Imagine sitting in a car in the parking lot of The Whale’s Tale restaurant, one of those trendy seafood places, where the wait staff wear pins to show how hip they are. You’re not from the island, and you are sitting with a few buddies, waiting to head off to one of the only still-functioning drive-ins on the East Coast. Your buddies are blazing up beside you, and you look out the windshield to see a wave of cats scrambling through the parking lot. There’s about five or six of them. One of your buddies hands you the pipe and you wave him off. For one thing, you don’t smoke, but more because you can’t take your eyes off what comes behind the cats. An old woman waddling along on her trunk legs as rolls of fat drape her body, ballooning her thighs and calves, blending her breasts and stomach, dripping down her right arm like candle wax. Her left arm, however, is not the same bloated distortion as the rest of her body. Her left arm is withered and twisted, like the first dying branch of an under-watered plant.
This woman shuffles out behind The Whale’s Tale, to a place where the restaurant shares a dumpster with The Dutch Horse Pub next door. The woman pushes the glasses to her face and she peers into the dumpster with beady eyes. She then smooths her downy white hair that dances as wisps in the breeze, and she begins rummaging in the dumpster. Some of the customers coming from the restaurant—the ones from off-island that The Whale’s Tale and drive-in are supposed to attract for summer business—think this woman rummaging so intently in a dumpster, with her rolling fat, withered arm, comical fishbowl glasses and cotton swab head, is some abomination against beauty and good taste. But there was a time when this woman was considered quite beautiful and full of life and spirit.
In 1967, this woman had gone to the drive-in, long before it was the hipster retro-relic that it is now. The woman saw Cool Hand Luke, and she ate dinner in the restaurant that is now The Whale’s Tale. This was back when it was a Chinese restaurant. The woman was on a night out with her fiancé, and during dinner, she and her fiancé began having a playful argument. The argument had most likely started out as being about Paul Newman, probably about how she loved his blue eyes. To this day, she has no concept what the argument was about, or how playful it had begun. But, by the time she and her fiancé had made it out to the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, the playful argument had become an all-out fight. Who knows how such trivial things can escalate, but they do. And no one can be sure what was said to climax this fight. But the fight did climax, and it climaxed with the woman taking the engagement ring from her finger, storming to the back of the Chinese restaurant, and throwing it into the dumpster that was back there.
Her fiancé watched her do this from the sidewalk. He watched it with a perfect mask of shock and horror. And that look would follow the woman from her dreams for many years to come. After she’d thrown that ring away, her fiancé began to walk backwards, speechless, trying to separate from the hurt she’d inflicted upon him, edging backward into eternity. Her fiancé stepped off the curb and backed into the street, where, of course, as fate likes to play its games, a truck ran him down. And then it was her turn to wear shock and horror’s perfect mask.
About a week after her fiancé was mowed down by a truck, the woman returned to the Chinese restaurant. But she did not return there to eat. The woman—her clothes now ill-fitting and ill-matched, her hair no longer perfectly styled, her makeup no longer perfectly applied—wandered, disheveled, as if sleepwalking to the dumpster. The woman began digging through the trash, searching for the ring, as if finding it and replacing it to her finger would somehow bring back that fateful day from her past. Somehow bring back her fiancé from the grave.
The husband and wife owners of the Chinese restaurant came out to the dumpster. They recognized the woman and they took pity on her. When they asked her what she searched for, she did not answer. The woman just looked into their eyes. Her eyes looking as if searching the distant reaches of Heaven and Hell. She simply raised her hand and pointed to her ring finger before returning to her rummaging. The Chinese couple, recognizing what she was alluding to, climbed into the dumpster and helped her search in vain for the ring.
When the woman returned the next day, the couple did not help her search again, but they did offer her food, which she refused. And the woman continued to refuse that food as the Chinese couple offered it every day to her for the next almost thirty years.
Then people from off the island bought the Chinese restaurant in the late 90s and turned it into The Whale’s Tale. The new managers no longer offered the woman food. They didn’t offer the woman help. They didn’t offer the woman sympathy. The new managers shooed the woman away, along with the countless cats that now accompanied her, hoping for scraps as she dug through the dumpster’s contents. The new restaurant’s managers cursed the woman. They berated her with nasty names. They called the police.
When the police arrived, some of the older officers knew the woman’s story, and they would shrug at the complaining manager. But the newer police officers would drag the woman off in a cruiser. And when she returned the next day, they would drag her off again.
The new restaurant’s trendy, young staff would scoff at the woman. They would make fun of the woman. They would shout cruel things to her. The customers, heading into the building for their trendy meals, would sneer at the woman. They would complain to the manager about her. The customers did not want the sight of a woman battling the past, searching for salvation, mourning a moment never to be redeemed, to interfere with their appetites. Their appetites were very important. And they paid good money for a meal not to be ruined by such sights.
Only The Whale’s Tale’s kitchen staff ever showed any sympathy for the woman. The kitchen staff, as with many kitchen staffs, was of Central and South American decent, and they understood the bad luck of the woman’s plight.
So, to this day, this old woman comes to this dumpster to search for her lost ring. One waiter at the restaurant, one a little more sensitive than the ones scoffing and shouting vulgarities at the woman, once said, “The only things that are definite in life are death, taxes, and that old lady digging in the dumpster.” A Brazilian dishwasher once said of the woman, “Even though blood still pumps through that woman’s veins, she is a ghost. That dumpster is haunted, and it will be forever.”
So what did happen to the ring the woman threw away so many years ago? Well, it fell to the bottom of the dumpster, was transferred to a garbage truck, dumped in a landfill, squashed into an egg roll, swallowed by a seagull, shat into the sand of a beach, and washed away on the tide. It was a fate similar to the ring’s owner: a woman swallowed by fate, shat out by life, and forever wandering the tide of regret.