When the Watermelon Fell
Valerie drove that day. Valerie always drove. Not only because she was a control-freak, but because she had a car. She was also the only one to make decent enough money at sixteen to afford the gas to get us to Bradenton beach.
We’d just left Subway, plastic bags in hand, and piled into Valerie’s red Honda CRX. Joy took the front seat, and I sat in the back with Kevin, my on-again-off-again high school boyfriend. We rolled out of the Riverview Winn Dixie Plaza with the windows down and the radio blaring—They Might Be Giants—when we passed an old pickup truck with a boat trailer hitched to the back, parked on the side of the road. Two boys, about our age, stood on top of a rusted-out, non-seaworthy boat in cut-off jean shorts and stained up T-shirts. A make-shift farm stand that was eye-catching, if nothing else. They didn’t have much on display. A basket of squash, a half-bushel of tomatoes and two ripe watermelons.
As we passed by, one boy tripped, knocked into the side of the boat, and sent the larger watermelon sailing over the side. The entire thing seemed in slow motion. Trip—sail—splat! Hilarity ensued around me. Smashing produce was a popular comedic outlet in the 90s. It was comedy gold for Gallagher and Carrot Top. People everywhere were making homemade potato canons, and the band Smashing Pumpkins was hugely popular.
“Whoops! Lost a melon,” Val said, laughing in her infectious way. Kevin and Joy laughed right along with her, but I turned my head and stared out the window at the guys on the boat, choking back tears, hoping no one would notice.
I wanted to be angry at my friends. But they didn’t see the struggle in the boy’s eyes, didn’t notice his self-loathing for being so clumsy as to lose that watermelon. The hunger he probably felt. The trailer home he’d return to that night to sleep on a second-hand bare mattress on the floor, ashamed. A home that maybe had no A/C, with tinfoil plastered on the windows to block the Florida heat because curtains were too expensive. They didn’t see the months nurturing that melon in the hopes it would yield four or five bucks for the old coffee can by the sink—savings to turn the electricity back on. They didn’t see that the boys were barefooted, probably unable to afford shoes. They didn’t see… they didn’t see. But I did.
I did because I lived on the poor side of town, and every time I left my house, I saw people like them outside their run-down trailers that were held together with mud, duct tape, and a dash of luck. I did because my daddy was a farmer. And while my situation was much more fortunate than those boys—I lived in a decent house and had clean clothes—I knew about watching the weather because our livelihood depended too much on the whims of nature. I knew about lousy crop years and crippling scarcity. I knew about empty cabinets, bounced checks, and deciding which was most important, the phone or electricity. I knew where my mama kept the candles. I knew the back-breaking work it took to provide food. I knew the devastation of pests, tornados, and freezes. I knew the true value of a meal. My friends didn’t know, and I didn’t share it with them.
That day, my friends saw a watermelon fall, but to me and those destitute guys trying to make a buck, what fell was so much more.
Melanie Kallai grew up in the eccentric little town of Gibsonton, Florida, a place from which she frequently draws story inspiration. Her recent work, What We Keep, was published in the 2020 Colorado Book Award-winning anthology, Rise: An Anthology of Change. She lives in Colorado with her husband, son, and capricious dog, and she visits Florida as often as possible. Find more of Melanie’s writing on her website at www.melaniekallai.com.