All I wanted was a glass of lemonade.
Even now, years later, I can picture that stupid glass of lemonade. I can picture it with its dumb fresh lemons floating suspended in translucent, pastel liquid, the color of melted sunshine and happiness. If summer itself had a beach house where we could all go to sip libations on the shore, its walls would be the color of lemonade.
I can picture that pulpy beverage with its stupid beads of condensation gathering on the glass, a funhouse mirror image of my own sweating forehead as I stand waiting in the heat for my fingers to close around that sturdy cup of sour-sweet ambrosia.
I can picture it with its silly striped bendy straw peeking forth from the ice cubes, a straw-siren luring my lips to the edge of the glass. The glass I’d never see in person, yet never stop seeing in my mind’s eye ‘til I deplaned that Qantas aircraft at Los Angeles International Airport. Lemonade, how could you?
But wait, let me back up.
Earlier that morning, the weatherman, speaking from the living room television in a thick Australian brogue, predicted a high of 40 degrees Celsius for the day. This number was meaningless to me, as I picked out my favorite sweater and belted it around my dress before bounding into the elevator and down the street to catch the bus.
Forty degrees Celsius, it turns out, is 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
I was already regretting my sweater by the time I hit the bus stop, but thinking about finding my keys, going back up the elevator and folding the sweater back into its drawer (read: tossing it heedlessly onto the bed) seemed simply too Herculean a task for eight o’clock in the morning.
As the bus slouched toward the stop, I had resigned myself to a day of hot, sweaty discomfort. By the time we’d gone three blocks, I was pondering with only semi-muted horror whether or not I’d remembered to wear deodorant that day.
It gets hot in Australia. I knew that. But this, this was something else entirely — that first day of summer that you’re never quite prepared for but that makes you want to play hooky and go to the river with a fishing pole or something, even if you’ve never wanted to fish in your life. It makes you want to put on a bikini, despite having skipped the gym for weeks. It makes you ask, “Wait, is this November?” before you realize this is Australia, and the seasons are reversed, so Santa Claus impersonators wear board shorts.
I’d already been living in Australia for a few months, studying things like wine tasting (seriously) and Australian literature at the University of Sydney and working fulltime as an intern at Time Out Sydney magazine, a food, entertainment and lifestyle review.
Time Out’s office equipment was temperamental at best and downright unreliable at worst, and though no one really minded since the job came with free, unlimited beer and concert tickets, sometimes our air conditioning would short out for a time. Being a non-sentient machine, the air conditioning had no sense of decorum, and would frequently go haywire on the most inconvenient of days. Like days when the weatherman calls for a high of 40 degrees Celsius, and you don’t know that that means 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
It was around this time that I started to fantasize about lemonade.
Has there ever been a more perfectly crafted beverage, a drink that so instantaneously refreshes and renews? Even little kids who don’t know the first thing about Keynesian economics or Harvard Business School curriculum choose lemonade as their first marketable domestic product. It’s that flawless. Even five-year-olds get it, and I once heard a five-year-old claim that bananas were just fancy pears.
Leaving the office, I was imagining the slightly gritty texture of the undissolved sugar melting in my mouth, contrasting with the sharp, sour bursts of lemon pulp. I was thinking about how cold the lemonade would be, cold enough to coat my throat in a lingering drip of cool refreshment.
I rounded the corner into a local café, my excitement mounting. I leaned my elbows on the counter and made my selection. I’m not even picky. I don’t need some trendy stuff like blueberry mint lemonade or muddled strawberry and elderberry lemonade or whatever. I’m looking for, like, one step up from the canned frozen variety. My main criterion is fresh lemon juice. That’s all. I’m a woman of simple tastes.
There is something you should know about Australia. Something that I learned the hard way, as my heart shattered into pieces small enough to get lost in pink powered lemonade when a green and white aluminum can was placed cheerfully in front of me.
In Australia, there is no such thing as fresh-squeezed lemonade as we know it in America. In Australia, “lemonade” means Sprite.
At least I got a bendy straw.