by Ed Meek
"Excuse me, Cindy, but these people tell me their food isn’t hot,” Angelo said.
Cindy stared at the new Maitre D puzzled.
"Not hot?" Cindy put her hands on her hips. "It's not supposed to be hot. Tell them that."
"Where do I get these people?" she said to no one in particular. She put her hands on her temples and massaged them. Her throat was so dry she could barely swallow. She looked up and the Maitre D' was still standing there. She reached out and grabbed him by the ear. "Did you hear me?" She twisted his ear. "Go," she said pushing his head away as she released him.
Angelo stumbled backwards, rubbing his ear, incredulous.
Cindy turned around, went back upstairs and found David, "I'm going to take a break. Keep an eye on things. Keep everyone moving."
Two hours later, rush over, most of the guests gone, Cindy was talking to Chad, her best-looking waiter. With his thick black hair, square jaw and blue eyes, Chad looked like he could be giving tennis lessons at the country club. Usually she enjoyed talking to him because it gave her the opportunity to stare at him, but now he was irritating her. He stood there, drinking her cognac, at her invitation, telling her that he liked the cheaper one, the Delamain, better than the Vesper, when anyone who knew anything about cognac knew that the Vesper was fabulous. In fact, someone had stolen a bottle of the Vesper which retailed for over a hundred dollars and Cindy thought it might have been Chad. She briefly entertained the notion that he might be right about the Delamain. Then she regained her senses. "No, no," she cut him off, "you don't understand, Chad. It’s the quality of the oak that gives the Vesper that woody flavor–what the French call 'raison' from the aging."
"But the Delamain has a nice, fiery quality." Chad said.
"Fiery?" Cindy didn't know why she wasted her time listening to these people. Maybe it wasn’t Chad who’d taken the Vesper since he liked the Delamain better. She had owned this restaurant with Meyer for ten years and the waiters were always stealing from her. Here she was actually giving a waiter free cognac, and he didn’t even know what was good. Enough was enough. She slammed her empty glass down. "Why don’t you punch out, Chad." She managed a wooden smile. Half the time the waiters forgot to punch out on the time clock. She had told them that she wasn’t going to pay them if they didn’t punch out yet they still forgot.
She checked her watch–ten o'clock. She had to get out–the restaurant was driving her mad! Meyer wouldn't be done for an hour or two. She could change and go out before he finished in the kitchen. Little Noelle would be asleep. She would have June, the cashier, look in on the kid and baby-sit until she got back. Cindy pictured June’s cute face–she would have been attractive if she weren’t fifty pounds overweight. Still, she liked June because June did whatever she was told to do.
David, the manager, stopped her on the stairs. He asked her, in that whining, nasal voice of his, if she were leaving.
Cindy looked at his long oval face with his drooping bottom lip and nodded.
"I also wanted to ask whether that California wine came in." David smiled weakly.
"David, why do you have to bother me, day and night with these details? You can't do these things yourself? And why is Chad still working here? The busy season is over, right? We no longer need him. Besides, I think he was the one who took the cognac." Cindy drew her hand across her throat. "Get rid of him." Suddenly she remembered that she wasn’t sure whether Chad was or wasn’t the one stealing the cognac. So why was she telling David to fire him? Ugh, there was just too much on her mind.
"Whatever you say, Cindy," David looked at his new Gucci shoes–there was smudge on them. He frowned.
"No,” Cindy said, “I didn’t get that wine in. Wait a minute," Cindy stopped on the stairs, "I did get it in." She clenched her hands and stomped up the stairs. "Come on," she said. “Follow me.”
David followed her up the winding stairs of the Georgian townhouse that Cindy and Meyer had bought five years before and turned into one of the best restaurants in the city. Prior to that they had been in a smaller restaurant around the corner where David had been a waiter. When they moved, she had made David manager of the new place. After Cindy had her child, David had assumed more responsibility. Cindy didn't really like to work so much anymore. Neither did Meyer for that matter. These days Meyer spent only one or two nights a week in the restaurant. The rest of the time he was working on other projects. Most nights, Meyer let the Sous-Chef, Nick, run things. Meyer had opened a gourmet store on Tremont Street; he had a concession at Tanglewood for music festivals and concerts, and he had a cafe opening in the fall at the Four Seasons hotel.
