Caoimhe McKeogh


The lemon was made out of plastic, but it was the same size as a lemon that had grown on a tree. I found it in the sensory room and I knew I wanted to take it home so that Mum could see it and feel how much lighter it was than the lemons she has in the fridge. But Gerry was sitting with me so I had to wait until he told a joke to the other adults and they all laughed and when he laughed he shut his eyes and I put the lemon into the knee pocket of my shorts.  

Then it was lunchtime. Lunchtime is boring for me because Tracy and Laura and Logan and Matiu have to eat their food from their lunch boxes and I’m not very good at that, so Gerry just puts Fortisip into my mickey button and it tickles a bit when it comes out of the pipe and into my tummy, but then I’m done and I have to sit still. Tracy keeps throwing her sandwiches so that Sandra will have to go and get them again, and Laura and Logan only get little spoonfuls of food at a time, and Matiu eats by himself but he always has a sandwich and a biscuit and a muesli bar and a yoghurt and if Sandra or Gerry try to take away his food before he’s finished it he cries. So it’s a long time and it’s boring. Sometimes I bite my arm and open my eyes as wide as they go so the adults will know that I am not happy.

But today wasn’t so boring because I had a lemon in my knee pocket and I could put my hand under the table and feel the hard, round shape of it there and know that no one else had any idea that I had it. I thought about how Mum would do a face with big round eyes and a little mouth when I showed her, because it wasn’t a real lemon but it looked just like one.


When school ends, different people get on different school buses and the adults from school come and do our belts or harnesses and then they say goodbye. My bus only has Oscar and me on it. Oscar was screaming very loudly and I was hot with a sore head so I opened the window and threw the lemon on the road.


Later it was night time and I was in bed. One thing that I used to like to do in the night time was to get up and go to the twins’ room and give them lots of high fives and go to Mum and Dad’s room and give them lots of high fives too. Another thing I could do was take my marbles into the bathroom and roll them on the floor so they went round and round and round and round and made a little hum, and then stopped in the drain in the middle. But Mum made a gate in the hallway, so my room and the lounge and the kitchen are on one side and her room and the bathroom and the twins are on the other side. My side of the gate has all carpeted floors and no drain and no one to high five, so it isn’t much fun at night. 

I started to think about the lemon, and how I didn’t have it anymore because I’d thrown it out of the window. I thought about windows and how the one at the back of the bus looks very small but it was big enough for my hand to fit through with the lemon in it. So I put on my gumboots, because those are the shoes I can put on myself, and I opened the little lounge window as far as it could go and put through one leg and then one arm and then my head, and then fell onto my side in the dirt where there used to be flowers. And then I went searching for the lemon.

It’s very different being outside when it’s night. Everything is much darker, and I had to look really hard at the road to see if the lemon was there, but that meant I couldn’t tell if I was going to step in a hole or a puddle or off the side of the pavement and onto the road.  The good thing was that there weren’t people and there weren’t people with dogs, and there weren’t even very many cars making noises and splashing puddles onto the pavement.  So I walked for a long time without having any problems. I also couldn’t see the lemon anywhere. I saw a plastic bag, I saw one glove that was very dirty, I saw a lot of leaves, and I saw moss growing in the gutters. But none of those things were what I was looking for so I didn’t stop. 

Then it started to rain, which is even worse than if a car splashes a puddle onto you, because it keeps going and going, and I didn’t have my hat to keep water out of my eyes, and I didn’t have a coat to keep me dry, all I had was my Thomas the Tank Engine pyjama pants and my gumboots. And I was shaking quite a lot and trying to rub my eyes so there wouldn’t be water in them so I had to stop walking and sit down, and that was when a man came to talk to me.

