Fun with words and words for fun

Fiction Outtakes 98: Bill Wynn 83

kitchen-4With Eleanor gone, Bill’s waitress activities mostly came to a halt. Regarding waitresses, Bill discovered if he just sat back and minded his own business they would come on to him. It would happen time and again throughout the twenty-some-odd years he would spend in kitchens. Some of them would be memorable. Others would be non-entities. All of them would represent, on one level or another, something…something he should never have indulged in, something he regretted not indulging more in, something that symbolized something missing in his genetic makeup or occupying his psyche causing him to…something.

He and Norma messed around a couple of times post Eleanor, but Bill lost interest. Norma didn’t do anything she shouldn’t have. In fact, the more disinterested Bill was, the harder Norma tried to please him. A few new girls came and went. Bill only indulged himself when he knew they were on their way out. Waitress turnover was rapid, especially when they were looking for a permanent replacement. Drenovis hadn’t counted on that when he messed with Eleanor. Eleanor had been liked and was a long-time regular. Finding someone to fit in with the rest of the crew wasn’t as easy as he might have thought.

The big story out east was Henry Lee and Marie. Marie seemed to be thinking she was gonna take Henry Lee for herself. She sure started acting that way after a while. That she had a husband and her own kids didn’t seem to matter much. What actually did matter was that Henry Lee thought her delusional, and maybe she was.

Alfreda remained intent upon bedding down Bill. Every time she came for the meat pickup she managed to make a comment, corner Bill in one way or another, press into him to cop a feel or force him to feel her. And talk dirty? Alfreda, when she could, launched into graphic descriptions of what she would do to him, what he could do to her, what they could do to each other.

Bea didn’t mind. Bea was getting hers and Bill discovered she was a freak. If Norma was an anywhere girl, Bea was an outright freak. She would play with Bill whimsically, sometimes catching him by surprise. Sometimes, if he went down to the bathroom, she would follow him and then follow him into the bathroom. Bill never ceased to be amazed at the stuff she would come up with.

Mary was the surprise. Mary fell for Bill. It didn’t happen all at once, but it happened nevertheless. That first time was like a drug. Something in Bill reminded her of Yulie, maybe the sad eyes he wore every so often. When she saw them she would ask what he was so sad about and Bill would simply shrug his shoulders and not answer.

“I could put a smile on those lips,” Mary would say.

“Make me smile,” Bill might say. Or, “Nothing could make me smile,” he might say.

Mary took to telling Alfreda to cool it with Bill. She reminded her that he worked every day with Henry Lee and anything she might do with Bill was sure to mess that up. She reminded her that she had two little kids to take care of and they needed their father. Alfreda told her that their father should have been thinking about that before he messed with the salad lady.

“Yeah, well,” Mary said, “it ain’t the same for men as for women.”

“Screw that,” Alfreda said.

Robert was aware of everything going on, east and west. Sometimes, Sunday mornings in church he would look down from on the stage—he was leader of the choir—into that first row where Alfreda, Mary and sometimes Bea sat, all in the same row, Mary with her kids, Alfreda with her kids, and Bea with Mr. Bea. “Lord have Mercy,” he would say to himself. But then he would think there was nothing he could do.

What’s good to you is good for you, he would tell himself.

Coming Soon:

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

Fiction Outtakes 97: Bill Wynn 82

kitchen-4Orders trickled in for the rest of the night. Grandma left when Mr. Jim and Henry Lee did. The unwritten rule was that when she left they cut off the fried chicken orders, not that any of the other cooks couldn’t do it, but so that consistency was maintained. Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. Consistency was the first rule of successful restaurants: everything needed to be the same every time so repeat customers couldn’t say “this isn’t what I got last time I ordered it.”

Jimmy smoked a cigarette out in the hall. Bill saw Evelyn and asked her to bring in sodas for all the dishwashers, a beer for him and a canned soda for Jimmy. Jimmy was in his first year of college and worked part-time so he could afford tuition. He was related to one of the bookkeepers for Suburban, someone Bill had never met. He generally worked from six PM until the dinner rush was over, but he never cut out until somewhere between ten and eleven. He did as much clean up as he could, then he took off.

