Candied Lemon

Kate knew it would not work with Ethan when she watched him remove the thinly sliced circles of candied lemon she had carefully arranged on top of the cake. He piled the peels on the side of his plate, mouth puckered, before driving his fork into the now unadorned mass of sugar, flour, and air. 

There were other reasons, too. He did not like pickles. Or olives. Anything brined, salted, transformed.

She frowned. She had wanted it to work. 

There was an hour until the New Year, and the room was filled with people. She watched from the kitchen, the now decimated cake spilling crumbs onto the counter in front of her, a serrated knife resting in her right hand.

Last year, on New Year’s, she ordered takeout with her friend Charlotte, and they made brownies from a box mix that came out too thin. They watched Scream and didn’t realize it was the New Year until they heard fireworks. They went to the window and waved to a family across the street. Two young boys pressed their bodies to the glass, smiles wide, small red palms leaving handprints on the glass after their parents peeled them away. Down below, a group of four walked along the street, linking arms. Kate watched them laugh, three boys and a girl with a bright red hat. Lingering in the window, Kate asked Charlotte what her biggest fear was and she said, “Forgetting.” 

This year, they decided to throw a party. Kate made cake, and Charlotte bought sparklers, and at midnight, they planned to climb up to the roof with all of their friends, and maybe the boys with their small red hands would see them light sparklers from their window and clap. 

But it was not midnight yet, and right now Kate was standing in the kitchen, contemplating candied lemon. 

She’d met Ethan in April. They went to a Belgian bar and drank ten-dollar beers, and when he kissed her goodnight, he placed his hand on the small of her back, and she thought it was nice. She liked his blonde hair and the way his eyes crinkled at the edges and once they took a trip to the beach and laid on the sand smoking a joint, hiding behind each other’s bodies from the teenage lifeguards roaming up and down the shore. She was high and happy and suntanned. She had wanted that moment to last. 

Four years before, on a different New Year’s, she had stayed up until sunrise on another roof with another boy, and mostly, she remembered the selfie they had taken wrapped up in blankets. She wondered if she still had that picture. She opened her phone to swipe back through the years but remembered she had deleted the photo after she sat across from him in Washington Square Diner for the last time. 

There are too many New Year’s, she thought. 

The day before the party, she smoked a cigarette with Ethan on the fire escape, and he asked her if she’d heard of the ship of Theseus: “If you replace every part of a ship one by one until none of the same parts remain, is it still the same ship?” If you delete every photo on your phone and never see the boys with the small red palms or the girl with the bright red hat, and you keep celebrating every new year and every birthday and time keeps moving, and the people you kiss start to blend together and it does not work out because of lemons or olives or pickles or other reasons like doors slamming in your face — Is it still the same ship? 

Kate closed her phone and picked up her drink, champagne simmering. She found Charlotte’s eyes across the room. Charlotte had eaten the whole cake, and her plate was clear. 

Charlotte walked over and kissed Kate on the cheek, leaving a sticky patch of berry lip balm on her right cheek. “I wonder what this all adds up to,” Kate said. Charlotte shrugged. Kate picked up the dirty cake plate and began washing it in the sink. They smiled. 

Grace Kennedy is a writer, editor, and therapist in training currently based in Philadelphia. She has previously been published in Electric Literature, Ploughshares, and Bon Appetit, among others. For more of her work, you can follow her on Instagram @gkennedy18

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