Watermelon Watermelon by Ashley Lee
Alice sat in the car, her tiny frame pinned to the seat by the imposing mesh of the seat belt that was too big and almost sashed over her china-doll neck. Having just graduated from a car-seat, though, she was not about to complain. The weight of the fast-food burger in her lap, with its clammy wax paper encasing the greasy pile, sat untouched. She had not delivered the verses with the rest of her Sunday school class for evening services, and that was the real tragedy. She had looked down at the white elastic around the tops of her socks and mouthed nonsense like a dying fish. At least the dead man wasn’t going to be offended.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
She had recited her part in front of her mirror using a toy microphone for effect all three days leading up to the performance. She even fixed her hair in a new big kid’s style that she knew her mother would hate and change before they left the house that night. On the drive to church, while she tried to adjust the itchy stockings at her knees, she thought of Brother Jenkins. She didn’t know him except for the wet snores he projected when services were particularly loud and seemed to make people call out more than usual. She hoped dad would make it so he could lead her to the casket and show her the body first before she walked up there with the church kids.
AS the SUV rumbled onto the gravel driveway, she felt an echoing tremble in her frame. She knew the Psalm Pastor Greene asked her to recite with the big kids. She knew it. From almost the moment Brother Jenkins had flopped over in his recliner and found his eternal peace, Alice knew she could prove herself worthy of the big kid’s class. She wrote out all the lines on every paper, napkin, and even, to dad’s chagrin, a wall in the playroom so she could be perfect. Her little voice alone would carry Mr. Jenkins to heaven and she would finally get cookies instead of crackers in snack time before chapel. She entered the church adjusting the buckles on the shiny black shoes she only wore for special occasions. Brother Jenkin’s wife, who she only knew from the banana pudding she brought during Easter luncheons and revivals, which wasn’t even as good as the preacher’s wife’s pecan pie, was bent over and shaking in the front pew. One of their family members who was not part of the church wobbled over to her using a cane for support, laying a heavy veined hand on her shoulder probably more to keep from sprawling out in front of the casket than to offer comfort. It took Alice a moment to realize she had been staring before she continued her walk to the third pew, with the big kid’s Sunday School class: her new peers despite the fact that they all towered over her by at least six inches and all the girls were grown enough to be in stockings instead of frilly socks, so she noted as she could not bring herself to look at any of them above their ankles.
About 45 minutes into the sermon, all the children assembled before the pulpit in the tradition of funerals at St. Paul’s to recite the age-old Psalm that and, as Alice passed the open casket, she fought the urge to pop open the lid covering the rest of the man. Why couldn’t they see his knees? Was it because his shoes didn’t match his suit? Because mom was always hollerin’ at dad for that on the rare occasions he attended services. Tonight he was nowhere to be found. Finally in place at the front of the group so that she could be seen amidst the mid-pubescent giants, she took a deep breath and began to speak.
“The Lord is my…” What was he? The Psalm gurgled and scraped in her throat like a golden ring circling the drain of a bathroom sink, lost forever in an instance’s fit of uncertainty. The flames of the devil’s satisfaction at her stumbling crackled in her cheeks. She continued murmuring and gulping for air, as if seeking absolution through tongues though she had not yet found the gift. The elderly people in the front pew, even the grieving widow, smiled at her indulgently, but only the tight lips fraying white belonging to her mother registered. An eternity longer than the one stretched ahead of Brother Jenkins’s later, the kids returned to their seats.
Upon exiting the whitewashed building half-an-hour later, Alice’s mother held the tiny girl’s hand in a grip with the manicured talons slightly indenting the willowy grasp, dragging her limp form to the car in consternation and anger. The girl’s pointless squirming fury and whining made it impossible for her mother to make the usual rounds and talk to the family.
As the car neared home, Alice continued to avert her gaze from the driver’s side of the car. Still leaving her food untouched, she gazed at the thorny bushes lining the long driveway up to the house and mouthed the Psalm perfectly to herself. With every correct word, her throat thickened and her mother’s continued silence sliced her deeper. By the time the car stopped, she reached “My cup runneth over” and her tears finally fell.
-Originally published in The Elixir’s 2013-14 print edition
-Photo credit to Shareably