the minute I sat down upon the trigger seat was the minute I knew I was in deep trouble. It was a clear four foot drop from where I was sitting to the water. The water, I knew would be icy cold because it was for one groundwater and two the reservoir the water was pumped from deep, deep underground. Even on the hottest, blistering days of early autumn, the water was often fringed. And with tosses being four for a dollar or throwing down two buckets and fifty cents lets you rush up and press the target. There was not a shadow of a doubt in my mind that I would soon be shivering wet by the end of the forty five minute tour.
I'd been sitting on the chair for a food five or so minutes, watching the crowds of people walking past the booth without even lifting there eyes in my direction. Finally a gang of girls neared the booth. moved toward me in a group. I could tell the woman in the center was there de facto leader. She moved with the gentle grace of somebody who was use to giving orders and having them obeyed without a minute delay. Her blonde hair bounced with each step she took. She looked up and peered toward me.
"Hey, Melody." She said in a salty tone of voice. "It's good to see you here. I see they found a perfect place for you. In the dunk tank, little Miss. Perfect." She said walking toward the booth. She turned toward her friend and in a sharp tone of voice, "Hey, Joanna give me a few dollars please." She said and Joanna the red haired women to her right nodded her head, she then reached into her pocket and pulled out a hand full of dollars. She placed the dollars, four of them down upon the counter and was reward with sixteen balls. She then turned toward her left. "Kim, dunk the bitch." She said as she stepped aside and allowed a large, girl with bronze colored h air to step up to the throwing line.
Now the group in front of me and I have a little history you see. We both attend Sharkey-Issaquena Academy or SIA for short. The academy was one of those private academies started to pop up like toadstools after a spring shower when the federal government demanded legal segregation in all state and funded schools, aka public schools comes to an end. In response, dozens of regional farmers pooled their resources to buy land, construct buildings and hire teachers Twenty years have passed since then. And those academies now educated the sons, and daughters of the few remaining planters, farm managers and those few remaining small town merchants that have endured the changes and chances that have taken place these last twenty or so years. The Mississippi delta of nineteen seventy five was totally different than the Mississippi delta of nineteen ninety five.
Anyway, the group of five girls considered themselves the cream of the crop. Despite the fact that most of the students who attended Sharkey-Issaquena Academy came from simmered backgrounds, there was still something of a social hierarchy. The pyramid ran something like this, at the top you had the football players and the cheerleaders. Right below them you had the baseball players, tennis players and softball, baseball and field and track stars. Below them you had those who belonged to the debate team, student government, drama club, glee club and band. And finally at the very bottom you had the run of the mill students like me who did their best to keep their grades up and make it from one week to the other.
And Sarah, the girl in charge of that little group of girls standing in front of me had hated me since we meet on the first day of kindergarten. I can still remember that day, I was doing a coloring sheet and Sarah flanked by Kimberly and Joanna and two others walked up me, pushed me down and tore up my coloring sheet. We've hated each other ever since.
"Hey Kimberly!" I shouted as the girl reached down and picked up the first ball. She raised her head and peered toward me. Now that I had her attention I smiled and peered down at her. She stood there waiting for me to say something. She did not have to wait long for soon I had fired off another remark.
"I bet you're going to strike out like you did last game! Manchester made ;you walk!" I swear saw Kimberly face turn fifteen different shades of red as she reached down and tossed one of the hard balls toward the target, she missed the target and the ball bounced off the timber walls.
"Boom. And there strike one!" I called out.
The girl took a deep breath and reached down and picked up another ball, and tossed it once more toward the target. Once more the target bounced off the wall. I swear after the girl missed the second time she snorted like a bull as she reached down and took hold of another ball. Gripping the ball hard, she tossed the ball again toward the target, missing for a third finally.
"And three strikes your out!" I called out.
"God Kim, the brat suit be shivering by now, instead you've wasted like three totally shots." Said Sarah in a commanding tone of voice. She reached over and pushed Kim to the side and huffed. "Totally if you can't even soak one brat. Just like hand the ball over to me and I'll knock the little princess down."
Sarah then reached down and wrapped her hand around one of the balls. She grinned and flipped her hair back and took a deep breath. For a minute we locked eyes and then it happen, she drew back and released the ball. The ball sailed through the air and smacked into the timbers, the sound of the hardball bouncing off the wooden wall echoed like a roar of thunder.
