CHICAGO, ILLINOIS |
The Home of Pamela Talbot & Pete Whiteley |
The maitre d’ walked Pamela and Pete to a table for two at the back of the restaurant, feeling the ominous weight of knowing that the night would not end well. It was Saturday and the busiest shift of the week. He didn’t have time to deal with challenging customers and, as he smiled and pulled out Pamela’s chair, wondered if they might leave and never come back if he ‘accidentally’ pulled the chair away from her descending backside rather than catch her in it. He wondered, but didn’t act. And he hated himself for it.
The waitress serving the back table scowled at the maitre d’ then stormed into the kitchen, slamming the two way doors against the counter where the prep cook was chopping onions.
“Hey! Relax. It’s just a door. What did it ever do to you?” he joked.
“They’re back,” Kvetoslava said though clenched teeth.
The prep cook poked his head around the corner. His shoulders and his smile dropped when he saw Pete.
“You should have called in sick,” he said.
Kvetoslava stared at the closed doors and yelled, “Oyobuk! I can’t serve him. I won’t.”
The Maitre d’ entered. He looked down at her and said quietly, “It is your job to serve all customers.”
“Why do you always put him in my section? You hate me?”
“He asked for you again,” he replied smiling, “Be nice.”
The sommelier popped his head into the kitchen and frowned, “He’s already been drinking. Good luck.”
Kvetoslava punched the Maitre d’ on the arm before she inhaled a smile from all the snickering guys in the kitchen. She waited for the sommelier to deliver the wine then walked with determination to Pete and Pamela.
“Good evening. How are you doing tonight?” she asked, handing first Pamela then Pete their menus. “As you can see, tonight we have a new selection of starters and mains. I’ll give you a couple of minutes to go over the menu and be back with bread and to take your orders.”
Pamela smiled, “thank you.”
“What is that accent? Why don’t they hire locals anymore?” Pete asked.
“Pete, you promised not to get started. And you know damn well she’s Russian. Can we please just have a nice dinner without any…” she paused to try to find the right word, not wanting to trigger her husband, but wanting to be clear as well.
“Rhubarb,” Pete said.
Pamela looked as though all of the vertebra in her neck suddenly collapsed under the weight of her head.
“That is what you mean, right? You don’t want me to get into a rhubarb with the waitress.”
“Why can’t you just say ‘argument’ like everyone else? Or if you must be clever, say ‘squabble’ or ‘quarrel’,” Pamela said, putting her glass of merlot to her lips and pushing her head back to its upright position, aided by the goblet.
Pete rolled his eyes, “I will not lower my vocabulary to the level of the ESL staff. How will they ever improve their ability if everyone continues to speak to them like children?”
Pamela knew better than to answer. She knew it was a losing argument so she picked up her menu and held it high in both hands, blocking Pete from her view. She rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue. The couple to her right laughed and when she turned to look at them they mirrored her action. She smiled, embarrassed, and lowered the menu.
“See anything that looks good?” she asked Pete. Before he answered, Kvetoslava arrived and put down the basket of fresh-baked buns.
Pete looked up and addressed the waitress, “I’m a polo-pescetarian and I don’t see a single thing on your menu tonight that I can eat. Or want to eat,” he added.
Kvetoslava smiled and said, “To begin, the wild boar terrine is very popular tonight, sir. And the lamb rack for main is very good. If you’ve never tried—”
“What part of polo-pescetarian do you not understand?” Pete interrupted.
Kvetoslava continued to smile but said nothing. She was desperately trying to decipher the meaning of the word.
Her smile triggered an anger in Pete that Pamela knew well. She reached across the table to touch his hand, to draw his attention away from the waitress and to her. Pete recognized the attempt in his peripheral vision and moved his hand to his wine glass.
“We have been coming here once-a-month for two years. Of all the waitresses we’ve had serve us, you are without exception the only flibbertigibbet that I’ve had to deal with.”
Although Kvetoslava did not know what she’d just been called, she understood that in this context it was probably not a compliment. “I’m sorry, Sir, that I don’t always understand your meaning. But may I ask why then you always ask for me when you come here? Would you not have a nicer dinner if you had a different waitress? I know I would have a better night.” Kvetoslava regretted having spoken her mind as soon as she stopped talking, worried that she might be fired.
Pamela spoke up, “A polo-pescetarian is someone who only eats chicken and fish as their meats. Your menu tonight looks delicious to me, but there’s nothing here that Pete will eat.” Her face was communicating an apology.
Pete tapped his empty wine glass on the table and looked at Kvetoslava with raised eyebrows. When she didn’t move, he said, “Not only do you not understand English, but simple body language seems to be beyond your ability as well? I want you to replenish my merlot. How could that not have been clear?”
Kvetoslava decided she’d rather be fired than have to spend another minute with this man. She smiled and said, “Sir, I’ll send over the Maitre d’ so you can tell him of your complaint.”
