Later on Tuesday when we’d reopened the shop, Sheriff Matthews came by. The bell up front jingled as he sauntered through the doorway.
“Alice Tucker, I got a kinda disturbing call about you from your neighbor Jeanie a little bit ago.”
Mama was stocking the chips. She didn’t look up as she replied: “Daren Matthews, Jeanie Kravitz is crazier than a loon. What’d she tell ya?”
“The way she tells it, lightning from your eyes melted them kids they’re scraping up outside, into a puddle.”
Mama looked at Sheriff Matthews with a believable expression of dumbfoundedness, then she snorted and began laughing “Crazy as shit…She’s got a pretty wild imagination, don’t she?”
The sheriff rubbed his chin, “she sure does.” He began laughing and then hesitated to ask Mama something else, “what’s this I hear about you maybe unloading some gator meat you ain’t supposed to have? Didn’t you get passed up in the permit lottery this year?”
Mama grew very stern then, moving so that the checkout counter stood between her and the sheriff. She waited a moment, irritation moving out of her fingers as she drummed them on the countertop. She looked in his eyes quietly asking: “and who told you that?” She paused before adding, “It’s $17.50 a pound,” she didn’t like doing any kind of deals with the sheriff if she could help it, “tell your brother Vearl to quit telling you my business.”
He laughed at that, but was shaking his head, “I don’t want none of it,” he asked: “did you keep the blood? How much for that?”
“Well shit I’ll just give that to ya,” Mama said, “I don’t do nothing with it. Hey Clif, honey, go get them jars of blood out the–”
Something outside caught her eye, interrupting her. I saw that she had that anger, a fire inside her again.
“Excuse me Sheriff, I’m going to go have some words with this man,” he turned to look out the window, and realizing why she’d looked so provoked, followed her out.
The two of them made a beeline across the street, and I followed suit to see what was up.
A camper was parked in a no-parking zone right before the bridge. It was a nice one, the paint a sleek custom job of red and black; Montana tags.
“Hey,” Mama barked. “just what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” He was emptying the RV’s sewer tank over the railing and into the water, “They got places for that and this ain’t one of ’em. You can’t do that here.”
“Mind your own business,” he said barely looking up…his face changed, bashful like a cur caught in the act of doing something awful, when he realized she was standing there with the Sheriff.
“The water is her business,” Sheriff Matthews said. He was staring at the man, “it’s the business of any of them that live here.”
When she spoke, I could hear her voice changing, so I knew that her eyes were going blank, even without seeing it. “The chemicals in that tank are gonna kill fish,” her voice had gone all warbly again like she was underwater. Nobody but me seemed to notice.
“Beg. Pardon. Ma’am.” He nodded, “Sheriff.” the man’s voice was coming out robotically, like the words weren’t his own. His next act was certainly not his own: He began to bring the hose back over before the tank was empty. He smiled at them both before placing the wide end of the septic hose over his mouth and breathing deeply; a liquid breath of filth. He was chugging the brown waste into his lungs like breaths.
Sheriff Matthews was dumbfounded, standing shocked. He wasn’t sure what he should do. He and I looked on in horror.
Mama just smiled as the man drowned himself on lungfuls of his own piss and shit.
On Wednesday morning, it was still pretty slow. Red tide was hitting much of the coast and tourism had dropped considerably. There were still some stubborn tourists in town, insisting that their time away from home would not be ruined buy an inlet full of dead fish and mammals.
The boatslip next to our property was in a public park. Figuring since I had nothing to do that day, I filched a loaf of bread from one of the shelves in the store and went out to feed the ducks. There were a few families out enjoying the day, despite the scent of dead sea life that hung in the air. That smell never bothered me much.
Mama came out to tell me she’d just gotten a call; my first tour that day was to be at 1:00. She came out from the shop directly towards where I stood, shredding the loaf of bread, to inform me.
What happened next was unfortunate: a boy, maybe 10 or so, came running up to the ducks where I was feeding them and chased them into a frenzy. Those that hadn’t waddled back quickly into the water took flight to escape him.
Mama grabbed the boy by the arm. He looked terrified.
“How would you like it if you were a duck and someone done that to you?”
A woman came running up in a pair of gray yoga pants, a blue tank top and matching visor, “get your hands off my son, you crazy old bitch!” She shouted. She was about to say something else, but stopped and for an unnaturally long moment, the child and his mother stood frozen in place. It was as if Mama had pressed pause on them.
They suddenly fell slack and Mama, as though she held their strings, sent the two of them like marionettes into the storefront and towards the back room.
When I saw Mama again she looked as though she had gotten a facelift. The creases on her face had softened and she wore the smirk of a younger woman. In one hand, she was leading an old woman in gray yoga pants that sagged from her wrinkled body. Her blue tank top hung loosely from her frail form. The old woman wore a visor to match. Mama lead her to the picnic bench and introduced her to another elderly woman who had already been sitting there. Tucked against her body, under her other arm, she held a mallard duck.
She told me not to give that mallard any bread and if it came up with the others for the torn slices of bread, I was to chase it away. Mama said it would have to find its own food.
I felt bad for that little boy but I did as I was told. I felt bad every time I chased him back to the water to make him dive for his own meal…but nothing would make me feel bad enough to cross Mama.
The old woman has been hanging around the neighborhood for days now and nobody but Mama and me know why that is. She’s got dementia and is mean as a possum if you get close. She spends most days in that park muttering to herself about cloudy eyes like circles of rage and mystical words.