"Oh Princess, you talk a good game, but you can't deliver, need to step back and let your henchwomen take charge before you do something drastic, like I don't know, break a nail or something." I know I was talking a lot of noise, but heck these girls needed somebody to bust on them as we used to say. You think I'm going to go meek and mild into the night. Hell no, your either going to dunk me, or listen to me flip on you till you manage to hit the target.
"Oh would you just please shut up!" She snapped. "Who needs your dumb game after all! Jesus, have up there loser! It's getting dark, hope those mosquitoes have fun with you and the black flies and horse flies." She said holding up her left hand in the class 'L' shape. With that she huffed and turned around and marched off. Her four henchwomen watched her go. For a minute they stood there, exchanging looks of confusion. Till somehow they decided they better go follow their queen before she turned her fire on them, sheep being led by a donkey if you will.
I sat there for a few minutes, peering toward the crowds that milled around in front of the tank. A few farmers full of the local brew tried to dunk me, but there aim was way off. Kind of glad for it too. After one or two shots, they backed off. Then from the crowd came a familiar face, a tall, handsome boy who moved with grace and speed. My cheeks blushed a dark red as my eyes zoomed in on his rock hard arms, his toned legs and his soul piercing baby blue eyes that just made my heart melt.
As he passed through the crowd, I noticed he took time to pause and speak to every one he meet. Nothing big, just a few words and a handshake. He must have noticed me staring at him, for he started to walk toward the booth. He neared the counter, reached into his pocket, pulled out his leather wallet and tossed a few dollars down on the table.
"Hey Melody, good looking good." He called out as he reached down and picked up one of the balls. "Though you looking a little too dry for my taste." He said tossing the ball up in the air and catching it before it hit the ground. "Mind if we change that."
"Sure handsome I said." As I peered down at the boy. "Better be sure to it the target though. Don't want you to embarrass yourself ."
He smiled and reached up and removed his jacket and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt. A grin a mile long then appeared on his face as he placed the jacket down upon the counter top. He then drew back and the ball started to sail through the air.
I don't remember what happen next. In one fluid motion, the seat I was sitting under gave way and I dropped like a stone through the air. The next minute I was breathing in cold water. The water was cold as ice and washed over me like a title wave. Five seconds later I broke the surface of the water and smiled.
"Boy that cold!" I said taking a deep breath as I climbed up out. "Nice shot though!" And with that I once more climbed up the ladder and pushed into place the trap seat. Taking a deep breath I then moved my bottom back onto the seat. No sooner had I taken my seat than I felt the seat dropping down again and once more I was falling through the air. A big splash followed my landing. Five more seconds and I was once more coming out of the water, blushing like a bride at the altar.
"Okay two in a row, your on a roll. But can you make it three in a role!" I hollered across the field, as I once more climbed up and eased my bottom down upon the trap seat. He smiled and gave me a wink and for the third time in five or so minutes I felt myself falling through the air and landing with a big splash! Dripping wet and pouting I climbed up and pushed the seat back into place and flopped my bottom down.
"Hey Melody, your pretty cool, maybe we should go deer hunting this season? You and me, maybe at the end we could swing by Chuck's and get a hamburger or a one of there baskets." He grinned and added, "Then have a little fun in the motel behind the place. Do a little deer hunting of are our own."
I felt my cheeks flush with color. Chuck's was the name of a local regional favorite. Its full name was Chuck's Hamburger Restaurant. The place was known for its famous Chuck Burgers, made with only one hundred percent USDA Choice Ground Chuck and its sizable baskets, baskets include chicken, shrimp, steak figures and Mississippi Farm Grown Catfish. Both the burgers and baskets included a generous side of there famous home-made steak French fries seasoned with there own house blend of seasoning salt. And grilled garlic toast.
Beside having classic southern foods, they also had a fairly large collection of arcade games, six total. Along with a two pool-tables and an two-pinball machines. You know something for the children and teens. And finally behind the restaurant was a row of cottages that you could rent out. Most of them were rented by out of state hunters. Somewhere rented by teens who needed a little bit of privacy. And the deer hunting is a popular sport in the southern Mississippi Delta. It was also a means of putting meat on the table, and it was a well known fact that in the Landing was among the best of the best. Not everyone could boast of bringing home a buck on the opening day of deer season. And heck-between me and my dad we could fill the three freezers up half-way through the season.
