Three young men were sitting a few seats away from me at the counter, sun-browned and neatly scrubbed in civvies. Newly assigned at the Coast Guard station out on the point. They weren’t difficult to spot. I could pick up a couple of the accents. One from the Deep South was unmistakable, Georgia if I had to guess. Another had to be New Jersey; the third I wasn’t sure but guessed Midwest. They were probably having their first beers since before boot camp, and they were getting a little loud.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” Georgia leaned toward the waitress. “Can you tell us what Scrod is?”
The waitress smiled. “It’s the fish of the day.”
The other two laughed and slapped five at the smack down of their buddy. But he was good-natured about it. “I mean what is it?”
New Jersey said, “I told ya. It stands for ‘scraps on deck’; in other words, any old fish they happen to have on the boat when it comes in.”
Georgia disagreed. “Nah, it ain’t no acronym. It’s a kinda fish, right?”
“Oh, it’s definitely fish,” the waitress went along. “An ocean-going mystery.” She was having fun, too.
“Someone told me it’s young cod,” Midwest said.
“I’m telling ya it ain’t,” said Jersey. “I live down the Shore, and down there it’s any white fish.”
“Whatever it is, I’d like to get Scrawwwd,” Georgia said, stretching out the word, winking at his friends. “Any place ’round here where I can?”
They were into it now, openly flirting, and as I watched, I could understand it. The woman was very pretty — not as young as the guys thought, but not old — and spirited. The meal came, another round of beers, and the talk continued. Though to their credit, they kept it good-natured. They were decent guys, as Coast Guard members tended to be. I’d served a dozen years myself before I got out. As they gabbed, I sat by quietly, finishing my sandwich. When I was done, I put down some money 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,” indicating the young men, “that I’ve been out here almost twenty years, and I’m still not sure what scrod really is either. I only know it tastes good. So thank you, gentlemen, for your service. And you, my dear, for your abiding patience with us.”
She smiled, even managed to blush a little. “Just trying to do my job.”
I steadied a look at her. “And what time, may I ask, does it end?”
Her brows arched. “I’m sorry?”
“Your job. What time do you get off?”
The Coast Guardsmen nudged each other, suddenly attentive. Here was this guy who’d sat silent through the whole scene, and he’s the one making the play? This 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, shaking her head in wonder. Then she leaned back and narrowed her eyes. “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. “Okay?”
She smiled, like she was getting used to the idea. “All right. Will you recognize me without my apron?”
“I think so.”
As I walked past the trio of young guardsmen, who were wearing expressions of astonishment, I gave them a wink. Georgia gamely held up his fist for a bump.
Outside, as I got into my car, I smiled. I would be back at quarter past ten. Like I was every night when my wife 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 live with me, but that didn’t mean she’d left everything behind. There was still a lot of the actress in her.
David Daniel’s newest book is Inflections and Innuendos, a collection of flash fiction from The Storyside Press.