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Summer Fiction: You Needed Me

A teen crush boils over at a New Brunswick lobster stand.

You Needed Me

“Welcome to Snowbird’s, can I take your order?”

“I’ll have your lobster special with potato salad and an iced tea,” says a man in his sixties with a white pompadour and a slight Southern accent.

Behind me in the kitchen, Tricia’s earrings and charm bracelet jingle as she muffles her laughter with both hands. I’m too plain for all that jewellery, but Tricia’s pretty enough to pull it off.

“One lobster with potato salad,” I say, punching the register keys. Then, tilting my head back so Tricia can hear, I say, “Would you like me to ask the kitchen to remove the tail for you?”

Snowbird’s is one of 11 roadside seafood stands on the way to Fundy National Park, where tourists can sit in the parking lot and eat a whole boiled lobster while looking out at the bay where it used to live. My parents own this place and are probably the biggest Anne Murray fans alive. Since I can remember, her albums have played in our house, and they run on an endless rotation here at the restaurant. Part of my job is turning over the cassette every 45 minutes. We have Honey, Wheat and Laughter on one side of a 90-minute tape, and Let’s Keep It That Way on the other. Sometimes, when “You Needed Me” comes on, my dad takes off his apron, comes out to the front window where I’m serving and makes me sing the whole thing with him.

You Needed Me

My dad’s not here today. Tricia is 18 and he wanted to see if we’re responsible enough to run the place without him. She’s awesome. Even though I’m only 16, she treats me like an equal. When Tricia sings along to Anne Murray, she pretends she’s holding a microphone with one hand, and with her other hand she plays with an imaginary cord. I would never have thought to do that.

“Is there something wrong with the tail?” the man asks.

“Well, it’s poison,” I say, as per Tricia’s instructions. “You’re not really supposed to eat it.”

Tricia splutters off to my right, stifling another laugh. She suggested the lobster trick this morning, because she says American tourists are clueless. Not everyone falls for it, of course, but if anyone happens to know that the tail is perfectly fine to eat, it’s easy enough to pass it off as a harmless Maritime joke. We’ve gotten four tails so far today. Tricia says that if we get enough, we’ll pick up some beer and go have a bonfire down at Tucker Park.

“Well then sure, miss,” the man says. “I’d heard there was a poison part.”

“One special, tail off!” I yell behind me, and Tricia bellows back as if the man isn’t there: “We’re gonna feast tonight, my friend!”

You Needed Me

To hide my excitement, and because I’m finding it hard to look the man in the face, I turn and pour his iced tea from the fountain. I picture Tricia and me huddling close by a bonfire, both wearing lopi cardigans. Two years wouldn’t be too big an age difference to be best friends. I’m still in grade 11 and Tricia graduated last year, but that’s okay.

“You know, I met her myself,” says the man at the counter. “Just last year.”

I turn and he’s pointing past me at the photo on the wall. In it, Anne Murray, in an oatmeal sweater vest, grins broadly as she holds up the claw of a boiled lobster in one hand. The man rummages in his wallet and produces a tattered photo of him with Anne Murray, who’s holding up the electrician’s blade of a Swiss Army knife. “I’m a stagehand at the Grand Ole Opry,” he says. “She lent me her pocket knife backstage. That lady got me out of a real pinch.” The man nods. “A real pinch. That’s a nice lady, alright. I told her that, and you know what she said? She said all you Canadians are nice.”

Tricia hammers the order bell and whiffs a blue claw elastic at me. It hits me in the neck and bounces onto the counter between me and the man. We both look at the elastic as Tricia, unseen, pounds her palm against the stainless steel service counter and snorts. The man looks up into my eyes, and I wait to see if he’s going to continue. If he’s going to say he thinks I’m one of the nice Canadians. But he doesn’t.

You Needed Me

I turn to the tray with the half-lobster sitting on it, flanked by a ramekin of melted butter, a plop of potato salad and a white pan roll. I hesitate before setting the tray in front of him, and keep my fingers on it so he has the chance to say something else.

“Look at that big feller,” he says, lifting the claw of his half-lobster the way Anne Murray is in the picture. “He looks like a nice one,” he says, and winks at me. He takes his tray to a sunlit picnic table adjacent to the parking lot and starts tearing into the claws, dunking bits into butter and tilting his head sideways to catch the lobster and butter at the same time. He rolls his eyes gratefully at the sky, the way butter makes you do.

As he’s wiping his moustache, a Camaro squeals into the lot and honks Shave-and-a-Haircut on its horn. This jerk’s been here before. He hangs around when Tricia’s working, and will sometimes eat three full lobsters just to talk to her. Tricia does this whiny, pathetic imitation of him, which is hilarious, so I turn to the kitchen to watch and instead hear the jingle of her earrings as the screen door slams. I look outside, and she’s crossing the parking lot with a takeout container on a tray she’s holding over her head like an old-fashioned truck-stop waitress. She brings it right to the driver’s-side window of the Camaro, leans in and kisses the jerk.

“You Needed Me” starts up on the cassette player, and I stare at Tricia’s tight white shorts as she shifts from foot to foot, laughing at something the guy said. I can’t help but think that maybe she isn’t as responsible as my dad was hoping. I also wonder if she isn’t a little old to be working here.

About the author

Michelle Winters is a writer and painter from Saint John, New Brunswick, living in Toronto. Her debut novel, I Am A Truck, was shortlisted for the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize.