Apr 21, 2010


My first job was at this restaurant called The Black Dog. You have probably seen the t-shirts. They have a standing dog (a black one, obviously) in profile on the front and the restaurant name on the back. They got popular a long time ago, back when people liked to consume as conspicuously as possible—having a shirt from The Black Dog was a way of letting the world know you had been to Martha's Vineyard, which is an island with a bunch of fancy houses off the coast of Massachusetts. There are also a bunch of less fancy houses, one of which was owned by my grandparents, and this was I ended up in Martha's Vineyard for August the summer I was 15.

I was a dishwasher. The other dishwashers were Brazilian, and I still remember the Portuguese word for knife—faca—which I'm sure only stuck in my mind because it sounded dirty. I always worked the morning shift and would leave every day stinking of eggs, riding my bike back to the house because I couldn't drive yet. Pretty much everyone who worked there was ages older than me, except for one other kid who worked in the kitchen who I quickly developed a brooding crush on.

Eventually, one afternoon he invited me to go swimming at some spot he knew nearby—he lived on the island year round, and so knew places to go that I didn't. Once we got there and had stripped down to our bathing suits, he told me a few things about himself. He had been born with six fingers on both hands, he said, but the extra fingers were cut off as soon as he'd been born. He showed me his hands, and sure enough, there were strange little scars right next to his pinkies. He'd also been born with six toes on each foot, and he showed me his feet and I counted six toes on either side. And then he told me the part I've wondered about ever since. His sister, he said, had been born with gills.

I was not turned off by any of this information, it only made him more intriguing in my eyes, but it was near the end of the summer and we didn't hang out again after before I left. A few years later I ran into him on the ferry to the island. He was older, and had shed the gangly awkwardness of early adolescence. When I asked him what he was up to, he told me he had become a drug dealer, the biggest drug dealer on the island, in fact. Maybe it was true. Although it now occurs to me that if he really was, he probably wouldn't have been sharing his business with some girl he hardly knew who he ran into on the ferry. But I still wonder about those gills.

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