She was my age, nearly as tall as I, and up to the year before, Freddy Gray told me, she had been good at playing Gully Keeper and Ante-Over. But she didn’t play such games this year. She was tall and slender, and Freddy Gray and J.D. and I had several discussions about the way she walked.
Mr. Wills was the best farmer in the community. My father said he could drive a stick into the ground and grow a tree out of it. But it wasn’t an easy thing with him. Mr. Wills fought the earth when he worked it. When he plowed his fields, you could hear him yelling for a mile. It was as though he dared the earth not to yield him its sustenance.
The moon floated up into the sky, making everything almost as bright as day, but at the same time softer and gentler than ever daylight could be. It was the kind of night when you felt you can do anything in the world, even boldly asking Willadean Wills for a date. On a night like that, you couldn’t help but feel that she’d gladly accept.
It surged up out of me – not the idea of making my name for years to come by such a deed, but the feeling that there was a rightness in defying the world and Mr. Wills.
Mixed up with it all there came into my mouth the taste of watermelon. I could taste the sweet red juices oozing over my tongue, I could feel the delicate threaded redness of the heart as I squeezed the juices out.
I met a terrapin taking a bite out of a small melon. Terrapins love watermelon, better than boys do. I touched him on the shell and whispered, “Hello, brother,” but he didn’t acknowledge my greeting. He just drew into his shell. I went on, wishing I was equipped like a terrapin for the job, outside as well as inside.
We gorged ourselves until we were heavy... We gazed with sated eyes at the leftover melon, still good meat peopled with a multitude of black seeds...
“There’s nothing we can do,” J.D. said. “I can just see us taking a piece of this melon home for the folks...”
We were depressed suddenly, it was such a waste, after all the struggle and the danger, that we could not eat every bite. I stood up, not looking at the two boys, not looking at the melon.
Mr. Wills was tearing up and down the melon patch, and I was puzzled by his actions. Then I saw; he was destroying every melon in the patch. He was breaking them open with his feet, silent now, concentrating on his frantic destruction. I was horrified by the awful sight, and my stomach moved sickly.
Watermelon raiding was a game, a ritual of defiance and rebellion by young males. I could remember my own father saying, “No melon tastes as sweet as a stolen melon,” and my mother laughing and agreeing.
But stealing this great seed melon from a man like Mr. Wills lay outside the safe magic of the tacit understanding between man and boy.
“I’m about as ashamed of myself last night as you are of yourself,” Mr. Wills said. He frowned at me with his heavy brows. “You ruined the half of it, and I ruined the other. We’re both to blame, boy. Both to blame.”
He broke the shell in his strong fingers and poured the white salt out into his palm.
“You see?” he said.
“Yes, Sir,” I said, taking a deep breath. “I see.”
I went on, then, and the next year started that very day.