As far as Bill knew, Jimmy could do anything on the line within reason. He could not handle a broiler the way Bill, now an experienced broiler cook, could, but he could cook the steaks to the right setting so if it wasn’t busy, Bill could leave the line or do some other work like strain the fryers or change the grease while being assured the orders were handled.

The first time the dishwasher stopped running, Bill cooked four steaks for the crew. He brought them over and they stopped working altogether so they could eat in peace. One time Bill had fed them steaks, Drenovis walked in and saw them eating. He yelled at Bill and told him the steaks cost money. Bill stayed calm and replied that without them none of his customers would be eating. Drenovis had cursed Bill, but Bill just laughed and told him he should pay for his own steaks.

Dishwashers fed, a beer in his stomach, no orders on the board, Bill slowly began the cleanup. Jimmy hung out after he finished his smoke and his soda, until it was apparent the rush was over and nothing that Bill couldn’t handle would occur. Of course that was always a speculation. One time a party of twenty had come in about eleven-thirty. Tommy wouldn’t turn them away since it was twenty dinners. A few orders had come in on top of the twenty—that was because some people had seen them go in and get seated and wanted to be seated too. So it was always possible to get swamped late, but it was highly unusual.

Bill drank a second beer while he cleaned up. He started this night with emptying the grease drawer on the second Garland and then brushing down the grills. With that done, he soaped up with the grease-cutter soap they used all over the front, top to bottom, and wiped it down. Satisfied, he went on to the charcoal grill. He shut it down then  brushed and cleaned both sides. He leaned in on the underneath shelf and soaped it, scrubbed it, wiped it. It shined pretty well.

The fryers were next. He knew he should change the grease, but he didn’t. He strained in instead and reminded himself to tell Tommy he would get it in the morning before the Sunday dinner service started. Sunday was like a half day since they opened late and closed early.

After the fryers, he went to work breaking down the steam table. He hadn’t noticed it, but Eleanor had come in the kitchen with another beer for him. She was standing in the doorway to the hall and back door.

“Gonna give me a proper good-bye?” she asked, handing him the beer.

Bill looked at her but didn’t say anything so she took his hand and slid it up under her uniform skirt.

“You wouldn’t let me go without saying good-bye, would you?”

“Guess not,” Bill said.

Coming Soon:

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

Fiction Outtakes 96: Bill Wynn 81–The Story of Henry Lee’s Leg (part 3)

kitchen-4Bill took up the thin boning knife and the sharpening steel, and facing the short loins, he straightened the blade. Having sat out so long, the meat had sweated and a thin coat of slime covered its outsides. Starting in on the first loin, the knife slipped several times, even crashing once against the stainless steel counter on which his cutting board sat. He honed the blade straight again, honed it often now because a sharp blade was essential. Too slow, he was thinking, and he tried working faster but the slick meat was slippery and the knife’s path unsteady.

He never felt the knife slice his leg and because of the meat blood on him he didn’t notice his own fluid escaping till it had spilled over his shoe. “Damn,” he said, shock-sober. Dripping blood the whole way, his foot squishing in his shoe, he ran for the bathroom.

“What the hell,” Henry Lee said seeing him burst in. Bill stopped cold, blood flowing out his pant leg onto the floor. Henry Lee’s stump stared at him, and the wood leg, the foot part covered by his sock and shoe, angled against the wall nearby. Bill stared from stump to limb and back again. He was frozen, blood puddling around his foot, the puddle spreading and deepening. Henry Lee was frozen too, torn between helping Bill and hiding the stump. “Lordy, Lordy,” he finally said, “you keep admiring me, you gonna bleed to death,” and trying to keep calm, he reached for his leg. “Better take down your pants and let’s see what you done.” He flashed a smile that quickly turned to a grin. “Nice to make your acquaintance,” he said, then, “Mary,” he shouted, “Mary get down here quick.”

