Waiting at the Fish Shack
The air-con droned like a swamp full of mosquitoes. Kandie dabbed her neck with a table napkin, then fanned herself with the menu.
She flicked open her gold mobile.13.15. Friday 13 April. No messages.
Chrissy was late for lunch. Had she discovered something? Was Duncan OK?
Kandie’s stomach fluttered and she grasped it with her hand.
“Paranoid!” she muttered.
She looked around to see if anyone had heard. The waiter just gave her a speculative glance, the way waiters do, when a woman’s alone in a restaurant. She could hear him thinking ‘Has she been stood up? Why's she on her own?’
She was sitting at the best table overlooking the lake. Naturally, The Fish Shack was mainly a fish restaurant, but this was ironic - the lake no longer nourished any edible fish.
The owner, Ronnie, had figured a fresh fish restaurant in Iowa, a thousand miles from the sea, would prove to be uniquely successful. It was.
He flew in fresh lobster, clams and tuna, daily from New England, resulting in prices that were both wildly extravagant and highly prestigious.
Kandie gestured to the waiter. He minced over genially.
“Another small bottle of Evian, please.”
“Would madam like anything else?”
“Soon, I hope. Thanks.”
He bowed and shuffled off.
Kandie peered at her Rolex. The diamond tipped second hand was sweeping inexorably round towards 1.17. This was getting embarrassing.
Kandie'd met Chrissy some years before when she and Chuck, Kandie's husband, had finally managed to escape from New York. They were well travelled in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, but they'd never explored their own backyard. Moving had been a shock. New York pulsed and vibrated. Iowa snored and slumbered. Communication and technological advance had largely decided Iowa didn't exist. For many this was a blessing, as it left this happy, friendly state to carry on business as usual.
When Kandie and Chuck first came to Iowa, it was because the R&D division of Carlton Motors had taken on Chuck. At that time Carlton employed just two hundred workers, making spare parts for ‘Vintage and other epoch defining automobiles.’ Duncan, Chrissy’s husband, bought spares for his E-type Jaguar from Chuck.
Chuck had been headhunted by the Carlton owner, Riley Drake, a visionary Texan oilman who liked to dig around for new ideas. He kept a portrait of Henry Ford on his wall and honoured him every morning, bowing before his picture and muttering inaudibly. New ideas were his passion and so he'd developed a formidably well-equipped R&D department.
Fifteen years ago, fusion was a very far-fetched idea. Clean, cheap,safe atomic power, with no radioactivity, no oil burning, and no polluting by products. Scientists had been chasing it for years and had largely given up.Dr.Chuck hadn’t. His Stuttgart PhD related t it. So did years of research at Mercedes AMG, then General Motors, and he’d kept on writing would-be fund raising papers in scientific journals. That’s how he’d been spotted.
. Then after three seemingly uneventful years with Carlton, he was suddenly, mysteriously able to take over the plant. Two months later he patented the fusion engine.
On the second day in her new town, Kandie had been out in the afternoon exploring for exciting little boutiques. There were none. Even finding domestic essentials with any style or quality was going to prove difficult. Then she found a supermarket - of sorts.
She was frustrated, dazed and dozy as she mooched through its car park, carrying her meager shopping. So she did not notice the Jeep shoot backwards out of its parking slot. Then Chrissy shouted a warning and Kandie jumped to one side, but not quite far enough. The Jeep knocked the shopping out of her hand, and ran over it, as she was sent sprawling.
Yogurt, Kellogg’s cornflakes and ketchup lay mashed on the ground. It looked as if someone had been sick. Kandie nearly was, through shock. But at least she was alive.
Chrissy picked her up, dusted her down, gathered up the remains of her other shopping and offered to be a witness.
This merited a coffee, over which Chrissy told Kandie how to find the rest of the things she really needed. They’d been inseparable friends ever since: a duet of athletic, blue-eyed blondes. You might easily think they were sisters.
Kandie was slightly taller, but Chrissy had darker blue eyes and was heading for ash-blonde beauty: Celtic genes at work. Chrissy wore a lot of blue. Kandie preferred yellow. It brought out the highlights in her lioness hair. They both liked singing.
