My family was sitting in a seafood restaurant in Calabash, North Carolina, eating hushpuppies, waiting for our meals to come. Calabash style seafood means it’s deep fried then battered and fried again. If the ratio of fried batter to sea animal is not—at least—two to one, you’re not eating Calabash seafood. There’s nothing pretty about Calabash presentation, but it tastes good, and as I looked around this particular restaurant, it became clear they had adopted a similar attitude toward their décor. We were crammed into the place like shrimp in a net, with a couple sitting so close to us we could hear everything they said. So naturally they could hear everything we said, too. They could hear my dad and I discussing a history show we had seen about the Mayans; they could hear me say it was bizarre that no historian could explain the sudden disappearance of them as a people, and they could hear my mother say she had the explanation.
The woman at the table next to us perked up, as my mom said, “I just read a book that explains what happened to them. They found a hole in the ground and followed it to the Earth’s core, and that’s where they live now.”
“And you believe this?” I asked.
She nodded, as if to say, “Sure. Who wouldn’t?”
The woman behind us screwed her face into a sneer, a big, bitchy, what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you face, and she stared hard at the back of my mom’s head like she could peer into her brain and ascertain some explanation, maybe a clue that this was some wry joke.
I hated this woman with the screwed up face, this stranger attempting to eavesdrop on my dinner. I wanted to yell at her, scream, “Mind your own business. Sure, my mom sounds crazy, but she’s our freak. So fuck off.” But I didn’t. I ignored the woman, turned to my mother and asked, “What about magma?”
Mom didn’t follow. “They’ve just adapted, I guess.”
I shook my head. “That’s stupid. You need to stop reading crap like that.”
She didn’t argue, didn’t say another word until her food came. The woman at the other table didn’t let up; she sat there, frozen, staring at my mother like she was looking at an alien.
And I just sat there, trying to ignore the bitch at the other table for making me feel like the only person there with a weird family.