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Fish n Chips

“The Hawaiian pack will be another couple of minutes,” Lindsay apologised to the boy in blue board shorts. He shrugged and she followed the freckles on his back as he retreated back to his girlfriend who was sitting on the steps outside. She dropped the banana and pineapple fritters into the oil one at a time. They plopped under then rose to the top with oil fizzing at their edges like a Berocca. She stood back from the deep fryer and wiped the back of her hand across her forehead. Two more hours and she could untie her apron, switch t-shirts and walk down to the water to go for a quick swim. The first dip under was magic, it washed the chicken salt from under her fingers, the fish smell from her hair and the semi-scowl of injustice from her face.
From her place behind the counter Lindsay could smell the salt air and see the gulls but she couldn’t see the beach. She served the hungry people all lured by a salt water dip and the dream of a tan. They walked past in a selection of paint-chart shades, rude reds that were going to hurt to sleep on, browns so baked they were more a texture than a colour and yellows that had come out of a bottle for the day. They walked in bikinied, boardshorted, barefoot and thronged. And then they walked out again and it was then that Lindsay felt the distance over the counter and out the door.
She hadn’t left the city these holidays, not once. There were girls whose families owned houses up or down the coast, the whole family packed their daily life together and just moved it to another town. Her friend Crystal had posters on the wall and clothes permanently in the cupboard at her holiday house. Lindsay had stayed with Crystal and her family for a week in the September holidays. She was so happy to be there, tucked neatly in a real bed that wasn’t just a mattress on the floor. Yet the whole week she had been shadowed by something unsettling. She didn’t like not being happy for Crystal but she hated going to bed every night with a new list of things to wish she had; her own room in a holiday house, two parents, coco pops for breakfast, naturally olive skin, siblings on either side of her, a grandfather, a natural patience for fishing, a Mum who gave her pocket money. She wasn’t sure if it was green-eyed or not but there did feel like there was some sort of monster inside Lindsay. Better not to enjoy lovely things if it meant then lying awake at night, every thought starting with the impossible mantra of ‘I wish……’
The idea was supposed to be that if you really wished for something it would come true. That it was all a matter of discipline and dedication in the wishing. Hard enough, was that about squinting your eyes and creasing your forehead? Wasn’t it enough that Lindsay lay in bed and sometimes cried about all the things she thought she would never get? When she was at their school fete last year she had bought raffle tickets for a home entertainment system. She thought that maybe because she really wanted it, it would be her name that got pulled out of the barrel and that maybe it really was all fair in the end, all of this random stuff. She was so sure she would win, so sure that it was time to balance everything else out that she felt she was owed.
“Green 57. McLintock,” the Vice Principal’s voice echoed with the same intonation from assemblies. Be careful what you wish for – not at all, there was no justice in this world and no need to be cautious about wishing.

“Looking for any extra shifts over Christmas?” Roger had taken Lindsay aside before she left one Thursday night. He had a pair of tongs still in his hands that he pointed at her and they glistened with the dribbles of everything they had touched.
“I guess so,” Lindsay answered.
“Have a think about it. Long hot summer,” he winked, “there will be as much work as you want. You a morning or afternoon start on Saturday?”
“Afternoon,” Lindsay replied. She preferred an early start where her shift wasn’t always there throughout the day, hanging around like an unwritten essay.
The mystery with Roger was that he seemed to love what he did. He was always whistling and smiling and from what the older ladies had told Lindsay about his life she wasn’t sure that there was much to be whistling about. He joked with the customers, even the cranky and indecisive ones. He smiled as he wrestled barbequed chickens from their rotisserie and as he flipped patties over on the hot plate.

Lindsay stood behind the bain-marie, wiped a strand of hair out of her eyes and got to work on the next order. She had more to add to her wish list behind that counter than in Crystal’s holiday house; to not be working, to be spending the day with friends, to look that good in a Roxy bikini, to have a boyfriend, to have hair that bleached naturally in the sun……
“Number 13, Hawaiian pack,” Lindsay called over the hiss of the hot plate. The boy in the blue board shorts walked up to the counter. The shorts sat low on his hips, leaving a belt of white skin. The hair that was bleached on his stomach darkened there in a line that disappeared under his Velcro.
“$7.00 thanks.”
He held a bottle of coke up.
“And the Coke, that’s $10 exactly.” Lindsay blushed, $10 exactly? He didn’t care that she worked here so many hours that getting an order adding up to a neat dollar was worth mentioning. He gave her a handful of coins. Nervous of touching his fingers, she dropped some of them, they rolled off the counter and onto the floor. Lindsay picked up the few stray coins and counted them out in a fluster. She lost count and started again, hating that the boy was watching her.
“Sorry, I need another 50 cents.”
The boy raised his eyebrows and stuck a hand in his pocket, bringing it out empty. “Bec,” he called outside, “you got 50 cents?”
Lindsay looked down at the bench to avoid the hungry customers who couldn’t believe 50 cents was the reason they hadn’t placed their order yet. A man came forward to the counter and slapped down a coin.
“50 cents?”
“Thanks buddy!” the boy took his bag and disappeared in the same direction every other tanned boy went.
“Can I order now?” The man wasn’t really asking a question. He was wearing the Dad combination of a t-shirt over speedoes. His legs were meaty and white and covered in hair that was still wet and slicked. He stood there half arms crossed and began his order, “One calamari and chips, two fish and chips, a hamburger with barbeque sauce and a medium serve of chips.”
“That’ll be about ten minutes.” Lindsay handed him a ticket, “You’re number 22.” He snatched the ticket away and walked towards the door in heavy I’ve-got-the-shits steps. People only ever seemed to order when they were starving and the extra wait of ten minutes seemed outrageous to them. Lindsay started to hate him on principle of his rudeness and the fact that his t-shirt wasn’t long enough to hide what she didn’t want to see of his speedoes.

“See ya!” Lindsay balled up her apron and threw it into the washing basket. She had been dreaming about this all day. She walked out through the front exit to savour the freedom and remind herself what the world looked like when you weren’t behind a counter. The world looked great. Afternoon sun was giving everything a makeover. She shook her towel out of her bag and yanked off her t-shirt. Be-gone o odour of chicken fat, be-gone scent of battered fish.

There were lots of people on the boardwalk and plenty of people at the tide line but there was no one in the water. Further down the beach, there were lifesavers with mega phones. Lindsay walked past the outdoor shower and kicked her thongs off. The queue of people were all facing the water and looking out with hands shading their eyes as if myopia could be lifted by resting your hand on your brow.
“What’s going on?” Lindsay asked an older lady.
“Shark alarm,” the woman answered, “they’ve closed the beach until further notice.”
“When did it happen?”
“Just a few minutes ago, they’re still clearing swimmers out down that end.”
Lindsay followed the woman’s finger to the pacing lifesavers.
Beach closed. That’d be bloody right!
She turned around and trudged off to the bus stop.

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