The Lemon Tree

From the Archives

From The Yellow Issue

A substantially revised version of this story appears in Loory’s second collection, Tales of Falling and Flying, published by Penguin Books in 2017.

A farmer was wandering through his orchard at harvest time, when he saw an apple hanging from one of his lemon trees. He frowned at it a while, and then went and fetched a ladder, and climbed up and plucked it from the branch.

Look what I found in one of the lemon trees, he said to his wife when he got home that night.

Very funny, she said.

No really, said the farmer. This apple was growing from one of the lemon trees.

I’m not stupid, said his wife. Don’t be ridiculous.

The farmer looked at her, then down at the apple. He raised it to his mouth and took a little bite.

It tasted faintly of lemon.

It tastes like lemon, the farmer said. Are you sure you don’t want to try it?

But his wife just went back to doing the laundry.

You must be out of your mind, she said.

The next day the farmer went back to the tree, and examined it with a great deal of care. There were no more apples growing anywhere on it, but he could still see the spot where his had been.

I guess I’ll just have to wait, said the farmer.

And that was exactly what he did.

Before the start of the next harvest time, the farmer got everything set up. He arranged a pair of cameras—one on either side of the tree—aimed at where the apple had been.

So there was plenty of photographic documentation when the apple grew again.

Or rather, when the two new apples grew.

It seemed the apples were spreading.

The farmer took the photographs and showed them to his wife—or started to. Then he thought better of it.

Then he went downtown and showed them to his friends and the man at the newspaper instead.

But they all just looked at him like he was nuts.

Don’t bother us with this stuff, they said.

So the farmer went back home and sat on his porch and ate the two new apples from his tree.

They didn’t taste quite as lemony as before.

In fact, they didn’t taste much like anything.

So the farmer stood up, and stepped down off the porch, and walked on out into the orchard. He stood staring up at the tree for a while.

Then he sat down underneath it.

Many years went by, and the lemon tree was transformed—completely changed into an apple tree. Just apples upon apples, not a lemon in sight.

But still, the world had never seen it.

The farmer still sat out beneath it every day—by this time, he was all alone. His wife had long since packed up and moved away, and his friends and the man at the paper had passed on.

But one day as the farmer was sitting there, a stranger came walking along. It was no one the farmer had ever seen before—just a traveler; who knows where from or bound.

The stranger stopped when he saw the farmer.

Mind if I pass through? he said.

Not at all, said the farmer. Feel free to stop and rest.

Thanks, I will, the stranger said.

So the stranger took a seat on the ground beside the farmer, and the two of them talked for a bit. Not about anything important, really, just to pass the time—this and that.

Are you hungry? said the farmer. When was the last time you ate?

Well, said the stranger, it’s been a while.

So the farmer reached up and plucked an apple from the tree.

It tastes like lemon, the stranger said.

And the farmer smiled.