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kitchen-4“Got the trifecta,” Mary said to Bill.

“What do you mean?”

They were downstairs changing early Tuesday morning the week after Bill and Alfreda had driven back together from Suburban West.

Mary was in her bra and slip. Bea was in her bra and slip. Bill was stripped down to his skivvies.

“You don’t think she wasn’t gonna tell us, did you?” Bea said. She let out her throaty chuckle. “Gotta love them white boys, don’t you?” she said to Mary.

“Lord have Mercy,” Mary said. “Only a matter of time till Henry Lee finds out. Bill Wynn, I hope you can fight.”

“I didn’t have a choice,” Bill said.

Bea laughed even louder. She sat down on the chair they all stood around. “Come here boy.” She motioned for Bill to come close to her. “Me and Mary been talking about it. Don’t know how we’re gonna stop him from finding out.”

“Basically, she blackmailed me,” Bill said. “She said if I didn’t get with her she’d tell him I did stuff to her.”

“So you didn’t want to?” Mary said.

“I didn’t say that. I said I tried not to. I told her I didn’t want to. She said it was payback for all the stuff he does.”

“Don’t blame her for that,” Bea said.

“Me neither,” Mary said. “Meanwhile what we gonna do about this?”

“Nothing,” Bea said. “Not for now. Me, I’m just gonna keep having fun with the vanilla ice cream. What about you Mary?”

“I’m done with all this. I’m taking myself out of it. I don’t want to be part of what’s coming.”

“How about a uniform?” Bill said.

“How about you give me some?” Bea said.

“Goddamn it, Bea,” Mary said. “Give him a uniform.”

“I like it in the morning,” Bea said.

“I do too,” Mary said. “But you don’t see me making it worse.”

“Now that Eleanor gone, the boy must be lonely. You lonely, boy?” Bea spread her legs and pulled off her panties. She lifted one foot to the edge of the chair so everyone had a clear view of what there was to see. “Well, boy? You lonely.”

“I just want to go to work,” Bill said.

Bea started rubbing herself. “Well, go to work,” she said.

“I’m out of here,” Mary said. She took her own kitchen dress from the uniform closet, put it on quickly then threw Bill a pair of uniform pants. Finished dressing, she headed to the stairs. “You two gonna rot in hell,” she said on her way up.

“You believe that?” Bea asked.

“No,” Bill said. “Not at all.”

“Good. Me neither.”

“You know we can’t keep this up,” Bill said.

“Why not?”

“Sooner or later we’ll get caught.”

“You think they don’t know? You think Tommy don’t stay away from us down here on purpose?”

“You telling me he knows?”

“Boy,” Bea said, ”you young and fun and pretty, but you sure are stupid.”

Bill flushed full red in the face. “I have a college degree,” he finally managed.

“That don’t mean nothing,” Bea said.

Bill thought about it a moment. She was right, he decided. Here, in the kitchen world, college degrees didn’t mean anything. What you could do with your hands and how you could handle the orders during a rush meant everything. Being smart was different from being educated. Bill knew he was educated. He also knew that compared to Mary, Bea and Henry Lee he wasn’t so smart. Maybe he could get smart, he thought to himself. But it sure wasn’t gonna happen while he and Bea were getting in on in the downstairs bathroom.

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

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


kitchen-4Alfreda and Bill stayed a while by that rock, Alfreda helping herself to a generous feel of Bill. She looked him in the eyes as she helped herself, noting that she liked what she saw. Not removing her hand, she kissed him, slipped him her tongue. Bill, as if mesmerized, kissed back and allowed her to help herself. He knew he should stop it, cut it off right here, but he didn’t.

“I’m gonna drive you back,” Alfreda said while they kissed. I gotta see if what Bea says is gospel. Or maybe she just getting senile.”

Alfreda stood up. She took Bill’s hand and pulled him up. Still holding that hand, she slid it up under her dress for Bill to discover she wore no underwear. “See,” Alfreda said, “we just one big happy family here. And don’t you give my husband no thought. I’m telling you it’s okay.”

They stood a moment longer. Alfreda reached inside Bill’s kitchen pants so they were both touching bare skin. All the while they kissed. Finally, Bill cut it off saying they should get back inside. But Alfreda did not let him go right away.

“I’m getting what I want,” she said. “I ain’t no old biddy like Bea. I’m young and strong and I got my own needs that you gonna fill. It works on lots of levels, believe you me.”

Bill remembered it was anything but okay. Robert slapped him upside the head two times for Alfreda and called her a shameless hussy. Bill reminded him that Henry Lee was screwing anything that had a pussy and so what difference did it make. Robert informed Bill that they all sat together in church on Sundays, Robert leading the choir that Alfreda and Mary sang in while Henry Lee minded the kids in the front pew.

“Stay away from that shameless hussy,” Robert told Bill before he got in the van with Alfreda.

“I’ll do my best,” Bill said.

“Huh, glory,” Robert sang out.

In the van, Alfreda immediately reached for Bill. Bill slid as close to the passenger door as he could, making it hard for her to get to him.

“I got it all figured,” Alfreda said. “You don’t’ give me what I want, I tell that man of mine you made a pass at me.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Oh, but I would. I’ll tell him you made me do things.”

“Get out of here,” Bill said.

“Try me.”

This was déjà vu for Bill. Such a thing had happened once before to him in his life.

Alfreda stopped in one of the parks in Whitehall, the actual county Suburban East was located in. She pulled off the road into the most remote section of the park’s parking lot and went over the seat into the cargo area. Bill followed, partly because he felt he had to, mostly because he was young and he really wanted to.

Bill remembered. Her kisses weren’t cold yet when she strode up to Henry Lee and kissed him like nothing happened. Henry Lee was none the wiser. But when he started saying he heard they had some excitement over there, Bill got scared thinking Henry Lee knew, except Henry Lee was talking about the fire because Alvin had called him and told him about it.

“First fire, huh?” Henry Lee said to Bill. He slapped Bill five. “Alvin told me he ran out the door. I’d have done the same.”

“Well,” Bill said, “now I know how to put out a grease fire.”

“Baking soda works too,” Henry Lee said. Then, “Let’s get that meat into the van so she can get back.”

“Nice working with you,” Alfreda said to Bill just before she drove off. “See you again soon, I suppose.”

“I suppose,” Bill said.

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

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


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


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

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

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

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