Mary took the stairs two at a time and rounded the corner on a run. The bathroom door was open. She found Bill standing in his dripping blood, Henry Lee sitting on the commode strapping his leg. He was muttering to himself how he couldn’t even take a crap in peace.

“Goddamn,” she said. “What you do, boy?”

“Guess I cut my leg,” Bill said.

“You guess,” Mary said. “Shit. Sit down.”

They both heard the toilet flush and Henry Lee came out of the stall as Mary was helping Bill take down his pants. The gash ran over the front of his thigh, a solid, deep cut about two inches long.

“Nice job,” Mary said.

“Can’t leave the boy for a second,” Henry Lee said.

“Get me a clean towel,” Mary said.

Henry Lee went for the towel, and Mary, on her knees before Bill, looked up at him. “Keep drinking,” she said. But her scowl turned soft and she smiled. “Leastwise you did a good job on yourself. That’ll need some stitches.”

“Give me a kiss,” Bill said. He reached down and kissed her square on the lips, catching her by surprise as his hands reached to her breasts. She might have slapped his hands away, but she focused on the immediate task, applying pressure to the cut to stop his bleeding. Despite her sensibility, she kissed him back, letting her tongue find his. She felt her nipples stiffen inside her bra as creaminess stirred between her legs.

“Be still boy,” she finally said. Her hands were quickly coated with his blood, part of it already drying on her dark skin. She waited impatiently for the towel, helped Bill sit himself down on the floor.

“Tommy on his way down,” Henry Lee said, returning.

“He gonna have to go to the hospital,” Mary said. “Guess I’ll take him ‘fore he bleeds to death.”

Mary wrapped the towel tightly around his leg and elevated the leg so it was higher than his heart. She helped him hold still, the leg propped up, and kept pressure on the cut over the towel. Tommy came in in his usual slow, shuffling way.

“It’s pretty bad,” Mary said. “He gonna need stitches.”

“Okay,” Tommy said, scratching his bald head. He looked at Bill’s leg, but with the towel over it there was nothing to see. “I’ll drive. You can sit in the back with him and keep pressure on it.”

“Pick your pants up, boy,” Henry Lee chided. “Don’t want anyone seeing that little white thing you got.”

Bill laughed. “It’s as good as any, better than most.” Bill smirked.

“Shut up, fool,” Mary said. “ Pick up your pants, and let’s go ‘cause I got a life and being with you in the hospital ain’t it.”

“You know you crazy about me,” Bill said quickly picking up his blood-soaked pants. Mary gave him another towel to press on the cut as he walked. Henry Lee knew he would have to stay and work with Robert until Bill came back. He still hoped Bill would be able to do his night shift.

Coming Soon:

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

Fiction Outtakes 95: Bill Wynn 80–The Story of Henry Lee’s Leg (part 2)

kitchen-4By three-thirty enough steaks for the night were cut, so Bill and Henry Lee cleaned and straightened their stations. Then Bill carted six short loins from the icebox and set them between him and Henry Lee. When they were ready to start boning the loins, just before they started, they took another drink.

Henry Lee’s leg was bothering him: this was the second full day on a drunk and exhaustion caused the pain. But because he was on a drunk, because he was used to it and prepared for it, he was steady. Bill was getting sloppy.

Twelve more loins sat waiting in the box. Henry Lee, the master butcher, did four to Bill’s two, and when he was done he examined Bill’s work. “You’re too damn slow,” he said. “You be doing this enough to be faster.” Bill didn’t say anything. He just took a drink. “You got pussy on the brain,” Henry Lee said, “and you drink like a boy, too.” Bill kept silent. He carted six more loins, two at a time, from the walk-in. “You do these,” Henry Lee said, “cause you need the practice. I’m going to take a crap.” But on his way to the bathroom he heard Mary call “Meat’s here,” from the top of the stairs. “Damn,” Henry Lee muttered, and calling back “Okay,” he passed the bathroom and climbed the stairs. At the top of the stairs he unhooked the wood ramp down which the meat was slid. The ramp, set on hinges, crashed into place.

