Over the slow clop-clop of a mule’s hooves on the pavement and the creak of an overloaded wagon, a reedy voice called, “Watermelons! Fresh watermelon! Straight from
where ain’t nobody that ain’t white never lays their head at night!”
Gauge and the two boys from the quarters that he’d been playing ball with on the vacant lot hurried into the street and fell into step beside the mule.
“Don’t walk too close! You might get stepped on!” said the driver, spitting onto the singletree. “Ever been stepped on by a mule before?”
“Oh, I been stepped on by my grandpa’s mule before,” said Gauge.
“It ain’t no fun is it?” asked the little man.
“Yeahhhh, you really a tough one.” The man looked at the other two boys. “How ‘bout y’all—ever been stepped on by a mule?”
JJ bowed his head to avoid looking straight into a white man’s face. “Naw, suh.”
LeRoy didn’t say anything.
“He ain’t got no mama,” said Gauge.
“Well, he can talk, can’t he?”
“No, sir,” said Gauge. “He ain’t got no voice.”
The watermelon man looked LeRoy over carefully. “What happened to him?”
“Got hit by a board in the tornado. It crushed his voice box and killed his mama. She was holding him and boards was flyin’ through the air,” said Gauge.
“What they doin’ over here this side of the tracks?”
“Baseball? You tellin’ me they know how to play baseball?”
“Ever'body knows how to play baseball,” said Gauge.
“They any good?” asked the scrawny man.
“Not as good as me,” said Gauge.
The man laughed. “Well, I would reckon not!”
“JJ’s a pretty good hitter, though. And LeRoy’s the fastest runner.”
“Which one’s LeRoy?” asked the man.
“The one that ain’t got no voice,” said Gauge.
“Prob’ly thinks he can outrun a bullet, huh?” The driver spat at LeRoy’s feet. “LeRoy, you think you can outrun a bullet?”
LeRoy refused to look up.
“Why you bringing watermelons way over here?” asked Gauge.
“To sell ‘em, boy! What’chou think?” He laughed and added, “Don’t know nobody that wants none, do you?”
“I don’t reckon not,” said Gauge.
“Guess I’ll go park at the Farmer’s Market, see can’t I sell some over there.”
“Can we ride on your wagon?” asked Gauge.
“You can, but not them two.” He made a clicking sound with his mouth and said, “Come on, Maude!”
Gauge looked from the mule to his teammates and said, “Never mind. I believe I’ll walk.”
The watermelon man shrugged and shook the reins, “Let’s go, Maude. Getup!”
The three boys stood in the street and watched the mule plod over the crest of the hill with the driver yelling, “Watermelon for sale! Raised in
where ain’t nobody that ain’t white
never lays his head at night! Watermelons! Forsyth County
Gauge took a practice swing with the bat and said, “Come on, y’all, let’s bust us a few watermelons.”
“Mistah Gauge!” exclaimed JJ.
“Well, he deserves it, don’t he?”
“For what he said about us?”
“For calling his mule Maude! Maude is the wife of King Haaken the Seventh of Norway. Maude was the wife of King Henry the First. Maude is my mother’s name and my mother is as good as the best and better’n the rest.”
“But, Mistah Gauge…” said JJ.