The Road to Damascus
Rusalka Local 322

Eponym's Pub

1136085160.jpg.0

Eponym's Pub attempted to commence business at the tail end of the Miocene Epoch; this was a financial disaster as most of its client base was still trying to find the land bridge. The staff attempted to collect unemployment benefits which resulted in a large pile of empty oyster shells. Bupkis. 

The Pub hunkered down and waited. Sometime in the mid-nineteenth century, it lifted its head, looked around, and realized another grand opening might be  geographically challenging. It appeared to be floating in the middle of a large, mostly salty body of water. After consulting the stars, it humped its way fifty-five miles west to the Land of the Lunatics.

Good Dog Almighty! The Pub made a few alterations to the menu, obtained a reasonable venue with a fine view of an oddly shaped white building, and posted help-wanted advertisements. By the end of the month, Eponym's Pub re-opened its doors. Having actual doors was a bit disconcerting. 

****

Red attempted self-asphyxiation with the nearest pillow. After twenty futile minutes, he rolled off the wrong side of the bed, hit the floor, and screamed up at the ceiling. 

FUCK IT! JUST FUCK IT! I DON'T CARE HOW MUCH MONEY YOU PEOPLE SHOVE IN MY POCKET, I CANNOT, I WILL NOT DO THIS ANYMORE!

Red was making a shit ton of money at the cost of his soul. Too many hours, too many late nights, too many missing lovers, and WAY too many unreasonable customers. He teetered on the edge of a homicidal meltdown, but the rent needed paying. Periodically, he reminded himself of the cash stash in the freezer; six months at the current lifestyle, or two years on a budget. He shook his head and threw himself into the shower.

Late was bad. Never be late. He'd pulled the short straw and landed a lunch shift the morning after a private party that partied on until dawn. At the end of the 'shift', the wait staff decided the day staff could bloody well deal with the carnage. Red was halfway across the city before he remembered voting 'yes' to dumping on the day staff. Fuck my life. I hate these people.

****

He was an hour late, but the day staff had been kind. Someone pulled out the emergency box of extra large contractor bags (large human size) and shoveled in everything but the furniture. There were twenty-five overstuffed bags in the laundry room and Red knew perfectly well who would be sorting, cleaning, and resetting. Alone. He supposed he'd earned it. 

The doors opened at eleven, and the cranky tourist ocean flooded the room. 

Lunch tips were horrid, and behavior was actually worse than any imaginable celebrity debacle. Celebrity debacles paid well for discretion. Suck it up, Buttercup; 11:02 and you're already in the weeds. 

Red was the very best. He'd been abusing himself for more years than he cared to admit. He was tall, his hair was Perfect, and he was carved like a Greek God. He might get his ass groped by the odd politician, but the solo trolls away on business had no filter, and even less self-control. He was propositioned by the second table with a collective midwestern accent. He politely declined with his very best smile, and moved on to the table of ten.

Ten women from Southern Connecticut in nearly identical Lilly Pulitzer. It was Red's opinion that all Lilly Pulitzer was identical. Dress to dress, season to season, he had to squint hard to identify the subtle differences in swirl, shape, and color. It was also Red's opinion that a table full of Lilly Pulitzer might be a good enough reason to drop to his knees and crawl back to table two. Ask any of his friends for a one word description, and it's always the same: masochist. 

The table behaved as expected. Ten Bloody Marys times three, eight Cobb salads with dressing on the side, one with no bacon, the next, hold the eggs, and another, dairy free. The ninth requested a vegan burger with a pat of butter on top, and a side of au jus. The tenth was fasting and just wanted another Bloody Mary. Please.

On cue: 

I said extra bacon, please bring this back.

I asked for a steak, rare; what even IS this?

Those are egg bits. I know those are egg bits. You took a salad out of the pantry and just pulled off the eggs. Try again.

Mine has eggs. I said dairy free. Yes, eggs are too dairy. You find them in the dairy aisle, right? 

The vegan burger took one bite, gagged, and spit the entire mess onto the center of her plate.

I'M ALLERGIC TO GLUTEN! Are you trying to kill me? 

Red headed to the bar for another round of Marys, and then back to the kitchen with nine unacceptable plates. By way of apology, he dropped four baskets of bread on the table and said, five minutes, ladies, we'll have this sorted in five. He wasn't ten feet away before the gluten free vegan, with two whole wheat rolls in her hands, shouted: MORE BUTTER, HANDSOME! CHOP! CHOP!

