With the round in the oven, Mary started the soup of the day, chicken vegetable. She asked Bill, who had not changed his uniform, to cut the vegetables she’d taken from the walk-in downstairs. Bill set up a cutting board and took a chef’s knife from Mary’s knife drawer. He honed the knife on a sharpening steel and was about to start.
“I told you to change your uniform,” Mary said. “Be careful, dammit.”
Suburban did not own its own knives. Their knives were rentals from a knife company. Every Wednesday the knife company delivered freshly-sharpened sets and collected the ones that had been used. Therefore, all the knives were sharp all the time.
Bill was listening to the music Mary had put on. She was putting the water to the soup pot. He started with the onions, large-dicing several big ones. Next was celery, which he peeled first. Then came the carrots. These were sliced round. Several times the knife came close to nicking Bill, something that happened in kitchens frequently and that cooks got used to. In the course of his cooking career Bill would have stitches twice and probably should have had them at least twice more. But he would make it out of kitchens with all his digits, something not all cooks and kitchen workers did.
Bill would always remember: in one Manhattan bistro where he later worked, he would see a kitchen worker, not a cook, so busy listening to music and so not busy concentrating on what he was doing, slice a finger off while slicing a slab of bacon on a slicing machine. Later in his life Bill would recall that it was a tremendously gorgeous Saturday morning with a strong, bright sun and perfectly clear sky, one of those mornings when your first thoughts were thankfulness for being alive and rejoicefulness for everything being the way it was supposed to be. God’s perfection!
Bill was cooking off trays of bacon for the brunch meal, starting them in the broiler’s dutch oven. They were using packaged bacon so there was no need for the worker to be using the slicer. No one understood why he was doing what he was but no one paid it much attention. Bill had just emptied one tray’s bacon into the holding pan and set another into the Dutch oven. The guy was dancing and singing and slicing.
The digital error happened so quickly the guy himself didn’t understand it. He didn’t feel it at first. But then there was the blood all over the bacon and the slicer, and there was the digit, completely separated from the hand. It was the pinky finger, a good two-thirds of it.
Suddenly that all-perfect and truly wondrous bit of God’s perfection had been tainted by human imperfection. Suddenly what should have been memorialized as God’s true beauty was memorialized as human tragedy caused by human carelessness and frailty.
Vegetables for soup done, they started a pot of Bordelaise sauce. Bill would learn that what they called Bordelaise sauce here was not classic Bordelaise in French cuisine. It was more of a brown gravy. The sauce started, they took a break.
Out in the hall, Bill lit a cigarette and sat on a milk case. Mary sat on the empty bread cases turned upside down. Bea came out and took a cigarette from Bill’s pack. Bill gave her his cigarette to light it with. She sat on lettuce cases that were next to Mary and opposite Bill. Bill could see up both their legs and looked openly not even attempting to make it sneaky. Mary was showing white panties. Bea was showing Bea, and she spread wide for Bill knowing he knew she was just doing what he’d asked her to do.
“Lord have mercy,” Mary said.