Bill stopped working and grabbed a quick drink before he moseyed over to the bottom of the stairs. Henry Lee came down and set up the scale in the meat room. The invoice called for a regular delivery, about fourteen hundred-fifty pounds of meat. He laid the invoice next to the scale and waited while Bill carried the cases of meat, slid down the ramp by the deliveryman, into the meat room. They dropped them, one by one, on the scale, then slid them over and off.

After the meat was weighed and stacked in the walk-in, after Henry Lee’d initialed the invoice, Bill, Henry Lee and the deliveryman rested a few minutes. Talking jive, they passed the bottle. All the while the short loins lay on the counter, and every so often the deliveryman poked at them with his fingers. This time Suburban was his last stop and his truck was empty. He was talking about after work. Bill and Henry Lee wished after work was as soon for them.

The bottle was two-thirds dead and Bill was drunk-numb. He liked feeling this way. He liked working by habit. His ears buzzed and the top of his head was hot. His apron, stiff in spots from old smears and dried blood, was damp in spots too from fresh blood that had dripped during the delivery. A dishwasher mopped the stairs and the halls over which the meat had been carried.

“Now I’m going to take that crap,” Henry Lee said when the deliveryman left.

“Yeah, see you in awhile,” Bill said.

Henry Lee sat down in the stall and unstrapped his leg to rest the stump. He leaned the leg against the wall, and while he crapped he massaged his thigh. “Feels good,” he said aloud, relaxing, feeling the freed stump begin to throb. He hated it like this, when exhaustion pained it all and even whiskey couldn’t stop the ache. He hated and he remembered and he drank to be numbed and forget. But sometimes it didn’t work. Sometimes you could drink forever and never get outside yourself. “Lord have mercy,” he said, leaning his head against the wall of the stall. The cool metal soothed his temple, and sitting motionless, he cast his eyes downward studying the wood gam, not feeling at all inclined to get up.

Coming Soon:

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

Fiction Outtakes 94: Bill Wynn 79–The Story of Henry Lee’s Leg (part 1)

kitchen-4Because he was shy about his wooden leg, Henry Lee changed in the bathroom. “Honky doctor give me a honky leg,” he joked sometimes to his close friends, but color, though the leg was too light for him, wasn’t the problem. The stump made him shy: some ten inches of rounded thigh instead of tapering into a knee, ended. “Yeah,” he’d say, “honky doctor tripped me up,” and he’d laugh, casting his eyes downward.

But you didn’t know Henry Lee wore a fake limb unless you’d seen it or unless someone you trusted told you. He limped some toward the end of a day, having carted heavy meat trays up and down the stairs, and he massaged himself sometimes, but you didn’t know unless you knew. And if you knew, you understood that when his lips squeezed tight and he winced, more than the stump was ailing him.

He was a crackerjack meat cutter, swift and clean with his strokes, mean sometimes when he had too much to drink. His knife was part of him, an extension gliding through meat like a skate blade on ice. He’d cut a man once and pulled time for it and in that fight his own leg had been slashed. Now the stump ached intolerably on rainy days and in the cold. He blunted the pain with bourbon, often stealing if off the boss’ bar. Since he and Bill had been partners, Bill had done his share of the stealing.

When it ailed him, and sometimes just like that, he wished he’d killed the bastard. Just a good twist would have done it but the knife was in so deep his fingers had slipped into the warm fluids between the parted flesh. He was panicked and scared, and when his free hand grabbed his own leg and felt ice, he knew he was in for it: the wind had chilled his own blood. One hand in the warmth, the other in the cold, his educated fingers could not deceive him. “Motherfucker,” he’d said laying there, wishing he could get up to run.

Mary knew about the leg, and so did Bea and Robert and Tommy, and someone older might have read the signs and guessed. But Bill did not know at first, and at the times he might have noticed, he was busy flirting with a hostess or a waitress. Henry Lee liked it this way. It made it his game.

He and Mary had discussed it.

