University Of Michigan Literary Magazine
rOLUME IV, NUMBER 2 Supplement to THE MICHIGAN DAILY DECEMBER, 1940
THE BURNT LEMON
.By James Turner Jackson
SCAR always scrubbed his
shaving Mr. Williams, some-
times using a fresh towel to
ipe them with. Not that he didn't be-
imself up to Mr. Williams, but he
anted to avoid any direct contact.
Mr. Williams was a Cathol c. And
hat's more, often went to mass before
opping in at Oscar's for his morning-
ave. That's what Oscar hated particu-
rly. And he grumbled softly as he
ied' the cloth around Mr. Williams'
eck. He though he could catch the
mell of incense still lingering around
r. Williams' cheeks, and almost a few
atinisms sitting on his shirt-sleves.
Oscar hated Catholics-hated what he
ved to call Roman Catholicism, al-
hough he rather stumbled over these
ords with his thick-tongued German
ccent, But he always mumbled loud
nough for the benefit of Mr. Dorpenny
ho sat in the first chair waiting for
is shave. And Mr. Dorpenny would
ort of nod approval, but give him an in-
ication not to get tdo aroused, or to
peak too loudly, so that he could with-
old gracefully from making any dam-
ging remarks, restraining himself with
Not that Mr. Williams ever seemed to
otice. That was another thing that
scar didn't like. Why couldn't Mr. Wil-
iams come out and admit his Catholi-
sm? Oscar knew what he was so Mr.
illiams wasn't fooling him.
But Mr. Williams never spoke up or
oined in the talks. He never picked up
and read the ecclesiastical pamphlets,
the gospel-folders, and the religious
books that Oscar heaped around his us-
ual waiting chair. Instead, he always
brought his own newspaper, refusing the
church literature offered to him in great
Nor would he speak up when Oscar
glanced at the newspaper over his
shoulder, reading down the page until
he saw something about churches.
No, Mr. Williams was a Catholic. And
he couldn't defend it. Worse than that,
he wouldn't defend it. Oscar feared that
Mr. Williams wasn't even a good Cath-
olic. That is, as a good Catholic could
be good, you know. Perhaps that was the
reason why he continued working on
him, why he hadn't yet quite given up
hope on Mr. Williams. But still, he was
hard to talk to, impossible to really
reason with, and he just couldn't be
convinced because the facts meant noth-
ing to him.
Oscar dreamed about it at night. He
was that way. For some reason, they al-
ways centered about the burnt lemon
and Mr. Williams. He could understand
Mr. Williams, although it made him very
angry because it put him on the de-
fensive in the shop next morning . . .
'why should Mr. Williams take this ad-
vantage over him in his dreams, any-
way? . .. he couldn't present logical ar-
guments then (everybody knows what
part of the brain operates in dreams)
... moreover, how could he present the
latest issue of Christian Review at such
a time? .. '
THE DREAMS were pretty much the
same. They always started out in a
restaurant, with himself and Mr. Wil-
liams sitting together in a corner table.
Then would come the burnt lemon. Right
"Have this slice of burnt lemon," he
offered, holding it out to him on a wavy
Somehow Oscar knew, or rather, he
suspected, that burnt lemon made Mr.
Williams deathly i- k tha, thy skium
on his hands would pinch up and the
joints swell, and his face become very
blue. Oscar felt the words gurgle in his
throat, but the fork didn't waver al-
thou:;li his arms felt light, being covered
"Eae this slice of burnt lemon," he
r p ud, jigging it up and down just
spreading out over the table until the
waiter came to take away the dishes.
After they had cleaned Mr. Williams
off the linen, sometimes using a crumb-
sweeper briskly, people came in dis-
turbing numbers. Questions were asked,
t with dozens of black-gowned gentlemen,
priests, one might imagine, standing in
This went on for a very long time.
Whenever they hovered too closely, the
shout went up, "Someone burned the
,emon, who? . . . WHO?" This lasted,
growing louder and louder.
indefinite. A rather difficult thing. All
a dream; and a barber must be careful
about certain matters, Must be prudent.
