(An Olive Quickly Fragment: Part 1)
When she was a young girl, Olive Quickly worked the front counter of Captain Bob’s Seafood Hut and Maritime Emporium, a roadside stand that was not quite one of those fashionable food trucks but a step up from the scruffy dude on the corner selling crabs from a Styrofoam cooler.
It was a family business in that Olive’s dad had financed the whole operation with gambling money he’d fleeced off his many friends, acquaintances, relatives, and the occasional luckless passerby. The truth is that there was no Captain Bob; her dad bought the fish, mussels and crabs off the pier down by the Occoquan Bay and her mom cooked it up into fish stew, chowder, crab cakes, and anything else she could dream up on the spot. Olive wrote up the menu on a chalk board that hung behind the counter, and every day she drew something with an oceanic theme to give it a little flair.
The Maritime Emporium was nothing more than several shelves stocked with tsotchkes, charms, and bric-a-brac. There were shipwrecks in cloudy bottles, faded Kewpie dolls dressed as sea captains, plastic squid and octopi, garishly painted seashell sculptures, lascivious mermaids, mysterious treasure chests, brass doubloons, and other odd bits of a vague nautical nature that defied easy categorization.
People rarely bought this junk but they browsed over the shelves while waiting on their food, pushed the items around with their fingers before cocking a bemused eyebrow in Olive’s direction. Occasionally something would sell and soon enough it would be replaced by some equally tacky bit of seafaring nonsense. Olive suspected her father, who could be a bit compulsive at times, had a secret stash somewhere around the house, possibly buried in their wild and overgrown backyard, marked in some arcane manner.
This was her summer job, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, until she turned eighteen and she had the first adventure which took her away from home. Perhaps one can understand Olive’s aversion to seafood of any kind, but to this day she can whip up a pot of chowder that will make one swear she’d been raised in the galley of an ancient galleon instead of the suburbs of Northern Virginia. She has her mother’s recipes memorized, a silent tribute to the woman who once told Olive that no man was worth crying over but a few were worthy of a rigorous dismemberment. Olive wasn’t sure how serious her mother took that proclamation; but the woman definitely knew her way around a set of knives.
She was well aware that part of the reason Dad had her up at the counter was to draw in customers cruising by on the Old Bridge Road. Her hair was long and ravendark, framing a face that could have served as a model for a splendid figurehead thrusting into the wind and spray. She had developed early, one of those fast growing girls destined to be both envied and admired, an effortless athlete who ran for the sheer pleasure of moving her body through space, not the plastic trophies she dumped without ceremony in the back of the closet. Men ogled as they ordered their food, boys asked for her number (“Forty-two,” she always said, and only went out with the ones who caught the drift), and women glared with eyes that held few secrets as to their thoughts.
Despite the heat and humidity of those seemingly endless summer days, despite the leers and crude remarks, the smell of boiling fish or crab, Olive enjoyed her time at Captain Bob’s. It was a welcome respite from the academic slog and while she wasn’t getting rich she was able to save a little for whatever would happen in her future. Olive had plans, and even if those plans shifted and changed on the fly, she had them. She needed them. She was sure there was more of everything she wanted out there and it wasn’t going to land on the doorstep.
Until, of course, it did exactly that. And there Olive Quickly’s story begins.