“Bill’s too busy with the girls,” Mary said.

“I’m hip,” Henry Lee said. “It’s his time for that.”

“He don’t know what it’s his time for.”

“Maybe it’s better that way.”

“Mercy,” Mary had said. “I wouldn’t mind giving him some of this, neither,” she said. She patted between her legs and smiled at Henry Lee. “But that’s for later maybe.”

Meat was coming in this particular day, the day Bill would finally discover Henry Lee had a false leg. They had been drinking heavily, more so than ordinarily. Down in the meat room after the lunch service, Bill could see Henry Lee’s eyes glazed over. He knew his own eyes were glazed too because he was floating, just starting to hear the high-pitched buzz he usually heard before he was drunk. He took himself a cutting knife and a boning knife and set up his station.

Henry Lee was cutting tenderloins. “Cut two strips,” he said to Bill, “and then we’ll bone the short loins.”

Bill said “Okay” and went to the walk-in, returning to his station with a slab of meat. He took up the sharpening steel kept between him and Henry Lee, honed his blade and started to cut.

Mary had been hanging out during the afternoon lull. She sat on the stainless steel counter, her feet crossed at the ankles. She was swinging her legs as she did and stayed to watch him cut and trim a few steaks before she got up. “Mercy,” she said, then, “See you later,” and she left. Upon her exit, Henry Lee took out the bottle of bourbon and passed it to Bill.

Coming Soon:

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

Fiction Outtakes 93: Bill Wynn 78

kitchen-4The first real lull in orders didn’t come until after ten. Lillian was relieved. Bill could see it in her face. He was relieved too and immediately began consolidating everything he had working. This meant taking all the steaks from the second Garland and re-positioning them on the first, the one he always used. He did not turn off that second Garland but he was thinking about it and deciding when he could do so. Next, he did the same with the steaks he had lined up along the front of the double charcoal grill. These were already mostly cooked, so they went right in the front of the broiler, some of them stacked one on top of another. He left them in each front corner and pulled from the stacks as much as he could on the first few orders Lillian called out to pick up.

Mary and Bea left about nine. Bea was driving Mary home and Bill thought that if he were a fly on the wall it was probably an interesting car to be in. Maybe they would talk about him, maybe not. Maybe it didn’t matter.

At ten, Henry Lee was still downstairs in the meat room. He had come up just before Bea and Mary left to ask Mr. Jim if he would drive him home. Mr. Jim said sure. It was apparent that Henry Lee had been drinking. He was a little wobbly. He stood leaning against the wall in the doorway rubbing his leg.

“Leg hurting?” Bill asked.

“Big time.”

“Take a rest.”

“I still have a little more work.”

“We’ll be out of here shortly,” Mr. Jim said. “I’m getting ready to call it a night.”

“Me too,” Lillian said. “Looks as if the rush is slowing down now. I can’t see them getting another turn.” She started tidying   up the spot from which she worked calling orders but she didn’t tear it down yet and wasn’t ready to call it quits.

Expediting, in itself, was an art. Drenovis was the best at it, and even though Bill and Drenovis did not like each other, an understatement, Bill was happiest when Drenovis called the orders. Drenovis understood flow better than Lillian or Tommy Stevens and his voice ran sing-song, sometimes much like that of a professional auctioneer.

Tommy was good at expediting too. It wasn’t his favorite thing to do, but he had picked up the skill along the way of his management career, and here at Suburban it was one of his regular tasks. His voice was more raspy than Lillian’s or Drenovis’ and less melodic, but he understood flow and had a solid sense of what should be ready when. Lillian had no melody to her voice and no true sense of the flow of the orders. She called orders more in a panic than anything else and this caused the tug of war regarding picking up and putting on.

Just before ten, she returned her stool to the corner of the kitchen in which it sat when she wasn’t working. Then she went about unfolding the towels she used to line up the orders. In all, three towels did the job. They were folded lengthwise into thin strips so they were long and thick, and they were lined up one under the next. This made for being able to hold three rows of orders. This night all three rows had been full almost all night. As always, she handed the towels to Bill when they were unfolded. Bill used them in the cleanup.

