The Bearer of Strange Melons
Mike walked quickly and nudged melons around with his feet, apparently appraising ripeness through his boots. Two of the three types of melons he planted had failed. September had been unusually cool and they hadn’t received the proper sun and heat to ripen. He scooped an emissary of the first crop, cut out an elegant slice from it with a knife I never saw him unsheathe, and handed the white slice to me. Then he did the same for Scott. My thirst drank greedily of the juice gushing from the melon’s flesh and I devoured my slice with pleasure and haste. Mike, however, cut himself a transparently thin piece, spat, and tossed the open melon back into the patch without ceremony or a second glance. Chagrined, Scott and I realized that we had just enjoyed a worthless, no-account, failure of a melon, a melon undeserving of the name, a melon beneath contempt.
“I can’t sell anything from this crop,” he said, and hopped nimbly between rows to another variety. The second melon was more promising. Mike dispatched three slices with samurai speed and indifference and a ripe melon scent bullied the air around us. Scott and I reached hurriedly for our share. The flesh was orange and glistening. ‘Better’, Mike grunted, and then dropped the melon and moved on. I lingered some, savoring the sweet fullness, its sensual pliancy. It was not the best melon I had ever eaten, but it compared. This was a melon I would have rhapsodized had I fetched it for my breakfast table, and yet this man, who was no snob and proud of his farm’s ability to provide for his family, would not, could not sell it. What did he know that I didn’t? Did melons actually get that much better?
Mike was cradling a large, strange object and grinning loudly. I broke my reverie and hurried over to see what he had found. It was a fearsome object, and ugly. Its shell was several shades of green and covered with smooth bumps, obviously the victim of some wretched disease. Mike parted the amphibious skin of the melon like Moses parted the waters-it was as if this melon begged for the knife. He told us it was a Piel de Sapo, a Spanish variety whose name translates as Skin of a Frog. Once open, the melon was no longer ugly. Its flesh glistened like melting snow, weeping tears over its own perfection. The flavor was a cathedral and a liqueur. What did this mean? How had I lived twenty-five years and never been given so sweet a gift? We do not eat real food, I thought, we do not eat real food. So staggered was I by this mortifying ecstasy, that I could not stop Mike from letting this melon—this Aphrodite—drop back into the patch from which it sprung. Scott too, in mute horror, watched the melon fall.
“We’ll let the chickens have it. There’s nothing they like better than melon seeds.”
-From Edges of Bounty: Adventures in the Edible Valley