He can't be expected to place his confi-
dence in anything and everything. Not
a barber, you realize.
He had, however, when Gottfried and
Mr. Dorpenny were away, oaany oppor-
tunities to broach the subject. Indeed,
if Oscar had not known himself better
he might have concluded that he was
afraid to ask Mr. Williams about the
character and import of the burnt lem-
He wasn't afraid, though. Hadn't he
moved, house and all, when they re-
named the subdivision he lived in Father
John's Acres? Of course he had. And
they all knew it. No, he wasn't afraid.
Perhaps he was prudent. That was it.
Finally, one day when he was reading
over Mr. Williams' shoulder, he managed
to lead up to the subject.
"I see where they're planning a new
fruit canning factory over on Third
Street ... "
Mr. Williams answered:
Oscar kept the razor gliding smooth-
ly, kept it riding over the ridges under
Mr. Williams' chin. Never a slip.
"I wonder if they'll do any business
in . .. in . . " Never a slip. Fingers and
wrist'as steady as ever .," . . in burnt
lemons? Fine product you knowl . . .
Mr. Williams said not a word. Wheth-
er he paled Oscar could not tell, the
shaving cream hiding his face except
for the shaved strips under his chin.,But
he did not rattle his newspaper more
than usual. And what was significant,
he left without paying. That was un-
usual for Mr. Williams. That was un-
usual even for a Roman Catholic.
AFTER he had dreamt about he burnt
lemon many times. Oscar began to lo-
cate something new and different every
night. It came very slowly, in little bits
that appeared night after night, some-
times mixed up with the burnt lemon
or Mr. Williams being scraped off the
table with a crumb-sweeper, other times
in separate, isolated bits that hung by
themselves in the world of his night
consciousness, in the land of his dream-
time life, in the horizonless common grey
space of his dreams.
It was of a house-a house that he had
passed many times on his way to the
shop, with coat on in winter and in
rolled-up shirt sleeves in summer.
The house-door was always closed. So
he looked up at the high stone wall'
shutting of the house from the street,
separating it from the building crowd-
ing over its left side and from the alley
and another building standing against
its right side. Frequently as he passed
at night when a customer sits silently all
light was just bright enough for hi'
to glance down the alley, .the gate-door
would be open. But not the real door of
the house. That was closed. It would
ever be closed, he thought . . . "closed
even when a customer sits silently all
night in my barber's chair after a long
shave. It will stay shut because if it were
open I would have to go in and I couldn't
very well do that since it is dusty and
never used. They would probably want
me to use the servants' entrance in the
rear-back in the alley." But that would
be closed too. Dusty and-rusty too, pow-
(Continued on Page Two)
by TRISTAN MEINECKE
a little bit with his fork. Oscar knew that
he could smell its odour, for he had
taken particular care to note the direc-
tion of the air-currents pushed from the
fan behind them.
"Just under his nose," he thought,
" ... just under his nose ..."
then he watched the swellings hump
up under Mr. Williams' eyes; and-with
supreme deference-he stroked Mr. Wil-
liams hand, which was lying flat on the
table, pausing just momentarily over the
little bumps growing up from the joints.
Only a moment ,after which he went on.
"It's a burnt lemon! ... "
He was laughing quite gaily by now.
That is, as gaily as Oscar could laugh.
They nodded their heads at each other.
Oscar the barber. Mr. Williams.
From that point on everything became
a confused, disorganized tangle, Mr. Wil-
liams budding into one huge bump and
Finally they let him speak. And he
"But I didn't burn the lemon!"
It was his custom to wake up at this
Oscar didn't exactly know what a
burnt lemon was. In fact, he used to
ponder over that for many hours each
Starting quite a while back, Oscar had
experienced a desire to advance .the
dream-question to Mr. Williams. At
first, however, he was not in a position
to do so. Naturally, as long as his brother
Gottfried and Mr. Dorpenny were
around the shop he would have to be
careful. After he knew Mr. Williams'
response for sure, he might inform the
other two of the entire affair with ut-
But not until then, for it was all very