The server scraped salad off a dish and into the sink. There was a complicated set of rules and regulations when it came to dirty dish etiquette in the restaurant, but only Tyler was aware of it. The server placed a hand on the small of Tyler’s back as she walked past him and back out into the restaurant. A referee’s whistle sounded in Tyler’s head. One of the secret rules had been violated.
“Don’t touch me,” Tyler said, deliberately inaudible so that it could have sounded like a word of gratitude, while still allowing him to feel as though he had stood up for himself.
He looked at his dish pit. The arugula leaves and golden beets were swirling with the soap, and the oil of the vinaigrette rose to the surface and tinted the suds. Ideally the sink would always be empty, but there was a clog. Pieces of raw tuna and beef had formed a golf ball-sized mass in the drain, and Tyler put on a pair of disposable blue latex gloves in preparation to plunge his hands into the depths of the liquid.
He looked around the kitchen with both hands in the sink, his back hunched over while he was fingering the drain hole lazily, alternatingly flexing his sore legs in a kind of rhythm . Nobody was paying any attention to him; time was winding down for the night and no more orders would come in. The sink cleared, he sprayed the remaining food particles down the drain and stood up straight, drying his hands on his jeans.
He had been washing dishes for ten hours with no break. Francois was in the back of the kitchen, dicing a red onion. He never hurried and people hated him for it. Alana was cleaning the deep fryer, using a metal scraper to remove crusty bits of tempura from the side of the fryer with her right hand while scrolling on her phone with her left. Tyler moved slowly over to Malcolm’s service fridge. Malcolm had abandoned his station and was outside smoking again. He was tired because he had been Going To War all night. Going To War was what Malcolm called it when he deliberately cooked all the orders at the same time and as quickly as possible so that they would all be ready and sitting on the pass. This would inevitably confuse the servers; they would make mistakes, take things to the wrong tables, the food would get cold, and Malcolm would laugh and call them cunts under his breath. This was an exhausting way to cook, but he loved it.
Tyler opened the tiny doors to Malcolm’s service fridge and surveyed the rows of containers. The small black containers each contained a hundred grams of raw meat, the bigger clear containers had two hundred grams. Tyler grabbed five clear containers of Hamachi, the second most expensive type of raw meat on the menu after the lobster, which the kitchen had run out of earlier in the night. Quickly glancing over his shoulder to see if anyone was looking, he peeled the lids off of the containers and shovelled the raw meat into the pockets of his jeans. Two hundred grams went into each of the four pockets, and then he added an extra fifty grams to each pocket from the fifth container. He walked back to the dish pit and started cleaning the dishwasher itself. It was midnight and he would get to go home in fifteen minutes as long as no more customers came in the door. His pockets were absolutely bulging with the kilogram of raw Young Yellowtail tuna that they contained. He could manage like this for fifteen minutes with no problems, although he could feel the raw fish weighing him down.
The fifteen minutes passed and the kitchen was empty except for him. The floors were swept and mopped, and the stainless dishwasher sparkled. Tyler went into the dingy staff room and grabbed his sweater, took off his apron, and walked out of the kitchen, into the restaurant.
The restaurant was mostly empty; there were three or four couples in the corners talking softly, their faces illuminated by candles. A terrible slowed-down, pitched-down remix of Hotline Bling was playing gently over the speakers. Tyler walked quickly past the couples and the tables and was near the exit doors when a voice called over his shoulder.
“Tyler, one second,” said Mark, the front of house manager.
Tyler stopped, remained still for two seconds, and then turned around.
“Did you remember to sign out this time?” Mark asked. “It’s really annoying for us to have to go back and correct the hours after you’ve left. I hate doing it.”
Tyler was relieved.
“Yeah, I never forget to sign out anymore. Have a good night, Mark.”
“And what’s going on with your pockets, man?” Mark asked.
“Haha,” said Tyler.
“Ha ha,” said Mark.
“Condoms,” Tyler said. “It’s time to fuck.”
“It’s always time to fuck,” Mark agreed. “But seriously, what do you have going on there? We’ve had all sorts of things going missing lately, ease my mind.”
“Haha, you’re crazy man,” Tyler said, turning around and walking toward the door. He pushed through the door, escaping the restaurant, and walked in the direction of his apartment. He had taken about ten steps before he felt Mark’s firm hand on his shoulder.
“Fuck you,” Mark said. “What’s in your fucking pockets?”
“Like a hundred and ninety dollars worth of Hamachi.”
“Alright, give it back and never do this again. I believe in second chances.”
