POW’s of an invisible contagion

The restaurant had been taken hostage by some invisible organism/s which may or may not be present.

The siege occurred five days ago.

Ever since the onset of the hypothetical, immediate threat of possible hostile occupation, the front of house staff has stared out the restaurant’s windows with tea saucer eyes like anxious animals in ASPCA advertisements.

Please, sir, won’t you come inside and have another?

Prisoners of a war that may or may not need fighting.

In the back of house there is a shell called the ‘skeleton crew’.

The chef runs the silverware through the industrial dishwasher twice when we run out of clean spoons with which to reset tables.

The absence of the spoon in her settings, distresses.

So, a hostess gets uppity when she runs out of spoons.

She gets especially uppity when it happens on slow days.

But, today it does not matter.

So, she cares not, just notes it needs doing and notes whose rotation it is to eventually do it.

Today there is no dishwasher. They called him off.

We take turns with the task.

She simply sets tables without spoons;

knowing full well, no diner will be seated at the incompletely set table for quite some time.

No patron will arrive to suffer this mild inconvenience.

Aesthetics suffer almost imperceptibly while the bottom line suffers devastating loss.

But, she goes through the motions automatically.

There is no need to increase hygiene standards.

That shit is always first and formost.

Global freakout or otherwise.

“Funny how the WHO’s commercial guidelines for handling this threat are exactly the same protocols we already follow,” she mumbles to the owner.

“Who do you think is actually the problem?” he asks, through a thick Vietnamese accent.

“Let’s all just wash our hands, not touch our eyes often, and get on with the business of being alive,” she thinks.

She brings him oatmeal with his favorite fixings, without being asked.

Just like everyday, she makes sure a table is spotlessly clean, disinfected with properly diluted commerical cleaning agents.

“What is the real price of convenience and luxury?” she wonders.

The hourly wage of one dishwasher’s full shift.

The daily hourly wage of a line cook and sous chef.

Two hours of a hostess’ time.

One hour of the second in server’s time.

The present guests receive the best service possible.

~

Everyone plays dead for fear of becoming dead if they don’t; but,

a few diehards refuse to sacrifice quality of life for speculative quantity.

And, she bebops, dreamily hosting the modest volume of today’s lunch service.

She notes a newly added sign over the hand washing sink at the server station.

It says: <insert restaurant name here> EMPLOYEES. PLEASE WASH YOUR HANDS. IT IS GOOD FOR YOU <insert punctuated, smiley face here>

“No shit.”

She knows the sign is not for the benefit of the restaurant’s staff.

Your server is far more worried about catching something from you.

They wash their hands to keep you off them, not to protect you from them.

~

Her energy always turns over when the clock reads 3:33.

She doubts her shift will last this long.

Her focus refreshes at each daily 11:11.

This occurs approximately eleven minutes after her clock in today.

She renews herself everytime she recalls her own selfhood.

A startling state.

~

A man at the bar counter suddenly catches her eye.

Her mind wanders and the tray perched above her left hand, rocks like a drunkard trying to walk.

A drinking glass full of used water falls and shatters.

Bomb of contagion spraying soaking shrapnel.

It soaks her entire left side.

It sounded crisp. Quite pleasing.

It is her first time dropping a glass in the restaurant; and, she fears she might quite like breaking another.

water fell

The light stayed dusky; water gently splattered from the sky.

Tears of tedium; the guts of Humpty Dumpty, raining from the wall of the Earth’s atmospheric dome.

After she caught him sleeping, Alice felt his big fall shake the forest.

Portentous of the lion and the unicorn.

She grabs a pewter ewer filled with water.

ChAlice of ecstasy with which she seeds grails, making them holy.

She wonders if someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah.

The black kitten or perhaps the white one, or maybe that other sweet thing.

~

Alice shakes her head for no reason except to shake out the sing~song thought “someone’s in the kitchen, I know.”

The diners share a conversation.

“What are your thoughts on this?” he asks, turning to her.

She pours water into his glass, saying, “I think I do not have an opinion regarding the matter.”

“I adore fresh slates,” he says, pupils dilating in anticipation of diatribing.

