“I like cabbages but soon the world will come to an end and my green feasting habits will be all but pointless and irrelevant.”
[coincides with this screening]
I can bring your food out to you two, if you’d like to take a seat, I suggested. I was offering not so much out of kindness, but more so because I hate being watched like some sad contestant on a food prep reality tv show.
I’ll wait here.
There were two of them, but she was the talker. Her faceless companion turned away from the both of us to find a table - she knew something I didn’t. The woman who had ordered folded her arms and looked at me like she was waiting for me to fuck up. I whirled around and began to prepare their food on the quieter side of the counter; it faced the wall and the only things there I had to answer to were the ovens and panini presses. Both had a predilection to burn food and body parts but, like me, they were durable and I felt we all shared an unspoken, mutual respect for one another.
How long is it gonna take, I heard from behind me. It was more like a skateboard passing over rough asphalt with the words “how long is it gonna take?” written on it. With dollar store chalk. With some of the letters curved into stylized barbed wire, reminiscent of upper arm tattoos circa nineteen eighty-something.
She repeated herself while I leaned across the counter trying to glean some words out from the bottom of her board. I briefly imagined her on a longboard with flowing, white dreadlocks and tried to hide my amusement. Dude.
About four or five minutes, I smiled. I get paid to smile, among other things, but we’re not McDonald’s so I pick and choose when I flash the ol’ whites; when you see these babies you’re either (a) genuinely nice and/or funny, (b) a babe, or (c) testing what little patience I have. Right then I was really just trying to use the gaps between my teeth to quickly inhale my exhaled breath in an attempt to pass out. Because why not.
Back to my task. The wall was waiting for me, its soup stains were seductively calling out for my return. Wash me, baby.
Are you gonna cut that in half? something vaguely human growled, referring to the sandwich I had just grabbed out of the cooler. Your name is Road-rash and you will be my road-rash.
Without turning around I moved ‘cut sandwich in half’ from near the bottom of my to-do list, my internal script written specifically for this moment in time, to somewhere near the middle. The oven timer went off, she would be gone soon. I moved quickly, her quiche wiggling through the air between the oven pan and the plate like a giggly little egg mound - these are the things I think about while I serve you your food. ‘You’d never make the cut for those Jell-O commercials’ I told it, like the pageant mom I am. I slid her plates across the counter to her. Enjoy! I could hear the air rushing in between my teeth. I turned to do something I had yet to make up to do, the word ‘ESCAPE’ flashing at me, concave and backwards, from the insides of my eyes.
I knew she was a longboarder.
‘Ma’am?’, I realized later, is what she had said.
Ma’am, I walked back and leaned towards her again. I was about a foot away from her face with my head turned slightly to the side so that I could properly hear her rasps; for a second I was worried that she would bite my ear off like some rabid Mike Tyson fanatic or throw something in there, like a pregnant spider or a small marble, while I was so vulnerably positioned. It would all make sense then. That would be my purpose. Everything would be okay.
Ma’am, don’t you ever touch my food with your bare hands again.
She sounded like Gollum, but a Gollum who had a pack a day and a bottle of Jack habit. A badass Gollum who aspired to be a chainsmoking gonzo with neon yellow-tinted sunglasses and a cheap golf visor. One does not simply walk into Mordor.
I looked at her beady little eyes, red from what I assumed was her Hunter S. Thompson breed of stylish alcoholism. Then, without warning, some sort of wormhole opened up beneath me and I was transported through time to an hour earlier. I was in the washroom, somewhere within the span of the ten minutes I had spent trying to unclog a toilet filled with an ungodly amount of pure, not from concentrate shit. I was trying to figure out the logistics of so much shit, yet no apparent presence of toilet paper, while simultaneously retching and holding my glasses in place. I knew who the culprit was and I feared for whoever had to wash his underwear - he didn’t look like the type who washed his own anything. He had come out of the washroom just before I had entered, telling me that the toilet was clogged “but I wasn’t sure, uh, I just didn’t want to do anything”. Essentially he had said “There’s a bunch of shit in there that I guess you should clean up. Please”. I speak your language, don’t worry. He was wearing a grey cowl-necked sweater and paradoxically fitted sweatpants and moved uniformly as a wall of pricey, grey loungewear. Earlier he had coyly - read: weirdly - referred to me as “Mysterious Lady” and after I served him I had turned to my coworker and pointedly said “Successful columnist, culture section, national newspaper.”, to which my coworker simply replied “Agreed.”. Anyways, I thought of him while I leaned against the bathroom door, taking a break from plunging, the smell of his shit re-appropriating itself within the context of my life. I was okay with it because at least I was alone.
And then spacetime restructured and I was back in front of the asphalt woman, back behind the counter. I missed the solitude of the washroom. The door had a lock and I was, for the most part, in control. I knew how to clean up shit without much backlash or backsplash. I had proven myself there. I had been free.
I gave up communicating verbally and simply held up my hands, still secure within the confines of their latex gloves. Road-rash stared at my hands: left hand, right hand, then back to my left. I stared at that space between her nose and top lip which was becoming larger and larger the longer she pursed her lips at me. I caught sight of her friend/daughter/partner/assistant/minion from across the room, staring at the both of us. Why aren’t you here. Why aren’t you helping me. Why did you leave me alone with her. You knew this would happen. How long could we all stare at one another, I thought, I could keep this up for awhile. I looked like that famous courtroom photo of O.J. Simpson, the one where he’s holding up his gloved hands like “I don’t know what you’re talking about/this is how I did it”, but (surprisingly) more amused and (surprisingly) less murderous.
Gimme some mustard, she interrupted my O.J. musings.
It took me three tries to understand this sentence. I went to the kitchen to find the unlabelled container of yellow mustard from one of the four oversize fridges in the back. One of the kitchen guys was on his iPhone and eating guacamole off of a wooden spoon, out of a five litre bucket; I love the kitchen and all the glories it has to offer. There was a mickey of Captain Morgan on the top of one of the shelves - one time, after closing, me and one of the other kitchen staff had made mango-rum smoothies and talked about how in Sri Lanka you were supposed to keep dogs outside.
What took you so long? she happily greeted me as I emerged from the kitchen mecca. She really had missed me. ‘If I Did It’.
I pretended like she knew I had suddenly gone deaf and passed a ramekin of mustard to her with faux joy. I just learned this cute little word, ramekin, and I really enjoy using it in my day-to-day vocabulary. Ra-me-kin. It sounds like a miniature shelf that functions to be placed within another larger shelf, copyright Ikea 2001. Shelves on shelves on shelves, so to speak.
She picked up the ramekin with her claw and walked away before I even had a chance to finish saying “Here you go!!” - my exuberance matched that of those Sri Lankan dogs I had heard so much about, what with so much open land at their disposal. I peeled off the latex gloves and tossed them, missing the garbage can by about a metre.
The world was mine.