The Fish Shack is a heartwarming story of friendship, told with warmth and humour, with kindness at its core. Our misfit, Vicki, struggles with feeling downtrodden and must find her inner strength to rise above apathy. According to her kind boss, Dom, Vicki makes the best hot chips in town, but that is simply not enough anymore. Though she makes an unscrupulous enemy, Vicki also makes an unlikely friend who reminds her of the importance and joy of the simple things in life. An uplifting Australian short read, The Fish Shack, celebrates the importance of kindness toward others and conducting oneself with dignity and respect. Friends come in all shapes and sizes.
It was an unusually busy Sunday night at Dom’s Fish Shack. For most of the shift, a restless queue of hungry customers had spilt out of the oven-like shop to the shade of the veranda. Vicki hauled yet another basket of golden chips out of the deep fryer while brushing away distractedly at the stream of sweat trickling from her brow. It seemed odd to Vicki that many of their customers, who complained it was too hot to cook, didn’t seem bothered at all to wait in a stinking hot chip shop to get their dinner.
‘Chicken salt on that?’ squawked Veronique from the counter, her distinct voice cutting through the hiss of the fryers and roar of the exhaust fans.
‘Perhaps not,’ said the man placing his order, a toddler hanging off his arm like a monkey. ‘It’s a pineapple fritter…’
Vicki snorted in a gust of laughter and feeling Veronique glaring at her through the back of her head, tried to hide it by banging and shaking the basket of chips more vigorously.
‘Sorry about the wait. The grill cook is new,’ announced Veronique loudly to the customer, so everyone else waiting could hear as well. Vicki knew Veronique had only started work not long before she had, and that was months ago now. The man and his son took a seat. Veronique flashed a satisfied smirk at Vicki as she slapped the new docket onto the holder.
Funny, thought Vicki, how she waited until Dom was out in the cool room before she said that. If Veronique bothered to cook, the orders wouldn’t be so far behind. Dom tried to call in extra staff, but no one could make it in time, so they just had to roll with the onslaught.
Perhaps Veronique thought that as she was Dom’s future daughter-in-law, she was exempt from menial work, plus, she wouldn’t want to snap one of those perfectly manicured fingernails. Vicki felt like hurling the chips at Veronique’s immaculately groomed head, as the previous grill cook had done during a screaming match with Veronique in the middle of service. Dom’s pride had no choice but to dismiss the offending girl. Couldn’t boot out his son’s fiancee, the staff said, but only when they were not in earshot of the family.
Under Dom’s law, all family must work in the shop and do their share. In this case, no work in the shop, no big fat house deposit as a wedding gift. Vicki thought Dom secretly hoped that having to work in the shop would turn Veronique off his son. Clearly, it had not. Aside from Veronique’s irritating demeanour, Vicki enjoyed working with Dom’s family and the rest of the staff, and would not wittingly jeopardise a good job.
The queue for orders finally settled down and the veranda was clear of the overspill of customers. The little boy, now perched on his dad’s knee, animatedly recited a story about a fast red car named Benny; it turned into a spaceship, complete with a Vultron ice ray that shrinks baddies and then traps the villain in an ice cube. The couple seated on one side of them stared blankly at the tennis on TV, like a pair of zombies, but the older couple on the other side smiled and nodded kindly at the boy.
An old lady came in, struggling with her walker which had tangled in the plastic door strips.
‘Oh god, it’s the mad old cat lady…’ sneered Veronique.
Vicki hoped that Mrs Mac, as Dom always called the lady, had not heard that remark. She usually came in on a Wednesday for her special hot pack and a piece of raw fish for her cat. Vicki often admired the cascade of glittering beads and colourful scarves draped around her neck. So what if she liked to dress a bit oddly and give her cat a treat?
Story-boy’s father got up immediately and helped Mrs Mac get through the door, while the boy, as he investigated the walker, asked a stream of questions.
‘But why is there a seat on the trolley if it’s for walking?’ enquired the little boy.
‘Sometimes I need to sit down and take a little rest, dear,’ replied Mrs Mac gently.
‘Robbie, hop out of the way mate…’ said the flustered man, pulling his son from the walker.
‘Besides, I always have a seat in a busy shop,’ said Mrs Mac to Robbie, which seemed to satisfy the inquisitive boy. ‘You are very kind, thank you so much,’ she said to Robbie’s dad, who smiled gratefully.
As she moved toward the counter, the man and the boy took their seat again. Veronique completely ignored Mrs Mac and called the zombie couple to get their food. Vicki put down the tongs, wiped her hands on her apron, and came around the bench to the counter to serve Mrs Mac.
‘There’s no need for you to serve, Vicki…’ snapped Veronique. Vicki, now embarrassed, hastily retreated to the grill just as Dom reappeared.