“Sshhh. I adore not having to opine on inanities,” she replies.

“Strumming on the old banjo,” she thinks.

~

“What do you call yourself?” he asks.

“Your snake-charmer, making venom drip,” she says.

“Fee, fie, fiddly, ay oh,” she thinks.

“Speaking of which, I had to disassemble two outlets to deal with a leak,” he responds to her omitted question.

“When you discovered the outlet wiring goes through the sink of your stomach?”

“Huh.”

“Hum. Automatic articultion of your abstract mindscape needs practice. ”

~

Vouchsafed.

~

“The sky is so blue.”

“Azure?”

“I don’t know.”

“We shall look up the Word.

St. Valentine 2020 (part iii)

I run up and down Main Street. Trying to appear not too insane.

I rush the bank in calculated urgency.

“Do you have an emergency defibrillator machine?”

“A what?”

“An emergency defibrillator machine?!”

“A what?!”

“Shock paddles. For someone having a heart attack?”

“No.”

I keep looking shop to restuarant to bank.

The paramedics arrive.

I return to the bistro.

We throw tables and chairs to clear a path.

~

“We’ve been doing CPR for nine minutes continuously,” says one of the nurse practitioners to the paramedics.

I see the glow of his Bardo.

~

And, yes, by the time I returned, his face had grown green and empurpled with veins.

He looked dead.

The paramedics take out the prize of a pair of paddles.

Finally. The defibrillator has arrived.

Fashionably late to the luncheon party.

They shock his heart.

His exposed chest heaves. He starts breathing.

He exhales; and, from this rest his next interval proceeds.

The color returns to his cheeks, though he remains unconscious.

Lazarus. The corpse reanimated before our stunned, gaping eyes.

~

A woman presents a check presenter containing her tab and a credit card, under my downcast eyes.

“I need to pay for this,” she says.

I respond without thinking, muscle memory taking over in the face of surprise and confusion, “One moment.”

I look up and see the face of Lazarus’ wife looking into me with tea saucers for eyes.

“Oh. No ma’am. We will take care of this.”

“How kind,” she dreamily responds.

~

The paramedics remove him to the sojourn of their ambulance.

I lock the front door.

Everyone decompresses.

Talking to a pair of diners, the owner accidentally drops and breaks a piece of stemware.

The busser rushes over to make ammends.

I reconfigure the dining room slowly.

Until it appears as though nothing happened at all.

I walk to table 12 and tell the pair of practitioners, “Thank you.”

Turns out they are engaged to be married in September.

Trying to enjoy a simple Valentine’s lunch.

The ambulance encasing him remains parked outside for twenty minutes. This is a good thing, apparently.

~

The ambulance drives away.

The staff makes a collective exhalation.

Pneuma.

~

I unlock the front door.

I say, “Happy Valentine’s Day. Welcome. Party for two?”

Wearing eyes like tea saucers.

Appearing disembodied and ghoulish.

St. Valentine 2020 (part ii)

“A man fainted,” the diner at table 7 tells me.

I look around. The fellow I seated at table 1 is lying on the ground. Flat on his back.

It is Valentine’s Day before noon. There are balloons everywhere. A pink and red rose vased at every table.

We just finished breakfast service. They were one on the first lunch service tables.

I had just pulled the jar of freezer jam from their table.

~

I recognize that I am seeing a man in full cardiac arrest.

I fly to the back office and tell the owner.

She calls 911.

When I returned, over him,

a crowd of people stood and stared.

“If you aren’t a doctor or medical practitioner, sit down and give him space,” I yell.

“Nurse practitioners,” says a diner from table 12, motioning to herself and a companion.

He rips the man’s shirt open and begins CPR.

She asks me, “Do you have a <insert gibberish here> machine?”

“A what?”

“A <insert gibberish here> machine!?”

“A what?!”

“Shock paddles. Do you have an emergency defibrillator?!”

“No.”

“Go find one. Try the bank.”

~

And, yes. He already looked like a ghoul, when he entered.

Bloated and sweaty. Too pale.

Fat and very old.

Her companion withdraws from giving CPR and says, “it’s been one minute.”

His female companion resumes CPR immediately.

