Longing for the Lobster People (and other tourist traps)
Jodie George (University of South Australia, Australia)
The bell rang as the door opened, and Hazy shook the snow off his hood, stamping his feet on the already soaked mat to remove the icy clumps hanging stubbornly to his pant leg.
‘Eliza, coffee …’ he called out, making his way through the aisles of tourist merchandise to the restaurant counter, where he settled onto the worn padded stool of red plastic and chrome veneer. Nearby, a child spun round repeatedly on another stool, throwing cheeky smiles at Hazy with each dizzying turn, ignoring his mother’s harried requests to slow down as she sorted through a mountain of children’s snow clothes.
‘Morning, Hazy. Good run today?’ Eliza asked as she appeared through the swinging doors of the kitchen, a pot of coffee in her hand. The smell wafted strongly as the smooth black liquid slid into his cup, and Hazy breathed in happily.
‘Not bad. Got all the packages out on time, but Billy Jenkins’s rooster was wandering around on the road near Nancy’s place, so I had to stop and help. Set me back by a few minutes.’
‘That rooster loose again?’ Eliza shook her head. ‘Don’t see why Billy doesn’t just build another cage. That’s the third time this week,’ she said before heading back to the kitchen.
Hazy sighed contentedly, looking around the place as the coffee slowly melted the frost that had settled in his bones from the early morning chill. Eliza’s had been around for almost fifteen years now, opening to much fanfare after old Mr Morris had finally agreed to expand the tourist shop to include a much-needed restaurant. Fathom’s Inlet was a small town, about a hundred miles south of Halifax, where locals made most of their living through the summer months when tourists came to see the majesty of the rocks and sea spray, and spend vacation dollars on tartan placemats and fishing figurines. From May to September the buses rolled in, carrying visitors from all over the world, anxious for a quaint small town experience to take back to their busy big city lives, frequently reminiscing about the wisecracking waitress or the grizzled old sailor. Sadly, every year one or two were lost to the waves, climbing too close to the sweeping tides, carried out before the alarm could even be raised. But still they came, swelling the population until their summer holidays had all drifted away.
But now it was November, and as locals made the best of the coming winter months, Fathom’s numbers had dwindled down to only just over five hundred. The Mayor had been very excited when the Miller family moved in, bumping the official numbers from 498 to 503. ‘Great they have so many kids, unusual in this day and age, we’re lucky to get ‘em,’ he’d said proudly. ‘They were thinking of moving to Purdy’s Lake, but once they heard all we had to offer, well, it wasn’t hard to cinch the deal.’ Little mention was made of the numerous gargoyle lawn ornaments that littered their front garden. Apparently some reasonable sacrifices were necessary when moving a town into a new population bracket.
‘So, ah, seen Jenna this morning?’ Hazy said, directing his query towards the kitchen.
‘What’d you say, Hazy? Can’t hear anything when that dishwasher’s going,’ Eliza called back.
Hazy sighed and spoke a bit louder. ‘I said, you seen Jenna at all this morning?’
The dishwasher ground even harder as Eliza appeared again through the kitchen doors. ‘Not so far. But she’d be pretty busy, today being the big day and all. Don’t imagine we’ll see her anytime before noon, if then. Why? You need something?’
‘No, no, just wanted to wish her luck is all. Maybe I’ll stop in on the way to Murray’s, see if she’s home.’
A moment of silence hung between them before Eliza spoke again, choosing her words carefully. ‘You won’t say anything to upset her will you, Hazy? She’s been waiting for this a long time, and I know you’re not exactly over the moon about it all, but you need to stay civil, for the whole town’s sake.’
‘Lord ’Liza, that whole thing was five years ago now. I just want to wish her luck, that’s all.’
Eliza raised her eyebrows and sighed. ‘Well, you’d better hurry then. She’ll be heading to the bus station before ten, so you’ve only got a few minutes.’
‘That late already? Stupid rooster,’ Hazy said, throwing some coins onto the counter and heading for the door.
‘Remember what I said, Hazy. Play nice!’ Eliza called down the hall, but he was already out the door, jumping into the battered delivery truck and coaxing it to life.
‘C’mon Jessie baby, start easy today okay? Just this once?’ Hazy murmured as he turned the key in the cold ignition. The inevitable choking sounds began, but were quickly drowned out by the roar of the engine coming to life. Hazy slapped the dashboard and smiled. ‘That’s it old girl, we still got it! Now let’s go.’
Hazy was in love with Jenna. Had loved her from the time they were both kids, playing in the treehouse in Jimmy Kelly’s backyard. The moment she had pushed her spit-filled hand into his in a promise of lifelong friendship, he knew. Seemed everyone else in town knew too, except of course, for Jenna herself. At least he hoped she didn’t know. There had been a few close calls; too much cider over the campfire at Brownie’s eighteenth birthday, too much candlelight the night the icestorm had knocked out the electricity, and the words had started to spill out, taking on a life of their own. But somehow Jenna had always cut him off right before the declaration could be made, abruptly changing the subject or stuffing clumps of snow down his shirt and running off down the beach. Now with every day it got harder to admit the truth, and Hazy had almost resigned himself to a life of unrequited love. Almost.
Driving to Jenna’s, he was forced to pull over numerous times, as construction crews finished up work on the last of the potholes that pitted Main Street. It was too late in the year to be working on the roads and none of these patches ever made it through more than one winter season, but the paving gave Fathom’s seasonal fisherman a bit more money to tide them over the winter months, so the townsfolk never complained.
‘Cold one today hey, Hazy?’ the foreman called out as Hazy was forced to slow for yet another roadblock.
‘Absolutely. Hey, Jack, I’m in a bit of a rush, any chance you could let me through before Teddy’s bobcat settles in for winter?’