Cindy and Meyer have done very well, David was thinking, as he followed Cindy up the stairs. For an Israeli with a Liberal Arts degree from Dartmouth and no formal training as a Chef, Meyer had done incredibly well, and for a girl from Revere with a high school degree and one year of community college, Cindy had done quite well too. All David had to do to keep his job was to jump when Cindy said jump. David already had bought a three-family house in Dorchester and a Condo in Boston; he planned to get out of the restaurant business in five years. Until then, he would eat humble pie when he had to.
With a grunt, Cindy picked up and handed David a case of Cabernet Sauvignon which had been sitting just outside the door to her apartment. David was walking back down the stairs to the restaurant, struggling with the case of wine, when he heard something crash in the kitchen. He hesitated at the bottom of the second floor. The restaurant was on two floors and the kitchen was on the second. David heard a rasping voice screaming in the kitchen. It was Meyer. David put the case down on the stairs and peeked in the kitchen. Meyer had his broad back to the kitchen door so David sneaked in and hid over by the bread, near the walk-in cooler, to see what was going on.
"What do you call this shit?" Meyer was yelling at one of the young cooks. "Look at this. Look at it. I should rub your face in it. You can't do the simplest Goddamn thing. We go over this day after day." Meyer walked over to where the young cook stood at the stove and grabbed the frying pan off the floor. He put it back on the stove and tossed a handful of julienne vegetables into it. He opened the broiler above the stove and put a filet of veal in. "Damn-it," he said.
Chad came walking up the service stairs toward David with a tray full of dirty dishes on his shoulder. He was carrying the tray with one hand, and with the other hand, he was eating a tenderloin of lamb that a guest had apparently failed to finish.
"That's it," David said putting his hands on his hips. "That's the very last straw, Chad."
"Oh, come on, David–everybody eats." Chad took another bite.
"It's against the rules." David said. "This isn’t the first time. Besides, she knows you've been stealing cognac. Just get your things and leave."
Up in the apartment, Cindy laid two lines of cocaine on the glass table in front of the television. "So you're addicted," she said to herself, "so what?" Some people were addicted to coffee, some to booze. She liked cocaine. She had managed to stop for the last month of the pregnancy. Besides, she had been eating healthy and going to the aerobic classes. Her weight was down and she looked good. She was a nervous wreck, but what could she do?
She had MTV on with the sound off. J. Lo was selling her perfume. After Cindy did the lines she felt better. Much better. It was part of the business, wasn't it? Meyer did it, the waiters, cooks, everybody. Jim, her current flame, would have some tonight. Jim always had good stuff, the bastard. She laughed. Speaking of bastards, she should check on the kid. No, he must be all right or there would have been some noise. Cindy and Meyer weren't married. Cindy didn't care either way. She would have preferred being married, sure, but not being married was fine. She didn't trust Meyer anyway. As if you could trust anyone. She lit up a cigarette, sat down and watched the MTV announcer sticking out her tongue and lewdly licking her lips. Cindy stuck her tongue out back at her.
Chad changed his clothes in the bathroom upstairs on the second floor. It wasn't David who fired me, he thought, it was Cindy. He took a bottle of Delamain out of his locker and put it in his backpack. He liked the Delamain better than the Vesper.
"Well boys," Chad said as he walked past the waiters on his way out, "I've been fired." He stood in the doorway.
“You’ll be back,” one of the waiters said.
"There's a call for you," the cashier, June, said to him when he got downstairs.
Chad squeezed into June’s cubbyhole. She handed Chad the phone.
"Chad, hey, this is Jim. Wondering if I can hook up with you tonight."
"Sure," Chad said, "I'll see you at Division. In fact, I can be there in ten minutes." Chad handed June the phone. "June," he said, "it's been a pleasure."
As he walked out the door of the restaurant Chad was smiling, shaking his head, thinking about Jim and Cindy.
Division was a short distance from the restaurant. Chad nodded at the doorman and walked past a dozen people in line in front of the club. The doorman was new, but he waved Chad in because one of the owners had introduced Chad to him the night before. Chad squeezed into a space near the corner of the semi-circular bar. The bartender put a gin and tonic in front of him. "This is on Jim," the bartender said.
