How Was Work? / Sorry I Asked
by D.G. Reynolds, 3.49am May 10th 2022
Her hair was tied back in a slick ponytail. Not a single fiber astray. She wore a tight white shirt that tucked into a knee-length black skirt. Black tights led to black flats. A pristine half-apron tied around her waist. One of the more experienced waitresses tied the bow. She was told she had a nice ass. They’d like that. It would help with tips.
A full-length mirror adorned the locker room door that led to the club. She looked impeccable. If only her mind were so clean. She swallowed and started her first shift recalling the slow decline of her once enviable career.
The room was not yet heavy with cigar smoke. Two club members puffed away sloped in the kind of leather chairs you’d like to buy your dad were he alive. Maybe your partner one day. The men had yet to order their drinks from the seven women who quietly stood at the bar awaiting a signal. The two gentlemen had clearly finished work early or wrapped up some deal and were celebrating. Or maybe they didn’t work at all. Who knew?
One of them peered over the back of his chair. Grey hair. Grey goatee. His stomach protruded above the chair’s armrests. The waitresses were supposed to look at them at all times. At the ready. That’s what they were being paid for. She watched as the grey man lent forward and whispered something to his skinny companion. Men bond when they say things that shouldn’t be overheard. Usually the subject is women, and what they’re like on the outside, and what they’re like on the inside. The gentlemen snickered.
“He wants you,” the girl next to her said. She was the one who tied her bow as if her ass were a gift.
“Go!” the bow-tier urged. She had not seen any signal but hurried around the bar anyway, snaking through the empty leather chairs and round walnut tables towards the grey man and his skinny friend. If there were any men behind her, they would surely have turned and watched that bow bounce along with everything else.
The grey man gave her a cursory glance as he tapped a proud chunk of ash from his cigar into a marble tray. His skinny friend took more of a visual interest in her.
“Gin martini, easy on the vermouth. My friend will have a vodka tonic, made by your new friend.”
Most orders were gin or vodka she’d been told. As she walked away she heard the leather chair groan as the grey man presumably turned to watch her leave.
“His friend wants a vodka tonic,” she whispered, upon returning to the bow-tier.
“He’s the worst, don’t fuck it up,” the bow-tier warned, sliding her a bottle of gin.
She had made a bone-dry martini in her interview. This should be easy. She poured the gin into a jigger then dumped it into a cocktail shaker. Added a splash of vermouth. Tonged in some ice cubes, then rattled the shaker as the men watched from afar. She set down a martini glass, briefly admiring the weight of the expensive vessel then strained. She twisted a lemon peel and placed it in the glass, then wet her lips and spat.
The bow-tier looked at the cocktail then stared at her.
“Say good bye to your job,” the bow-tier said, setting off with the tonic. She looked into the glass, gave it a quick swirl, then shrugged and took it towards its intended, placing it gently on the table next to the ashtray.
“Wait,” the grey man said after she turned to leave. She watched the bow-tier’s ass bounce back to the safety of the bar, then faced the two club members.
“What’s this?” the grey man said. She followed his pointing finger.
“A gin martini,” she said, “easy on the vermouth.”
“What’s that?” he said, lowering a manicured fingernail towards a small collection of white bubbles, that had formed a milky-way swirl next to the lemon peel.
“This is your first day, isn’t it, girl?” he said, before she could answer.
She nodded, rather than risk speaking with a now dry mouth.
“And you think you can get away with this? Do you, girl?”
He said ‘girl’ as if he were identifying a sub-species of some exotic butterfly. Of something to be examined with tweezers and displayed with pins on a board, before being filed away next to countless others. He spoke with the exactness of a fine education, with firm, sharp pronunciation. Each consonant like a sabre thrust.
“Take it!” he spat. Her brain registered the brief trajectory of a droplet ejected from his wet lips. He was the kind whose spit collected on the side of his lips like the navigation lights on a plane’s wingtips. “You must listen to what my mouth is saying,” they warn.
She picked up the martini glass by the cold stem, and raised it to her nose, her eyes centering on her handiwork.
“Do you know how much it costs to be a member of this club, do you, girl?” the grey man said. His skinny friend hid a laugh with a fist.
“Is that up to standard?”
Her spit remained glued together, still quite visible should her manager be called.
“No, sir,” she eventually said. Who could blame him for not wanting to drink her mouth water? She thought she’d get away with it. She thought they’d be more concerned about unwrapping her bow.
“Make it to standard. Make it to the standard we expect of you!” the grey man said, practically shaking. He was almost half out of his chair, his hands on the armrests propping him up. She knew the other waitresses were watching. He was making an example of the new girl. Making an example of his power. And in her mind she said goodbye to her job.
She covered her mouth as she coughed gently like a girl should. Extracted a nice mixer of spit from the cheeks of her mouth. Moved her lips up and down over her teeth. Then called forth all she had in her throat, rising it from the walls of her larynx, then extracted as much as she could from her nasal cavity with a sound like someone had kick-started a motorbike.
Behind, one of the waitresses gagged, then padded quickly towards the rest rooms.
She stirred everything with her rolling tongue before bringing the concoction toward the tip, then looked into the grey man’s shocked eyes as she hocked in his afternoon drink. It plopped inside with such force that the lemon peel flew out, as if leaping away from the beast that had just arrived.
She admired her creation. It contrasted grimly with the crystal-clear bone-dry martini. No trace of her earlier modest attempt remained. The gob gently spun towards the base where it would surely stick. The main collection hung proudly above, somehow buoyant, almost the size of a kidney bean. She’d felt it as it rose from within her. Her throat still hurt from the exertion.
She slapped the drink down on the table, noting the silence that had descended upon the large room. The waitresses stood, some with hands covering their open mouths like girls should. At some point, three other patrons had entered and were now staring at her. An inch of ash from the skinny man’s cigar collapsed under its own weight and exploded across his expensive slacks.
The grey man finally wiped away the two beads of spit flanking his mouth with trembling finger and thumb. Then he grabbed the martini glass and sucked its contents down in two huge mouthfuls. He held the second gulp at the back of his mouth for a moment, before his throat swallowed it down.
He slammed the empty glass on the table and exhaled repeatedly, his eyes ticking back and forth in contemplation. Two thick fingers suddenly jabbed into the martini glass like the virginal fumblings of a lucky schoolboy, cleaning the sticky walls of the glass with his finger pads. He raked his stained brown tongue along his digits, then wiped his mouth once more, this time with the back of his hand. He looked at her in awe.
“Another. Another!” he said, nodding his head desperately.
“And for me!” his skinny friend said, standing up, raising a long crisp folded note.
“Three for us!” a man behind her said, urging calm from his eager friends.
She spun on her flats and crossed the club feeling the gaze of the men, the other waitresses, and the trailing silk ribbon of her bow.
Her manager was sorry to see her go. Three club members had passed along business cards should she wish to freelance. There was a small but lucrative market. She politely declined. Since she didn’t complete her shift she couldn’t partake in any tips, however the manager was kind enough to pay for the hour she worked.
The sum of thirteen dollars and fifty-four cents.
That night in bed, and for many sleeps to come, she got to be the little spoon which was nice.