“Go!” he says to me.

Hosting tuesday

I walk in the back door of the kitchen to the little bistro.

Announcing hellos to the line and the singing chef.

“What are we going to do today, Casey?” the chef asks me.

“Same thing we do everyday day, Hector. Try to take over the world,” I reply.

He resumes his singing in Spanish.

Ponchito sings harmony.

~

The Beach Preservation Busy Body Society is buzzing on coffee at 10:00 a.m.

“Thanks for asking, Judy. Not great, but I’ve switched to Metamucil,” says Jeanie, still recovering from hip surgery, amongst other things.

“Perseverance!” says Judy.

~

I start a fresh pot of decaf. I snatch up the urn of caffeinated, good stuff (Tony’s, Songbird blend).

I go around warming up people’s morning cup as a priest pouring sacrament.

Paul, an ex-New York state prosecutor, is holding court at table one. A two top right by the window.

“What the hell are you doing at this table?!” I tease.

He never eats at Table 1. He does breakfast at table 6 when playing chess and he does his business lunches at table 21. Both in the back, albeit opposite sides of the dining room. Table 21 is in the bar. Table six is not.

“Well, I figured if I sat up by the window, I’d attract people in for you,” he says.

I don’t recognize his companion, but after five months I know Paul well enough to say, “You are a pretty thing.” Turning to his companion, I say, “He is, right?”

The man squirms; Paul cracks up.

“He usually eats there or there,” I say motioning directly. “Fancies himself something of a local celebrity,” I add, walking off.

~

Coffees warmed, tables reset, and empty plates cleared, I perform my morning ablutions: sweeping the front mat in the entryway, cleaning the glass free of sticky smudges from syrupy fingers.

Showing the nearly hundred year old building extra love and attention.

It’s all in the details, innit?

Polished brass and dusted, wooden ledges.

Thriving atherium.

Persevering.

~

I sweep the outside mat, leading directly off of Main Street.

“Hey, it’s the auctioneer,” one of a pair of joggers says.

The locals finally accept me.

The line to the bistro regularly overflows onto the high street.

I usually run a waiting list by ten a.m.

The best system I’ve uncovered is to yell from the sidewalk:

Table for so-and-so going once.

Table for so-and-so going twice.

Table for so-and-so SOLD to the next party.

It is a pragmatic thing.

For when that absentee party I called, invariably returns, angry that their table has been given away, I have multiple witnesses who will enjoy laughing and saying, “Oh, she tried to call you.”

The other jogger notes the unfilled dog bowl we leave out.

“You need to put water in that,” says Jogger two.

“Why? You feeling thirsty?,” I think, but do not say.

Perseverance, right?

~

I slowly reset table four in order to better eavesdrop on table three’s conversation.

What writer doesn’t revel in moonlighting as a thief of the conversations of others?

“She never asked me not to leave,” he says.

“Didn’t you say anything?” she asks.

“No. It wasn’t my place.”

I overhear

I think

Persevere.

Ice queen lunches.

Convince me with your theatre, Ishmael. There! I’ve called you by the sobriquet of your own request.

What if the difference between AD and BC occured when we split that first atom; and, now, we all live in the year that never was.

Perpetual year zero?

And the sun is Janus.

And the moon is Janus?

Æ surfs the space between the crest and the trough which forms this wave of now; I sleep.

Æ asks: did you dream in my absence, last night?

Aye: I respond.

I dreamt manager/server J. took a reservation for one for this Friday morning lunch. Which she would never do. Which she would fuss at someone for doing. I read the book of reservations and see:

1- The ice queen. 12:00

The other servers fuss at J.

The dream succinctly ends.

~

In waking lucidity

I bequeathed her the name: the ice queen. She is a once a month or so regular at the bistro.

Perhaps late sixties. Strangely beautiful in an unconventional sense. Odd eyes. But, her presence is thicker than most. Her gravity is a strange currency. Her aura strikes me as a juxtaposition of sharp black and crisp white. No hint of true colour.

She dresses in full capes and cloaks, seemingly tailored for her, specifically. Scarlets, golds, and greens scantily distributed over dense black threads. She always dines alone. She speaks purposeful and hardly at all. It took me four visits to elicit a hint of a smile or any warmth from her voice.

