Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel (Monday. Part 3)
You step back into the kitchen and as you are alert to the many forms of primal fear you feel a change in the atmosphere. Angela has her head in her hands, she is weeping, and she is being consoled by Russian Sue.
“It’s Keith,” she says, her voice cracking. “He’s on his way for a spot check.”
Peter and John, the co-joined twins, stand shoulder to shoulder by the fridges their faces stony like the time John got sacked for cussing. Pam, who does the desserts when Jane is off on one of her sick days, is pushing her glasses up her nose. They don’t have any further to go.
“We’ll do this,” says Deadeye Dave.
On his first day you overheard Keith refer to the kitchen area as a ‘shambles within a shambles’ and yet you admired the way he sported sideburns, a monk’s haircut and thick tortoiseshell framed glasses. That took some guts! Then he had instigated a hotel-wide time and motion study. He produced a pamphlet sporting a vibrant green cover, a place to enter your name in BLOCK CAPITALS, and a compulsory detachable questionnaire. ‘What can you bring to cleanliness?’ He hired Korean students from the local tech college and provided them with stopwatches which he promised they could keep afterwards but which he secretly collected up on the last day of the study.
“Don’t mind Moon,” he said. Casually racist he referred to all the Koreans as either Moon or Sun, a fact which caused one of them to bridle and storm out only to return sobbing two hours later having being mugged in the adjacent retail park. His loss a bag of Krispy Kreme donuts and the stop watch which Keith made him pay up for.
For two whole days Moon was your shadow. He stood behind you at the sink. He sat cross-legged outside your toilet cubicle. When you flicked ash onto his head while outside sneaking a fag he did not flinch.
“Yes,” he said. “You go for it.”
You had never gone for anything. And with regards to the timings you had already measured out your life in coffee spoons and found it wanting.
Like many people in the same position as yourself you have discovered a certain power is to be gained by playing within the rules. For example, the sublime democracy of the hourly rate is that you get paid the same for each hour you work.
With Keith on the way deliberately you go slower.
“The grease on these pots today!” you shout out at some volume from time to time and you blow an exasperated whistle through your lips while not wiping at the grease on the pots but only at the places where it is not.
Whenever Angela’s back is turned you sneak out with Deadeye Dave for a crafty cigarette and for once you do not mind him being on the cadge and in fact you encourage it.
“Go on, have another one you say. On me!”
For the less work that Deadeye Dave does then the greater the state the kitchen will be in and the more trouble this will cause for Angela, the kitchen supervisor.
You do not like Angela, the kitchen supervisor. Although once you were lovers those times have long gone and you can’t see now what you saw in her gappy teeth, greasy skin and sagging breasts.
You shiver to think how you had cupped them in your hands and called them beauties.
“Do you think they are beauties?” she had asked you after the third time you had made love and you had nibbled her nipples one by one to show that you were not lying.
And her range of thick scarves which she thinks are à la mode, and which you had told her made her look like a French movie star, Juliette Binoche, Audrey Tautou, Bridgette Bardot but which look like the dishcloths you buy for family members you do not like from holiday destinations you did not enjoy. And they were actually dishcloths!
When you had left her room that time, in a rush and unable to find your undercrackers which had being flung who knew where in the throes of your passion, you had stolen one, fashioned it around your darker regions like a nappy only to discover later it displayed images of Birds of the Norfolk Broads, A Memory of your Stay in Wroxham.
She does not even have eyes like a normal person. They are on a slope so whenever you look at her you do so like a dog with its head cocked.
You can only think that your affair started at a low point in your life although this low point is hard to pinpoint as there have rarely been any high points.
You had been working in the kitchen for about three years you guess and she had asked you to stay behind to help with a blocked sink. Afterwards she had taken down a bottle of wine, uncorked it with her teeth and asked you if you would like to stay for a while.
You talked for two hours. You do not often talk like this and if it hadn’t been for the fact that you had been on a bender and not cleaned your teeth for several days you would have walked around the table and kissed her.
“Have you seen my room?” she said at the end of the second bottle of wine.
Quite forgetting your teeth you tell her you have not and on tiptoe you follow her up to her room.
You can see how it will pan out.
She will strip off. You will strip off.
Did you used to be a swimmer? she will ask as she caresses your abnormally large shoulders.
Yes! you will say and you will tell her her you used to be in the swim team at school and she will say how she has never dated an athlete before and, clearing a space on her floor, you will demonstrate for her the difference between the butterfly and the crawl.
“It looks altogether more elegant in the water,” you say and she will say it looks elegant enough as it is and this will be the catalyst and you will fall in love and several months later you will quit your jobs at the hotel and you will invest together in a mobile roadside café and when you are not serving bacon butties to truckers you will make outstanding love on the chip strewn floor and she will adore you and tell you that she loves you and that an average size penis actually gives more pleasure.
“It’s not much,” she says, “but it’s home.”
Her room is much like yours but is dirtier and smells worse and has more bras strewn around. On the bedside table is a photograph of the two ugliest children you have ever seen and so you don’t have to make polite conversation about them at the first opportunity you turn it face down.
It is a long time since you have made love to a woman, possibly as long as two years or it might even be as long as eight if the woman being in the same room as yourself is the deciding factor, and as you grab Angela, overcome with love, you want to rip the buttons off her overalls with your teeth but you do not have strong teeth and you do not want to risk it as you are not currently registered at a dentist, something which causes you anxiety and you often have nightmares about your teeth falling out.
You tremble as you shower her with a thousand kisses and you call her ‘my love, my love’ and you do not care that she leaves her socks on because she is ashamed of her toes and you tell her there are parts of your body you are ashamed of too.
