The Last Lemon

‘This is it, you know.’
‘Is that so?’
Flo holds up a dull tin, the label warped and peeling. Smoothing the paper, she reads:
‘Sausages and-’
Flic joins her. ‘Beans. Best til last.’ She sniffs the metal with exaggerated relish.
‘Well then.’
‘Shall I?’
A pause.
‘Yes, you do the honours Flic.’
‘Are you sure? Come with me.’
‘Wait… Let’s cook this first.’
Flo walks to where a low sun casts through the glass. It reflects off a loch, red with algae. With arthritic hands, she turns the gears of the can-opener. Slow.
‘I’ll get the knife.’
‘Warm the pan too. We can spare the gas, after all.’
‘Get it piping.’
Flo chuckles. It is always hot now.
While the flame burns, blue on black, Flic goes over to the other window. On the deep stone sill sits a stunted lemon tree. She spits on a cuff and polishes its crisp leaves. A broken residue comes away on her sleeve.
‘To think Flo. We grew it.’
‘From just a pip.’
Flo prises the can’s lid with a knife, scrapes congealed innards onto the heat. She joins Flic, looking out over the raw dark hills.
‘What’re the odds?’
‘Not good. But it lived, alright.’
Breath held, Flic pulls the lone lemon from its branch. In the palm of her hand, she eases through the soft pith with blunted blade. Zest. Flo leans forward, inhales for them both.
‘I’ll get the bottles.’
Fast on stiff hips, Flo makes for the cupboard. The tonic lets off the barest hiss and the gin cap is almost rusted stiff.
‘Glasses, Flic.’
One. Two. Yellowed liquor slipped in both. Flo throws the remaining dram to the flagstones.
‘For the dead,’ she laughs. Flic smiles with her, eyes rheumy in the acid air.
Flic cuts over the glass, but the dry fruit does not drip. Three slices and a hard navel each.
‘Pull that pan.’
‘No need.’ Flo holds up their spoons, passes the least bent one over. She stirs, prising charred meat from the pan bottom. Takes a bite.
‘Well then, Flic.’
The two friends lock eyes, cheers.
‘To health.’
‘To health.’

Eleanor Matthews