Walking beneath a Fresh Seafood sign steadily blown against the cinderblocks by the salty, marsh wind, my husband and I entered the weathered, yellow building, reveling in our escape to the island.
Inside, the hot, humid air settled again and again behind each pass of an oscillating fan. Pungent fish odor hung low.
There, behind bins of ice displaying sundry ocean novelties, stood the same young woman as usual, as if she hadn't moved since our last visit. Yet, today, somehow, she looked different. Something had changed. Her eyes glimmered.
"What's good?" we greeted.
"These heads-on jumbos just come off the boat. Four ninety-five a pound." She paused for a moment, cocked her head to the right and said, "Life ain't nothin' but a riddle."
"Uh-huh," agreed my spouse, adding, "We'll take 5 lbs. of jumbos. What about scallops? Fresh?"
"Them come in a couple days ago. 'Bout the same time I met up with my bi-logicle daddy; the one what sired me. I been lookin' fer him fer years."
"That right? Give us a half pound of scallops."
She passed the shrimp to me and scooped crushed ice into another plastic bag. "They let him out o' jail to come to my brother's funeral. It was one of them happy-sad kinda days. I saw him and I just knew. Reckon the giveaway is the same three teeth we're both missin'."
She pulled her lips back, pointed at the dark gaps in her smile, and placed the tip of her wiggling tongue in each.
"Mmm," my husband hummed, affirming our hostess. "Fish biting in the creeks?"
"Some. Couple men caught a hammerhead back in here and dragged it out to the river early today. But I won't know nothin' 'bout the fishin' this time next month. My daddy, he's gettin' outta prison."
We nodded. "Then give me five of those mullet so I can take my boys fishing," said my husband. "And how about the crabbing?"
"They ain't runnin' yet. Gotta wait a couple more weeks for that. I'm real proud o' my daddy for not runnin' when he come to the funeral. He could've. Lots o' reasons to."
My beloved admired the squid splayed on their frozen bed, dreaming of what he could pull out of the back river on a line baited with such oddities.
The girl went on, "After the funeral he come on back to Me-maw's place for Kentucky Fried chicken. Bunch o' folks there. Weirdest thing happened. I was standing with my me-maw clear cross the room from my daddy, and I said to Me-maw, 'My daddy needs some tea.'"
She kept talking as other customers shuffled in, "So I fixed him some tea and took it over. Do you know what he said?"
"He said, 'Thanks darlin'. That's just what I needed.' Ain't that strange? Like we been connected all these years since he went missin'."
"Yep," said my husband.
"Yep," I echoed.
"Yep," said a hurried woman behind us, not yet on island time. But it didn't deter our storyteller.
"Daddy and me, we been bound to be together. We're a lot alike. We go for the same pieces of fried chicken. We put the same amount of gravy on our mashed potatoes. Me-maw kept tellin' us, 'Y'all quit that. Yer freakin' me out.'"
"Wow," someone standing near the chilled octopus gasped.
"How much?" I inquired.
We paid and wished her luck with her daddy.
Back in the car, my husband slid Bob Marley into the CD player and reflected, "Island living, country style."