Catch of the Day
By David Daniel
They were sitting a few seats away at the lunch counter, three of them, sun-browned, white-walled, wearing civvies. I pegged them as Coast Guardsmen, newly assigned to the station out on the point. I picked up a couple of the accents. One was Deep South, Alabama, maybe. Another was pure New Joisey. The third I wasn’t sure of . . . something Midwestern. They were likely having their first beers since boot camp and were growing frisky, a bit loud in the small diner.
Alabama leaned toward the waitress. “Pardon me, ma’am. Can you tell us what Scrod is?”
Overhead lights made the chrome and Formica gleam. The waitress smiled. “It’s the fish of the day.”
The other two laughed and high-fived at the smackdown of their buddy. But he was good-natured. “Yes, ma’am, but, I mean what is it? Scrod.”
“I toldja awreddy,” New Jersey said. “It stands for ‘scraps on deck’—whatever they happen to have on the boat when it comes in.”
Alabama shook his head. “It ain’t no acronym. It’s a kind of fish, right, ma’am?”
“Oh, it’s definitely fish,” the waitress went along. “An ocean-going mystery.” She was having fun, too.
“Someone told me,” Midwest said, “it’s young cod.”
“I’m tellin’ ya it ain’t,” said Jersey.
“Whatever it is, I’d like to get Scraawwd,” Alabama said, stretching out the word, elbowing his buddies. “Any place ’round here where a fella can?”
They were into it now, openly flirting. I could understand it: the waitress was pretty—not as young as the guys thought, but not old. And spirited. She moved under the lights like she was onstage. The meals came—burgers, not fish—another round of beers, and the jabber continued. To their credit, they kept it G-rated. They were decent guys, as Coast Guard people tend to be. I’d served eight years myself, bouncing around the country, before I mustered out. As they gabbed, I sat quietly, finishing my sandwich. When I was done, I put down cash with my check. The waitress came near.
“Do you need some change, sir?”
“No, ma’am,” I said. “All good. And I just want to say, for the record,” my glance including the young men, “that I’ve been out here almost twenty years, I’m still not sure what scrod is either. I only know it tastes good. So thank you, gentlemen, for your service. And you, young woman, for your abiding patience with us.”
She smiled, even managed to blush a little. “Just doing my job.”
I steadied a look at her. “And what time, may I ask, does it end?”
She arched one brow. “Does what end?”
“Your shift. What time do you get off?”
The guardsmen nudged each other. Here was this guy who’d sat silent through the whole scene, and he’s the one making the play? Dude their fathers’ age using an approach older than shaboom? I could feel their laughter waiting to bust loose. The waitress was quiet a moment, then she leaned back and narrowed one eye. “Ten p.m.,” she said. “Though I generally help Al clean the grill. So ten-fifteen.”
“I’ll pick you up in front,” I said. Pause. “Okay?”
She chewed her lip, like she was getting used to the idea. “Would you recognize me without my apron?”
“I think so.”
She shrugged. “Okay.”
Passing the trio of guardsmen, who were wearing expressions of astonishment, I gave them a wink. Alabama gamely held up a big fist for a bump.
Outside, as I got into my car, I smiled. I would be back at quarter past ten when she finished her shift. It was true, she was younger than I, but we’d been together twenty years and very happy, thank you. She’d given up the New York stage to come out here and be my wife, but that didn’t mean she’d left everything behind. There was still a lot of the actress in her.
David Daniel’s new book is Beach Town, a collection of stories from Loom Press. The cover art is by Amesbury artist Rachel Wilcox.