Archie, Wilson, Noxanne, Donnie, Lu, and Sam had finished their catfish platters and were alternately spearing food particles with their toothpicks and contentedly tsking air between their teeth. As they’d eaten, Sam’s spirits had slowly, almost imperceptibly brightened. He told a couple of bawdy jokes and even reflected happily on his boyhood life in Striven. Now a waitress filled their tea glasses.
“Them’s fresh fish awright,” Archie said to her.
The waitress smiled and nodded toward the waters beyond the restaurant, where the sun was catching every ripple, creating a thousand bright winkings. “They slept in the lake last night.”
“What’s in them hushpuppies?” asked Noxanne. “They about the best I ever tasted.”
“We put a can of beer in each batch of batter,” said the waitress. “That’s what you noticed.”
“I’d of never knowed it,” said Wilson. “No buzz or nothing.”
“Cooking boils off the alcohol,” said the waitress, “leaves nothing but that good, rich taste.”
Sam nodded, smiling. “I’ll have to try that on my next fish fry.”
The waitress left, and Sam and his friends quieted.
“You used to thow fish fries all the time,” Donnie said, “back when you had voting booths in your place. Maybe you ought to go back to that.”
Sam’s smile turned sober. “I ain’t into such high mindedness anymore. You know what the city fathers did after they agreed to put voting machines in there. Tried to boycott my place as a voting location. Don’t know why they bothered putting them in there in the first place.”
“They didn’t want us who lived nearby voting,” said Archie.
“Yeah,” Sam muttered.
The waitress brought the check, and Sam reached for it.
Wilson snatched it away. “Ain’t gonna happen,” he said.
“That’s right,” said Noxanne. “We all gonna chip in and buy yours and Lu’s for a change.”
Sam said nothing, his face tinged with blush. He shrugged.
“There it is,” said Archie.
Donnie nodded solemnly. “About time we started setting some things to rights, Sam.”
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