The Lemon Tree

Deb Taylor is this month''s short-story competition winner.

Deb Taylor’s short-story entry ‘The Lemon Tree’ has been judged as the winning piece in a local writing competition.

Local author Alan Cobham is running a series of short-story writing competitions and Deb’s outstanding entry netted her a prize of $200.

To enter this month’s competition and be in the running for the $200 prize (and $1000 prize for the overall winner), simply write 500 words or more on the topic ‘Tricked’.Email your entry to by 31 July. The winner will be announced by email on 7 August.

Deb’s story:

The Lemon Tree

As she cut out the galls from the lemon tree, she felt guilty for having neglected it. When they moved into the house years before, they had discovered that the lemon tree was two different varieties, and that the whole tree was infected with citrus gall wasp.

She can’t remember how she found out about the tiny wasp that buried itself into citrus tree branches creating knobbly galls as the eggs they laid turned into more wasps, but she knew now, that the only way of dealing with it, was to cut the galls out before the wasps hatched in spring, and to dispose of the galls in plastic bags in the rubbish bin.

That’s what they did way back when the kids were little and there was still an outside toilet. James had done the pruning. The tree looked completely naked, possibly ruined – what did they know about lemon trees?

But gradually it grew back and produced lemons again. And from then on, there was a cycle of pruning out the galls at the end of winter. She always felt that she was making a kind of deal between removing most of the infected branches and leaving ones that had fruit forming on them. So that’s what she was doing now – chopping off the branches that couldn’t be saved, snipping out the galls and then cutting the branches into smaller pieces so she could stuff the green waste bin full.

She felt bad at the weight of the galls. No wonder half the tree fell over! When she made her way to the kitchen that morning and had looked outside, she was amazed and disturbed to discover that during last night’s storm, the lemon tree had split, and half of it was lying on the ground.

“Lemon tree, very pretty … ”

She worked her way through the pile of branches berating herself for not having pruned out the galls earlier.

But she knew that keeping the tree free of the wasp was an impossible job as there would be some old neglected lemon tree nearby that was infested. The only way to get on top of the problem was for everyone in the area to prune the galls out at the right time. She kept working and mulled over the way things had turned out between her and James.

She had a tendency to think things weren’t ‘fair’ especially the way she took on most of the responsibilities around the house, and with the kids. Pretty typical, sadly for couples to fall into the roles society sets you up for even though she’d always seen herself as being feminist in her ideas.

That was before kids. Now it was hard to speak up. It was hard to challenge the arrangement. It was hard to let him do things and do them badly and not get annoyed. It was hard to get out of the pattern of getting frustrated, being snippy, arguing, patching things up and pretending everything was okay.

Kind of like dealing with the citrus gall wasp. “Lemon tree, very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet … ”

In trying to learn more about caring for the garden she had discovered that lemon trees don’t like to have plants growing around their trunks as they have a shallow root system. The tree was becoming lighter, so she tried to get it upright again. It was going to need some support. The earth around the roots of the lemon tree was sodden from last night’s rain.

The ground was already unstable from the landscaping work they’d done – done to make her happy, and she did love the result and appreciated the effort. But it didn’t solve their problems. They were still the same people. She gently let the tree back down and continued to carefully chop and snip, trying to save fruit and buds while separating the galls from the rest of the pruning.

“Lemon tree, very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the poor lemon … ”

Although she didn’t really believe in astrology she had always liked that she was an earth sign and he was a water sign. With the right amount of each element things could flourish and it seemed poignant to her that half of the tree, that iconic backyard lemon tree, had collapsed from a combination of the weight of the gall wasp infestation and loose wet soil. Too much water. Too many responsibilities. Swamped. Drowned.

Diluted. Depleted. Weakened. Exhausted. That’s how she felt as the years together pushed them apart.

“Lemon tree, very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat.”

So went the chorus of the song that she hummed as she worked and wondered. She thought it was from an album that she remembered as a child, the record cover had a picture of the group on it. ‘Best of the Seekers’ or something like that. The chorus meandered on in her mind. “But the lemon isn’t impossible to eat!! There’s nothing better than a lemon dessert. Lemon meringue pie. Lemon delicious. Lemon tart.”

She had filled the bin with leaves and cut up branches and had piles of galls waiting to be put into bags. She moved the fallen tree upright again and placed a forked branch left from the pruning, up against the trunk.

She carefully pushed the end into the soil and jiggled it one way and the other until it rested in just the right place. She gingerly let go of the tree. It quivered and settled. Relieved that now the tree was supported, and hopeful it would survive, she went back inside. “Lemon tree, very pretty … ” 

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