Kandie knew Chrissy harboured a secret envy of her children. It was like a little insect bite: the more Chrissy scratched, the worse it became. Kandie's children were brighter and more outgoing, as evidenced by their many school prizes. Brad, Chrissy's only child was bright and showed potential to be a sportsman, but didn't have the same degree of rounded talent as Kandie's. At the time Duncan and Chrissy had had less money to spend on the pregnancy. Kandie and Chuck had had more. It was simple economics. Kandie knew Chrissy felt life had been comparatively unfair to her.
She took a sip of water and disappeared into reverie.
She remembered going shopping with Chrissy later on, when they were getting to know each other. It was Kandie's father's birthday and she was looking for a present for him. They'd been in Sears and Kandie had asked where Chrissy's father lived. Tears swelled up immediately and they’d scuttled off to the ladies’ room.
“Chrissy, what is it? I’m so sorry. What’s wrong? I didn’t’ mean to upset you.”
“I'm sorry, crying in public like that…It’s my dad. I always feel I killed him.”
“We were all having breakfast. I was two. I had a tantrum about my egg and set the rest off yelling. Da was still up in the bathroom. Mum found him dead later on.”
“If only I’d kept quiet. Mum might have heard him shouting.”
“Chrissy, darling! Was it Monday?”
“How do you know?”
“Most instant death attacks happen Monday morning. It’s well documented. Genes, blood pressure, and work stress. Nothing to do with your tantrum. They’re too quick.”
“Well, Mum blamed me. She went funny and we all split up. I was looked after mostly by Aunty Coppercop.”
“Da’s sister. Copper hair and cop her job. That’s how they all met. That, St Patrick’s and the Ceilidhs. She was really called Kathleen, but Coppercop’s more fun. In the end she got shortened to Copy, then Coffee” A different colour altogether!
“Well, if it helps, I had tantrums too. They help develop your voice! So just think, when you sing, it’s for your dad. Anyway maybe that’s why you’re so caring. You value life, and think of others more.”
“Not always. I’ve still got his temper!”
Kandie smiled. After that, they'd gone off and had a few drinks together and started giggling, and singing, like they had done ever since. Then Kandie remembered why they were meeting and stopped smiling.
By contrast Kandie had lead a charmed life. Her parents were well travelled, outgoing, sophisticated and rich. They'd imbued her with a confidence, which gleamed from every pore. You only had to stand near her to feel the radiation. Kandie knew that Chrissy both hated and admired her for that.
Kandie glanced at her watch again and gazed out of the window across the artificial lake. It was fed from Lake Michigan. She watched the rafts of verdant algae drifting across the water. The air shimmered with the boom of leisure craft. She heard another shriek as someone else hit some algae and was tossed mercilessly through the air.
It reminded her of Duncan the other day, at the party. Then she remembered: that was where she had seen her waiter before too.
“Excuse me asking, Mam, and I do I hope you don’t mind my being presumptuous, but you does look somehow a bit paler than usual. Are you alright?”
“I’m OK, thanks. My friend will be here soon. She’s not a late kind of person.”
The waiter trundled off. When he’d gone Kandie clenched her stomach again.
She gazed around the lake's perimeter. Groups of flies rehearsed ballet in the afternoon sun between the pines. The water's edge shimmered silver. Lazy waves herded dead fish into chaotic patterns on the shore. A boy, armed with a stick was poking into a fish’s pyorroeic, rotting flesh. It’s glistening skin split open to reveal twisted, greying innards. The boy stabbed curiously as its innards writhed; wriggling larvae emerged from its mouth between bellicose teeth.
Kandie turned away in disgust and surveyed the distance.
All around the lake lay mile after mile of flat, parched arable land. The expensively irrigated corn was just beginning to show. It was a near perfect scene, or as near perfect as you got in these days of yo-yo climate, Kandie thought.
“I’ll give her another ten minutes, then com her.”She swiped her com to the net and started to look at a promo. The headline read ‘How to have perfect babies the easy way. Choose our lab, not labour’.