kitchen-4Not long after Eleanor was gone and Bill’s Suburban life had quieted some, State West was down a cook and the east sent Bill over to do the lunch rush on the line with Robert and Alvin. Alvin was burly, a heavy-drinking, pot-smoking man in his thirties. He was related to Henry Lee and Yulie, who’d died awhile back, who Mary talked about as if she had loved him. Robert did the grill, Alvin worked the middle cutting roast beef from the steamship round, and Bill did the fryers and vegetables.

This was the day the line caught fire, a good one too, starting on the Garland and spreading quickly over and past the charcoal grill.

“Damn,” Robert said.

Bill started to panic since this was his first real fire and he didn’t quite know what to do. Robert gently grabbed his wrist and held it, shook it so his whole hand shook.

“Check out your mind, baby,” Robert said. “Make every step count for two.”  He let go Bill’s wrist. “Now go to the walk-in and get me a case of milk. Quickly.”

Alvin was nowhere to be seen when Bill returned with the milk. Robert, slow and easy as was always his way, reached into the milk case, took up a gallon container and started pouring milk systematically over the fire. He did the charcoal grill first, then the Garland. Meanwhile, Bill covered the food that might get splashed, and within a matter of moments, the fire was out.

“If the foam goes off,” Robert said, “we lose all the food and can’t do the lunch. You know Mr. Bowman gonna lawnmower our asses if that ever happens.” Then he said “Put the milk away, chill out a minute and we’ll clean up.”

Bill was coming out of the walk-in box in the prep kitchen when he heard Robert yell, the first and only time he ever heard Robert yell.

“Who the hell cleaned the broiler and didn’t empty the damn grease drawer?”

Bill saw the kitchen stop dead. No one moved, no one made a noise.

“You stupid bastards,” Robert continued, yelling at no one in particular, “that ever happens again I’ll fire all you crazy bitches.”

Done, Robert turned to Bill. “C’mon baby,” he said, calm as if he’d never raised his voice, “let’s go get some air.” He put his arm around Bill and started for the door.

The moment the door closed behind them, as if it were one living organism, the kitchen came alive again. Robert’s arm still around Bill, he said, “Glory hallelujah,” and he started to laugh. Then he saw Alvin sitting on a big rock with Alfreda, Henry Lee’s wife.

“What the hell you doing out here?” Robert asked.

“Shit,” Alvin said, “I’m a cook, not a fireman.”

Bill would never forget those words. Alvin was sitting on that rock all relaxed and peaceful, smoking a cigarette and talking to Alfreda as if nothing was going on.

Bill lingered outside with Alfreda after Robert and Alvin went back in to start the clean-up. Alfreda was dark chocolate like Mary and skinny like a speed freak. She didn’t get up from the rock and Bill sat next to her a moment.

“So,” Alfreda, said, “I am gonna get with you, you know.” As she said this, she slid her hand into Bill’s lap and rested it there. She began indulging herself and Bill made no attempt to stop her. He couldn’t help but get roused.

“You’re Henry Lee’s wife,” Bill said.

“So? Being married never stopped him any.”

“Yeah, but…”

“Never seemed to stop you any either.”

“What are you saying?”

“Bea, Mary, Norma, Eleanor. That’s what I’m saying, and now it’s my turn.”

“I don’t think so,” Bill said.

“I do,” Alfreda said with a big smile.

Due to several personal commitments,  Coming Now In About Another Month:

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

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