A Trip to Cheddar Bay, by John Updike -The Toast

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The day we read the map was a Wednesday, I remember this because it was Lucy’s birthday and Wednesdays are an impossible day to celebrate one’s entrance into the world. The map was a gift from her grandmother, Penelope, who must’ve been in something of a mood because she was typically about as even-tempered as a hungry mongoose, and not the type to give gifts. We untied, unrolled, and stared for what must’ve been ten or so minutes before speaking. The map was not large in terms of literal size or land covered, rather it was an intricate and hand-drawn representation of a smallish heaven just north of us, an island chain where the lobsters were red, the wait was short, and the price was right.

It took no time to plan; we’d both been going on adventures not unlike this one since last spring when we took a drive to Maine just to lay our hands on the oldest barn we could find. Lucy untied the skipjack as gently as one would hang laundry. Her father had given the boat to us—a man who was even parts principled and impulsive. Sentiments aside, the boat didn’t deserve such a gingerly approach, but that was Lucy.

The trip was smooth. It had seemed the New England waters had granted us permission for the afternoon. We knew we were getting close when the water began to turn to golden, not from the sun, mind you, but from the cheese. Slowly at first, then quickly; I stuck my hand in and let it run through my fingers. Soon it became apparent we far from home in the best way possible. The breeze came off the bay in such a way that it created a tornado of foreign smells which took no time to nestle itself in our brains. We were young, spellbound, and ready for Cheddar Bay.

First came the biscuits. Of course we’d had biscuits before, we hadn’t been raised by indecent wolves, but these weren’t our biscuits. These biscuits belonged to everyone, it was as if they had the Bay baked into them. Perhaps it was the air, perhaps it was the ocean of cheese, or perhaps it was our virgin mouths, but Lucy and I agreed we’d never tasted anything so good.

In terms of fresh flavors, Cheddar Bay was full, but in terms of population, it was quite the opposite. Aside from a handful of young teenagers down the shore and a couple in their autumn years who sat hand-in-hand, unspeaking, watching the waves, we were alone. Lucy and I finished what remained of the biscuits, starry-eyed.


According to the birthday map, the Seafood Starter Coastline was to our left. Deep-fried and perhaps more beautiful than anything I’d ever seen at that point in my life, it possessed the shrewdness of a Connecticut forest without the all the rules. We would go there. I went down the Sampler path because while I possessed enough levelheadedness to balance a glass of wine atop my skull, decisions have never been my strongest attribute, especially as green as I was back then. Lucy, just a young woman at the time, who was raised in a proper home on the “right side of the river” as we called it in schoolyard, chose the Shrimp Nachos. They tasted like the country I had grown up believing in.

The swim to Entrée Island, a small piece of land that had served as a crucial defense point during the war, was necessary but left us covered head to feet in liquid cheddar. Our young bodies still glistening, we found ourselves exploring further. I was drawn to the golden brown varieties of the Admiral’s Feast. An admiral, after all, was exactly how I felt. Lucy, a state diving champion no more than three years prior, practically dove headfirst into the Crab Linguini Alfredo. Without realizing it, as if we’d been dreaming, we found ourselves eating more biscuits. And then, even more.

Cheddar Bay has a way of tricking you into believing. One enters with the world on his shoulders, a world built of domestic and frivolous concerns, and leaves with a sense that, at least temporarily, order exists and death, again, temporarily, does not. We split the cost because we both held the belief that affection, even affection between friends, displayed through money is spoiled, and has no business on an adventure. It was time to go.

Lucy united the skipjack just as quietly as she had that morning. We were scheduled to return to school in three weeks, scheduled to move on, go ahead, and take our places. We were off to bigger things, they told us, off to jobs, off to cities and suburbs, off to live the dream we’d been promised since birth. I do not know if anyone has ever achieved that dream, nor do I know to whom it belongs. What I do know is that on a late summer’s day, for a moment—albeit brief—Cheddar Bay was ours, Lucy’s and mine, for just $57.06, plus tip.

Illustrator: Matt Lubchansky makes comics and occasionally leaves his apartment in New York. His work includes Please Listen to Me and New Amsterdam Mystery Company. He’s on Twitter, and doesn’t expect you to get his name right.

Dan Rozier is a writer in Ohio. His work has been featured in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Splitsider, Trop, and Cincinnati Magazine. He tweets at @barf_city.

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