Jeffrey is an expert watermelon selector.
He’d never be caught in a supermarket. That’s where they send the leftovers from the farmers’ market, he says, the produce for the lazy. For those without the time or energy to go to the real thing.
And even in the farmers’ market you need to know where to go. Not everyone there specialises in watermelons.
Plus you need to know which market to choose.
It’s been three years since they left Willard for Cleveland and still he drives an hour every week to North Fairfield Farmers’ Market to get watermelons, at the stand opposite the pickle place.
First he looks at the color texture of the watermelon looking for weak spots. A pale spot that’s too big, a stem crooked at a bad angle, stripes that don’t look right. Then he picks up the watermelon and feels the weight to size ratio. That’s how you know if it’s floury. Finally he pats it gently and listens to the echo the sides make. A watermelon ultrasound.
That evening Jeffrey came home with the perfect watermelon. It was a giant hidden in the back of one of the boxes and he just noticed it by chance. It passed all the tests perfectly, and the farmer initially tried to talk him out of taking it, saying it didn’t look good, but Jeffrey knew he just wanted it for himself.
The cry from the kitchen made him jump out of the shower and grab a towel.
Laura stood in front of the watermelon holding a knife.
“The watermelon. When I tried to cut it I felt something move inside.”
The watermelon sat on the marble counter where Laura had thrown it. It had cracked slightly and a bit of juice had pooled underneath. The two halves on either side of the crack moved rhythmically, widening and then closing the crack.
Jeffrey was afraid there were bees or bugs inside. He was allergic to bees. When he was a kid he’d gotten stung by a bee on a trip to Killdeer Plains and couldn’t breathe. They had to rush him to the ER to get a steroids shot. He remembers the feeling, striving for air.
He got closer to the watermelon, placed his ear to its surface and listened carefully. There wasn’t any buzzing sound and the pulsating of the watermelon hinted at something bigger inside. Jeffrey held the watermelon, widened the crack edge with the knife and then pulled apart the two sides, like opening a large green egg, and stopped when he saw a pink little foot poking out.
It was a baby’s leg.
It was covered in reddish bits of watermelon and wriggled strenuously.
He put the knife aside and pushed the watermelon open, gently removing pieces of peel without hurting the baby inside.
When the watermelon was mostly dismantled they saw it was a baby girl. Her umbilical cord was attached to the watermelon on the side of the stem, by the bump at the edge.
Jeffrey opened it all the way and pulled out a small baby who blinked at him with green eyes.
“Okay, what do we do with her?”
“What do you mean? She’s ours!” Laura took the baby and cradled her in her arms. Using a kitchen towel she cleaned the remains of the watermelon, and removed some seeds that stuck to the baby’s delicate hair.
Meanwhile, Emma came out of her room, “Whoa Mom, what’s this baby?” She raised her hands and pressed them to her mouth in surprise.
“This is your new sister.” Laura smiled at her.
“What? She came out of your belly right here in the kitchen?” Emma asked with an inquisitive look.
“No cutie, she came out of a big watermelon, here’s what’s left of it on the counter.”
“Cool!” Emma was excited “I didn’t know babies come from watermelons.”
“Neither did we,” said Laura.
“Not just any watermelon, it’s a watermelon Dad chose!” Jeffrey boasted. He tasted the remaining watermelon on the counter. It really was a great one. Deliciously juicy, not a bit powdery or dry.
As always, Laura began organizing things. “Well, Jeff, you have to go to Westfield. We need diapers, formula, wipes and pacifiers. And get the box with Emma’s baby clothes.”
“Where is it?”
“In the garage. Top shelf. It says ‘Emma / Clothing / Newborn’.”
Jeffrey drove to Westfield Southpark Mall, excited. It’s not every day you find a baby in a watermelon. On the way he began making plans. He should take urgent leave from work and figure out how to register the baby. He’d need to check if city hall would be enough, or if he also needed to file something with the Department of Public Health. But how could he do this without any hospital records? And what kind of vaccines do you give a baby that came from a watermelon? What if she grows up to be some kind of a monster? But she looks so cute…and how did she get into the watermelon? And what do we tell our friends and family? The truth. We should tell them the truth. There’s nothing to hide.
When Jeffrey got home the kitchen counter was clean again and Laura was sitting on the living room sofa with Emma, both of them admiring the new addition to their family. He put away the shopping while Laura prepared some formula for the baby but she refused to eat, recoiling from the milk with loud screams.
