Andy and Mike sat at the ends of a table, boots in the air like planted flags. The table a plethora of bread dust and cheese crumbs. Roschachs of coffee and wine. Bored little pillars of salt. Service was over but the smell of it remained on the cloth. Andy and Mike finished their cigarettes. They watched over the restaurant like kings. Stock bubbled away. Waiters slept in the linen closet, burred into white sheets.
Mike and Andy didn’t talk. They stared at the walls. A single artist decorated the restaurant. The painter was sleeping with the Maître d. Their portraits were all of spherical blue people reclining. They filled the restaurant with Rubenesque Smurfs. Mike examined a tattoo of knife scars. Andy flexed his boot. Inside were blisters already filling up with blood. They smiled at one another. Smoke trails chained them to the chandeliers. They picked off shattered melon fragments from their faces and hair. They picked it’s hard dinosaur skin from their whites.
Andy had been pickling cepes. Mike got stuck into a side of venison. Mike was cagey about everything. He had been to prison for dealing crack. Everything was a possibility with Mike. He liked things unconfirmed. He made threats and gut fish. He maintained serious eye contact. His eyes were wide and forever exhausted. Between Mike and Andy, Stuart re-ordered his station, making slight with the plastic jars of chilli.
When nineteen, Stuart got drunk for his birthday and walked into a road. The car spun him like pizza dough. Waking from his coma, his short-term memory took flight. Each night Andy retaught him how to do things. And every night Stuart got confused mid-order and began to panic. He’d just cook whatever he had in front of him. Mike told Stuart that one day he was going to fucking do him. Stuart grew afraid and then angry, but couldn’t help but do it again. Andy balanced micro-greens on mackerel compote and hated Mike for beating on him.
Saturday night flew by in a storm. Mike and Andy pivoted in complex, ballet spirals. The kitchen was small and allowed no great movement. They balanced on one toe, managed minor levitations. When the deck grew to fifteen plus, Stuart panicked. He started lifted everything out of his station and covered it with plastic wrap. He began to furiously microwave. He covered his station in ballooning domes of useless steam. Mike shouted for braised kohlrabi and Stuart gave him eleven bowls of obliterated broccoli.
Mike lost it. He threw down his pan, went for Stuart and grabbed him by the colour. He promised to fuck Stuart up in a meaningful way. Andy grabbed Mike and tried to pull him off. Mike had prison flashbacks. He screamed and punched Andy in the stomach. Andy started to fall and grabbed onto a steaming bowl of broccoli. Hot broccoli went into Mike’s face. It burnt his eyes. Mike yelled something and started kicking Stuart repeatedly. Mussels in a cream sauce cracked open and died on the stove. A venison stake blackened. Andy crawled and tried to stand. Mike went to save his station. He promised to kill Andy later. Andy looked for Stuart, but he was gone.
Andy sat on the back steps to the kitchen. He nursed bruises on his side. Melissa joined him for a cigarette. Her tables had been assholes, she said. She was steadily learning to hate just about everyone. She asked Andy if he was ok.
“I think so” he said
“Mike is telling everyone he’s going to kill you”
Andy poked what felt like half a rib.
“He’s always threatening to kill someone”
“He has been to prison”
“He says he’s been to prison”
“He’s a maniac”
Melissa studied Andy. She mothered him sometimes, in a hard way. She took shit from none of them.
“There’s something we can do,” she said. “Be here early tomorrow.”
Andy walked home and got high. Someone had left a bloodied vegetable peeler in his bathroom sink. Bad fucking vibes all over the place he thought. He brushed blood and broccoli from his teeth and slept.
Sunday morning was always deep clean. Everything had to shine. Andy put on the radio and started to sweep out shards of undistinguishable matter. Stuart cleaned the microwave that he’d painted in exploded broccoli nuked a thousand times.
When Mike arrived, Melisa took Mike and Andy out to the alley beside the restaurant. She told them both to start walking backwards. No one fucked with Melissa. They both kept walking until they reached the opposite ends of the alley. Then she gave them yesterday’s rotten melons. She gave them cantaloupe and honeydew. She gave them Galia and Casaba and told them to have at it. Mike didn’t wait. He launched a casaba down the alleyway and missed Andy by an inch. Andy retaliated. His soft cantaloupe caught Mike on the shoulder. Yellow pink melon blood splattered over Mike’s whites. Little bits of hard cantaloupe skin flew into his face. Mike came back with two fast honeydews, one after the other.
After six or seven melons, they both grew tired. They crawled into the restaurant. They sat at a large round table. Andy made them both coffee. Mike stole brandy from the bar. They put their boots up on the table and shared some strange, unspoken victory. A wad of cantaloupe fell from Andy’s hair. They put last night to sleep. The morning was quiet. It contained promise. They finished their cigarettes and examined melon shaped bruises, watched over by walls of Rubenesque Smurfs.
James Kramer is a writer straddling irrelevancy like a champ. After a lost decade in Beijing he is getting things together. He dresses poorly at @JamesAKramer1