****

The bill totaled just under $2000. He was well aware that he'd be presenting ten separate checks but he hadn't expected to do the math for them. They bickered over who had what and denied having ordered at least two plates and insisted that only twenty Bloody Marys hit the table. Each woman tipped differently but averaged total was 12.5%. Red figured that more than one somebody made an egregious math error in his favor.  

It just doesn't get any better than this.

****

COVID

****

Nobody expected this; but nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition either. After two weeks in his apartment, Red lost his mind and called the restaurant. No answer, not even voicemail. He waited another two weeks and tried again. The phone was answered, but he didn't recognize the voice; however, the Voice recognized him.

Sure, we've got work for you! Of course we do! For a waiter of your caliber, you'll never want for work. Of course, we altered our business model, but I'm sure you'll adjust better than most. Why don't you come in this afternoon at 4:15 and we'll chat. 

4:15?

Yes, 4:15. We're meeting with interested staff in fifteen minute intervals.

Which interval am I?

The last. Be on time. Oh, and Red? Triple masked with gloves and goggles.

I don't have a mask.

Why not?

I haven't left the building.

Have you heard of Amazon?

Oh. Sorry.

Add gloves and goggles to the order you'll be placing in about three minutes.

So what about today? Can I just pull my shirt up over my face?

Sure. Why not. Also, those ski mittens and goggles you bought at the EMS going out of business sale. 

....

You think we don't know these things, Red?

No ma'am. I'll be on time.

Thus began Red's new career as The Dancing Delivery Boy.

****

Red wanted to die. For real, this time. So much for contactless delivery. He was meant to enter the building, knock discretely at the correct door, enter and place the bag on the nearest table, and wiggle himself good-bye.

That last part never worked. The wiggle part worked just fine, but he never once got past the phalanx of maids and cooks and younger sisters. He was generally expected to remain in the vestibule but sometimes ended up in Granny's quarters. Most Grannies didn't even make an attempt to look harmless, and the fact that he remained COVID free eluded him entirely. He'd been dealing with Grannies and their companions for close to thirty years. Pre-COVID, he would have said there wasn't a Granny he couldn't reduce to decent behavior in under thirty seconds. The COVID Grannies had the upper hand, and immediately rewrote the Rules. Red was terrified.

In Red's old life, he loved the beautiful boys with brilliant teeth and outrageous smiles. He didn't care for the meek, but was a bit put off by furry ex-linebackers. He was attracted to slender builds and sweet dispositions but these boys eventually left him, in search of an NFL retiree. Red's heart broke so many times he actually got used to it. He'd always been lonely to some extent but didn't identify it as such. He was also scared, but not the Granny sort of scared. 

****

The streets in DC were deserted for the most part; just Red and other servers. It appeared to be deserted enough that Red began cutting through the lesser neighborhoods in the belief that the doorways and alleys would be empty. Mostly this was true. He was never chased, never harassed, and mostly never scared. The shortcut resulted in a wider time window which resulted in Red having actual recovery time. This didn't make it any better, but he felt a bit less toxic at the end of the day.

By the middle of July, the streets were full again. Not like before; but the post-apocalyptic feel had dissipated. Red had nearly forgotten life before COVID. He used to be afraid on certain streets and some of the more eclectic clubs, but the clubs were closed and the streets had changed. 

In a heartbeat, Red would have felt the wolf at his back before the wolf had fully processed the fact of Red. Red was wolf bait. There was no doubt about it and this had been going on since he was thirteen. Red was also entirely disinterested. When the Wolf started following Red, he didn't notice. The Wolf had Red's schedule worked out and got ahead of him most days. Sometimes they walked side by side with their bags of Granny food.

It was Red who started the conversation. Red wasn't comfortable with dead air. Red, in fact, was a stream of consciousness, and having walked with the Wolf long enough to have forgotten to be nervous, Red started talking. The Wolf was a very good listener and for the first time, Red felt heard. Eventually, Red asked the Wolf about himself. The Wolf cleared his throat, coughed a bit, and asked, are you sure?

Of course I'm sure!

Well, I expect by now you've noticed I bear a slight resemblance to a Wolf.

You know, not really.

Tell the truth, Red.

OK. I was trying to be polite. I didn't want to make you uncomfortable.

You thought I'd run away?

Probably.

Would that be so bad?

....

....

Yeah, actually; that would totally suck and probably ruin my whole day.

Really? An entire day?

OK. A week.

....

A month?

....

Sigh. The rest of the entire fucking year, OK?!

That's what I thought. Can I tell you something?

Sure. Why not.

If you left, it would totally wreck me.

You?

Yes. Me. Why is that so hard to believe?

Because you're a Wolf?

And Wolfs don't have feelings?