Cindy looked through her closet. She felt as if she were looking through the clothes of a much bigger woman. She pushed the hangers around and knocked a couple of dresses on the floor. "I have plenty to choose from now, ma," she said aloud. She settled on a jumpsuit, but when she got it on and stood in front of the mirror she could see that it was too long. She stood, frozen for a moment, in front of the mirror. She always bought clothes too big. She must have been a bigger person in a former life. She rolled the cuffs up and put on a pair of heels. Her throat still hurt. She went into the kitchen and got a bottle of bourbon out of the cabinet and took a swig.
Downstairs, Meyer was in a good mood because it was busy and he had just sent out the entrees for a party of fifteen. "Oh, I'll tell you something pal," he said to Nick, "I haven't given it to Cindy in a while, but tonight I'm going to stick it right up in there." He grabbed his crotch and growled. "I'm going all the way up in there."
Nick, was laughing. "No. No," Nick said. "You can't. She's too small–your wife.
"Oh yeah," Meyer said, "I'm going to split her in half tonight."
Nick was holding his stomach and bending over he was laughing so hard.
"Well," Meyer said. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I'll give it to the cashier instead."
Meyer left Nick laughing in the kitchen and walked down into the dining room. He leaned over a table, hands clasped behind his back. "How is the food?" he asked, "you like it?"
"Fantastic," the woman said.
"Wonderful," said the man.
"You know I just won an award for culinary excellence," Meyer said, "but I think they picked the wrong guy by mistake." He was smiling.
"You deserve it, really," the man said.
Meyer laughed and moved on to the next table.
Cindy looked out the window. It was quiet on the street. All she had to do was get down the stairs and out. She picked up the phone, dialed the cashier and asked June to check in on the kid every once and a while. Cindy thought about checking in on Noelle. Maybe later. She hurried down the stairs, slipped outside and walked quickly to the corner of Boylston. She surveyed the long line in front of the bar.
Chad downed his gin and tonic while he scanned the crowd. He caught Jim's eye, and started pushing his way across the room. He edged along the pink walls. All the bars were pink and gray and green. Chad was surprised that he didn’t feel as if he had been fired. He felt as if he had been let go, released. He could always find another job. Meanwhile, they were playing the new song by Offspring, one of his favorite groups. Chad edged into the Men's room where Jim was waiting. "What 's up?" Chad said.
Jim had to hunch in the Men's room, he was so tall. He reminded Chad of David Bowie. Jim acknowledged the resemblance, but insisted he was better-looking. He had on one of those long, white, flimsy, cotton coats popularized by Bowie in a video he’d done with Mick Jagger. The one that practically screamed they’d slept together. "Got anything good?" Jim asked.
"Hot date?" Chad smiled, leaning back against the wall with his hands in his pockets. "Cindy?"
"Keep it quiet," Jim said.
"Oh, everybody knows about it." Chad lit a cigarette. "Yeah," he said, I've got something. Let me just talk to someone and I'll be back to you in about," he looked at his antique gold watch, "twenty minutes."
"OK," Jim said. He walked out of the Men's Room to the table he kept reserved. There was a bucket of champagne beside the table and on the table a vase with blood-red roses.
When Cindy got to the door, a doorman she didn't recognize stopped her. He looked about twelve years old. He had a flat top and a diamond stud in one ear.
"Sorry," the doorman said, "you have to wait on line like everyone else."
"You don't understand," Cindy said. "I own the restaurant around the corner. I'm meeting…” She didn’t want to say who. “I'm meeting someone here and he's waiting for me inside. No way I'm going to wait on line, I mean in line." Cindy clenched her fists. She hated the expression on line. Why did people say that? Did they think they were being original or something? "I don't know who you people think you are," she said. She stamped her foot. "Who do you think you're dealing with? Do you want to keep this job?" She realized she was shouting, but she could barely contain herself. She wanted to rip his little flat top head off. "Do you like working here in Boston? I'll have you black-listed. I'll make it impossible for you to get work anywhere." She was having difficulty breathing. She felt as if there were something stuck in her throat.
The manager appeared at the door to see what the commotion was. "Cindy," he said, "Come on in. Sorry about that. The kid is new."
"Get rid of him," Cindy said, drawing her finger across her throat. She walked past the manager into the bar. She glanced around the room and spotted the empty table with the roses on it. She needled her way through the crowd.
