Clyde slipped the bar through the slot releasing the gate. He climbed on the bottom timber to ride it in its arc from the fence. He hopped off onto the dirt road beyond. I was running to catch up. I ran through the open gap and jumped to the road.
“You born in a barn?” Clyde asked.
“You left the gate wide open,” he said. “Last one through always closes it. Everybody knows that.”
I looked back to see the gate was almost flat against the fence. There was a wide open space where it used to be. Chickens had begun to run toward the opening hoping to reach the road beyond. They clucked to let their buddies know there were new pickins waiting for them beyond the usually closed fence.
I headed them off at the pass by slamming the gate against the gate post and sliding the board through the slot on the post closing the gate for good, or at least until we came back. The feathered gathering just beyond the newly closed gate clucked disappointment and began to scratch at the dust under their chicken feet.
“You better watch out for that rooster,” said Clyde.
“He had his heart set on that patch of grass across the road there,” he said.
“Why should that bother me?”
“You're the one who slammed the gate in his face. He had up a head a steam when you flung that gate at him.”
“I didn't aim for him.”
“He dudn't know that,” said Clyde beginning to smile. That smile always brought a twinkle to his eye.
“Well, I ain't afraid of a chicken.” I said that but remembered the two-holer in back and shivered. There were always chickens scratching around the old outhouse when I was sitting on one of those openings in the board. Come to think of it maybe I was afraid of chickens, at least during such moments.
“Don't say I didn't warn you, nef.” The smile was almost complete now and the twinkle was full blown.
He began to walk up the road. I ran to catch up and fell into step next to him.
“What're we gonna do?” I was thinking probably the branch. It was a tiny stream that flowed under the road through a pipe. It was slow moving water just right for wading.
“We're gonna buss op'n a watermelon,” said Clyde. “We just gotta get out of sight of the house.”
“We can't do that!” I shouted. “Granddaddy said stay out of the watermelon patch. He meant it.”
We had received the warning at the breakfast table just a few minutes ago. I was wiping my mouth and Clyde was running toward the door when granddaddy had told him to stop.
“Clyde Lynn! You and Rickey stay out of the melon patch, you hear?” his voice thundered past me.
“Those melons have a few more days before I can harvest them. They're fetching twenty-five cents a melon right now. So don't you go bussing them up in the field.”
“Yessuh,” said Clyde
Grandaddy looked at me.
“Alright. I'm holding you boys to that.”
I put my napkin by my plate. My mother tousled my hair as I got up to join Clyde.
“Listen to your Granddaddy,” she said with a smile.
“Yes ma'am,” I promised.
Those words were still ringing in my ear when Clyde took off in a run.
I ran to catch up again.
He climbed the fence and began to walk the top timber as if it were a tightrope.
“Be careful!” I shouted.
“Pshaw!” he shouted back. “Bet you can't do this.”
It was a challenge. I figured he was right.
He kept looking back toward the house. The old dirt road that led from the front of the farm house to the branch was wide enough for two cars. It was packed without grass growing in the middle like so many old country roads that were simply double ruts, framing a middle row of grass, through a stand of pines.
“Well?” he said.
“You going to try it or not?” he asked, arms out stretched and feet sliding along on the narrow board. He wobbled occasionally keeping his balance.
“I don't know...”
Reluctantly I sidled over to the fence and grabbed the top board which was about three inches above my head. I pulled up and put my feet on the bottom board then climbed to the second holding on tight.
I wasn't sure how to get up onto the top of the fence so I side stepped to the post on my left. I climbed up awkwardly trying to get my knee onto the post. I looked up to see Clyde had continued on. He was three posts further.
I got my feet under me on the post. My hands were on the top board just beyond the post. I clutched at the board inching back and trying to stand. Success.
“I'm standing!” I yelled at Clyde.
“That ain't walking!” he yelled back. He was four posts further. “Now get your balance and slide those feet out in front of you.”
I looked at the narrowness of the board I was to walk on. Then my eyes took in the rest of my predicament. I was on top of the fence. It was taller than me. I froze.
“Buck buck buck BUCK!” Clyde yelled out.
It was up to me. I looked back toward the house. It was small in the distance. Beyond the fence were acres of watermelons. I looked forward, saw Clyde standing on a post looking at me with accusation.
“You gonna walk it or not?”
I screwed up my face and slid one foot forward. The board was limber. It wasn't the solid footing I was anticipating. I slid my other foot behind me.
“No! You'll never make it like that. You gotta walk,” he yelled at me.
I weaved and wobbled stretching my hands out I moved my foot from behind out and over placing it in front on that slim flimsy fence slat. My knees gave. My body leaned to the left but I caught my balance standing upright once again. A smile crept over my face.
“Not bad!” yelled Clyde. “Keep coming.”
Tentatively, I brought my other foot around. I was still OK. Slowly I began to walk.
“I doing it!” I cried. “I'm walking!”
One foot in front of the other, I reached the next post top.
Not bad, I thought.
With my arms outstretched I began to walk a little more quickly reaching the next post in record time. Clyde was only a couple of posts in front of me now. I moved more quickly to the next one. Then he was just in front of me. I stepped out from the post and weaving a bit moved on. As I got midway the board began to move beneath me. I looked up to see Clyde moving it back and forth with his hands.