Jeffrey searched online and found an article about an Australian couple who set up an organization to teach people how to care for watermelon children. Apparently there are a few dozen such cases in the world, and the Association for Watermelon Children has some useful tips on its website and an annual conference in Sydney.
“Laura, there’s no point in giving her milk. It says here we should give her a bottle of watermelon juice or a banana crushed with sugar and water. I’ll be right back.” He took the car keys and went shopping again.
They named the baby Allison. It was a name the three of them liked.
Getting a birth certificate was easier than they thought. They all went to the Cleveland Clinic Fairview Hospital. Laura said she had given birth in their jacuzzi at home and they were given some forms to fill out. When the hospital clerk, who had curly dark hair and a wide white smile, asked them for the name Emma jumped and yelled “Allison!” and they all laughed, besides Allison who just blinked her green eyes and sucked on her pacifier. Nobody asked to check if they really had a jacuzzi at home.
Once Allison had her birth certificate they got her all the required vaccines besides Hepatitis, which the association’s website said watermelon kids were naturally immune to.
Life was back on track and they got used to being a family of four. Emma’s teacher was informed of all the details one afternoon, after she’d called Laura anxiously saying Emma was telling the class they’d found her baby sister in a watermelon.
Allison vigorously suckled watermelon juice and crushed banana shakes and grew up to be an inquisitive, happy baby.
But she didn’t speak.
Even when she was already in daycare at age two and a half, she still had not uttered a word.
Laura and Jeffrey were very worried.
“Maybe something’s wrong with her? Should we run some checks? Are we doing something wrong?”
They even called Australia and spoke with the founders of the AWC who said there was no cause for concern. But parents will always worry. At least moms will.
And one day Jeffery came back once again from the farmers’ market carrying a perfect watermelon.
“You wouldn’t believe the watermelon I found!” he told Laura proudly. “Even better than the one we found Allison in!”
He placed the bags from the market on the kitchen floor and little Allison, who had just come out of her room, skipped over to the pile of bags, found the one with the big watermelon, sat down in front of it, tore it at its sides, hugged the watermelon with two small hands, and with a soft, clear voice said her first word.
When it’s so hot in Tel Aviv that buildings sweat onto sidewalks, nothing cures heatstroke like a slice of watermelon. In Nir Hezroni’s short fiction, Watermelon Ultrasound, tapping the rind doesn’t give hint to what’s brewing inside.
Hezroni is an internationally-acclaimed noir-thriller novelist daylighting as an IT guy in Tel Aviv. His mystery novels are global bestsellers, currently in development for TV. In this short story, Hezroni dips into the sweet surreal like he’s floating on the Mediterranean, blissfully accepting the weirdness that pops up in the pockets of everyday life.
Fascinating to me is Hezroni’s choice to translate Israel-specific details into references palatable for an American audience. Though his work was insightfully edited by translator Josh Friedlander, Hezroni did the first translation draft himself. In the Hebrew original, the “farmer’s market” is the “shuk,” the open-air marketplace that is a staple shopping center for many Israelis. In the Hebrew, the main character, “Efi,” moves from central Jerusalem to the city of Modi’in, while in Hezroni’s translated version “Jeff” moves From Willard, Ohio, to Cleveland.
The decision to specifically foreignize a piece, down to the geographic details, hints to the potentially expansive boundaries of Israeli literature. What does it mean to erase the local references of one language in place of those of another? Is it an act of imagination, or a symbolic suggestion of global belonging? Tel Aviv is, after all, a global city, one that prides itself on its international populace and airport. What is it about Israeli literature that wants itself to be positioned all over the world?
And yet: the symbols of the piece remain grounded in place. The watermelon has a potent history as a symbol within Israeli cultural history, stretching from pre-state Palestine to contemporary Israeli identity. The Rubin Museum in Tel Aviv hosted a retrospective of the watermelon in Israeli art in 2009, seeking to understand the fruit in its varied Israeli-historical contexts. Curator Shira Naftali wrote that contemporary depictions of watermelon in Israeli art go beyond the associations of a happy summer, and “are charged with sexuality, unbridled urges and violence.” As evidenced by the exhibition, this motif of a juicy sexuality, a physicality that reaches back into the histories of produce exchange in pre-state Palestine, comes up repeatedly in Israeli art.
Then, in Hezroni’s story, the watermelon births. In English or Hebrew, Hezroni’s surreal short piece picks up the watermelon image, sparking images wherever it lands. Such is the case with literature as it travels the world, picking up new contexts, birthing new versions of itself.