Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year, New Story

King of the Damp Paper Bag

 My father took us to the shore.  We camped under pine trees a few miles from the sea.  We slept in a trailer and ate our meals at a table that stood under a bright blue tarp. 
After beach but before supper, in the still sweaty late afternoons, my father held court on his plastic throne, shirtless, can of beer by his side.  On the ground beside him a brown paper bag open and filled with lobster.
Not the lobster on which others feasted in fancy restaurants with ocean views.  Lobster bodies, ten cents a-piece, a dozen for a buck.  Lobster bodies absent of tail and claw.  Lobster bodies discarded after the favored flesh had been stripped for lazy lobster, bake stuffed lobster, lobster bisque.  Lobster bodies thrown into a brown paper bag with little care for the man in the lawn chair, my father, who would dip his hand in and pull out one lobster body at a time; slurp warm belly juices; suck stringy meat from spiky legs; tear off the hard, outer shell; split cartilage and reveal secrets only the initiated know: green tomalley and deep pockets of sweet meat.  Lobster juice dripped down his chin and mixed with the blood drawn from sharp shell on soft lip.
We watched, fascinated and fearful of such joyful, desperate hunger.  He sucked, spat, swallowed, and sometimes hollered when he pulled out a dangling claw some prep cook had missed, the precious flesh made sweeter for having come to him by surreptitious means. 
Later that evening by the fire, pressing silver harmonica to tender lips, he played low and fine, almost shy then, like a lover once the violent passion has been spent.  Sometimes, he would stop playing and gaze out at the small fires that dotted the campsite’s piney woods.  He did not look like a man thinking about the next day’s packing up and hauling home, or the day after, rising at dawn for a ten-hour shift in a grimy machine shop.  Then, just before drawing harmonica back up to swollen lips he’d croon, I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight. 

               This story appears in the latest issue of 5x5, a print magazine.