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DROVE ALONG in silence for a while, and I thought I knew what my mother
was thinking, what she was worrying about. When she spoke, I knew
that I was right. “Your father is going to be in quite a state,”
she said. She spoke in the direction of the windshield, without turning
her head, and her grip on the steering wheel was hard enough to turn her
“We could get him some clamburgers for dinner,”
I said. Clamburgers were a favorite of my father’s.
“Oh, Peter, that’s a good idea,” she said, and Patti
rewarded me with a smile.
“Kap’n Klam is just back that way,” I said.
The clamburgers at Kap’n Klam were the best in town. “We can call
home from there and tell him that we’re on our way home—with clamburgers.”
“If you like, Ella,” said Patti, “I could come home
with you, and help you break the news to him.” When had she started
calling my mother Ella? “I could call home from Kap’n Klam, too,
and tell them that I’m having dinner with you.” She paused, then
added, “If you want me to.”
“Sure we do,” I said.
“Of course we do,” said my mother. “We’ve
got to stick together.”
“All for one and one for all,” said Patti.
“Sink or swim,” said I, and regretted it.
To turn around and head toward Porky’s, my mother
made a right into a driveway. Then she backed out onto the street
again into the path of an oncoming car. The driver swerved into the
wrong lane and rushed on, sounding his horn and shouting something that
wasn’t entirely intelligible but included “. . . you crazy?”
“Probably,” muttered my mother. She took a
deep breath, put the car in gear, and drove to Porky’s without disturbing
any other drivers.
When we swung the screen door open and entered Kap’n
Klam, Porky called out, “Hello, hello, hello! Welcome to the home
of happy diners!” Porky and I were friends and business associates, despite
the difference in our ages. We had met when I was in elementary school.
In those days, Porky drove a school bus and I was a regular passenger on
it. Later, when he opened his first clam stand, I was an investor,
the first investor, in fact. He and my mother knew each other from
“Ella!” he said. “It’s great to see you.
How’s that lucky son-of-a-gun Bert?”
My mother burst into tears.
“Hey, hey,” said Porky, rushing to us and gathering
my mother in his arms. “Don’t do that. It’s bad for business.
This is supposed to be a place where people have a good time.”
“Oh, Porky,” said my mother, striking her forehead
with her fist, “I’ve done a terrible thing! A terrible thing!”
“Come on, Ella,” said Porky. “Chin up.
How bad could it be? What did you do?”
“Oh, Porky,” she said. She looked at him and
said, “Oh, Porky,” again, and then she lowered her eyes and shook her head
from side to side and wouldn’t say any more.
“Ella,” said Porky, gently. “Tell me.”
“Ohhhh,” she wailed, “I bought a clam boat!”
“Huh!” said Porky. This was evidently not
what he had expected to hear. “A clam boat.” He knit his brows.
He turned aside. He opened two beers and two bottles of Coffee-Toffee.
He handed the bottles around and clinked his bottle against my mother’s.
He shook his head a couple of times. “You bought a clam boat,” he
said. “Why did you do that?”
My mother just shook her head and brought her hand
to her mouth, as if her reasons were too horrible to tell. Patti
put her arm across my mother’s shoulders and said to Porky, “We’re going
to take people on excursions. On the bay. In the moonlight.
Elegant excursions. Ella’s Elegant Excursions. With champagne.
Champagne and moonlight.”
“It’s going to be so elegant, Porky,” said my mother,
sniffling. “Wait’ll you see.” She managed a smile through her
“So why are you crying?” asked Porky.
“Because I wrote a check for the boat,” she said,
“and—” She stopped. She looked at us, and we were all embarrassed
to see how much it pained her to have to say what she had to say.
We looked away, at the floor, or the counter.
“You don’t have the money to cover the check,” said
“I don’t have the money to cover the check,” said
my mother, even more quietly.
“Well,” said Porky, “I know all about that.
That’s how I got started here. Didn’t have a dime and didn’t have
the intestinal fortitude to ask the old man for a nickel. I lined
“Investors,” said my mother.
“Yeah,” said Porky. “Investors. Backers.
People you can persuade to risk their money so you don’t have to risk yours.”
He glanced at me. When he saw the smile on my face, he looked away
and said with a shrug, “Or maybe you could borrow some money from the bank.”
He put his hands in his pockets and looked at the floor, frowning and working
“We want some clamburgers, Porky,” I said, dispiritedly.
“I’ll help you make them.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Okay.”
We went behind the counter and got to work.
Porky filled the french-fry basket with potatoes and lowered it into the
fat, put six clamburgers on the griddle, began frying some onions, and
lined up six buns to toast. I ladled clam chowder into cardboard
“You could invest, Porky,” I said, standing beside
him, both of us facing away from the room, away from my mother and Patti.
“Aw, gee, Peter,” he said. “I don’t think
so. I’m not making a fortune here, as you well know, and I’ve been
wondering if maybe I ought to remodel the place a bit, modernize, maybe
branch out, too, open a second place in Hargrove.”
“I invested in you,” I said, very quietly.
“Hey, don’t think I’m not grateful, Peter, but let’s
keep this on a business basis.”
“Look at them,” I said, nodding over my shoulder
in the direction of my mother and Patti, sitting at the counter, staring
glumly into their drinks. “Don’t you want to put smiles on those
He looked their way, and then he turned back toward
the grill and sighed. “Sure,” he said, “I’d like to put smiles on
those faces, but you’ve got to appreciate my position here—”
“I do,” I said. “I do appreciate your position,
so here’s what I’ve got in mind: Why don’t you invest something now, anything,
just to give my mother some confidence—”
“—and I promise you, as soon as I find some other
sucker, I’ll pay you back.”
He hesitated. “I don’t know,” he said.
He went back to work. He assembled the clamburgers, with fried onions
on every one, and I wrapped them in squares of translucent paper, tucking
a slice of pickle in the final fold, as Porky had taught me to do.
He poured the french fries into a brown paper bag that immediately began
to darken with grease. We put the containers of chowder and the clamburgers
into one large bag, and added small white paper containers of tartar sauce
and cocktail sauce and cole slaw. The bag of french fries went into
a second brown paper bag, and that too began to darken with grease.
Porky put the bags on the counter and handed my
mother the check. She got her wallet from her handbag and handed
Porky some bills. He took them and he went to the cash register and
stood there for a moment, with his head down, but I could see that he was
looking our way. He hit the key to open the register, took some bills
the money tray, added them to the bills my mother had given him, and brought
them to her.
“Here you go,” he said.
“Thanks, Porky,” said my mother, absently stuffing
the bills into her wallet.
“You want to count that,” said Porky.
With a look, she said, “Porky, I’m sure it’s right,”
and began to close her bag.
“Mom,” I said, “you want to count it.”
Reluctantly, with a look for me that told me I was
speaking out of turn, she opened her wallet. “Oh!” she said, when
she looked at the bills, and then, “Oh, Porky!” She leaned across
the counter and flung her arms around his neck, and he turned a brilliant
“I figured, why don’t I become your first investor?”
he said, “since Peter was my first investor, and since it seems like such
a good idea—sound, you know, a solid investment—and—for old times’ sake.”
Patti shot a look in my direction, raised an eyebrow,
and pursed her lips.
I shook my head once and mouthed. “Never.
My mother said, “Oh, Porky, darling, thank you,
thank you,” and she kissed him.
Patti raised the other eyebrow.