A Word List Prompt Example

The Watermelon

by Kathy Coogan


Grace picked the smallest one, knowing that Josh would’ve said, “It’s the runt of the litter.” Then she would’ve said, “It’s a fruit not a puppy, Goofy,” and he would’ve said, “What’s a puppy-goofy?” They’d have gone back and forth that way until he kissed her laughing lips into silence.

Josh was obsessed with puns and knock-knock jokes too, saying they’d come in handy with his kid patients. He whispered to her late at night, “You’re the goril-la my dreams.” She always tried not to smile, not wanting to encourage him when she was so sleepy, but the smile came anyway. It was the natural thing then.

She snapped the watermelon from the vine and held the warm globe to her nose. The scent emanating from it was a sachet of clean soil, dark green rind and the deeply buried hint of sweet redness inside. She pulled a Kleenex from her pocket and spit onto it. She polished the dusty green to a shine that held her blurred reflection.

For a second she wanted to slam it to the ground, but that second passed and she walked out of the field, being careful not to step on the vines that curled around her ankles. Josh once said that watermelon vines grew so fast that they were like lassos thrown by rodeo cowboys, just waiting to hogtie you and throw you to the ground. Unlike Josh, Grace was a linear thinker, so he would give her time to slowly imagine the metaphor, watching her face as the awareness came.

Grace walked to Mrs. Sanders’ booth, which bore the sun-faded sign familiar from her childhood: Sanders Family U-Pickit Fruit Farm. Only now it was surrounded by flopping yellow ribbons. Mrs. Sanders said, “That all you want, Gracie? That one’s the dwarf variety, so’s the little kids have something to haul home. Same’s the punkins in October. But they’s not enough fruit in that baby to share and whoever hearda eatin’ a watermelon all by your lonesome?”

Grace smiled but the melancholy must’ve sneaked into her eyes because Mrs. Sanders said, “Shoot dammit, I’m so sorry, child. My big ole foot’s in my mouth again.” She took Grace’s hand in her weathered one and asked, “Y’all hear anything more from the Pentagon?” She pronounced it, “Penny-gone,” and as Grace shook her head no, she stored the word to tell Josh later when he was found.

Grace thanked Mrs. Sanders, who wouldn’t hear of taking any money for “that pitiful little booger.” She walked to her car, holding the fruit between her breasts like an infant. The hot wind blew her dark, straight hair across her face and some of it stuck where the tears were. She pushed it aside leaving a smear of damp earth on her cheek.

Her car windows were down because of the heat and as she got in she felt the grit from the farm field under her thighs. Her black dashboard was covered in a fine coating of the tan dust. She leaned forward and wrote J-O-S-H in the film then quickly erased it when she thought, “From dust though art to dust thou shalt return.”

The epiphany of those words took her breath away and she leaned her head onto her crossed hands on the steering wheel. She looked up over the fields and said, “No.” She turned on the ignition and backed her car out onto the lane.

At home she didn’t go in but plopped down on the porch steps, the watermelon in her lap. Dooney sashayed his wobbly, tail-wiggling butt over to her, his hips swaying like a ponderous circus elephant. She rubbed his ears and used them as a handle to pull his doggy-breath face into hers. “You thirsty, Boy?” Dooney grinned yes with gratitude, then rolled onto his side, where Josh always said that he had an uncanny resemblance to Nero reclining on his royal chaise. He leaned his adoring, drooly, gray and white muzzle onto her thigh and waited patiently to be served.

Grace pulled her car keys out of her pocket and separated the small red Swiss Army knife from the ring. She remembered when Josh had given it to her saying, “You can practice tracheotomies with it in your spare time, or at least peel me a grape.” They had been in their E.R. rotation together and his humor and optimism had gotten her through it.

She pierced the knife into the rind, then inched the melon round and round in her hand until she had made an equator-like incision from which the pink juice dripped. Dooney caught the drops on his nose and then ran his tongue over and over it until Grace could almost hear him sigh, “More, please.” She grasped the halves and with little effort pulled them apart, the ripe pulp separating into equal halves of the moon.

Grace used her fingernail as a trowel to lift the black seeds from the pulp, leaving small thumbprint-shaped scars in the surface. She laid one half down in front of Dooney. He leaned into it as if it were a bowl, and Grace said, “Good, huh, Doons?”

She used her knife to cut chunks and lifted them into her mouth where they dissolved into a delicious brew. She pretended it was Josh dropping them into her waiting open mouth, insisting that she keep her eyes closed and making her wait or kissing her instead.

She opened her eyes when she heard the car pull into her driveway and felt Dooney stiffen and growl. She saw the military insignia on the driver’s side door and saw it start to open. She picked up both now-hollow halves of the melon and pressed them together hard, like it was the most natural thing, as if she could make them whole again. She squinted up into the sun but saw only darkness when she heard a quiet voice say, “Mrs. Fielding?”

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