“I thought we’d decided I’ll do six months out of the year, and you’ll have the next six months?” the man whispered harshly at the woman sitting across from him.
They’d been arguing like that for the past 20 minutes. At first when they’d both come into the diner, I had thought they were one of those couples that arranged a babysitter for the kids so that they could have their own date night. It was a Friday night and they certainly fit the part. The woman had medium length hair that fell elegantly past her shoulders onto her emerald green jumpsuit while the man was dressed in a chambray shirt neatly buttoned up. They were probably high-school sweethearts that got married shortly after university and have been living the suburban dream until the man cheated. Or maybe it was the woman. Or they made the mistake of going into business together and one of them ripped the other off. All or any of these were likely but it was obvious this was a tense conversation.
When I first laid eyes on them, I figured that they were both in their early 40s and suspected that they had one or two little children at home, hence the date night. But after I had seated them and taken their order, I watched as they pulled out matching tan folders. Now, watching them from the corner of my eye, I could see how they sat huddled over stacks of paper. Their eyebrows growing closer and closer in frustration as they whispered, getting louder with each passing minute.
The voice had interrupted my thoughts. I drew my eyes back to the table in front of me where I saw an elderly woman in her 70s waving her hands.
“Do you have any cherry vanilla coke?” she asked, just like I knew she would and just like she had on all of her frequent visits to the diner.
“We absolutely do. Would you like me to put some ice in your coke?” I asked, knowing it would buy me some time to return to my new favourite customers. As much as this customer could be annoying, I could always count on being educated about the dangers of contaminated ice cubes in drinks. This would buy me a few minutes.
The man had readjusted his chair again and was now leaning back and raising his hands to the sky in a deep stretch. The woman was on her phone and the conversation between the two of them seemed to pause. Had I been mistaken? Were they engaged in some sort of a business deal? Now that I was looking at them from this angle, the man did look like he could be some sort of lawyer. But just as I thought I had figured this couple out, they were right back into their argument. No, this couldn’t be business. Whatever they were fighting about was definitely personal.
I heard the words ‘Hepatitis A’ and knew that my customer’s rant was drawing to a close.
“Now you need to be careful, otherwise you never know when illness will strike. So please, just the cherry vanilla coke without the ice.”
“Coming right up.” I sighed, as I gathered the extra plates and cutlery from her table and took them back to the kitchen.
I clipped the two order slips to the board above the servery and started to look around for my coworkers. Maybe I could tell them about the man and woman at table number two and we could put whatever we thought was happening to a vote. I went deeper into the kitchen and quickly began to notice that I was the only one there. The kitchen was unnaturally quiet and void of human voices. I could only hear the hum of the appliances and the faint rattling of the back door. Where was everyone?
I looked at my wristwatch and noticed it was quarter past six. The dinner time rush was just getting started and the dining room would soon fill up with hungry customers. With panic slowly making its way up my chest, I reached into my apron pocket, pulled out my phone and dialed the head chef’s phone number. As the dial tone rang, I could hear faint buzzing coming from the right side of the kitchen. I started to make my way towards the sound and with every step, the buzzing got louder. I followed the buzzing and it led me to a closet-sized storage room. Gripping the handle, I turned it to open the door.
Inside the room was not only the missing head chef but the other waiters and kitchen staff as well. A lamp in the corner was the only source of light in the dark, cool room that housed most of the diner’s dry food. In the centre of the room was a makeshift table made out of soup cans and pasta boxes. On this table, was some white substance, carefully arranged into three lines. When my coworkers registered my presence in the room, they quickly got up, knocking the table and what lay on top of it completely over.
One of the waiters cursed under her breath. “Dammit! That was at least $100. All of it good quality too.”
Everyone was staring at me, waiting for my reaction. Although my heart was pounding, I couldn’t say that I was particularly surprised at what I had walked into. Of course, I heard the rumours and harboured my own suspicions. I didn’t care what the other did, but I was irritated at their poor choice of timing.
“What the hell is going on? We are about to have a dining room full of customers and you seriously choose to do this now?!” My coworkers stared back at me, their eyes wide open and hands slightly shaking. I’m sure they hadn’t expected me to barge in or be this upset.
After a long period of silence, the head chef spoke first. “L-l-look,” he stammered, “I’m sorry you had to find out like this but this is just a little something we do before big nights like tonight to make sure we –“ Before he could finish whatever pathetic excuse he had started, one of the waiters interrupted.
“Listen,” she started, her eyes looking right into mine. “The way I see it, you have two options. You tell on us, we get fired, and you’re left with a full house and no cooks or waiters to help you. Or, you close the door and help us finish what we started, and we can all go back out there together.”
I looked back at the expectant faces before turning around and reaching for the door. I took off my apron and slowly closed the door behind me. Facing the group, I grinned and casually said, “All you had to do was ask.”
I gathered the soup cans off of the floor and quickly put them back on the shelf. The others had already returned to work, but I told them I needed a couple of minutes before I could join them. They thought it was because I had told them this was my first time, but the truth was, I had been thinking about that couple that was out in the dining room waiting for their food. I hadn’t heard their order called yet and I needed to make sure I was the one that brought it out to them. After a couple more minutes, when I felt that enough time had passed, I put on my apron and left the storage room. Luckily, I timed it perfectly and sitting on the servery was the order for table two. I picked up the two plates and made my way through the double doors, into the dining area.
“This is it! Just sign the stupid papers and I swear we’ll never have to set eyes on each other ever again!”
I paused for a second before reaching their table to take in the whole scene. Things seemed to have escalated since I was gone, and the papers that once lay uniform on the table were now scattered all over the place. The man no longer had the sleeves on his shirt buttoned up. The sleeves were now free from their buttonholes and carelessly bunched up at his forearms. The woman looked equally disheveled with pieces of her hair sticking up in different places. I looked from the man to the woman and back again. I don’t understand how I didn’t see it earlier. I had figured it out – it being what they were here to do.
I chuckled to myself and walked towards their table. As I handed the couple their plates, I gave them a sly look and said “I’ve been watching you two all night and I just wanted to say how convincing and extremely talented you are. I’m sure you’ll both get whatever parts you are auditioning for but good luck just in case!”
I winked at them knowingly and made my way back into the kitchen as the man and woman started blankly, their mouths slightly open.
Hi everyone! I know this is a little out of the ordinary for this blog but I recently unearthed a bunch of old short stories I wrote. After some thought, I decided that I would try posting some of my favourites here as part of a three-part series. I will pair each story with a photo I’ve taken that I think fits best so as to continue the theme of sharing my film photography. I hope you enjoyed this first story and the ones to follow!