“Good night, sir,” she said. “See you next week.”

“Good night, Lillian,” Bill said. “You did a good job.”

“Thank you, sir. Ditto.”

Mr. Jim left the line when Lillian started breaking down. He went downstairs to get Henry Lee. That’s when Bill slid over and shut down the second Garland and one half of the charcoal grill. He and Jimmy hung the few remaining orders on their board. It took less than twenty minutes to work them through and empty the grills.

Coming Soon:

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

Fiction Outtakes 92: Bill Wynn 77

kitchen-4Mary reached into Henry Lee’s plate for some fries. She stood next to Henry Lee, leaning against the counter opposite the stoves. Grandma was frying chicken by the stoves a little way down. She reached into one of the three pans she had working and pulled a chicken breast out which she delivered to Henry Lee’s plate.

“Grandma’s chicken, baby,” she said. “Nothing like it.”

Henry Lee thanked her and put his plate down to cut the steak. When he was done, he rubbed his leg, the one that hurt incessantly when he was tired.

“Leg hurt?” Mary asked.

Henry Lee nodded. He turned so he was leaning against the counter too, and Mary again reached to his plate, this time for a piece of steak.

“One of these days,” she said, “Alfreda and Marie gonna have a fight. You mark my words.”

“It’s nothing. Just a piece of strange.”

“Alfreda don’t see it that way.”

“I love Alfreda. I don’t love Marie or anyone else.”

“If you loved her, you wouldn’t fool around.”

“You only live once,” Henry Lee said.

“Mercy me,” Mary said.

Standing there and looking toward the line and the rest of the kitchen, they heard Lillian ordering a whole new stack of orders, almost all of them steaks.

“I need to cut more meat,” he said. But he didn’t move. He stood eating.

Mary reached into his plate every so often. She took a French-fry or a piece of steak.

“I don’t say nothing about you and Bill, or Bea and Bill, or Bill and Evelyn,” Henry Lee   said. “You old enough to almost be his mama. And Bea, she could be his grandma.”

“Guilty,” Mary said. “Like Robert says, if it’s good to you it’s good for you.”

“He good?” Henry Lee asked.

Mary blushed a full red over her dark chocolate. She smiled sheepishly and looked to her feet, but she didn’t say anything.

“Well?”

“He’s thoughtful. He’s not selfish,” Mary said after a while.

“And you don’t care that he’s doing Bea?”

“I ain’t marrying him. I’m just getting me some. But I ain’t married  with two little ones.”

“Shit,” Henry Lee said. He ate gingerly, Mary taking more fries per her inclination. He ate the chicken last, giving some of that to Mary too.

“How’s that chicken?” Grandma asked. She had turned all the chicken frying and turned toward them so she could see them eating.

“It really is special,” Mary said.

“I’ve eaten a lot of fried chicken,” Henry Lee said. “This is the best.”

“Don’t mind to butt in,” Grandma said. “The Bible says something about not committing adultery. I was married for forty-six years when my only love died. I was true the whole time and so was he.”

Neither Henry Lee nor Mary said anything so Grandma turned back to the chicken. Henry Lee, his plate empty, told Mary he’d see her later and walked over to the dishwasher station where he deposited his plate. He was careful not to leave it for the dishwashers to do. After he was free of the plate, he offered each of the dishwashers a cigarette and asked if they wanted anything to drink. When he had their orders, he stopped the first waitress and told her to bring in four sodas.

“You need to pee?” he asked Bill and Mr. Jim before he went back to the meat room. Both said no, but Jimmy took a quick break, ran down the stairs and back up again so that in all he was gone less than three minutes actual time.

“Ordering, ordering,” Lillian barked. The hood fans droned  endlessly. The dish machine motor, a deep hum, added to the noise as did the splash of the water jets and water spray as the first position dishwasher sprayed the dishes to ready them for the machine.

All was right with the kitchen world, at least for now.

Coming Soon:

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