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Vic

My roommate is snoring and I can feel the sun start to shine on me, yelling at me, through the broken glass of the window near the door.

I think about Vic, and that little red spot on her otherwise cream-white upper thigh, just below her pelvic bone. Barely the size of a dime, and it’s my favorite part of her. If I could have fallen in love with that bit of red, instead of the whole thing, I would have. But without the whole thing, where’s the contrast? I never told her how much I loved that little bit of physical irony. I always told her that her best feature was her eyes, but it could have been her legs, her hair, her smile, or any other cliché I could have come up with to avoid telling her the truth. Last night, I was in the kitchen, looking very prestigious in my immaculate whites. Chef called out an order, and we all responded with a rousing “Oui, Chef!”, which sounded, to me, strikingly similar to, “Fuck you, Chef!”. I pulled a ribeye from the refrigerated drawer under my station, seasoned it, and tossed it on the grill, surprisingly nonchalantly considering that the customer was paying over 25 dollars for it. He was probably an *ssh*le, so I didn’t feel too bad. That, and I was working six other tables at the same time, and not getting paid nearly enough for it. I pulled the marked steak off the girl, onto a sizzle plate, and slung it in the oven, catching my wrist on the inside of the door as I kicked it shut. Another glorious battle scar on my forearm.

While Chef was distracted, mercilessly yelling at the young salad guy who had done nothing more than fail to read Chef‘s mind with regard to a plating change, I stooped down to my lowboy refrigerator and grabbed the gorgeous Jack and Coke that I had stashed in there to get me through the night. It mixed wonderfully with the bitterness in my chest. Orders started coming in faster as we got to that holy hour of nine, post meridian, and Chef was in a particularly bad mood. I guess I’d be in a bad mood, too, if I was a fat, talentless, drunk with a wife who hated me, a crew who disrespected me, and kids who didn’t know my name. When a server/failed part time soap star sent in an order for a rack of lamb, cooked medium rare to medium well, I almost lost it. I saw red, and envisioned that d*ckhead waiter’s head on a silver tray, surrounded by lovely seasonal garnishes of root vegetables and roasted pears. Chef actually did lose it, and threw a plate at the pot sink. You’d almost think he was cooking the food, the way he reacted. Aside from the Jack, the only thing keeping me from committing some egregious sin or crime against humanity that night was Vic. Just a few more hours, and I’d be able to see her, and I’d smile for the first time all day.

I knew that when I finally got out of that kitchen hell and saw her, the myriad burns and blisters on my hands and arms would disappear, and the ridiculous maelstrom constantly whirring in my head would calm and quiet, leaving me with just her. I’d leave the restaurant through the service entrance covered in sea salt and olive oil, looking like I’d just come out of a washing machine and smelling like raw sewage. Hot little club chicks and their Euro-trash boyfriends would step aside to avoid contact with me, this dirty, potentially dangerous character fresh from the depths of the restaurant underworld, a cigarette barely clinging to my lips, but a chip solidly in place on my shoulder. I knew that I’d go meet her at the bar uptown where she worked, and as I walked in the door, I’d be just one of dozens staring at her, but I’d be the only one to whom she returned the favor. I’d be the only one she didn’t flirt with, the only one to whom she didn’t pay overdone, sappy compliments, the only one she didn’t call baby, honey, sweetie, or any other permutation. All I needed was a drink and a kiss, and the reassurance that in a couple hours, her bouncers would be pushing the drunken masses towards the door and asking me “howyadoin”. Then it would just be us, and I’d lay across the bar, watching her count out the register, smiling, and sneaking coy touches and clandestine glances at her exposed midriff. She’d giggle, and kiss me, and ask how my day was, knowing I’d never bring her down by telling her the truth. It was the best part of my night, almost every night, that hour when it was just me and Vic, before we went out to be with all the beautiful people she liked and I pretended to like, just so I’d have an excuse to spend more time with her. And that hour made the other twenty three in the day almost tolerable.

