Country Town Fish and Chips

I was hungry and there were two fish and chip shops in town. Blue Bell and Poppa Joe’s.

I went to the first one.

A woman stood behind the counter. She was firm like an Easter Island statue, and her eyes squinted from years of oil burns. Her cheeks were red from the splatter. The kind of facial you don’t get in beauty spa resorts.

“Whatdoyouwant?” she said, spitting the words as if ejecting a cigarette into an ashtray.

I thought, A loving relationship and a steady job so I can raise a happy family.

It seemed inappropriate to ask.

“Just looking,” I said.

She stood, and without prior evidence of food being in her mouth, she began to chew. She could have been munching on the air. The room was so warm and moist, like an over active armpit. Perhaps the air had grown moss. If so, judging from her expression, the taste of the floating fungus didn’t agree with her. Regardless she continued to chew. It might have been her stubbornness. Clearly if it was editable, she would resign herself to eating it. This didn’t inspire confidence in the food.

I said, “Thanks,” I’m unsure why, and left.

Next door Pappa Joe’s had air conditioning. It was like stepping into a beach front bar, with a cool breeze and sandy wallpaper. There’s was a child behind the counter reading a thick book. I thought this, this is wrong. What child reads a thick book and is good with fish and chips? His mind’s not on the batter. Did they ever say, “Hey, Tolstoy, put down that book and make some fish and chips.” No, because that’s not what he was good at.

The kid said, “Hello, what I can I get you?”

For fun I said, “A loving relationship and a steady job so I can raise a happy family.”

He said, “We don’t have that,” and looked up at the board as though to reiterate the point. I wasn’t sure if it would have been under Mains, Packs or Extras. I suspect it’s an Extra.

I said, “Thanks,” I’m unsure why, and left.

I went back to the first fish shop. The woman said, “You’re back.”

I said, “Yeah,” and I ordered fish, chips and a potato cake.

She said, “We call them fritters.”

I said, “What?”

She said, “We call them fritters. We don’t have potato cakes. My husband’s from England. That’s $7.80.”

I said, “Hold on.” And went back to the other fish & chip shop, because, fritters? It’s not even a potato scallop. It’s way off. We were in Victoria, and I’m all for multiculturalism, but potato fritters, fuck that! If we’re going to absorb anything from England, it’s not going to be their food. And I understand the irony there, but when I was a kid every fish and chip shop was run by Italians, so I figured fish and chips were multicultural. So anyway…

Back at Papa Joe’s (see what I mean) the kid looked at me and I looked at the kid. The oil behind him bubbled like a volcanic mud pit in New Zealand. I could imagine tourists getting into it and commenting on how good it was for the skin.

I placed my order.

Fish, chips and a potato cake!

He asked, “Do you want the fish grilled?”

I looked at the kid. The kid looked at me. So much innocence in his face.

I left to buy a hamburger.


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