(The Bohemian Zine took this little story under their March issue wing, and in case you don’t have one of their beautiful handmade copies, here’s the full story.)
For three years the restaurant ran beautifully. On the first nice day in March, the fans broke down suddenly and in the middle of the lunchtime rush. The kitchen was the first to know. The temperature rose abruptly above the grill and fryer and the guys looked up at the slow turning, silent fans. The waitresses noticed the smoke cloud moving casually in from the back of the house. They opened the patio doors to breathe, but the air was so clean and still on the first day of spring, no air blew through the building. The manager began dialing for repairs, but the last few digits were obscured by smoke and she contacted a dry cleaner instead.
The cooks had no choice but to keep cooking. If they stopped or tried to escape, they were at risk of burning their hands on the variety of hot surfaces around them. They made food to order and worked with perfect timing and execution of every dish. If you had been there to see it—if they could have seen it themselves—you would have been quite impressed.
As if her nerves weren’t bad enough, the brunch date she agreed to was not going well. His attraction to her was obvious, but she couldn’t somehow express her own. The date was awkward and she was planning an escape when the smoke started getting noticeably thick. She looked up from her plate at his confident face becoming more vague in the smoke. She began to relax. Her smile appeared warm and genuine to him through the smoke and she knew they would go out again. It was this thought and this new relaxation that eclipsed her jitters as the smoke hid him from her completely. She felt a hand on her shoulder pulling her forward. She felt it slide up to her cheek and through her hair. She knew they were trapped until the smoke dispersed. He kissed her shyly. He tasted like hot sauce and she knocked over his coffee when she reached for his other hand. It spilled on her leg but was quite cool.
The waitresses, who knew the building best of all, untied their aprons and cast them to the floor. They wiped their hands on their pants and dresses. They mixed up orders on purpose. People ate–and some were confused–but nobody raised a fuss as the elusive staff was swept away gleefully, merrily. The waitresses danced with each other, swinging around tables and letting their hair fly out from high buns. They staged the greatest improv performance never to be seen or recreated. They picked potatoes off plates and didn’t refill water glasses. They drank in the anonymity. They ignored the garish and impolite diners with a toss of hair and a heel turn away. No more disrespect, no more scowls and harsh words would be directed their way. Every waitress made a pact at the moment the smoke hid the restaurant: they would never allow themselves to be mistreated again.
The owner entered through the back door, looking ragged and disheveled as always. He set down his case of kitchen knives and scratched his head in confusion. “Well,” he said, his mouth filling with smoke and muting his words, “guess it’s time to sell the place.” He thought about his assets, his losses, his wife alone at all hours of the day in their cozy beachside home. Time to return to her. Time to make some babies, probably. Just lose the dump. He said aloud “just lose the dump…” grabbed his knives, left the building keys in the lock, and left out the back door.
As the kitchen cooked steadily and the waitresses danced happily and the customers fumbled with their food and with each other, the fans turned silently once again and grew louder over the burners and greasers. The open doors exhaled and the wind picked up outside. The lion returned and sat beside the lamb of the day, watching the weather together. It was a beautiful first day of spring. There was wind and sun and smoke and the restaurant cleared out as everybody left their food and their jobs to burst out into their perfect lives.