“No need to turn this into a foofaraw,” Pete said, realizing that he’d pushed a bit too far and that he and Pamela had already been given the ‘three strikes’ talk by the Maitre d’ during their last visit. If he upset the management, they’d be eating at home tonight.
Several minutes later Pete was yelling and the whole restaurant was silent, watching as he and his embarrassed wife were being politely but firmly escorted from the restaurant.
“This needn’t have become an imbroglio had your waitress only understood simple English. This williwaw was entirely unnecessary.”
Pamela drove since Pete was both too drunk and too emotional to focus on the road.
“I’ll order Indian,” she offered when they got home.
“You never get the right chicken. I’ll do it,” he said.
Pamela nodded and walked up the stairs to their bedroom. She packed a small suitcase with enough clothes for four days. She pulled her pre-packed, ‘emergency’ toiletry bag from under the sink. Pamela stood silent and still looking around her bedroom to see if there was anything else she might want or need at her brother’s house. Her gaze stopped on the bookshelf and she scanned titles feeling a knot in her hungry stomach grow. The Right Words: Great Republican Speeches that Shaped History; How Immigrants in America Caused the Economic Meltdown; How the Red, White and Blue Became the Red, Brown and Yellow and What We Can Do to Save America. She searched the shelves for one of her novels and found that Pete had stuffed Gone Girl in behind his own books.
“Enough,” Pamela said to the empty room. Standing at the top of the stairs she overheard Pete giving the Indian restaurant their address.
“Two-thirty-four Seaway Drive…no, not Speedway you moron, Seaway. Should I spell it for you? ‘S’ as in see… no you idiot, not ‘c’ like cat. I said ‘s’ as in see, as in do you see why Americans should answer the phone? Jesus Christ. ‘E’ as in ‘eye’…I said eye…no not ‘i’ like India, like eye! Those things you use to give me a vacant stare when you don’t understand plain goddamned English. S-E-‘A’ as in ‘aye, aye’ captain, take your boat back home to where you came from…why are you yelling at me? You’re the one who can’t spell a simple English word. Seaway. Shall I finish? ‘W’ as in ‘why.’ Why in God’s name is it so hard to order food? ‘A’ again. You should have that one. And ‘Y’ as in ‘you.’ You. It’s a simple three-letter word…no, not like umpire. Umpire starts with a u, not a y. Pamela these people are morons,” Pete said looking up at her, still standing atop the stairs. “How long will it be?…I hope your driver is smarter than you are,” Pete said hanging up.
Pamela walked downstairs without emotion. “Did you give them a credit card number or were going to pay cash?” she asked.
“Cash, of course, you can’t trust these Paki’s with information like credit card numbers. You know that.”
Pete didn’t notice Pamela placing her suitcase at the front door. She lay her coat over it, in case he did eventually look that way. She wanted to leave without a scene, quietly so the neighbours wouldn’t have a reason to call the police or come over to check to make sure everything was okay. Pamela knew that the Indian food would not be delivered. She’d heard Pete give these same instructions to almost every delivery service in the area. The English first-language order-takers sometimes got a kick out of his unique phonetic alphabet, but the most common result was that, like people who are caught on camera stealing a bottle of gin from the liquor store, their address was put on the ‘Notify management if you see this man’ board by the cash register.
Pamela went to the kitchen and started to prepare an apple dessert. She was making a very special treat for Pete tonight. One she’d thought about making for over a year. A treat she’d spent the last year researching and collecting ingredients for. She’d been ready to make this cake months ago but was missing the one ingredient: a shiny castle. She believed she found it in paying Mother Teresa’s Advice for Jilted Lovers their two thousand dollar fee.
She pulled a glass container from the cupboard that contained the powder of hundreds of ground apple seeds. She smelled it. Sweet. She had to resist the urge to dip her own finger in for a taste. Pamela pulled another jar from the shelf and counted out sixty berries that she’d picked from the belladonna bush she’d planted in their back yard three years earlier. She’d tasted one in the summer and found the flavour quite nice. Sweet enough to taste good in the cake. Although she expected that these two items in these quantities would do the job, Pamela didn’t want to risk only a partial success so she added a handful of asparagus berries to the mixing bowl.
Once the cake was in the oven she joined Pete in the den to wait for the delivery of their dinner, which of course, never came. The oven timer went off and she offered Pete a piece of apple cake, “It’s probably as healthy as Indian food anyway. Made with fresh apples and organic flour and milk. A few eggs. Some berries for colour,” she told him.
“Give me ice cream with mine,” he said.
Pamela cut the small cake into four pieces and put one in a bowl for Pete. She handed it to him and said, “I used the last of the milk to make the cake. I’m going to the store. Back soon.” He grunted and chewed a big bite. She took her suitcase and her car.
It was four days before she called the police to let them know he’d died while she was away visiting her brother. And another week before the police came back and put cuffs on Pamela, charging her with Pete’s murder. She denied all wrong-doing and pointed the finger of blame at Mother Teresa.