Chad, who was leaning against the wall, watched Cindy as she sat down. He had just spent five minutes crushing up tabs of Ex-Lax and baby laxative. Chad put his drink down on the bar and edged his way over to the hall that led to the Men's Room. He found Jim leaning on the cigarette machine. Chad handed him a small, folded packet of paper.
"A hundred?" Jim asked.
Chad nodded and Jim handed Chad a single bill. Jim took the packet and squeezed through the crowd to the reserved table where Cindy was waiting. “Hey,” he said and kissed her on the cheek. Jim had one of these little mechanisms–drug paraphernalia that make it possible to do cocaine right at the table–just put it to your nose and discreetly snort. He loaded it and handed it to Cindy who took a couple of hits and then sipped the champagne—Crystal—Jim's favorite. She preferred the dryer Dom Perignon, but she was willing to give in once and a while. You had to, just to keep them. She knew she could find someone else if she had to, but why bother? Meyer either didn't know or didn't care about her flings. There wasn't anything he could do about it anyway—they weren't married. Cindy wondered if it would make any difference if they were.
“What do you think of the coke?” Jim asked.
“Good I guess. I can’t really tell, I’m so wound up. I need to relax.”
“Let’s go upstairs,” Jim said.
Jim kept an apartment above the bar. They went up after they had finished the champagne. They attempted sex but Jim said he was having trouble concentrating. He couldn’t seem to get it hard. Cindy finally gave up on him, got up and got dressed. She checked her watch. It was just after two. She'd get home a little early.
She tried to be quiet on the stairs to her apartment just in case Meyer was already asleep. He was always asleep by the time she got home but then she didn't usually get home before four or five.
There wasn't anyone in the living room although the television was still on. Cindy thought she could hear someone exercising. Could Meyer be playing with the kid this late? Well, maybe the kid had woken up. Cindy walked down the hall to the bedroom. The door was half open and Meyer was banging the cashier June. Meyer was on top–the only position he knew. June had her eyes closed. Sweat streaked Meyer’s broad back. He was grunting. Cindy hesitated at the door. She could burst in and kill them both with her bare hands. She took off one of her shoes and held it up. She could bury her heel in Meyer's fat head. She saw herself hitting him repeatedly until he lay dead while June screamed hysterically. Just then June turned her head and looked at Cindy.
Cindy took her other her heel off, put them in one hand and with her other hand brought her finger to her lips and made a “shhh” face. She backed away and quietly tip-toed down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs she put her shoes back on.
She walked up a block to Charlie's, a small bar that stayed open after hours. She ordered an Absolut vodka on the rocks and sipped it. She wanted to be mad, but she wasn't mad. She didn’t really feel as if she had the right to be mad. She suddenly felt a pain in her stomach. She barely made it to the Women's Room in time. It seemed as if everything inside her emptied out. She had a dull headache too. That cocaine was not good. For some reason, as she was sitting there, she thought about Chad. Maybe she shouldn’t have fired him. He was a good waiter. Maybe he hadn’t stolen the cognac. Maybe it was David. She did not want to fire David. She needed someone like David. She thought of waiters she had fired over the years. She could see their faces but she couldn't remember any of the names. No way could she fire June. She needed June to babysit. Reliable babysitters were worth their weight in gold and June weighed a lot. Cindy laughed and shook her head. She stood up and flushed. She felt dizzy. She'd have to give up the cocaine. She couldn’t think straight anymore. She went out to the end of the bar and called Meyer on her cell. He said Hello in a sleepy voice.
"I'm going to be a little late," Cindy said. "I thought I'd give you a call."
"Oh, thanks," Meyer said. He was breathing heavily. "When do you think you'll be home?"
Cindy looked at her watch. She thought about having another drink. "In about ten minutes," she said.
"No rush." Meyer said and hung up.
Cindy sat there, with the phone in her hand. Her breath came in gasps. Her throat was so dry she couldn't swallow. If she could just get one more drink, she'd be all right. She glanced up and saw her reflection in the mirror behind the bar. She really did have a small head. She drew her finger across her throat. What if she slit her own throat? Who would care? Jim? Meyer? June? David? Would they cry at her funeral? June would cry. Ma would cry. Tomorrow she’d have David call Chad. She’d unfire him. She liked Chad actually. Jim was the one who had to go. She grabbed one of her ears and twisted it. She laughed at herself in the mirror. “Right ma?” she said.