It should have been none of my business how much Chaz did or did not draw, but I couldn't let it go. It was just that he was such a damn good visual artist, and I couldn't bear to see all his talent going to waste. He was doing some illustrations for a few small magazines, comics sometimes, deeply moving black and white Southwestern landscapes. I always thought he should be doing more. For every drawing he did finish, I knew there were a hundred more that would never emerge onto the page. I don't know how he could live like that, with each of these potential masterpieces sitting heavy in his gut, wriggling around each other like water snakes in a balled up orgy.
I made it my job to pry Chaz away from the demonic distractions that perpetually overcame him: documentaries about conspiracy theories, internet porn, his bong, et cetera. I badgered him relentlessly. I tricked him into working, disguising it as hanging out. That was the main reason I invited him to get coffee with me.
We met and ordered our drinks and sat down.
“What’s been happening, man?” I asked.
“Oh, not so much.”
“You draw anything lately?” He stirred almond milk into his coffee and stared at me. I continued. “You still working on that comic zine?”
“Off and on. You write anything lately?”
“A few poems, some song lyrics and stuff, but I've been kind of dry on ideas, I guess."
"You know," I said, making a show of looking around, "this coffee shop is a pretty good atmosphere for creativity. Maybe I could get some writing done here. And you could draw. Let's do it for an hour, and then we'll share what we come up with."
He agreed but without enthusiasm. I opened a blank Word document on my laptop.
An hour later, I read him a sloppy three-page poem that I had written about some beautiful crust punk girls that had been sitting at a nearby table. I called it “look but dont touch.” It was garbage.
Chaz turned his sketchbook around so that I could see it. His drawing was done in black ink and spread across two pages. It showed a brick, one-story house, which sat on a street that ran up and down a steep hill. It looked like the house was in California or at least somewhere warm. There were five or six fruit trees in the front yard. One tree was covered in lemons. There were hundreds of them, just an insane amount of lemons.
Inside the house was a young woman, maybe the same age as Chaz and me, mid-twenties, sitting at the kitchen table. She pushed around the food on her plate, but didn't really eat any of it. She was too busy thinking to be very hungry.
The young woman had grown up in a religious family and had always believed that after she and her loved ones died they would get to be together in heaven for all eternity. It was a nice thought, but when she turned 18, she went away to college and came to realize that, although she loved her family very much, their religion was kind of fucked up. Not only did her former convictions no longer resonate, they made her angry and upset. Her beliefs about heaven faded.
She didn’t feel like eating because she was sad that her grandfather had died a couple weeks earlier. She remembered that when she was a child the two of them had spent an afternoon together planting that lemon tree in the front yard. Her grandpa dug the hole and got the tree in place, and she shoveled the dirt back in and watered it.
The tree grew okay, but for years and years it never gave any lemons. It just sat there, casually doing nothing.
One night – this was when the young woman was in high school – her grandfather had come home drunk. Super drunk. He managed to park his old Ford Ranchero in the driveway before stumbling up the lawn and toward the front door. Halfway there, he fell into the lemon tree. Thanks in large to the beer belly he carried around with him, the tree split in half, right down the middle. The girl ran outside and helped him stand up and get inside to bed. The next morning she woke up early and mended the wounded tree the best she knew how, by wrapping its trunk with duct tape.
It healed, and soon the tree started giving so many lemons that nobody knew what to do with them. They were all over the lawn. The girl and her grandfather gathered them to make lemonade and lemon meringue pies. They gave away baskets of fruit to the neighbors, but the lemons kept coming.
The young woman sat at the kitchen table, pushing her food around and thinking about her grandfather and those lemons. She knew that she wouldn’t see him in heaven.
That was Chaz’s drawing.
The crust punk girls stood up and left the cafe.
Nathaniel Kennon Perkins lives and works in a 1991 Dodge Van. His work has appeared in Triquarterly, Pithead Chapel, decomP, Keep This Bag Away From Children, and others. Order Acknowledgement, his chapbook from Pest House Publishing, here.