"Great, it's a date Melody." He said reaching down and taking hold of one of the balls. He then tossed the hard, leather ball toward the target, the ball struck the target and once more I found myself dropping through the air. A wave of water washed over the side.
"Sure! I'll see you then!" I called out as I climbed out the concrete tank and started to climb up.
After that little bit of excitement, then started to quiet down a little. A few more people tried to dunk me and failed to hit the target. Most of them had been hitting the spike punch a little too hard. As a result there aim was off, way off. Some gave-up after a few missed strikes.
After sounding the drums of retreat, they would withdraw to the safety of the refreshment table and consul themselves with hard liquor mixed with fruit juice and served over ice cubes. Again, I would like to remind the gentle readers, that this is of Mississippi and that the delta is often considered by scholars to be Mississippi, Mississippi if that makes a lick of sense.
Anyway, nearing the booth now was a gaggle of ladies. Each and every one of them wore a light cotton sundress, plastic flip-flops and on their wrist, bracelets of cheap gold and chipping silver. There where five of them, all flocking together like a murder of crows. Indeed, they were crows, who feed on gossip and rumors and would be more than happy to share those rumors with anybody who is willing to lend an ear or so.
I tried to smile as they neared the booth. I say tried because to be honest I hated with a passion each and every one of those ladies. All five of them had teenage daughters, there five daughters formed the same group that had been the bane of my existence since I started attending school. The ten of them formed an informal club called "The Elite Civic Club" and trust me there was nothing "Elite" or "Civic" about them. I personally considered them the lowest forms of humans. Unlike my folks, who had been in the landing since the start, there people had come following the civil war when land was cheap. They where, what we in the south call "Carpetbaggers", people from up North who had flooded in following the defeat of the Confederate Armies to profit from the improvised locals.
But the reason I considered them the lowest forms of humans was there behavior. They feed on rumors and misinformation. Their main goal seemed to be collection of rumors and gossip that always floated around small southern towns. Their main base of operations was the old beauty salon located on the north side of main. The salon was an old, red brick building called "Creations". here old ladies would sit and chain smoke cigarettes and get catty with each other while they had their hair molded into rollers.
"Ladies." The leader of the group said. A tall haughty women with bleach blonde hair and dark gray eyes called Maple by her friends and Mrs. Henderson by her peers, she was married to Mr. Henderson who taught science at the local middle-school. Who by all accounts was the most bitter, sour bastard you ever had the misfortune of laying your eyes on. There only daughter Sarah was the leader of the gaggle of girls that just passed when I started my shift. I guess the old saying is true, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but in the case of Maple and Sarah, I would say the apple was still on the tree. And both were rotten to the core.
"Behold, the queen tomboy of the Landing." She said pointing toward me sitting on the booth. "You will notice, her hair worn short as she does not have the skill nor the desire to wear it long. Also notice the overly sexual nature of her swimwear. No doubt were looking at a soon to be a teenage mother. Also take notice of her name, Melody Erin Sharbrough. True she one of the few remaining Sharbrough's for whom this town is named. But don't let that fool you, she nothing but a relic, a fossil if I might be so bold."
"Hey WITCH!" I called out. All eyes turned and peered me. "I can hear you, you know."
Mrs. Henderson turned around and peered toward me, I swear she looked like a bull, a bull who just saw some red. She marched up to the booth and stomped upon the ground. She then raised her finger and pointed toward me with one of the big, fat figures. And in a scolding tone of voice she called out.
"Young Lady!" She called out. "Somebody should teach you some Goddamn manners." She called out her face was quickly turning red. Redder than a cherry.
I smirked and peered toward her as I started to kick my feet.
"Oh! Then dunk me WITCH, it's one dollar for four balls, come on teach me lessons." I hooted. "Maybe you can hit the target, unlike your daughter. But don't break one of those fake nails sweethearts. I'm sure Tiger Momma down at Nail's N' Art would hate it."
Mrs. Henderson smashed her teeth together as she tossed four dollars down upon the ball. She then looked up with a glare. I returned her glare with a small smile. Hook, line and sinker. Sometimes it pays to be skilled in the art of Trash Kung Jo.
End of Part Two.