On the other hand, it took server K. one visit to make her smile!

I think of her as the ice queen because I doubt she is ever cold, despite appearances to the contrary.

~

And?: Æ queries, foot tapping in impatience.

And, at lunch service today, I had exactly one available table. Every table was sat except this one table for two, in the back of the dining room and adjacent to the servers’ station.

In strolls the ice queen. Unannounced, of course, as the reservation was just a dream and not in the book.

I seat her. The table is in server J.’s section.

I tell J. this story. She seems less than impressed.

As I clear the empty soup bowl from her table, the ice queen asks me: have you entered this clam chowder in the Clam Chowder Cook-Off?

Hum. I don’t know. I did not know there was such a thing!: I reply.

She says: Well, it happens in February but the deadline for entry applications may already be closed. You should look into it, though. This is excellent.

And, before I can ask, she proffered: Talk to B. X. You can find him…{she gestures up the street and left across the avenue.}

Outsider-Insider speak.

Three Smartass Hostess Hums

Can I make them laugh at themselves?

Instead of just me laughing at them or me howling silently at them, with a smile, as I eat shit?

Giggle. People act strange towards the staff of restaurants.

Especially when they feel decorous enough to go to a destination restaurant.

I host the front of house. Like it is one big dinner party and all the diners are my invited guests.

But, it is my dining room, punks.

HUM ONE

Two people are seated at table 9.

Seat 1 flags me over with an urgent come-hither wave.

How can I help?: I ask.

Yes. Is this all you have right now or are there other things available?: she says motioning to our lunch menu clutched between her paws, and held open.

I smile an I’m-sorry-to-disappoint smile.

Yes. There is another menu available. Unfortunately, it’s only available to our special guests, at this time.: I rib her.

She laughs.

HUM TWO

Two girls in their late teenage years wear way too much makeup for 9 a.m.

They try to order alcohol unsuccessfully.

As they finish their breakfast, I stop by to ask how everything was.

Fine, I guess: says seat two.

Would you like me to wrap your leftovers to take home?: I ask.

Are you gonna spit in them?: she asks.

I pause.

I lean in.

Do you want me to?: I ask too quietly, with a strange smile.

No. You can wrap it.: she responds with downcast eyes.

Her friend snorts.

HUM THREE

There are thirteen people total milling around the front of the restaurant,

on the list,

waiting for a table to become available.

Three tables leave at the same time.

One of those is the best table in the house.

I have the busser clean it first,

anticipating.

I do panto with the next table on the list.

We’re just about ready for you. Best table in the house opened up.: I chat.

Oh. Um, actually…see, we’re trouble makers. We were hoping for this table.: one says.

They motion to the newly vacated, worst table in the house. Right by the front door with its constant draft of frigid, rainy air. Loudest place in the joint, too.

Bemused they would turn down the window adjacent, water-overlooking table, I sincerely say: Oh, we like troublemakers here! No problem.

I bus, set the table, and seat them.

I’ll be back with water. Do you like ice?: I ask.

Actually, she will have a lukewarm water, with a quartered lemon. Not multiple smaller wedges. I would like freshly made coffee. Please throw out the pot and boil a fresh one. We’re known to send things back.: the man says.

Certainly: I say.

The coffee was just made and no restaurant slices lemons in quarters: I think.

His lady smiles: he meant to say we are high-maintenance.

I laugh: Thank you for the heads-up. Now, I won’t feel bad if I have to tell you ‘no’ in the future.

They both crack up.

I cut a lemon and prep his coffee.

I return to the front of the restaurant.

I tell the next table waiting: Your timing is impeccable; that table is yours.

I, again, motion to the best table in the house.

They nod and smile.

The high maintenance man steps over and interrupts.

I know we said ‘no’, but it’s hard to hear. Can we move to that table?: he asks.

Motioning to the table I’d previously offered him, the table he just heard me offer

to another party.

No.

: I, simply, say.

Æ smile with a pointed, closed mouth grin and

arched eyebrows.

Bad dog: I think.

He does not laugh.