Tyler felt relieved again. He reached into his front right pocket and pulled out a handful of the pinkish minced fish particles. He held it in his palm for the two of them to examine.
“Holy fuck, you just put it right into your pockets? What are you going to do with that?”
Tyler was about to start running, but he started to cry instead.
“Throw that shit in the garbage in front of me. You’re not taking that home.”
Tyler wiped some of the tears from his eyes, and the raw Hamachi gave his eyes a chlorine-like sting. He reached his hand into his pockets, one by one, pulling out snowball-sized fistfulls of Montreal’s Best Tartare Bar’s second most expensive protein and throwing them into a street garbage can. Then he reached his hand into each pocket again, scraping the bottom of the pockets for residue, and threw that into the garbage can too.
“You’re absolutely pathetic, man,” Mark said.
“You are,” said Tyler.
Mark shook his head, turned around, and walked back into the restaurant, calling over his shoulder that Tyler should come in some time next week to grab his last paycheque.
“I am such a pig!” yelled Alex, banging his fists hard on the kitchen table, the vibration spilling some of his IPA.
Tyler, who had just entered the large, poorly-lit apartment that the two of them shared, was sitting on the floor, taking off the running shoes he washed dishes in.
“Why am I a pig? I’ve been looking at pictures of Susan Sarandon’s tits, man! She’s like seventy now and all I can think is ‘yeah, I’d still fuck her.’ I feel like such a pervert.”
There was silence as Tyler and Alex stared at one another. Alex wore the expression of a Golden Retriever whose owners just returned from a fishing trip on a three day weekend. Tyler wore the expression of someone who had just had his hands in a sink for ten hours.
“I no longer have a job,” said Tyler, walking toward his room, oblivious that Alex was trying to thrust Google Image search results into his line of vision.
“Woah, woah, woah,” said Alex, putting down the laptop and grabbing his head. “Because of the Hamachi? Where’s my Hamachi? You don’t get the Adderall if I don’t get the Hamachi”
“I took too much, I should have taken half a kilo,” Tyler said. “I went for the big kahuna right off the bat.”
“They caught you with pockets full of Hamachi!” Alex screamed.
“Enough,” said Tyler, walking into his room and closing the door.
He crawled into his bed, fully clothed and still wearing the same shirt and pants he had washed dishes in. Needless to say, when he woke twelve hours later, he smelled very bad.
“Oleg Kvasha, Oleg Kvasha,” thought Tyler, sitting at a stool at the popular hip-hop-themed brunch restaurant at four in the afternoon.
Tyler stood and they shook hands before taking seats opposite each other at a small table. Oleg raised three fingers into the air and let out a sharp whistle without seeming to move his mouth. Suddenly, a waitress was standing beside the table, holding a large pitcher of pulpy orange juice with evident effort. Oleg gestured toward the table extravagantly, so the server poured each man a pint of the juice. Oleg grabbed his glass and gulped greedily at the juice, finishing it in seconds and letting out a roar of pleasure. Tyler just looked at his glass and smiled, folding his hands upon the table.
“I remembered your name by repeating ‘Oleg Kvasha,’ in my head,” said Tyler. “He played for the Panthers, but I think he’s in the Russian league now.”
“Ok,” said Oleg. “My last name is Tib. Tell me about your kitchen experience.”
Tyler was describing his dishwashing career and Oleg started to scrunch up his face. At first his eyes just twitched a little and he drew sharp breaths through his nose. His eyes were watering a bit as Tyler mentioned the Italian restaurant on Vancouver Island, but he was covering his nose and shaking his head by the time Tyler was talking about the brunch place he had commuted to in Laval.
“You don’t like the experience, I’m sensing.”
“I hardly heard a word you said about the experience,” Oleg said. He was making little choking sounds between words. “What is that smell?”
Tyler smelled the air and pretended to catch a whiff.
“It’s a disgrace,” he said, shaking his head sadly.
“I think the smell is coming from you,” said Oleg. He stood up, so Tyler extended an arm to shake his hand.
“You have my cellphone number as well as my email,” Tyler said. “Let me know when you’d like to set up a trial shift.”
“You can’t come to a job interview smelling like that,” said Oleg. “You just can’t.”
“Since you are the chef of this hip-hop-themed restaurant, I respect your advice,” said Tyler. “For the sake of transparency, I’ll admit that it is probably the Hamachi residue in my pockets causing the smell.”
Thomas Molander is twenty-four and is from Vancouver Island but lives in Montreal and studies Creative Writing at Concordia and edits fiction at BAD NUDES.