by Jason VelázquezHe remembered that she liked cantaloupe. Correction: he remembered that she loved cantaloupe. She told him that if he were ever to be exiled to a desert island and only given three food choices for the rest of his life, he should choose turkey, kale, and cantaloupe because they provided (in combination) all the nutrients a body needed to survive. But that had nothing to do with her love of cantaloupe. She just ate the hell out of it whenever it was around.
She taught him how to pick out a good one, too, at the store. She had never been wrong. This past Saturday, at the store, there was something about the way the old lady in the produce section was holding the cantaloupe Saturday afternoon that reminded him of her. Except that when he asked the old lady if she’d found a good one, she told him, no, she didn’t think so. She was never very good at selecting fruits or vegetables if she couldn’t see, plainly, how ripe they were.
He stepped up to the pile in the display bin and sorted through some until he located one with a mostly beige cast to its exterior. He picked up the lacy-skinned melon, and held its navel up to his nose. He inhaled slowly but deeply with both his nose and mouth, allowing the scent of the nectar inside to travel into his brain, allowing his instincts to guide his judgment. Then, holding the cantaloupe centered on his left palm, he thocked the rind firmly in several places on the fruit’s body. He listened for a certain tone, a certain resonance. Echolocation for sweetness and succulence, she had laughed, back then.
Lastly, he held the cantaloupe in both hands and weighed it. Not for its total mass, but more to judge its density, it’s ratio of sugar to size to juice to flesh. He hefted it up and down a few times. His face changed from a set of critical concentration to an easy, relaxed smile of approval.
He had been explaining the entire process to the old woman as he went along. The old woman did not take notes, but seemed to be hanging on his every pronouncement. When he placed the chosen one into her hands, she thanked him with a relief that was visible. She asked him if the same technique could be used on other melons. Somewhat with honeydews, he told her. Not at all with watermelons.
How the hell did anyone get to be her age and not know how to select a good cantaloupe?
He picked one out for himself and ambled over to an express check-out line behind a young couple who were purchasing twelve gallon-jugs of spring water. After they carried their water away, the young cashier caught herself flirting with him, and then, annoyed at his taking notice, switched to curt, just shy of brusque. She rang up his eggs, mouthwash, and cantaloupe. He told her he didn’t need a bag, either paper or plastic.
About midway into the next month, the light in the back of the refrigerator revealed that the cantaloupe, now also in the back of the refrigerator on the top shelf, had developed a white fuzzy glaze on one side. The mold had almost exactly the same pristine white appearance as that of the decorative glaze on gingerbread men and certain other Christmas cookies. The melon had begun to collapse in on itself. It sat in a gooey pool of the juices of its own disintegration, leaking from a crack in the rind either in the back or on the bottom that he couldn’t see from this angle.
He pushed a glass jar with three green olives in it and a plate of carrot cake that he should probably have covered out of the way to make room for the remainder of the rotisserie chicken that he’d purchased at the very same market the cantaloupe had come from.