Saturday, 11 September 2010
It's been a little while since I've added anything here... work, life, stuff like that getting in the way of writing (sometimes, even cleaning the toilet serves as a good excuse to stay away from the keyboard). Anyway, this short story should've made it as an entry in a 750 word flash fiction competition in Writing Magazine. Problem was, I forgot all about it and didn't send it off in time for the closing date. So, here it is. Have a read. Oh, and, if you're wondering, it's a little longer than 750 words (allowed a little embellishment - well I did miss the closing date)
Today he woke wishing it was yesterday. His body drenched with sweat. Sheets stuck to his skin. Limbs forming a loose right-handed swastika, a Hindu good luck charm. He feels neither luck nor good fortune. The dream fresh like raw meat, wet and bloody. His tongue dry, sticky, a metallic morning taste. Saliva absent, nothing to swallow. Swaddled by the sheets and the filaments of the dream, he lay motionless, eyelids moving over dry eyes, letting the day come to him.
He's at work, taking orders, waiting tables. The customer, a casual stranger, sits in a dark corner. "Usual table," he'd say when greeted at the front of house, "Christian serves me."
"Christian?" The man's voice thick, a throaty growl. No other voice for a pitted face.
Christian's waiting a table. The candle bathes the couple with a flicker of shadows hinted at gold. The boy orders. The girl corrects. Both smile. "Oh, yes," the boy says, "silly me." The boy spies the name tag. "That bloke's calling you."
I know, Christian thinks but doesn't say it. He repeats their order.
"You forgot the bruschetta." The boy smiles at the girl.
"Christian." The growl again.
Away from the couple, he rips their order from his notepad, the bruschetta missing. "Maria," he says, holding out the single page, "take this to the kitchen?"
"Sure," she says, watching him go to the strange customer.
"Christian, what kept you?".
"Taking orders," he says.
"They bothering you?" The stranger looks to the couple. Gaze full of contempt.
Christian wonders at the question. Looks at the man. What's being offered? "They're fine, really they are" he says. "Usual?" He asks, wanting to move this along. He touches pencil to notepad.
"Today, a change." Christian says nothing. "You don't want to know why the change?" He shrugs. Can see a flash of anger cross the strangers face, a movement in the hands as they ball to fists. "Get me the Tagliolini al Tartufo. Not with norcia. Tell the chef, serve it with coccio, maggiorana, capperi."
"But," he begins to complain.
"Tell the chef, come here if he cannot do this."
He knows better than to argue. "Antipasti?"
"Not today. A glass of Antinori Tignanello. Nineteen-ninety-seven, mind. None from the new millennium, not given time to mature."
Christian stares, it's the most expensive wine on the menu. "Sir, Antinori's sold by the bottle."
The strangers eyes narrow, gaze direct. "For me, Christian, you serve by the glass."
"Go. I'm hungry and thirsty."
The chef rages. "I spit in his Tagliolini. Tell him I do what he wants. Tell him I waste Tartufo. Tell him I hope he chokes."
Christian holds back. "The chef will oblige."
"And the wine?"
"I need time. There's a stocktake tomorrow."
"You've had time. The stocktake's your problem, not mine. My wine is free. Remember our arrangement?"
How could he forget? The arrangement started four months ago with the payment of a bill.
Sixty-eight pounds and seventy-two pence is a good price. The customer with the pitted face takes four new fifty pound notes from his wallet. "What's your name?"
"Christian, this will cover the meal. Keep the change."
"But, Sir, it's too much"
"Thank you." He decides to say nothing. Pockets two of the fifties on his way to the till. Checks the remaining fifties with the pen and UV. They're good. Adds the remaining change to the tips. Takes the receipt to the table.
The customer checks the receipt. Smiles. Exact payment, no change. "Thank you," he says and pushes a white package across the table. Leaves it between them. The package is the size of a cigarette box. "Take this home. Don't open it. Someone will collect it tonight."
"Sir, I can't."
"My money's not good now?"
He's been bought. Realises too late. He takes the package. At one-thirty in the morning there's a knock on his door. The package is taken.
Four months, twice a week, a white package each time. Only, the stranger asks for more each time. Now he's demanding free wine. The best wine. A stock take tomorrow. He'll be found out. Two fifties, and whatever the change, is not enough.
At home, needing to know, the knife shaking in his hand, he cuts open the white package. Inside there's a block of red Lego, neatly constructed, not a space between bricks.
The day came to him. Not a dream. He shifts in bed, breaking the charm. Looks at his hands. The blood has dried, it's almost brown. He remembers his rage, the look on the strangers face. The knife. "Lego," he screamed over and over with each strike.
Today he woke wishing it was yesterday.