Melons

Rachel Laverdiere

 

My cousin and I love being scheduled together for prep at the family steakhouse, but this morning L. says one of us must work the front because the girl on cash called in sick. At fourteen, I’m too young to take the register, so my cousin and the metal tins of garlicky mushrooms and onions we’ve just fried up disappear through the double doors. She whisper-promises to peek in on me because us girls are uncomfortable around L., especially alone and in the kitchen.

I tighten my scrunchy. Melon platters are first on today’s list, so I prop open the door to the walk-in cooler with a 5-gallon pail of baby dills. Re-emerge with an armful of cantaloupes tucked beneath my chin. L. is waiting for me. His blue eyes burn into my chest as he looks me up and down and says, Nice melons. My cheeks flush. He kicks the pail and the door bangs shut. Instead of angry words, a nervous giggle skitters up my throat, and I drop the melons on the counter. Bury my knife into a burlap shell, and two peachy halves splay open. L.’s Drakkar Noir creeps up behind me. Not much taller than me, his breath presses into my neck, his heat against my back. I scoop out the innards, gag on the slime, the smell, his beady eyes devouring me. Slice, slice, slice, slice goes my knife, then I stagger-stack melon wedges. Crescent moon smiles, fleshy gums leering back at me. Chop, chop, chop, stack, stack, stack until I’ve got a tower for the salad bar.

Next up, honeydews. Pickle pail, armful of melons. Slice, slice, slice. L.’s arm brushes against my breast. His thigh bumps against my backside. Tears prick my eyes. Stack, stack, stack until I escape, carry the pretty platter to the salad bar. Before the door swings shut, L. says, Take a 10-minute coffee break before the brunch rush.

Of course, he is waiting for me at the secluded staff table. I pull a pack of Du Maurier Kings from my purse, and he says, Fourteen-year-olds shouldn’t smoke. He flicks his Bic. I inhale. In my head, I mutter that thirty-somethings shouldn’t rub up against teenaged girls. But I need this job. I finally fit in now that I have money for cigarettes and clothes and makeup. L. narrows his glittery eyes before he smiles and asks, Do you think it’s wrong for a father to bathe with his daughters?

My heart clogs my throat. I butt my cigarette. Escape to the staff washroom to cry, then reapply face powder, eye shadow, eye liner, double-lash mascara. Backcomb my bangs and spray them tall with Aqua Net. Spritz Navy onto my wrists and neck and promise myself not to take more shit from L.

Pickle pail in place, I almost manage to juggle two watermelons at once before the light goes out. The door slams shut, and I drop the melons. L.’s voice, Uh-oh. Now we’ll have to press our bodies together for warmth. I imagine his piggy eyes crinkling at the corners, and I’m furious. Frightened. My heart pushes against my esophagus as I bang and bang and bang on the heavy metal door. Thankfully, my cousin hears, and the cooler sighs open. She gives L. the stink eye and continues to the front, tray of baked potatoes held high above her head. The dishwasher and busboy have punched in and are tying on their aprons. I picture myself at the mall on payday, squeezing into Levi 501s and pushing in the gold hoop earrings I’d do almost anything for. Tell myself I am safe enough to retrieve the melons. This time, I use the cleaver. Hack, hack, hack, hack until the church crowd arrives and L. goes out to the front.

***

Months later, L. and I are shocked when I finally snap. While I’m slicing tomatoes, he’ll comment on my “jugs.”  Eyes wide, we’ll watch my fist connect with his shoulder, tomato seeds spraying across his white shirt. When he says, I like ’em a little feisty, I’ll drop my sharp knife and march to the office. Voice quivering, I’ll give my two weeks’ notice. They won’t ask why, so I’ll return to the cutting board. Hands trembling, I’ll build a wobbly tomato tower and wonder whether I’ve lost or won.

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Rachel Laverdiere writes, pots and teaches in her little house on the Canadian prairies. Find her Pushcart and Best of the Net nominated prose in Sundog Literary, Lunch Ticket, Longridge Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal and elsewhere. In 2022, Rachel’s CNF was a finalist for the Barnhill Prize. For more, visit www.rachellaverdiere.com or find her on Twitter at @r_laverdiere.