“I honestly don’t know if we’ll be able to keep it open through the summer,” Darren mused.
Darren and Mildred were like two eyes in their sockets - securely fastened to a single brain and comfortable with the fact that each and every movement was made in tandem. And they’d been that way ever since they fell in love and married over fifty years ago. Most couples at this point in their marriage bickered incessantly, we need new drapes, no we don’t, the meat grinder needs polishing, no it doesn’t, and so on. Not Darren and Mildred. They shared a bond few do, one that brought them together and kept their relationship simple, pure, and strong as sinew.
It was on a study abroad excursion right after the war that they met. Darren was from Massachusetts, a junior at Harvard Divinity School. Mildred was a sophomore Ag major at Texas A&M. Both were from well to do families; one had to be to afford sea travel to the Pitcairn Islands. The Islands were slowly becoming depopulated to the point where the local government thought it prudent to start an outreach program to encourage migration and investment from outlanders. Hosting rich students from America seemed like a logical first step.
The small sign at the end of the ship’s egress ramp read “Ready for Something New?” All the other students immediately made their way to the receiving center, which doubled as the library. Darren and Mildred, at this point only acquaintances made on the long sea journey, remained behind, transfixed on the hand-painted sign.
“Ay, you kids ‘ungry?” came the man’s voice beneath a stained, used to be bone white, ball cap just as his bobber plunged beneath the surface of the water. He wound the reel a few times, half-heartedly, but the bobber popped back up in a few seconds. He didn’t bother to check if the bait was still on the hook. No one knew the Captain’s real name, but he was friendly, evidently very wealthy by local standards, and owned most of the boats on the island. So everyone called him simply The Captain.
“As a matter of fact I am,” said Darren. “The food aboard ship is horrible. Nothing but vegetables.”
Mildred shook her head in agreement, “I noticed that too, all vegetables, and a little bit of seafood. Gad how boring.”
Within a few minutes they were aboard the Captain’s boat, ocean spray drenching them, as they made their way toward Dulcie Island. Yelling over the grind of the engines he proceeded to educate them regarding their destination, supposedly uninhabited, and the adventures ahead. Darren and Mildred were eager students, and without conscious effort grew closer as they listened, even holding hands at one point without realizing it. By the time they arrived, both knew their study abroad programs were at an end. They had signed up looking for a change from their stead, practically predestined lives. They had found it, and each other.
* * *
“Would it hurt to change the menu just a little bit?” Mildred said as she ran her wrinkled fingers through Darren’s white hair. He just stared out the diner’s dusty pane window as he slowly stirred his dark rich beverage. It was late afternoon, usually their busiest time of day. Yet today the diner was empty save one young couple on the other side of the room apparently only interested in the free Wi-Fi. So Darren and Mildred just relaxed in the booth, musing over days gone by.
“It used to bring me such pride, to watch guests as they fawned over my latest chef’s special,” Darren reminisced. “Do you remember how I’d work for weeks to create something special, to honor the character and memory of a dish?”
“I do, fondly.” The young couple had left by now without ordering.
“Now we’re lucky if we can sell a bowl of nail chips.” Darren took a sip from his mug and nodded in the direction of where the couple had been seated. “And this, we used to bottle it and sell it by the gallon.” Indeed, bootleg sales of ‘Kefir of the Gods’ had been responsible for much of the word of mouth popularity of their diner.
Darren banged his hand on the table, rattling the unused silverware, and said, “Nowadays all they want is bloody skin and brains. My god they’re savages!”
Mildred just looked on with a mix of love and sadness. “You know the problem don’t you?”
“Yes I know. On my trip to America last summer, it became as plain as the cut on my nose on my face... goddamned zombies.”
“Everybody wants to be a zombie. Do you serve brains here? Can I get a glass of blood?” Mildred feigned. “And then they giggle amongst themselves as they flash their fancy credit cards. It really makes a mockery of something divine. It’s a real shame.”
“Yes it is Mildred, so what do we do?”
Mildred walked behind the counter and shuffled around under the cash register. She came back and tossed a pamphlet down in front of Darren. She scooched him in and sat beside him, placing her arms around his shoulders.
“Remember the wooden sign, where we met, really met, after getting off that study abroad ship?”
Darren nodded and snuggled deeper into her arms.
“Maybe it’s time for a new adventure. Sure we’re old coots now, but what drew us together back then? Remember what the Captain said to us that first night we took over the diner?”
Darren thought back to the gnarled old man. It did not seem like fifty years since the Captain truly became part of his and Mildred’s own being and soul.
“I remember. He said ‘Immortality is the greatest adventure, and long pig its gateway.’ Damn it Mildred, the Captain was right. What has all our fine dining been for if not to prepare us for new adventures?”
A big smile came to Mildred’s face. She pointed to the pamphlet and read aloud, “It says right here, Franchise Opportunities Available.”
“That settles it!” Darren beamed as he and Mildred got up and headed for the door. “Get the boat ready Mil, I’ll get the money. The bank and the library should still be open by the time we get there. I can deposit the money while you make the phone call.”
And so they began a new chapter in their already long and happy marriage. Within one year they’d remodeled their diner, reworked the menu, and were busier than ever as word of mouth spread the news - the South Pacific now had its very own Zombieteria.