Just a few more hours to go. I flipped over the rack of lamb, nodded to my fish guy and shouted “Twenty-two?”. He nodded back, and we began to plate up table twenty-two. I pulled a pork tenderloin out of the oven, slapped it on my board, ran my knife over my steel, and sliced a medallion off the tenderloin. The next cut went straight into my finger. I quickly wrapped it in a paper towel, because the only thing worse than bleeding on food is stopping work to bandage up a cut. If I could stop for that long, I’d go outside for a smoke, and say f**k the finger. I took another swig of my little cocktail.
If I leaned to my left a little, without interfering with Chef, who was strenuously leaning against the pass, I could see a little out into the dining room. There was a four top near the hostess stand occupied by a middle aged man, two high cheekboned young ladies who were either his daughters or his dates, and a jowly hooker with the sunken eyes and wrinkly cheeks of somebody who’s done way too much meth. He was drinking a dark red, and they were drinking overpriced champagne. Table twenty-two was a family of five. Mommy and Daddy stared at each other adoringly, holding hands under the table, and the children were perfect angels. Elbows off the table, voices at “indoor” levels. Stepford all the way, but at a place like this, you can bet that Daddy’s grown bored and Mommy’s body is beginning to succumb to gravity, so Daddy has a twenty-five year old blonde set up with a loft in Chelsea, and Mommy pretends not to notice that he comes home from business meetings smelling like unfamiliar perfume.

The bar was packed with groups of twentysomethings in blazers and designer jeans and little black dresses, drinking twelve dollar martinis, giggling at bad jokes, and trying not to wonder how they were going to pay the rent.
Around eleven, the dining room began to empty out. There were a few tables left, but they were just having drinks. The floor staff bitches that we get to leave earlier than them, but they get things like “breaks“, “eight hour shifts”, and “two consecutive days off”, which are all pure exotica to us. I cleaned up my station and started washing my knives, exchanging cracks and good-natured insults in some silly mix of English, Spanish, and French with the rest of the boys. We tried to keep our faces tough and happy, but our knees were hurting, our backs were stiff, and our hands were torn to shreds. We tried not to think of how the ten hour torture session we just finished would have to be repeated the next day and the next, ad nauseum. But someday, in some far off future, we’d all be the biggest name chefs in the city, all owning our own restaurants, with this life far behind us. We tried not to think about the odds. I said goodnight to the boys, and declined their offer of a beer across the street. I waved to the flamboyantly gay guys and unrealistically gorgeous girls on the floor, changed back into my street clothes, and jumped in a cab, smiling for the first time all day.
  I pulled the door open, shook hands with Ryan at the door, and walked toward the bar, almost giddy. The girl behind the bar was wearing a tiny little tube top and an even smaller skirt, her short black hair skipping around behind her. I sat down on a stool, perplexed. Was it Vic’s day off? Was she already at my apartment waiting for me? I’d never made that mistake before. The barmaid came over and leaned on the bar, essentially asking me to tip her for her cleavage, not her service. Vic would never do that. “Whatcha drinking, honey?” “Jack. Straight. Where’s Vic?” “She quit this morning. Moved to Boston, or Austin, I think.?” Giggle, giggle, hair twirl. “No, I asked where Vic is. Victoria. Blonde, taller than you, works nights here.” “Yea, baby, she moved this morning. It’s all right though, I’m Jackie. I’ll take care of you. Got a name?” Jackie smiled at me, teasing me, as if she somehow thought that she could replace my Vic. I dropped a five on the bar and walked away, my head spinning. Ryan confirmed that Vic had left that morning. He couldn’t believe I didn’t know.
  I left the bar. It felt wrong in there. For the first time, it felt dirty, empty, and foreign. I never bothered to get to know the regulars. Now, it seemed like I was a guest in their house; an unwelcome, uninvited guest. Their eyes were taunting me, gloating over me, as if it were a conspiracy. I had seen them look jealously at me every time I came in. They had fantasies, I had Vic.
  Cruelly, or maybe poetically, it was raining when I left. I lit a cigarette and walked north on Ninth Avenue. I crossed the street, turned around, and started walking the other way. I pushed my way through the late night masses, through groups of kids, through happy couples. I couldn’t make eye contact with anybody, and I felt like they were all staring at me. My leather jacket kept me dry, but my feet were getting soaked. I stepped in a puddle without noticing. I dropped my cigarette and lit another. I saw a couple making out under an awning. They couldn’t keep their hands off each other. I expected a surge of jealousy as I walked past, but I felt nothing. Not regret, not confusion, not sadness. I kept walking, going nowhere. I turned left, toward Seventh Avenue.
  Vic left me all alone, and she didn’t even say goodbye. It had to be something I did. I must have forgotten a birthday, an anniversary, something else. But she was above all that. It didn’t matter to her. Did I say something? Maybe something while I was drunk? It wouldn’t be the first time, but she always laughed those things off. Her flirting with another guy, either realistically or perceived by me, was enough to make me cause a scene. But she never lost her cool, never got mad.
 
