Monday 2 December 2019

Unspoken, Unheard

by Hannah Retallick

double espresso decaf

No, you may not switch the chips for spinach, or remove the sauce, or double the amount of chicken. I won’t say this, of course, because the customer is always right, blah blah blah. And as we all know, speaking the truth doesn’t result in big tips.
You’re welcome, kind Sir. Merrrrry Christmas. And thanks, you’re pretty too. In fact, that’s all that really matters, isn’t it? Even after I agree to constructing your sad little meal, you absolute -
My mum used to say if I didn’t work hard at uni, I might end up cleaning toilets. Well, I’m working hard at uni, and cleaning toilets sounds divine. Lock the cubicle door, spray lemon stuff at the bowl, headphones on…
Focus, Caroline.
Wait, you’re not ordering yet? Then why do I have to please wait a moment please dear?
No, the olive bread isn’t gluten free. Bread contains wheat; wheat contains gluten. Does it say gluten-free anywhere? Damn right it doesn’t, you -
I don’t need to check with the kitchen. Admittedly, I’ve only worked in this pretentious little "gastro-pub" for three hundred years, give or take holidays, so what do I know?
I’ll check with the kitchen. It’s the only way you’ll let it go.
What now? Oh, the rest of your partly will arrive soon, they’re just finding a place to park and will be here as soon as possible. Good, that’s delightful to know. I mean, the room is full of people with lack-of-festive cheer who are eying me up, ready to order, but I’m all ears for your late-arrival stories.
Of course, I shall get your double espresso decaf without delay. What the hell? Did I hear that right? Double espresso decaf…There’s no tip big enough in the world to make that drink okay, you -
Great, just when I think I can escape, the door swings open hard. Those are some confident sons of -
The late-arrival party. Hello, hello, kisses on cheeks, this is our table, you go here, I’ll go there, hang on dear we’ll do our drinks order. Haven’t I hung on long enough, Double Decaf?
Diet Coke…Sparkling Water with Lemon and No Ice…Just Water Please…And Another Water Please…Could I Please Have Half Lemonade and Half Orange Juice?
No, Sir, I don’t need to note your Double Decaf. It’s etched on my mind for all eternity.
No, this isn’t my chosen career – thank you.
No, not Psychology…or Art…or Music. What a fun game! Keep guessing. It will never occur to your puny little minds that Law students need to eat too. Or maybe it’s my ‘prettiness’ that’s putting you off the scent. Either way, wasn’t there something I was meant to be doing? Ah, yes, my job. And you can stop fidgeting, Diet Coke – I could have got you three drinks by now if Double Decaf and Just Water Please would stop trying to look through my shirt!
Freedom, sweet freedom.
Thought too soon. Don’t you click your fingers at me, madam. Why don’t you try looking for the toilet before asking – it’s literally in front of you. Do I look like a tour guide?
Yes, I can go back and get you some ice, Just Water Please. My absolute pleasure.
Finally, a few minutes away from the Table of Doom. So happy right now.
All good things etc. Are you ready to order?
Do you need a little more time?
Of course you do.
I have a ground-breaking idea. Why don’t you start studying the menu before the waitress is hanging over you with a notebook? No? Well, I thought the idea had potential. This is the table where time stands still. At least I’ll have time to serve about ninety other people…
No, that’s fine. Writing down, scribbling out, writing down. I could do this all night. Actually, I kind of am.
            Umm, no, I’ve already put the order through.
            You’re welcome. The chef loves chucking perfectly good food because you forgot your dairy allergy. And he won’t give you a roasting (pun fully intended) – he’s got me for that.
It’s not my fault, Julian. Fate has been cruel to all of us tonight. Stop yelling at me, you sweaty moron! Caught between a crabby chef and the Table of Doom. Oh, to be a cleaner…
            My wrists are gonna break one of these days. I can feel them bending under the steak and chips.
Here’s another idea. Just humour me. When I bring up a dish and say, ‘Spaghetti Bolognaise?’ how about only one of you speaks? No? Oh for the love of -
            There you go. Enjoy. Alone at last. Peace, glorious peace.
            Everything okay with your food?
            It’s like a competition to see who can leave the longest gap between mouthfuls. Talking and laughing as if you’re in a soundproof room, with no one to overhear your comments on work colleagues and family members and the ‘dubious quality of the establishment’. (This dining-pub isn’t used to that kind of language!) Knives and forks closed. Distressing amount of food waste.
            Anything else I can get for you? Say no.
Wishful thinking.
Yes, decisions, decisions. They’re both nice. Look, strawberry shortcake or lemon trifle? Order, please. This is not a hobby. I don’t like the apron, I don’t like tying my hair back, and I don’t like being this circus performer. Please order, just pleaseeeee.
            Uh huh. Cream not custard, ice cream not cream, custard not ice cream. Sure I got all that.
            Umm, no? Strangely enough, cream is the dairy-est damn thing I’ve ever come across.
            I’ll check with the kitchen.
            There you go. Yes, we managed to find fake cream from a murdered coconut. Enjoy.
            No coffee? Never have I been so grateful to see coats put on.
Yeah, well you know what, the time to complain was when I asked you if everything was okay with your food. It’s out of my hands now – I’m not a time traveller. No, no, no, please don’t put your napkin in the half-full glass, it’s -
Great. And thanks for wiping the table with your dainty hands, Diet Coke – now try getting all that crap out of the carpet! Tread it in while you’re at it.
Twenty pence is not a tip. Who the hell raised you? I’ll give you a tip, you -
Oh, you wanted to leave more? What a shame you’re out of change…every single one of you. I’ll just have to pay my bills with good intentions.
That’s it, leave. Fine then, leave slowly. The people trying to come in love the cold and are happy to wait for your royal heinous-es.
Haha. Tripped on the doormat. Well, that’s something.
Right, I’m off to one of the toilet cubicles. Might do some cleaning; might put the lid down, take a seat, and have a cry. And then I shall thank the gods of all the gastro-pubs in all the world that I’m studying Criminal Law; I’ll need it to argue my way out of prison for the murders I’ve committed in my customer-damaged brain.
All in an evening’s work.

About the author

Hannah Retallick is a twenty-five-year-old from Anglesey, North Wales. She was home educated and then studied with the Open University, graduating with a First-class honours degree, BA in Humanities with Creative Writing and Music, and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing. She is working on her second novel and writes short stories and a blog. She was shortlisted in the Writing Awards at the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival 2019, the Cambridge Short Story Prize, and the Henshaw Short Story Competition June 2019.

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