Another Day, Another Tide

I met my husband in a clam shack.

Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with the bustle along with the man. It isn’t a glamorous job, standing behind those take-out windows in the sticky salt air, but somehow, it gets you.

It’s a slow build-up to August. May you’re bored, June you learn the shortcuts, and July your blood starts pumping fast. By the peak of August, you’re hard-wired, unflappable. The line stretches out from the take-out window, down the pier, past the boats to the gas pumps, and you spread your feet, stand your ground. Two burritos: scallops, add guac. refried. Whole bellied clam plate—that’s the market price!—oyster po-boy.

Every day there’s a lull between 3 and 4 p.m., and you re-stock, take measure, remember to breathe, metabolize. You drink a juice and maybe a soda water, another iced coffee to get you by.

Then they come again: in swarms of two, three, five. They want dinner in sweatshirts and bikinis now—sunset and picnic tables beachside. Tuna dinner, medium rare, wasabi on the side. Sub salad? No, it’s veggies and rice. Lobster clambake, two pounder, corn. It comes with butter, and the napkins are outside.

You watch the light get low on the harbor, and slowly, you adjust your eyes. The line slows down to a trickle and moves over to the ice cream side. The girls are running out of soft serve—pour in another bag. You scrub the counters and the tables outside. Another day of waxed sprinkles and lobster salad, another tide.

You collect the trays, stop sweating for a minute, sigh. The other girls push up the pick-up window, and you hand the ketchup and mustard and mayo inside. Someone flips the open sign; then it’s dishes, mopping, reggae time.

The guys in the kitchen hum along while they close down the line. Nick’s off-key; Neily starts to harmonize. They’re drinking Pabst’s Blue Ribbon, Natty Ice, and you sit down to eat your dinner on the bench outside.

It’s potato salad most of the time. There’s something about that scoop from the deli case—cool cream, feathered dill, ribbons of red onion sliding by. The heat washes away as you sit outside—and for the first time all night you smell the ocean, nothing fried.


Elspeth Hay lives in Wellfleet

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