“Whoa! What are you doing?” I cried out.
“Making it more of a challenge for you,” he shouted.
My balance became more and more precarious. I couldn't stay any longer. I closed my eyes, gave in, and over I went, falling falling into the field side of the fence. I collided with a hard body beneath me which gave way. I lay in a liquid mess. Opening my eyes I saw green rind and red pulp dotted with black seeds.
“Ow,” I said. “That hurt.”
“Oh, get up, cry baby. Look what you did!” said Clyde smiling. “Move over. The heart's mine.”
He shoved me off the broken watermelon and rammed his hand into the middle of it.
I brushed the dirt of the field off me and rubbed my arm where I had fallen on it. Clyde was shoving a huge red glob into his mouth. Seeds and red pulpy water dripped from his chin.
“Might as well eat some of that watermelon you busted open,” he said reaching into the soft center once more.
“You did that on purpose,” I said.
He just smiled offering me a dripping hand full of innards from the broken melon.
I took it. There wasn't much use now since it was there leaking into the soil. We ate until there was nothing but green rind left. Our faces were covered in watermelon juice and mud from the field.
“You know what's the best part?” asked Clyde.
“The heart. You buss 'em open and dig out the heart with your hand.”
“I never had the heart of a watermelon, “ I said.
“Well, you ain't lived. Come on.”
He jumped up and ran through the filed jumping melons along the way. On the far side of the field long out of sight of the house, he stopped.
In front of him was the biggest watermelon I had ever seen. It was a deep green with zigzag striping along its length. The vine to which it was attached was as big as my wrist..
“That's a beauty,” he said. “It's so big we could both have the heart.'
“How are we going to buss it open? I ain't fallin' on it this time,” I said.
“Lemme show ya, nef.”
Clyde picked it up with a grunt. He struggled to lift it above his head. He pushed it as high as his arms would reach. He was shaking with the weight of it. With a shout he flung it to the ground. It split open with a gushing sound. He reached into one side and ripped out a handful of deep red juicy pulp. He held it in front of me.
“Reach into that side and grab like that.” he ordered.
I did. I plunged my fingers deep into the rich redness and with a sucking sound pulled out a hunk of dripping heart the sweetness of which I savored for what seemed ages. Clyde was right. The heart of the watermelon was the best ever. I sat in the dusty dirt with my eyes closed savoring the fruit of our labors.
With my last bite came the guilt.
I looked at the splattered watermelon broken and dribbling into the dirt and in my mind came the command of my Granddaddy.
“What are we gonna do, Clyde?” I asked. I got no answer. He had slipped away.
Spinning my head in all directions I caught sight of him behind me hightailing it to the fence by the road. He was leaving me to catch the blame. NUH Uh, I thought.
I jumped up and ran as fast as I could after him.
He was ducking through the fence when I reached him.
“Why'd you run out on me?”
“You think I want to get caught eating from a bussed up watermelon? You must be crazy.”
“Is Granddaddy on the way out here or something?”
“I don't know. I just wanted to get away without being seen.”
“What about me? You just gonna leave me like that?”
“You're here ain't ya? So I don't guess I left you, did I?”
“Oh knock it off. Let's go wash up in the branch.”
We started of toward the stream.
“What are we gonna do about those two melons we left in the field?”
“What if Granddaddy finds them.”
“Maybe the pigs got into 'em.”
“You think he'll think that?”
“I don't know. I don't figger he'll get around to seeing them til after we are long gone back home.”
I was reluctant but agreed.
We got to the branch and washed the sticky juices and field dirt from our faces and hands. We took our shoes off and kicked sand and water at each other. We sailed sticks down the current. Our morning went quickly. In the distance we heard the dinner bell.
Grabbing our shoes we pounded feet back up the road to the farm. On the steps we put our shoes back on then ran inside slamming the screen behind us. I worked the handle up and down on the water pump while Clyde washed his hands in the cold stream of water flowing from the spout. He returned the favor for me. All cleaned up we marched into the kitchen to sit at table for our midday meal.
Granddaddy kept eying me as I reached for the ham and the chicken along with the biscuit plate. I poured the heavy cream out of the white porcelain jug over my hand sized biscuit. He looked at me steadily as I reached for the syrup. I poured that over the cream soaking into the thick biscuit. Returning the jug to its place on the table I noticed he was still watching me closely. He wasn't smiling. The guilt began to build inside.
I looked at Clyde. He ignored me.
I leaned over and whispered, “He knows.”
Clyde looked at me, annoyed.
I cut into my biscuit fixin's. What'll I say, I wondered, trying to enjoy the meal.
I stewed in my guilt as I chewed my food.
Granddaddy didn't eat much that day. He looked at Clyde then at me. He rose from the table.
“Chores is waitin',” he said placing his napkin beside is half filled plate.
As he walked toward the door he stopped beside me. His hand touched my shoulder.
“You boys have a good morning?” he asked.
“Yes suh,” said Clyde.
“Um, yes sir,” I seconded.
He picked something off my shirt and dropped it into my plate.
“I'm glad,” he said.
I watched him walk through the door then looked at my plate. My eyes focused on the three watermelon seeds he had place there.