Candy, Saints, and Shrimp
I once overheard a waiter at the Fillet and Claw where I washed dishes say that Lydia was “No box of chocolates.” She wore big grey-rimmed glasses. It was hard to imagine a giggle, laugh or even the slimmest smile skimming her face or grayish blue eyes. Thin-skinned, she often cried after waiting on a gruff customer. Sometimes she’d hum as she walked by me. Always the same tune. Once I asked about it. “’Lush Life’ is a sad, sad song,” was her answer. Lydia did look like she drank too much. Edgy and sickly skinny, she had stringy chestnut hair, bangs too long. Why management didn’t make her shape up. Big Mary said Lydia had a following, a plastic surgeon and a community college English professor among them. Freddie the waiter, observing her bowed legs, often commented how they’d enhance sex.
I looked in the mirror enough to know that I was probably less than an M&M Peanut to women. When I was a kid, watching my friend Billy’s father work on a garage door the spring snapped. The jagged, broken end whipped me in the face. Fortunately, it missed my eye but a crimson scar was mine from the right tip of my mouth to my ear lobe. Schoolmates called me “Slice.” In my late teens, I tried to hide the mark with a beard but it was scraggly. I retry from time to time. No help for me, but I figured a smart hairdo and smaller specs would make a new Lydia. Truthfully, I didn’t care, no alterations required. It took about a month until she smiled my scar away by asking if I’d like some jumbo baked stuffed shrimp. I loved them the few times I’d found scraps on plates in a busboy’s bin. I wondered if those diners were revolting against their mothers’ nagging about starving Ethiopian kids.
Lydia supplied those delicacies fresh out of the oven as if I were a paying customer. She had a deal with deep fry cook, George, and bartender Dexter who supplied a 7-Up bottle full of rum she’d hide in the cellar locker room for George to nip at during breaks. In return, she’d deliver lobster tails to the barkeep shortly before closing. I don’t know how she explained me. Lydia was a box of Godivas in my mind. No kidding, our first date was a nine o’clock Mass at St. Cloud’s Chapel. I felt at home because I was a big Lives of the Saints fan. St. Cloud was the Patron of Nail Makers. Parishioners smiled and flashed discreet waves as we walked to the front pew. We went at it sexually hot and heavy after that. Freddie the waiter was right about those welcoming legs. I was born on May 22, St. Yvo’s feast day. He made a private vow of perpetual chastity. I never asked how she balanced our sex with her churchgoing. I wondered if she confessed it along with the booze and seafood larceny. St. Macarius, Patron Saint of Candy Makers gave it up, closed his shop for a desert life of prayer and penance. I hoped I’d never lose my sweet tooth.
—Thomas M. McDade