Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

The Latch

Academic journal article Michigan Quarterly Review

The Latch

Article excerpt

Everything was named for something it used to be, something it no longer was. This was supposed to be ironic or funny; on a good night, Kyle could spin it as both. Clad in requisite waitperson black, wrapped waist-to-anlde in his spotless bistro apron, he knew he had talent. To be good-looking! To be self-deprecating! To know when to engage in conversation and when to stand back from a table with arms clasped behind his back in the professional waiters attentive stance! All these things took skill, even if it was a skill three-fourths of the world preferred not to notice.

But charm-Kyle had sworn off charm. Had shed it, along with the loft that until recently hed shared with his girlfriend Meaghan. As well as any ability he might have once had to find yet another restaurant named for something it used to be either ironic or funny.

He stood at one end of the East Side Burglar Bar Company's ornate bar, eyeing the reflection of his hands in the age-flecked mirror behind the counter. He scowled at himself; selected a garnish from the mise-en-place bowls the bartender kept there. His reflected hand hovered, ghostly, over the first drink on his brown waiter's tray. A dimpled olive submerged and broke the skin of the liquor, submarine-like.

Before the Burglar Bar, Kyle had garnished drinks just as overblown as these at Fulton Bag and Cotton. Before that, he had trod, catfooted, between the four-tops at Confection. And so on and so on and so forth back to his starting point ten months ago, the restaurant around the corner from Meaghan's loft that had been supposed to tide him over for a month or two, until he got a real job. El Matadero, with its Mason jars of rillettes, its duck confit, its clever name.

El Mataderos spare, high-ceilinged space that had once been a slaughterhouse was three restaurants ago: Kyle's past. His present was this: his hand moving from mise-en-place to stubby Old-Fashioned glasses, dropping in cheerful corkscrews of lemon peel; the raucous ten-top of women in the corner that kept placing order after order for cocktails so acrid and odd the alcoholic essence they contained might as well be extracted from pine cones or dirt-encrusted marbles.

Kyle hefted his tray. As he approached the long table, the redhead at its closest end turned toward him, lifting her hands to her hair.

"For you?" he asked, reaching for her empty plate. After working at El Matadero for four months instead of the two he'd planned on, he'd given up on irony and humor (and charm, he reminded himself now, whisking a sodden coaster from under a glass and replacing it with a new one)."Honey, he'll thank you for it," the redhead was saying."I guarantee it." She picked up her glass and looked around defiantly, her face flushed.

"Not me," the woman beside her protested. "No way."

Ignored, Kyle continued doling out drinks.

"Honey," the first woman repeated, her drawl evidence she'd grown up somewhere other than Atlanta. She raised her martini glass to her lips, looked over it. She had had two more drinks than the rest of the table, but who was counting? Definitely not the women who sat with her, who Kyle had discovered referred to their Wednesday evenings at the Burglar Bar Company as girls' night. He continued tucking coasters under drinks, calculating how much each one might add to his tip at the end of the night. Rent was due on the first.

At least the ten-top, seated in John's section but always handed off to Kyle, usually left early, gathering coats and keys and the cellphones they'd dutifully squared on the tabletop when they sat down at the beginning of the evening.

"Nope," the second woman was saying, shaking her head. "Nope nope nope. No-way-no-how. Nobody's gonna get anywhere near that part of my body unless it's my husband!"

The rest of the table dissolved into laughter. Kyle stood next to the redhead, who was old enough-almost-to be his mother. He took orders for drinks, took refuge in the semaphored language of waiting tables, in the raised eyebrows and nods that made him look helpful. …

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