The Meal

Derek stamps his polished loafers on the pavement in a pitiful attempt to restore heat to his frozen toes and takes a drag from his thin rollup. He is standing outside a wide, restaurant window, busy with dining couples. Derek prods a clump of his spiky, ginger hair with a tentative finger. It’s rock solid. Derek lets out a sigh of relief. It had taken a good twenty minutes and an entire pot of gel to keep his hair up and yet he is still paranoid it is beginning to sag. He sticks a hand in one pocket and fingers his emergency pot of gel to reassure him.

‘Come on, come on’. He mutters, teeth chattering and glances at his wristwatch.

The face is cracked but he can just make out the position of the hands. Five to nine. Damn it. He shouldn’t have left so early. It couldn’t have been avoided. Derek suffers from a constant fear of being late and the repercussions that come with it. Ever since he was ten and came back late from school one afternoon to find his mother and the milkman canoodling on the living room sofa. A group of hooded kids on the other side of the road catch sight of Derek and seeing easy prey, start shouting at him antagonistically. Derek shoves his hands in his trouser’s pockets and lowers his gaze to the chewing gum littered pavement.

‘Nice suit carrot top.’ One of them calls, causing the others to snigger in acknowledgment.

Derek’s face flushes red and he gives them the finger. His face suddenly drains of all colour when a taxi pulls up in front of him and he finds himself inadvertently sticking his finger up at his date Wendy through the passenger window. Hurriedly, he whips his hand behind his back and swallows hard. A slightly put off Wendy emerges from the taxi and approaches Derek.

‘Hi.’ He says in a high pitched voice and clears his throat to readjust his vocal chords.

‘Hello.’ She says with a awkward smile.

The two fall silent, both waiting for the other one to speak first.

‘Were you swearing at me just then?’ Wendy asks, jabbing her thumb behind her whilst trying her best to sound casual.

‘I’m sorry what?’ Derek replies, raising his eyebrows and jutting his head forward.

‘A moment ago, when I was in the taxi?’

Derek shakes his head and smiles unevenly.

‘Noooo.’ He says with an clumsy shrug.

‘I’m sure I…’

‘Shall we head on in? Looks busy. Don’t want to miss a table.’

‘errrr…sure, okay.’ Wendy replies, slightly taken aback.

Wendy leads the way to the restaurant doors and Derek lets out a sigh of relief, glad to have escaped the interrogation. He catches sight of the gang of hoodies, all of which have big grins plastered to their faces. Derek gives them a sarcastic smile and follows Wendy inside.

‘Gooood evaaaning madame et monsieur. Table pour deux, qui?’

An extremely tall waiter with jet black, ringletty hair and a pencil thin mustache stands before them, his slender fingers clasped tightly together.

‘Qui.’ Wendy mutters meekly.

‘Excallllant. Follow me if yur please.’

The waiter leads them over to a small table by the window. He is so willowy and thin that his whole upper body seems to curve round to the left like a buffeted branch in the wind. The waiter gestures to the table with one of his monkey long arms, nearly knocking over the near dwarf sized Derek in the process.

‘Easy there mate.’ Derek pipes up.

The waiter looks down his nose at Derek.

‘Ma deepest apologies monsieur.’

Derek feels his blood boil but instead of calling him out he adopts the British tradition of biting the tongue and brooding and pulls out his chair.

‘Ear let me take yur coat.’ The waiter offers and begins stripping Derek of his jacket.’

‘No thank you.’ Derek protests, holding up his hands.

‘Sir, I insist’. He says, batting away Derek’s hands.

‘Really, I’m fine.’

‘But sir.’

‘Look just get off me.’ Derek shouts, shaking himself free of the giant’s grip.

The whole restaurant falls silent and Derek feels many eyes upon him. The waiter, now pale faced and looking a little hurt, lets go off the jacket and takes a step backward.

‘I am ‘orriblly surry monseiur. I didn’t mean to offend you.’ He whimpers.

Wendy sees the wounded waiter and offers him her coat as compensation. The waiter takes it gratefully with a weak smile. Derek raises his eyes to the ceiling, finding the whole situation ridiculous. Wendy catches sight of his expression and glares at him. Derek sits down, feeling scorned.

‘Can I offer yu a botel of wine to begin?’ The waiter asks, whipping out a small notepad with a flourish.

Wendy begins to nod but Derek shakes his head.

‘I’ll have a Peroni.’ He says, scanning the drinks list for the cheapest option.

Wendy looks a bit disgruntled but holds back. Maybe he will loosen up in a bit. Must be nervous.

‘Just a large glass of red if you please?’

‘That would explain the taxi then.’ Derek mutters.

‘Excuse me?’

‘Oh, nothing.’ Derek quickly adds, lowering his eyes to the menu.

‘Will that be all?’ The waiter says, addressing Wendy, sensing the tension between the two.

