Bill’s afternoon was busy. His dance card was full and he couldn’t quite fathom how it had gotten this way. He was scheduled to help Henry Lee cut meat and to work with Mary setting up for tomorrow. Meanwhile, they all sat eating lunch in the side dining room.
The kitchen, of itself, was quiet. The exhaust fans droned endlessly on and the hiss from the gas broiler was ever present. But the dish machine was shut down and none of the dishwashers were in the kitchen, so there was no chatter and no clatter. Quiet, relatively so. No calling for orders, no dishwashers yelling at each other over the thunderous machine, no sizzling steaks or clash of pots and dishes.
Bea and Mary sat next to each other. Bill and Henry Lee sat opposite them. Bill ate a roast beef sandwich he’d made for himself: roast beef as rare as he could find it with tomato, pickle and mayonnaise on a hamburger bun. Henry Lee ate a hamburger. Bea and Mary ate tuna on hamburger buns. They all shared a full plate of well-done French fries and a double order of onion rings. No one spoke much, and when they spoke it was mostly about personal things. Mary mentioned what her son Eddie was doing on the weekend. Bea mentioned that she was going out to the race track, Scioto Downs, to watch the trotters. Henry Lee said nothing, but he’d told Bill he was planning to hit it with Marie later in the bathroom downstairs and then after work to go home and get some from Alfreda. Bill had nothing to say since he was closing.
While they were eating, Eleanor, who happened to be working the lunch this day, came out to them with an order. She handed it to Bill who told them it was just roast beef dinners. He got up and followed her into the kitchen. Once in the kitchen Eleanor told him she was giving her two-week notice to Tommy at the end of her shift.
“Why?” he asked.
“Mostly Drenovis. He’s always on my case, gives me crappy shifts when he can get away with it and he’s never gonna get any better since I won’t give him what he wants. It’s even worse with him knowing about you and me.”
“I’m really sorry,” Bill said.
“Why? You got Norma. And Mary. And Bea.”
“Don’t be catty. I like you.”
“I like you too.”
“Good. You have another job?”
“One for sure and a couple of maybes.”
“That’s good. You want me to ask Robert if he can get you something?”
“You want to?”
“I will. I do.”
“Okay. Anyway, no matter what, we can still meet if you want to. I’ll make sure you have a number where you can reach me.”
Bill had worked Eleanor’s order as they talked and he set up the two plates. She took them in one hand and went out to the front dining room. Her gone, he returned to the side room where Mary, Bea and Henry Lee still sat. He did not sit back down. He grabbed an onion ring and stuffed it in his mouth, then he took up his plate, half the sandwich still on it, and settled it in a bus box. He went back into the kitchen, drew himself a coffee, lit a cigarette, sipped the coffee and began breaking down the line. By the time the others came back into the kitchen, he had the line emptied out and was scrubbing it down. Once he finished that, once the stainless steel shone bright, he strained the fryer grease with a metal screen strainer.
“Going downstairs,” he told Bea and Mary when everything was ready to be set up for the dinner. Neither one of them said anything but both acknowledged with a nod. Down in the meat room, first thing, he took a long drink of bourbon. Then he and Henry Lee donned the arctic parkas and quilted mitts and went into the deep freeze to get high.