Um.

Um, what?

Not so much as you'd notice.

Red.

Yes.

Have you ever considered that you might be wrong?

No! Of course not! I'm just safe, that's all.

Nobody is ever really safe, Red. That's the deal with being alive. No matter what you do, someday you're going to be dead. 

That's kind of morbid, don't you think?

Not really. The belief that death isn't coming for us, or the unwillingness to look at it is the reason most of us never really live.

You're getting kind of deep, Wolf.

Sorry.

They walked in silence after that; but they walked together, always. Eventually Red worked up the courage to ask about Wolf's Grannies. Wolf just laughed and said, I don't have any Grannies. Red was incredulous and Wolf explained.

I don't have any Grannies because I dispensed with them until The Cheesecake Factory caught on and assigned me to small business owners.

STOP RIGHT THERE!

What?!

The. Cheesecake. Factory?

Yeah...

OK, you know what, never mind. I don't think it really matters.

Red?

Yesss...

If it mattered, I wouldn't be here.

So, small business owners are generally very well behaved and tip as well as they possibly can. Grannies are a nightmare and require very special handling, which is probably why they're nearly all yours.

They're all mine?!

You hadn't noticed?

No. I figured everybody else was suffering at least half as much.

Nope. Not at all. You're a veritable legend around here.

What?! I mean, I am? I mean, of course I am!

Red. Have you ever considered that the word 'masochist' is not a badge of honor?

....

Listen. I've got a gap between this and the next delivery and I'm willing to let this one get cold. This guy is VERY understanding and so damn grateful, I could probably make this delivery tomorrow morning and he'd still be very understanding. Do you want me to stash my bag and come to your next delivery?

You'd do that?

Red. Of course I would.

****

The domestic servant was momentarily startled, but recovered quickly. She thought maybe the Pub sent a loyal customer sort of bonus and let them both in. Red rested the bag on the back of the somnolent Mastiff, which happened to be the nearest flat surface. The woman in the apron said the usual:

Granny would like to say hello, she hasn't seen you in a week! Why don't you introduce your friend?

Red and Wolf headed into the cavern until they reached the Granny Quarters. Granny was in bed, per usual, but dressed a little differently. Great. Role play's on the menu today. Red was mortified. He wasn't counting on this sort of revelation. Wolf didn't seem at all bothered. Actually, Wolf seemed delighted. Wolf looked at Red and said, sweetheart, this is my favorite game. Just sit back and watch. That chair over there ought to do it.

Red perched on something a little too squishy. The Maltese blended perfectly with the fluffy white Arflex and eventually stopped struggling. Red had stopped breathing. Wolf approached the bed with his very best Wolfy smile. 

Do you mind if I sit?

Of course not, here, I'll move over a bit.

Wolf did not perch on anything. Wolf sat deeply into the mattress and leaned in toward the Granny. The Granny started to speak, but Wolf interrupted and said, I'm sorry, I believe those are my lines. The wide eyed Granny's breathing was shallow and quick.

Shall I begin?

Yesssss

Granny. What big blue eye's you've got... come on, you know the lines...

The better to see you with, my dear.

Granny. What big, furry ears you've got!

The better to hear you with, my dear.

Granny! What a large toothy grin you've got! 

Is this really my line?

Yes, go ahead, it's really your line.

I've always wanted to...

Well, now is your time, my dear.

Granny took a deep breath and said:

The better to...

I don't THINK so! Not today, bitch. Not today and not any day. Not now, not never. 

Oh! Are you going to eat me up after all?

Absolutely not. I'm going to take my boyfriend the hell out of here and you're never going to place an order again.

Well!

Well, nothing. Do you want to see me back here?

....

I didn't think so.

Wolf pulled a shaky Red off the chair and decided not to mention the dog. He took Red by the hand and led him out of the building. When they reached the sidewalk, they both took a deep breath.

Wolf.

Yeah?

Did you actually eat any of those Grannies?

Seriously? Hell no. Listen, let's face it, while Grannies may fall into the category of Super Predator, they are well below the Fairy Tale Wolf. Most of the time all it takes is a snarl. This one was a little tougher, but she's done now. Want to see my loft? Red took his three masks off and Wolf removed his one. 

****

I'd like to say that Red was never alone again, but I don't know that for a fact. All I do know is that Red finally saw himself in the mirror and realized he was a lot stronger than he'd been led to believe. Strong enough, even, to be loved by, and love back, a Wolf.

Wolf was glad to be done with the linebackers. Most of them had left their hearts at the twenty yard line. Red wore his in that beautiful smile.  

 

Comments