Bill’s final job of the night was to put the last garbage bags of stinking crab carcasses and dripping oyster shells into the dumpster behind Steve’s Crab Shack and then lock it. The seagulls harangued him as if he were Tippi Hedren in the Birds. Across the narrow street his cousin Jimmy was performing the same task at the dumpster behind Harry’s Oyster Castle. Steve and Harry were brothers, Bill and Jimmy were their sons.
Every day customers lined up at both establishments. With some minor differences, the wall decor was identical: huge crabs, shellacked and framed; life rings, photos of fishermen at sea; nets of oyster shells. Of course, Harry had to have cute drawings of oysters all over the place. Jimmy thought they were stupid, but he understood.
Every day, especially on the weekends, there were lines of people in front of each restaurant. Most were tourists, who had come for the salt air, the foghorns and the experience of biting down on a perfect crab sandwich sold to them by a smiling local wearing a rubber apron.
Stevie, Harry, Bill and Jimmy all had the same last name: Esposito. And they bought their crabs, oysters, clams and everything else from the same fishing boats.
So why two places? Every year or so, some enterprising reporter tried to get to the bottom of it. Did the brothers hate each other? Did they have an argument? Everyone knew that Steve’s place was the original, started by their parents decades earlier. So why did Harry buy the going-out-of-business hot dog stand across the street and convert it into his Oyster Castle?
Last week when Jimmy was at the dumpster, a female reporter, shivering in the coastal fog, approached him. She started to ask the same questions as the others about the brothers, his cousin Bill, and did they speak to one another. Jimmy was in a funk, sick of reporters, sick of the family story, sick of crustaceans and mollusks of any kind.
“You know what?”, he said to her. “I’ll tell you if you hold my hand. I’m not a freak. Just hold my hand, I won’t try anything.” He took off his rubber glove and extended his hand. She cautiously put out her hand as well.
“Let us go,” Jimmy said, clasping her hand in both of his, as if he were giving her a blessing, a“through certain half-deserted streets. The muttering retreats of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells.”
He released her hand.
“My dad wanted his own joint. Plus, he liked poetry and oyster-shells. That’s the truth, Ruth.”
“Very interesting,” she said. “But I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. I do not think that they will sing to me.”
“Well, Miss Reporter,” he said, “I think they’ll sing to you. Maybe to us both. My name’s Jimmy, by the way. I’m in shellfish.”