‘Mrs Mac… good to see you on a Sunday!’ boomed Dom, pushing past an unimpressed Veronique to reach for the order pad. ‘The usual for you? We have our Vicki cooking today. Cooks the best chips in town …’
Veronique glared at Vicki from behind Dom’s back. He chatted to Mrs Mac, wrapped the fish for her cat and then excused himself politely to go and help Vicki catch up on the backlog of orders. Both Dom and Vicki winced every time Veronique screeched out the entire contents of each docket.
Robbie’s dad jumped up immediately when their order was called, hurrying his son, but Veronique continued to read the lengthy docket. Dom rolled his eyes at Vicki in solidarity, then called out to Mrs Mac, whose order was also ready, over the top of Veronique. As the man struggled to the counter, Robbie clutching his leg like a climbing frame, Mrs Mac clumsily manoeuvred her walker straight into them. After apologies on both sides, she reached under the walker seat and handed the boy a brightly coloured knitted toy.
‘Do you know I think this superhero puppet has your name on it…Robbie, isn’t it?’ asked Mrs Mac.
‘Yes! It is Robbie!’ gasped the wide-eyed Robbie, who eagerly grabbed the red-caped puppet, immediately whooshing it through the air.
‘Manners Robbie…’ said the man to his son, adding his own grateful thanks to his sons hurried one. ‘Please let me give you something for the toy,’ he said, reaching for his wallet.
‘Oh no, it’s a gift!’ said Mrs Mac. ‘Make an old lady happy…’
‘Well, at least let me buy you dessert,’ insisted the grateful man, indicating the display of sweets in the refrigerated cabinet.
‘How about a piece of my wife’s cheesecake?’ suggested Dom, cutting a slice for another order.
Mrs Mac finally agreed, Dom nodded approvingly as he packed the cheesecake and processed her order on the till.
‘Can we get cake too?’ asked Robbie, turning back to his dad.
‘I’ve already totalled the order,’ spat Veronique. ‘Again…’
‘Mum already has ice cream for you and your cousins’ replied the man to his son. With wallet in hand, he ignored Veronique and held the plastic blinds back for Mrs Mac as she left, bidding Robbie a fond farewell.
Waiting impatiently, Veronique drummed her fingers on the counter, which Dom noticed, his prominent eyebrows raised. The order, consisting of several large parcels piled high on the counter, looked precariously balanced.
‘Get a box, Veronique. Can’t you see the man has his hands full?’ said Dom, quietly taking over the sale at the till.
‘Vicki can get one,’ she retorted.
‘Vicki is cooking. Please just get the box, Veronique,’ asked Dom, now annoyed. Vicki copped yet another glare from Veronique who stormed past her to the box area. Vicki couldn’t help but smile, just a little.
Veronique returned with a box, Dom packed the order and Robbie’s dad, departing, gathered up the box of food and his still-whooshing son.
The last orders filled, the floor emptied of customers, and a peaceful lull fell on the Fish Shack. Vicki started the clean down chores as closing time neared. Dom was taking the rubbish out, and Veronique, supposedly cleaning the front counter, was watching TV, which she had changed from the tennis to The Bachelor as soon as Dom went outside. Just as Vicki finished mopping, Veronique knocked a bottle of tomato sauce off the counter, smirking as it splattered across the clean floor.
‘Oopsy! The lid came off… Oh dear!’ said Veronique, delighted. Vicki knew it was payback for earlier, even though Dom was the one who offended Veronique.
‘Anyways, have to go. My Nicky’s taking me to the movies. Gold lounge,’ she trilled, taking off her apron and throwing it on the bench. ‘You don’t mind cleaning up, do you Vic?’
‘Sure,’ replied Vicki, as pleasantly as she could muster. Like she had a choice. She grabbed the paper towels and started mopping up the mess as Veronique skipped off shouting out goodbye to Dom.
‘Thanks a lot, hag face’ Vicki muttered through gritted teeth.
Bloody Veronique! Tonight was the premiere of Smorgasbord. For weeks, the ads had played on TV, teasing viewers. Now, Vicki knew, she wouldn’t get home until well into the second half of the show. She could wait and watch it on catch-up TV later, but it just wasn’t the same.
‘What happened here?’ asked Dom as he came back, watching Vicki wiping the counter front. ‘Where’s Veronique?’
‘Oh, Nick got here early, so she had to go…’ said Vicki, flushing red and avoiding eye contact with Dom. ‘I just knocked over the sauce…’
Dom had a sixth sense for his staff, and Vicki was never any good at lying.
‘You know what? It’s been a busy day, Vic. You worked very hard. Get out of here; I can finish up. And don’t forget to take some food…’ said Dom kindly, knowing somehow his future daughter-in-law, once again, had behaved badly towards Vicki.