‘Yes thank you.’ Wendy replies, tight lipped.

The waiter saunters off his, moving like a long legged heron towards the kitchen.

Derek wipes his forehead with the back of his hand and huffs.

‘Thank god. I thought he would never leave.’

‘He wasn’t that bad.’

‘Are you joking? Senor Fancy Pants over there.’

‘Senor is Spanish. I’m pretty sure he is French.’

‘And did you see the way he looked down his nose at me?’ Derek waffles on, not listening.

‘Are you sure that’s not just because you’re a little…’

‘A little what?’ Derek says defensively.

‘Well…you are a bit on the small side.’

Derek opens his mouth to reply but is cut off by the reappearance of the waiter carrying a tray with their drinks. A gulf of silence descends around the table. The waiter pours Derek’s Peroni into a tall glass. It seems to take a lifetime for the amber liquid to reach the top. All that can be heard is the glug of the beer and heavy breathing. Eventually the painstakingly long moment passes and the waiter backs away from the table with an over the top bow.

‘Sooooo.’ Derek eventually announces, smartening out the creases on the table cover. ‘Your profile mentioned that you write articles for a living?’

‘Yes, it’s only temporary. I’m trying to find a publisher to pick up my book.’

‘Wow a book. That’s impressive. What’s it about?’

‘Well I don’t wont to give too much away.’ Wendy begins mysteriously. ‘But it follows the story of a young woman struggling with her identity in 1950s London.’

‘Right. Sounds…intriguing.’ Derek struggles, feigning interest.

‘I hope so.’ Wendy says, her smile fades and she grabs for the wine a little too eagerly.

After a deep swig she shoots him a sympathetic smile.

‘But what about you? Wildlife photographer was it?’

‘Thats right. I mainly focus on…’

Derek is cut off by the return of the waiter who slivers up to the table and clears his throat.

‘Are madame and monsieur ruddy to ordur yet?’

‘Just give us a minute mate.’ Derek says impatiently.

‘Of curse.’

He repeats his overdramatic bow and backs away.

‘As I was saying I tend to stick to….’

‘By the way. My name is Fabio und if there is anything else you ruquire just let me know.’

Derek nods, clenching his jaw.

‘Actually I’m kinda hungry so if it’s alright with you can we order?’

Derek grips the menu tightly in his hands and hisses through gritted teeth.

‘Of course. Go ahead. It’s not like we were having a conversation or anything.’

Wendy and Fabio exchange glances. Derek ignores them and searches the menu for the most food for the best price. It’s all pretty expensive so he gives in and orders a steak. Wendy orders a Salad Nicoise much to Derek’s annoyance. Why would anyone order a bloody salad for dinner? Lunch maybe but not dinner.

 

A little while later Derek and Wendy are tucking into their meals. A young man walks past the window with a Somerfield’s work shirt and accompanying name tag. It reads Darren. He spots Derek through the window and raps on the window.

‘Oi Oi.’ He calls, his voice muffled by the sheet of glass.

Derek does a double take and quickly puts a hands to his temple, blocking Darren from his vision.

‘Do you know that guy?’ Wendy asks.

‘No, must have me mistaken for someone else.’

Derek stabs a chunk of steak with his fork repeatedly.

‘Derek it’s me.’ Darren shouts and hammers the window.

‘How come he knows your name then?’

Shit.

Eventually Darren gives up and wanders off, confused.

‘You’re not a wildlife photographer are you Derek?’

Derek shakes his head, looking downcast. They return to their meals. Wendy is a dainty eater, nibbling at her salad like a rabbit. Derek on the other hand eats like a machine, wolfing down chucks off meat like a ravenous beast. Wendy’s nose wrinkles in disgust as she hears him slobber and slurp the rare sirloin.

‘Excuse me a moment. Just need to use the bathroom.’ Wendy says, feeling sick.

She grabs her handbag and gets up from the table.

‘Okay.’ Derek splutters, spraying a mouthful of food over the table.

Wendy grimaces as she notices a stray bit of food late on the corner of her plate.

 

Ten minutes later Wendy still hasn’t returned. In that time Derek has managed to polish off his steak and chips and even steal a bit of Wendy’s stagnating salad.

‘Ow was the meal monsieur?’

Derek jumps at Fabio’s sudden arrival.

‘Delicious.’ He replies.

‘Can I interest yu in a coffee or tea purhaps?’

 

‘I’ll have a coffee. Have you seen the woman I came with by any chance?’

‘Qui monsieur. She left a merment ago.’

Derek throws down his napkin with a huff, his shoulders sagging.

‘What I am doing wrong Fabio?’

‘Ah wumen monsieur. They are mysterious creatures.’

Derek nods and sighs.

‘Tell yu what. Coffee is on the house my friend.’

‘Thanks Fabio.’ Derek smiles gratefully.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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