The Restaurant

Today I burden you all with some flash fiction.

 

 

The dying man couldn’t believe his eyes. Another hallucination? Broken as he was, he couldn’t help but pull himself toward it, hope strengthening his limbs.

His eyes ached from the bright, unforgiving landscape, and the sand had worked its way into his deepest joints. His skin was thin, hard leather. This place had turned him into a living mummy.

But hope lay ahead. After an eternity, he reached the threshold, where a waiter in a fine tuxedo politely held the door for him, the epitome of timeless old world culture.

The guest dragged himself through the proffered opening and felt a sudden blast of restaurant air conditioning roll over him like the breath of a benevolent god. He wept dry grateful tears.

“Table for one?” The waiter asked. The man’s graceful manner said he watched the desert eat men every day, and it was no excuse for poor etiquette.

The man opened his mouth to reply and found that his voice had shriveled away. He nodded instead.

“Would you care for help to your table, sir?” was the next question, delivered formally and without judgment.

He managed another nod.

The headwaiter gestured down the hall where two more waiters stood like polite statues. They came to life and aligned themselves on either side of him, supporting him under the arms.

“After me please,” the headwaiter said, and swept into the dining area. The sick man was helplessly carried along in his wake.

“Please take a seat,” the headwaiter said, gesturing at a table for one with a white tablecloth and an array of shining silver cutlery laid out, precise as surgical tools.

Once the man was propped into place, the headwaiter began to speak.

“Our menu has recently changed. The special tonight is a salad niçoise with quail’s eggs, seared sea bass with shallots over a lemon–”

The man cracked open his mouth. Every breath raked the back of his throat like sandpaper. Forcing out words felt like he was trying to exhale a handful of thumbtacks.

“Water,” he croaked, then broke into a weak coughing fit. It was torture; he’d have coughed up blood if he’d had any left.

“Please,” the waiter said, offended. “Allow me to finish. Our menu has recently changed. The special tonight is a salad nicoise with quail’s eggs, seared sea bass with shallots over a lemon risotto, a cold cucumber dill soup, lobster rigatoni with a creamy champignon sauce, and for dessert we have a cooling tiramisu gelato.”

For the first time, he looked his shabby guest in the eye. “However, we ARE a rather exclusive, fine dining establishment. I am afraid I will have to ask you for payment up front.”

Did he even have his wallet on him anymore? The man felt his pockets and was relieved to feel a familiar lump of leather had made the journey with him. It was amazing to him that such a thing could hold value for anyone. What could be more important than water?

With shaking hands, he pulled out the wallet and attempted to work a credit card free. They wouldn’t budge. The desert heat had fused his cards and his wallet into one solid, multicolored blob.

“This is a common issue,” the waiter said. “you don’t happen to remember your card or checking account number?”

The man shook his head.

“That is fine. We are happy to accommodate. You may use our phone to call your bank. If you don’t know their number, you can give us their name and we will look up the number for you.”

The man geared up to speak again. “First… National…” this much speech was all he could muster before breaking into another weak coughing fit.

By the time he recovered, the waiter had looked up his bank, dialed the number, and was waiting politely to hand him the phone. The man accepted it and pressed it to his ear.

“Welcome to the First National Bank phone tree,” it was saying. “Please wait until the end of the recording and listen to all of the options as our menu has recently changed…”

 

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