose.
Jude Marr is originally from Scotland. She has an MFA from Georgia College, and is working toward a PhD at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She is a late developer, but her first poetry collection, Breakfast for the Birds, is at last an object.