You lose yourself and you make love once and then again and then again, she is as rapacious as a marine you once knew, and you think how different your life will be with a lover and finally the deep loneliness of your existence is over and then the next thing you know she is shaking you awake and telling you that it is five o’clock in the morning and time to go to work and if ever you breath a word of this to anyone she will kill you.
“And I really mean it,” she says, poking you with a finger in your soft belly, “I will fucking kill you.”
As you and Deadeye Dave step back into the kitchen you are presented with quite a scene. Food lies splattered on the floor, pans are bubbling over and Russian Sue is in tears. Russian Sue is not Russian but she once went alone on the holiday of a lifetime to the Costa Dorado and fell in love with a Russian sailor on shore leave. He writes her exceedingly dirty letters approximately once every three months and in return she sends him naked pictures of herself, running through fields of wheat, draped over the back of a cow, and dreams of the day when the Iron Curtain will fall so they can be together.
You do no have the heart to tell her the Iron Curtain no longer exists.
“And where have you been?”
Angela, the kitchen supervisor, is standing nose to nose with you. She looks into your eyes and you look into hers and that magic spark is there again.
“I thought I could count on you at least,” she whispers.
“You can count on me,” you whisper.
In another life she might have been a princess. Her evil step-mother has banished her to the castle kitchen. All she needs is a knight to come rescue her. Although you have an allergy to horses you are that knight!
You start to clean with gusto even going as far as to marshal the staff around you, barking out orders, filling buckets with hot suds and generally behaving like a model employee.
It feels good for once to be doing the right thing and to be taking pride in your work. In your youth you read Thorsten Veblen’s Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and as you channel its pages you feel Angela’s eyes on you and you deliberately bend over to pick up an imaginary speck of dust so she can check out your behind.
Your behind is your best feature and when you are alone you will often pose naked with a mirror so you can stare at it.
In another life it might have made you famous and you have a fantasy in which you land a job in a museum of body parts. You work in the bum section. By a clever working of panelling and trompe-l’oeil only your nude rear end is on display. Queues form. Kings, queens, footballers jostle for position. You have a micro-speaker inserted in your anus.
‘This posterior is a fine example of late 20th century physical perfection. In a era noted for its obsession with the body beautiful…’
So distracted are you by this fantasy that only too late do you become aware of Deadeye Dave. Standing by the sink he rubbing at his stomach and saying that he has smoked too many cigarettes and drunk too much coffee. He is green.
“Jesus,” you say and although you have not asked him he tells you he is not going to make it to the toilet.
He is trembling and weeping and making large sweeping gestures with his hands like he is trying to clear a space or get through a crowd.
You are on a promise with Angela and Dave being sick on the clean kitchen floor will, you feel, send that up the Khyber. Although Angela lives in what you would describe as a trough she is a stickler for cleanliness in the kitchen.
Thinking quick, acting quick you slam your hand on the waste disposal switch and shout at Dave that he should do it ‘down the goddam chute’.
You are surprised though when Dave leaps up onto the draining board, drops his trousers and pants, and begins to defecate, mountains of the stuff, into the waste disposal unit which, you remember only too late, is out of order and had been for many months.
You still may have been able to salvage the situation, you have after all have been in more sticky predicaments than this one, if at that moment Keith, the manager, hadn’t made his entrance.
You are standing at the door of Deadeye Dave’s room watching him pack. You are both jealous that he is leaving and glad that you still have your job.
This is the dichotomy that assails many a working man.
“If there’s anything I can do,” you say and Deadeye Dave asks if he can have a cigarette.
You meant for him to have a single cigarette but he takes one out, puts it in his mouth and then, staring challengingly at you, pockets the packet.
“Maybe you can return to your career as a sharpshooter,” you say cruelly. You do not believe Dave has ever been a sharpshooter.
“I could shoot the pea off the end of a needle,” he says proudly but he stands in front of you his arms down by his sides like someone who has tried to pool-shark the wrong kind of guys in the wrong town and has had their humerus snapped like cocktail sticks. At his feet is his suitcase. In it are all his possessions in the world. And you are visited by the image that one day this will be you and you resolve to do something about it.
You will make something of yourself.
“Walk to the road with me,” says Dave and although you now feel you have better things to do with your life you agree and you set off together across the car park to the main road.
This is further than you have gone in six months.
Cars and lorries go thundering past. On the building opposite you spy the enormous neon letters of The Hot Top Nightclub Bar and Grill where Eusavio works and your heart catches a little at the thought of him and you imagine yourself standing big and tall outside the club. It is snowing. A cone of snow builds steadily on your head.
No, you’re not coming in.
“Why don’t you come with me?” says Dave and he tells you at length about his plans for a double act. He will tie you to a rotating wooden wheel and will shoot at balloons fixed under your arms, on top of your head and between your legs. You will travel around market towns together, stay in top hotels, drink champagne and have your pick of all the women because all women ‘love a showman’. For a second you consider taking him up on his offer, caught up in the wild dream of it all, but it is only for a second. In the second second you see a bullet entering your heart. You see yourself bleeding out before they have even undone the straps to get you off the wheel. You see your funeral, sparsely attended, the vicar describing you as a ‘microcosm of potential’. You see your cardboard coffin being lowered into a shallowly dug grave, worms gnawing on its bottom ready to devour your decaying flesh.
“No thank you,” you say and you stand smoking your own cigarettes until a Weetabix lorry finally stops, hooked by Dave’s single extended thumb.
“Just remember,” you call out as he picks up his case and starts to jog off towards the next chapter of his life, “if ever you need anything then you know where I am.”
You do not mean it.
Your heart is black and empty and you are nowhere and you have nothing to offer.