Condescending, maybe, but never angry with me. But something I did made her leave without telling me.
  I was walking straight ahead, looking very determined considering I had no destination. My eyes were darting side to side, looking suspiciously at everybody. I realized that my fists were tightly clenched. Then it occurred to me how scared I was, and I was reacting, in typical fashion, with aggression. Life without Vic was unimaginable. Sleeping without her curled up next to me, drinking without her counting how many I’d had, telling a joke without her laughing didn’t feel possible.
  I’ve never hit a girl. I’ve come close, but never with Vic. But I’m a lot of work. I’m not easy, and she put up with some of the worst of it. I was a better person for being around her, and maybe she was a worse person for being around me. Vic left because of who I am, not something I did.
  I stopped in at a dirty liquor store with a bulletproof partition and bought a fifth of Jim Beam. I got on the subway, smelled the unwashed bum at the other end of the car, and didn’t bother getting up. The walk home was a daze, and my couch felt hard and lumpy. Nothing on TV was funny, or dramatic, or even vaguely touching. Kinky Kong, or some such pun, was mediocre, at best, but it kept me occupied. I opened the bourbon and drank straight from the bottle. All the girls on TV were blonde, tall, thin, and looked exactly like Vic. They even had her voice, and looked directly at me as they spoke. So maybe Vic didn’t look quite like a porn starlet, but in my head, at that point, she was perfection. I’d never find anybody like her again, because of who I am, not what I do. I killed almost half the bottle in one pull, as I felt myself start crying for the first time since I was in diapers. I rolled off the couch onto the floor, hoping the morning wouldn’t come. (c) Isaac Unidentifiable bits of debris and detritus are sandwiched between my bare back and the scratched, stained hardwood floor; microscopic flotsam and jetsam, painful reminders that I’m a single male too apathetic and lethargic to clean what can charitably be described as my sh*thole. I’m engaged in the arduous task of fitting the threaded, male opening of a bottle of Jim Beam into its female counterpart, my receptive, if uncooperative, chapped lips. Like some union plumber, a little piece of ass crack is visible between me and the floor, since I completely lack the physical fortitude and mental capability to maneuver the complex piece of machinery that is the button fly. And despite the monkey wrench lying inexplicably between the dust bunnies under what was once the wedge portion of a very lovely floral sectional that now functions as my couch, the little piece of pipework, that threaded glass opening to that bottle of fragrant forgetfulness, is still either unable or unwilling to copulate with my mouth. I spill some more on my chest.
My head, which feels like it’s caught in the gears of an assembly line, is surrounded by the flickering, multihued glow that is proprietary to scrambled, stolen, softcore Spice or Skinemax that I’m too broke or too lazy to pay for. If I could see these fornicating creatures, instead of just catching glimpses of gyrating flesh and penetrated membranes through bursts of static and fuzz, I’m sure they’d have flawless skin, defined musculature, and not a mole, discoloration, or stray hair anywhere; disgusting in their perfection.
The battle of two cats
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