“Don't Forget the White”
a short story
Gary Baker, October 2013
“Why do you eat the white part?” She asked, her chin held in curious fingers.
I looked across from my park-side stone bench, the kind that appears as though carved from marble despite being everyday cement, and into the crystalline eyes of an elderly woman in an automatic cart. “Why do I eat the white of the melon?” I responded back, unsure of how to answer.
The real question she should have been asking was: why wouldn't I? or better yet: why didn't everyone else?
But I had always eaten it that way. It had always been the sweet, tangy crimson red first, dribbling down my moistened chin like an ecstatic cannibal with vegetal gore slipping down the corners of my lips, along the crevices made by years of childish smiles, and out over the overhang of my own mandible. It always made my jaw muscles ache with awe each time I bit into it, made my tongue sear with relishing delight as those black and white seeds floated over and beyond the grasp of my ability to bite down on before they, too, slid down my gullet and into a core of happiness.
Only afterwards, of course, could come the good part, the part that kept me always coming back for that initial sweet blast: the not-quite-bitter-not-quite-sour part. What most people I knew would refer to as the ‘rind’ of the melon, and commonly call it toxic, though I had never once gotten sick from any such part, was, to me, the most philosophic of the parts to a watermelon.
No one ever ate it but me, and perhaps that was why I tended to be the one who lasted through things much longer than anyone I’d ever met. Practically becoming my life’s mantra was that in order to better enjoy the sweeter parts of life, one also had to endure through the more iconic and drab parts or else there would often be no point in going on after the sweetness ended, in my opinion.
The rind of life was what gave me the sense that other, sweeter bites would be coming in the future, that if I held on just long enough for another slice the sweetness would return with so much more vigor and affection. I learned to appreciate the better moments while they lasted, knowing that the dull was on its way and therefore would remain until my path crossed with another dripping, juicy triangle of metaphorical watermelon.
“Why do you eat the white part of the melon?” She asked, chin held in curious fingers. She only asked once, with the sunny midday sun peeking over her yellow knit sweater through riverside willow branches and the breeze shifting what remained of her white, elderly hair. The words came but once, though the moment seemed to last a lifetime of echoes for me, looking back.
“Why do I eat the white part?” I sent back, bewilderment fiddling with the strings of thought that wove their ways through my mind and into a growing scarf of who I was and forever would be. “Well,” I wiped my cotton shirt over my chin and soaked up the drops of juice that had started to thicken and become just-sticky enough to start itching. “The way that I see it: everyone avoids the white, and they shouldn't. In life we move along waiting for the sweet, melty red part that dissolves in our mouths when, realistically, we could be enjoying the sour or bitter or tasteless moments as they happen, knowing that such can only serve to brighten the taste and tartness of the red.”
The elder woman looked at me with a smile, reached her hand over to my tupperware container of freshly-cut watermelon. “With such wise words, would you mind if a weary soul like mine were to join in on such a philosophy?”
Thinning rind held in two hands, feeling as though I were six again, I smiled through the pulpy white meat of watermelon and brought one sodden hand down on the bench beside me, beckoning her over from her place in the middle of the walkway. “I wouldn't mind it at all!” I beamed, handing her the container to take one of three remaining pieces. “But remember,” I chastened with a drippy, juice-laden forefinger.
“Don't forget the white,” we said together.