He put a coat onto me with a hood on my head and I stopped shaking and stopped rubbing my eyes and stood up from the pavement again. Then I kept pulling my ear to tell him I needed to go to the toilet, but he didn’t take me to the toilet he just kept saying, “Where have you come from, aye?” and his face was too close to me and his voice was too loud so I had to hit him and then roll up in a ball on the road under the jacket. Then I started to do a poo, which made me feel better. His voice was even louder now even though his face was gone, and I was saying, “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee” to myself quite loudly so I wouldn’t have to hear his words, but then I heard a different voice say, “Oh my God, Jack! I thought I could hear you … ”

It was Lucy’s voice. Lucy comes after school on Wednesdays and Fridays. Sometimes if there’s an emergency and another person can’t come, Mum will call Lucy at the last minute, because she doesn’t live far away. She doesn’t have breasts like the other ladies who look after me, and I like it when ladies have breasts, she is very thin everywhere. I think if I pushed Lucy she would probably fall over, but she’s good at playing Age of Empires and she has a gentle voice so I’ve never wanted to push her.  

Last year when Lucy was giving me a shower she said to my mum, “Jack has his first armpit hair!” and we had a three-person party and danced to The Wiggles and we invited the twins but they said, “Ew!” and Mum said, “Just you wait, you two—you’re next!” After that, Lucy showed me she had bought me a deodorant of my own to roll underneath my arms before school. It is quite cold on my skin so usually I don’t do it, but on Wednesdays and Fridays I try to put it on so Lucy will be happy.

Lucy came over to me on the road and she gave me her hand to help me stand up and then she gave me a high five so I would feel better and she said, “What an adventure you’ve had, little soldier!” 

 I like the sound of the things that Lucy says. I don’t say very many things, but I remember things Lucy says and sometimes I say them again. Like when I used to pinch her arms, and then the next time I saw her there’d be bits that were blue and purple and green, she said, “It makes me sad when you hurt me, Jack,” and I pinched her again, so she said, “People need to make each other happy whenever they can. High fives are happy!” 

The day after that I said to Mum, “High fives are happy!” and she gave me lots of high fives and then she called Dad on the phone and I said it to him as well.

Lucy was talking to the man and my poo didn’t feel very nice anymore. He gave her a piece of paper and then he went away and we went to Lucy’s car, and I had no car seat but she had shopping in a bag so she took out eggs and carrots and Diet Coke and put them on the back seat and then she put the bag in the front seat for me to sit on and did up my belt and drove me to my house. Lucy let me stay in the car when she knocked on the door, because she had to knock a lot for a long time and it was very loud, and also still raining. But when Mum and Dad came, they all walked over to the car and they kept putting their hands on me and Lucy kept saying, “Oh no worries at all!” and Mum said, “Where did you get that coat, Jack?” and Lucy gave her the piece of paper from the man and said, “Here’s the guy’s number,” and Mum said, “Oh thank God you were out shopping so late!” and they laughed but Mum had her hand on my head at the same time.

Lucy told me she would see me tomorrow and went away in her car, and Dad said he would have to do something about that window and went into the shed to get a screwdriver and Mum took the gumboots and coat and Thomas pants and pooeypull-up off me and put me into the bath. And usually I like to hold the sides and slide up and down so that waves whoosh over the end and onto the floor, but I was feeling tired so I stayed still while she put soap all over me and washed it off. I heard Dad in the twins’ room telling them to go back to sleep.

When I got out of the bath, Mum had my racing car pyjamas for me, and they’re not as good as my Thomas pyjamas but I knew that the Thomas ones were wet from the rain so I let her put the car ones on me and I didn’t pinch her. Then we went back to bed again, just like if it was bedtime, but this time it was much much later. 

I remembered that the reason I’d had to go out was because I didn’t have the lemon anymore, so after I heard the gate in the hallway be locked I went out to the kitchen. On the way I looked at the window I had climbed out and I saw that it had a metal bit joined onto it just like the big windows do, so it can only open halfway now. In the kitchen I took a lemon from Mum’s bowl on the counter, and I put it into my schoolbag underneath all the spare clothes and pull-ups so the grown-ups won’t find it before tomorrow. I will bring the lemon to the sensory room and put it on the shelf where the plastic lemon was before I stole it.

Caoimhe McKeogh

Caoimhe McKeogh has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from Te Herenga Waka Victoria University. Her poetry and prose has been widely published in Australian and New Zealand journals, including Overland, Turbine, Starling, Cordite, Meniscus, and Mimicry. She was the recipient of Headland’s 2015 Frontier Prize and is now a member of Headland's editorial team.