The sous chef has opinions, like frozen shrimp invite the devil in.
He, Chef D, is second in command at the upscale Chinese restaurant where celebrities don’t eat, the one that is unquestionably better than the upscale Chinese restaurant where celebrities do, though it failed to make last year’s LA Times 101 Best. But LA is an undiscoverable, filthy city, and people binge and purge on the filth. Coyotes eat pocket poodles for desayuno. Cats talk up a dust storm in neon, over lit alleys. Snails copulate on sidewalks where sprinkler systems hit. And misguided celebrities, when craving soup dumplings or tempeh bao, flock to Fu’s Blue.
Fu’s Blue stands on the water, and rumor has it they freeze their shrimp. Chef D often imagines a tidal wave pulling Fu’s Blue right off its peg legs and into the ocean.
Rumor engulfs the sous chef, too. Not untrue either; he’s had a rough go. Three years back Chef D gained so much weight, then lost it in thirty days popping ma huang. The ma huang habit, they say he’s yet to lose, and that’s just what got him started. They say these days Chef D won’t turn any upper down.
As a man, Chef D is unpalatable. Last year, the Times might have featured the sous chef’s restaurant instead, but Chef D grew impatient as the food critic looked on with fault hungry eyes.
“You want to know how I make my noodles? You want a pen to write this down?” As he spoke, Chef D wiped sweat beads from his nose. “Flour and water. Leave the food processor out of it.”
At the end of each day, the sous chef goes home to meet his son who rarely meets him there, though home is technically where his son still lives, rent free, because who could kick the boy out? His son has a sweetheart in the valley. Now, father-son bonding occurs when the son and his sweetheart come around to ask Chef D to make them lunch on the house.
“Love this veggie fried farro,” his son says between chews, which is the closest the two come to “love you”. The sous chef will take it.
Chef D’s wife? A four car pileup. Four years ago. She’d been more beautiful than all Hollywood stars combined.
The night of the accident, seconds before the police called their house, Chef D’s son tripped over an end table and shattered a pink Himalayan salt lamp. It was uncanny, the timing. It wasn’t how real life was supposed to unfold.
After the salt lamp, many things broke.
Chef D does think of moving, someplace where change is built into the seasons, but a part of him fears dark nights without the glow that never quits. At least in LA he wakes at two a.m., then three, then four, and it always looks like dawn. It’s a city that can trick you into believing. It gets you to inhale as the smog rolls in.
A thought that keeps Chef D breathing: some day soon the heavens will grow a mouth. A mouth with big, swollen lips like that star who eats at Fu’s Blue, the one who cut off her two prized assets and got better ones with a ten-year shelf life. Chef D believes in the big societal picture, cancer with a capital C. He believes the heavens with its mouth will call everyone in, say ‘come here, I’ve got a secret’, and everyone will come, and that will be it. It will all deservedly go poof. And Chef D will be the only survivor, the one who never gave a damn what those big lips had to say. Might as well stuff a soup dumpling in them.
The thought that keeps Chef D breathing most: can his son stand to lose a mother and father? Can he stand it if his son can?
But some day soon the mouth will open wide. His son will go. His son’s sweetheart will go. Every chef will go at Fu’s Blue. Shrimp, by the bucketful, will freeze over. The heavens will gulp it down.
Until then, Chef D will wake at two, then three, then four, and it’ll always look like dawn. He’ll buy thermal blackout curtains, a padded sleep mask, he’ll paint the walls deep red, then darkest brown. He’ll try, but won’t shut out the light.
Alison McCabe‘s fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, Hobart, Third Coast, and other journals. She’s currently at work on a novel and becoming a licensed therapist. For more, visit alisonfmccabe.com.
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