Lobsters, Cherries, and Portals to a Universe Where You Feel Alive
It smells like lobsters and cherries and today is the Fourth of July. It’s a four-mile walk to work and no one’s waiting on Cherie if Cherie doesn't show. She’ll be fired and that’s that, and Cherie knows her family will be hearing about it, and it’ll cause a whole fuss and maybe catalyze some blows, things being the way they are around here. She smokes a cigarette, blowing her overgrown bangs out of her face. The ocean air is still shiver-making cold on Maine mornings, even in mid-summer. The wind whips her bangs back into a messy fringe that dusts her eyelashes. She squints, trying to make out shapes in the fog. She feels eyes on her, heavy eyes, and suddenly, she’s like a deer in headlights. The first time Cherie came close to hitting a deer, she realized that when some deer freeze, they don’t look directly at you. Instead, they stop in motion, as if their stillness will blend them back into the landscape, even though the landscape is now a concrete road, and a car is about to hit them. They are still stunned, of course, and yes, of course, still in headlights. But their eyes, their eyes are fixed on the road.
Cherie keeps her eyes on the endless sea. “If you don’t notice that I notice you,” she mulls over silently, “then maybe you won’t realize that I know you’re a threat, and you’ll continue to act slowly, move without haste,” she continues, feeling the saltiness of the morning dew as she breathes in the chilly gusts that ascend the cliff. Cherie reasons that any predator would begin accelerating as soon as that split second mutual recognition was made. The “I see you.” The wordless exchange. Cherie knew her eyes would give it away. She keeps herself facing towards the sea.
Cherie’s breath holds a temporary presence in a smoky exhaust in front of her, a smoky exhaust partially obfuscating her view of the foggy incoming tide. Her eyes appear intently aimed at a distant point across the bay. Slowly, as if mesmerized by an invisible point in the distance, Cherie cranes her neck to the right. The gravel crunches under her tennis shoes, and she turns away. She feels the eyes, heavy, on her back. It has the effect of making Cherie feel like she is being pulled back into a whirlpool of quicksand. She continues each step, each leg feeling like it is stepping arduously out of a pool of hardening cement.
As she nears work, Cherie watches giant S.U.Vs park on the bridge, taking pictures of families that look prettier than a J.Crew catalog cover, and part of her can’t accept these people are real.
When the backdoor slaps closed behind Cherie, Frank, he’s the front of the house guy, yells back into the kitchen at the line cooks, a bunch of ex-cons nobody else will hire, that Cherie is looking for a date to attend a line dance in town. The line cooks don’t answer, they’ve got more dignity than Frank, who’s got more than one screw loose, and does this every time Cherie arrives.
Maxine is Cherie’s boss. She has the cheery disposition of a church lady and the hands of an auto mechanic. She bakes pies and never argues and people were pretty sure her husband hit her but no one ever said anything about it. Bartleby was a few heads short of 1,000, but more than triple that in the summer. The industry was all about that hometown charm. Now, what’s so charming about uncovering a home life like that?
Maxine was the type of woman who could make Cherie feel “in the way” in an otherwise empty room. If Cherie weren’t doing something useful, that is. And to Maxine, “useful” was very specific. It involved your hands, the customers, humility, and preferably a moderate amount of sweat.
A family comes in, smartphones raised like ceremonial torches, all surrounding a boy with scruffy blonde hair, probably in his early twenties. She knows his kind. Bowdoin graduate, out of state plates, parents displaying preternatural pride. She almost laughs as she sees the father’s puffed up chest. “Like animals,” she thought, celebrating the victories afforded to them by chance as if it were both an inborn superiority and the result of an incredible force of will. They sometimes outdid themselves, surpassed even what one could expect. There would be golden children, usually three. The father would be practically levitating, so extreme was the inflation of his ego. He’d be sporting a crisp oxford shirt, one with a small check pattern in lavender or turquoise: His “nice casual” shirt. He doesn’t want to overdress us, poor locals. We should know that he’s still down for a beer, maybe even two, but that conservative gingham shirt is going home at 10:45 pm to watch the financial news on his iPad. Better get the check.
The mother would have a nearly invisible presence. This would remain the case until she spoke if she was well-matched to his class, which was increasingly common. She would be rail-thin, with that “just shy of leukemia” look, with a wispy chiffon cradling her bony shoulders. It wasn’t difficult to picture her in a coffin. In fact, one could hardly help it. Even with well-placed botox, she looked partially decomposed, the chiffon providing a stately home for her elegant, swanky neck to rise up indignantly, as if to say, “Well, this is it, isn’t it? I’ve done it. Are we finished now?”
Cherie imagined this was the type of woman who might specify what shade of lipstick she was going to wear to the grave. The family nears the end of the old, wooden dock that led to the lobster house’s customer entrance. Cherie finds herself wishing they would unceremoniously drop off into the sea. Instead, they take a sharp right turn and thrust open the screen door, behind which was the hostess stand. She quickly gathers herself into an expression of transparency only the ignorant could associate with small-town simplicity. Their gloating reminds Cherie of an odd combination between a peacock and a wild boar: somehow both obnoxious in its strutting and perverse in its baseless enthusiastic grunting.
Cherie reaches beneath the hostess stand, and carefully selects two miniature manila envelopes. She tucks them into the front of her apron. She sits the family, informs the waitress they are seated at Table #10, adds potassium cyanide to the water glasses laid out on their designated Table #10 serving tray. Catching her reflection in the bay windows, Cherie sees herself amidst the choppy waves. She brings a hand to her face, and quickly touches up her bangs. Cherie feels the heavy eyes on her. Cherie walks back to the hostess stand. Cherie smiles.
About the Author
Julia is a full-time doctoral student at the University of Oxford, and part-time writer with a passion for creative writing.