I worked in a restaurant. It was my first job. That is to say – I hated it. The food was horrible. Well, it's not particularly that the food itself was horrible, but that the smells were. Wafting from the kitchen to mingle with the flippantly ignorant diners, the stench of old grease and burnt soufflé curled my toes in their shiny black shoes. Every time I had to push open the sticky door to the massive food prep area, I'd steel myself for a smile and a foul odor. The employees were no better – The main chef, Bernard, was completely over-qualified and yelled at us if we speckled the olive oil wrong on his famous macro food dish. There was a dish boy who cleaned up; sometimes I'd talk to him. He didn't speak much, just stood there nervously twitching and wiping an old, faded rag across whatever crusty pot or pan he was occupied with. About all I learned in my time working there was his name, which wasn't even his name but a nickname: Lick. Apparently, he'd had a dog that couldn't stop slathering him in slobber when he was a baby or something.
The next person that I talked to was Antoinette. Her parents were history professors at some fancy college two or three towns over. She worked here, jubilant to be escaping from the 'endless waves of droning speeches,' as she so told me one evening. She wasn't exactly pretty, with a bumpy bridge of her nose, big, long-lashed eyes and thin lips. She stood exactly at five feet. When I asked her why she wasn't in college, she smirked.
"And take classes from my parents?" she had asked before returning to her work without another word. I guess I was left to assume that her parents were some kind of History tyrants, smacking fear into their students with Nero and Napoleon.
The only other people I talked to were the customers. Usually, they were higher middle class people, dropping in on their way to some national landmark or another. With fake pearls resting on their freckled collarbones, they'd ask me for sweet tea with lemon or Coke. I'd get them it….in a wineglass. This would extract a spoiled smile. No thanks, just that bleachy-white smile peering from behind freshly licked lips. By far, this was because of the smell. "Mmmm..what's that? Is that our food?" they would ask, eyes nearly leaving their sockets in anticipation. My toes would curl again, a fresh wave of the smell hitting my nostrils. Man, I hated that smell.
The menu was simple to memorize. Regular fountain drinks and some cheap wine. Bernard's meticulously prepared macro dish, steak, a "gourmet" turkey patty, a salad drizzled with balsamic vinegar, and then the desserts. The desserts elicited a separate pastry chef to work at the place. He whipped up batches of strawberry-jam stuffed cream puffs, rich chocolate cakes, sweet, thick cherry pies, strudels with tempting flavors and sugar-sprinkled blueberry muffins – which, in truth, were more like cupcakes with frozen fruit stuffed into them. Still good, though. And once a year, at Christmas, the pastry chef would get a shipment of fresh fruit, real cream, and some naturally colored sugar. That batch of sweets was hoarded. Each of us working there had a strategy to try and steal some. I was successful, once or twice. Golden heaven, that stuff was.
One day, a scary-looking health inspector rampaged the place. The owner, Freddie, who rarely ever showed his balding, fat head in the place acted like he was there almost every single day of the year, slaving away by the stove when needed. While taking an order from an elderly lady in the front of the restaurant, I heard a scream. Flying around the tables, the health inspector nearly jumped from the building and into his fancy BMW in the parking lot. Curiously, I inched my way into the kitchen and towards the freezer.
And there it was. A body of, not a person, but a zebra. Its black-and-white stripes were yellowed, body beginning to decay, but definitely still the horse like animal I had observed at the zoo in third grade. Bernard's eyes grew round as Freddie's gut.
"What is this?" he gasped, shocked. I raised an eyebrow. Wasn't the chef supposed to keep inventory of how many wild animals were dead and frozen in his freezer? After that, we got reported. I was freed of that horrible job. The place closed down and got bulldozed, I moved away to another state, got married, had kids. Yet, I never forgot that restaurant, because…man, I hated that smell.