kitchen-4Mr. Jim taught Bill to carve the round and retired after Bill was trained. He’d waited so he could teach the boy, and teach him he did. Every now and then, though, he still came in and sometimes he even worked. Mostly he visited, ate, then cut out.

Mr. Jim was average size and trim. He was mostly bald and sported a scraggly, grey goatee on his chin. He had worked the better part of his life on dining cars for the railroad.  A tremendously refined, mild-mannered man, he never raised his voice, never scolded, never answered back in haste or anger. “Act,” he always said. “Never react.”

He was Yulie’s uncle on his mother’s side and so Mary, who had loved Yulie, was automatically endeared to Mr. Jim. While neither she nor Yulie made Mr. Jim privy to their activities, Mary had spoken with him several times regarding Yulie, imploring him to somehow intervene. Mr. Jim tried, but Yulie was too far into it and not about to go away to a rehab. A wasted life, Mary thought about Yulie, but not completely. He’d been over in Vietnam and come back this way. One time, at his place, while they lay in bed together, just before Yulie shot up, Mary confronted him about it. He told her that after what he’d seen, he didn’t want to see the world anymore.

And so it went. She’d loved his sad eyes now permanently closed.

The Steamship round was basically the rump of the cow, the hind quarter. A full one weighed in at about sixty pounds, so the half they sold most of every day was about thirty pounds. It was so named because it was used on transatlantic cruises since one round could serve hundreds of people. Steamboat. Cut in half, center up, the meat looked kind of like a boat with the oval “deck” that tapered down much like a boat’s hull did.

At first, Mr. Jim had Bill watch. He taught the idea of the carving, how to work all the way around keeping the cutting surface even and level. Then he allowed Bill to make some cuts. He laughed at the hatch marks Bill left and explained gently how to flatten the knife more and how to gently slice through the meat as opposed to sawing through it. Watching the boy amused Mr. Jim, but even as Bill made every mistake there was, Mr. Jim remained calm, even-keeled and jovial. He reported to Tommy Stevens daily that the boy was learning.

Mr. Jim never did like Drenovis. He’d told Mary that Drenovis was an abusive, crude, vulgar cracker. Mary agreed. She told Mr. Jim that Drenovis abused the waitresses and those that didn’t give him what he wanted didn’t stay around very long. Mr. Jim said he wasn’t surprised. Then he asked where the black waitresses were. Mary reminded him there weren’t any.

“So,” Bill asked Mary once when they were alone, “am I a cracker too?”

“Technically, yes,” she said. But then she kissed him, a long, deep lover’s kiss. “But only technically,” she said.

Finally, Mr. Jim had Bill trim the round and allowed him to cut out the one circle of fat in the midst of the meat. When Bill could do everything start to finish, Mr. Jim brought Tommy in to show Tommy what Bill had learned. He stood over Bill like a proud papa.

Bill was nervous with Tommy looking on. He went around that fat deftly but he cut down too deep so when he pulled out the fat, a solid two-pound chunk of extremely rare beef hung at the end of it.

“Look at what he did,” Tommy said.

Mr. Jim laughed. He grabbed the fat from Bill’s hand and dangled it in Tommy’s face. “The boy got to learn,” Mr. Jim said.

Because he was a refined man, a gentleman, and because he knew the kitchens like no one else, Mr. Jim made sure not toss that meat. He trimmed it, sliced it and served it, and he made sure every plate he used it on was beautiful.

Tommy marveled at his prowess.


Coming at the end of May 2017:

The Ghost Writer, Rose’s Story: A Look At The Worlds We Hide