With both aching arms outstretched and loaded with plates (tightrope catwalk, hot plate crucifixion), she walks slowly across the dining room to table 19 and places the plates down in front of the bodies that ordered them.
“Escargot Bourguignon. Pasta puttanesca. Squab, burrata and truffled fig, fingerling. ” She rolls the syllables around in her mouth like bits of velvet. If you saw her, you’d see eyes glistening wetly as if she were intoning a love poem she’d written herself, but no one looks up from their plates.
At table 8, she introduces herself (I am your hole-filler, your anonymous food-bringer, faceless feeder), takes their order, and scoots back to the kitchen where her boss, Mulholland, is waiting by the door. His lips are pursed, but he’s not asking for a kiss. “Full hands in, full hands out,” he reminds her, and his eyes inspect her so thoroughly it feels surgical.
When she first started working here, her apron could not conceal her effervescent flesh but now she can wrap the apron strings around twice and still has enough left to tie a bow. Night after night of describing meals she won’t taste and taking orders and filling glasses without spilling a drop and whisking away the bones of evidence has whittled her appetite away, has taught her her place in the hierarchy of desire.
Back in the dining room, she moves unnoticed from table to table, pouring water and wine. The metal clank of silverware and wet eating sounds are stifled by white tablecloths and candlelight. At table 11, she pulls the check from her pocket and places it midpoint between the man and woman seated there.
The man clears his throat. “A good waitress knows where to put the check.” His candlelit face is impenetrable. The woman’s eyes are fixed on the last inch of wine in her glass, as if she and the wine are deep in conversation. “If you want me to pay, you’ll have to do better.”
She picks up the check and places it down again, right next to his huge, meaty hand and cufflinked wrist which doesn’t move.
He clears his throat again. “I have to say, I expected more from this place. Overall, this meal just was not satisfying.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that, sir,” she murmurs, assuming the proper position: eyes wide, head stooped, hand on heart. “Please tell me what we could have done better.”
“Where do I begin?” He licks his lips. “The salad was overwhelmed and the the oysters were flaccid.”
“I’m so sorry. Let me adjust your total.” She makes a move to pick it up, but he isn’t done talking. “The veal was insipid, a complete waste of life.” He flicks a crumb off his chest and continues. “And that pinot—that tinny aftertaste—as annoying as a whine.” The bottle—the second of two they ordered—sits to the woman’s right, completely empty. “Your menu called it a floral bouquet, but I’d call it effeminate.” He glances at the woman, whose eyes are frozen on her glass, before adding, “And I let me tell you, cruelty-free foie gras is missing one key ingredient.”
Later that night after work, she will go home and fill the bath with hot water. She will kick off her shoes, step out of the black clothes, and slide in. She will rub every inch of her skin, raking her fingernails down her arms and thighs and the soles of her feet until it hurts, until she feels soft and tender and alone again. Then she will think about desire and yearn to desire and be desired, but not that way, not that one-on-top-and-the-other-on-the-bottom way, not that hard versus soft, giver-taker thing but something else she’s never seen before, something penetrated and penetrating at the same time, eating and being eaten, fiercely tender and gently callous, opposites true simultaneously, eye to eye and winking. She wants to feel de-sired, a stallion mounted by a mare topped by a snake eating its own tail, a skewered snail stuffed at both ends, a pair of earthworms spiraling diagonally through soft earth up to the stars, and the longer her hands rub, the softer she becomes, and the more the hands feel the skin, the more the skin feels the hands, until she’s no longer hungry.