Hank Kirton

Mussels

No, that’s not quite what happened. I’m going to tell this story again and again until I get it right. It doesn’t deserve to be recorded but it needs to be honest even if it isn’t true.

We made it to the restaurant way late. I was used to eating dinner and indulging in my first cocktail at five o’clock, an hour after work released me and here we were entering the restaurant at eight o’clock like a couple of dodgy aristocrats. The name of the place was Mussels but I was warned by Sheila not to get the mussels. I hadn’t intended to order the mussels but now I wanted them just to spite her in a you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do-anymore kinda way. I felt resentful. We sat in a booth across from each other. Low lighting changed her face. I was used to seeing her under bright sterile fluorescence. Sheila was my manager at Rosewell Tech. Maybe that’s why I wanted the mussels, because all day every day she bossed me around. I didn’t mind being a subservient toady for pay but this was “me” time now. My slavish devotion couldn’t be bought anymore. I felt firm.

“I just love this place,” Sheila said.

“It’s nice.” My lie was a reflex. It wasn’t nice. There was a framed portrait of Doodles Weaver or some shit hovering above our table.

Back to Sheila’s face. At work she looked fierce and confident and difficult to approach. But now, in this dimly casual atmosphere she seemed challenging and vituperative. A woman came up to our table and gave us menus and asked us if we wanted drinks. I went ahead and ordered a Rob Roy with extra Angostura bitters.

Sheila ordered a Sprite.

A Sprite. What was she doing? Was I not supposed to drink? Maybe she was battling a drinking problem. Maybe I was. Was she testing me? Using this dinner to size me up? I was confused, scared and glad I didn’t smoke. Sheila ordering a drink, a real drink would have relaxed me. Now I felt like a lone degenerate.

“So, I suppose you’re wondering why I asked you out to dinner,” she said.

I knew. It was about the Williams account. I had ordered $500,000 worth of equipment that had been technically invented but did not yet exist. It was a blunder on my part and a lot of people spent a lot of time straightening things out. I heard a guy from Accounts Payable got the ax for cutting the outlandish back-breaking checks.

But I played dumb. “Well, yes, actually.”

“Well, don’t worry. Your job is safe.” She smiled for the first time in my life.

I hadn’t thought my job was in jeopardy. Now I was worried. I nodded. The waitress arrived with our drinks. I was afraid to touch mine. I didn’t want to look like a boozer. The waitress with a nametag that said MADGE asked us if we were ready to order. We hadn’t even looked at the menus. I looked at mine and was transfixed by a nervous fly flicking and shifting.

Then Sheila announced, “I’ll start with the mussels.”

This woman was spraying torment straight into my brain. I picked up the menu, flipping the fly into the air. It swooped down and landed on Sheila’s head. I pretended not to notice and said, “I’ll have the garlic bread,” and then immediately regretted it.

Sheila smiled. “I heard you were interested in satanic silent films. I am too. I thought we could discuss them. Have you ever seen Seven Footprints to Satan (1929)?”

So that’s what we talked about.

No. That’s not quite what happened.

She said, “I’ll have the mussels.”

I took out my penis and said, “How about this muscle?”

No. Wrong.

She said, “I’ll have the mussels.”

And I ordered the escargot and we lived happily ever after.

“I’ll have the mussels…”

“You bet you will!” said the waitress, Maude or Mona or whatever and Sheila announced I was getting a promotion and a raise and my own brown-nosing little suck-up to assist me.

And when the check came Sheila paid it.

***

From: Everything Dissolves

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