‘Sorry, Hazy. Arthur’s behind you, and I’m not game to listen to the old man tear a strip off ’cause I let you through and not him. Teddy will just be a sec anyway.’
‘Sure, ’cause Teddy’s so well known for his speed. Dead last in track-and-field every single year since we were five … never could figure out why the nickname “flash” didn’t stick.’
Jack raised his eyebrows at Hazy’s unusual outburst. ‘Any particular reason for the wiseass act today? Practising for the town talent show next week?’
Hazy shook his head. ‘Sorry, sorry. I just really need to get going. Jenna’s leaving for the bus station in five minutes, and I want to catch her before she goes.’
‘Well, you’re in luck. Looks like Teddy’s finished for the moment,’ Jack said, turning the STOP sign to SLOW and waving Hazy forward. ‘Remember though,’ Jack called to the advancing pick-up. ‘Don’t screw it up this time. We need this one.’
Hazy waved an arm out the window and took off for Delaney Street. Wasn’t there anyone in this town who had faith in him? It wasn’t as though that time five years ago had really been his fault. Sure, Birdie’s column had named him outright, but she hadn’t been there, her take was all just speculation. Pretty accurate speculation come to that, but still. Hazy sighed as he pulled into Jenna’s driveway. Alright, everyone was spot on, he’d probably screw it up. That seemed to be his way.
‘Not today, Hazy, I’m in a hurry,’ Jenna said abruptly, heading for her 1983 Chevy as the screen door slammed behind her. Her grandmother Rose had owned this house, a large 1870s New England Colonial with dormer windows, servants’ quarters, and a proper sitting parlour, but in 1961, Rose had turned the parlour into a studio. ‘No point wasting such beautiful sunlight on a room filled with dusty antiques,’ she’d said. Further renovations also included the establishment of a women’s shelter on the top two floors of the house. ‘Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. There’s women in this town being beaten by their fool husbands just about every week, and I intend to help in anyway I can.’
As she’d predicted, at first the town had baulked at Rose’s blatant suggestion that every family might not be the perfect picture of happiness. But when Emily Johnson finally worked up the courage to leave Redmond Junior, followed not long after by four other women and their children, the town came to accept that Rose was doing some good work. When Rose became too frail to keep the place going, the town took over the upkeep, until Jenna had come back home.
‘Just came to wish you luck, Jenna. Nothing more,’ Hazy said, closing the door to his pick-up and walking up the driveway.
‘Sure, okay. Only problem is, that’s what you said last time,’ Jenna said through a mouthful of hangers as she loaded up the trunk.
‘Seriously, I just wanted to catch you before you went, let you know I think you’ll do great,’ Hazy said, following Jenna as she ran back inside the house to grab some more clothes. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness after the glare of the winter sunshine, Hazy looked around. ‘Jenna, what is all this?’ he asked. Spread out over the worn Persian-style rug were piles of old clothes, pots and pans, trinkets, and picture frames. ‘Planning a yard sale?’
Jenna grabbed the candlestick Hazy had picked up, and threw it back in the box. ‘I’m not, but Eliza said the Red Cross was having a sale next week to raise some funds, so I thought I’d get started on cleaning out those rooms upstairs like I planned. Besides, they’ll need somewhere to stay,’ Jenna said as she hoisted up a box of old toys.
‘Who’ll need somewhere to stay?’ Hazy asked, picking up another box and following her out to the car.
‘The reporters of course.’
Hazy placed the box into the Chevy’s trunk. ‘The reporters? Staying here? Are you sure that’s a good idea?’
Jenna sighed. ‘See? Here we go, same as last time. Look, it’s just the one reporter for now, but with any luck, more will be coming and they’ll need some place to stay. Now, I’m pretty busy, Hazy. Thanks for your help and all, but I’ve got the rest of it, so I’ll just see you tonight at the party, okay?’
‘No, Jenna, look, I’m sorry. Really. I promise I won’t say another word. I want to help … I’ll do whatever. Surely you could use a packmule about now?’
Jenna nodded despite herself. ‘I guess. Look, let’s head back inside and grab some more boxes. I promised I’d drop all this off at Margie’s before I went to the bus, and I’ve got no time left.’
Hazy picked up a small one-eyed teddy bear and grinned. ‘Okay, but you’re not gonna give away Mr Frankle are you? I mean, he survived the great washing machine disaster of ‘82 and Jimmy’s GI Joe attack in ‘86. Even Barbie’s dream house didn’t make it through that.’ He held up the teddy. ‘Why, Mr Frankle here’s nothing short of a town hero.’
‘Can’t keep everything, Hazy,’ she said briskly, then stopped suddenly, running a finger over a worn patch of Mr Frankle’s fur. When she spoke again, her voice was softer. ‘Besides, it’s time some things changed around here. And the only way to make room for the new is to get rid of the old, right?’ Jenna looked up to see Hazy watching her. ‘I need to make a change.’
‘Have you touched the third floor yet then?’ he asked softly.
Silence hung for a moment longer before Jenna looked at her watch. ‘Oh man, I’m late! I’ve got two minutes to get to the station! Well, this’ll just have to wait. If Maddie asks about the mess, we’ll just call it small town charm. Now hustle, Hazy, out, out, out.’
He watched as Jenna put Mr Frankle back on the pile and headed out the door. Sighing, he stood for a moment looking after her. ‘Just don’t change too much, my girl. We need you here,’ he said softly, then headed out the screen door after her.
Jodie George is currently completing her PhD in creative writing and cultural studies at the University of South Australia. She has previously published several journal articles and creative pieces and hopes to publish her novel Longing for the lobster people (and other tourist traps) in the near future.