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Thread: The Dishwasher, the Historian, and the Feast

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    The Dishwasher, the Historian, and the Feast

    The Dishwasher, the Historian, and the Feast

    It’s around midnight at the café. Maria’s in the back on a crate still peeved about her lack of tips. The guy from Madrid is washing the dishes to pay for his meal, and maybe train fare back home. Every time he puts a new dish in the sink he clangs the encrusted ceramic against the aluminum sink basin. He got lazy and took off for an hour and a half, when things were slow and it was obvious the dishes wouldn’t run out. So he ran out and smoked half a pack of cigarettes and walked by the sea whistling folk tunes. Then he gets back, and there’s a big pile of dishes. If he doesn’t get to work and finish before closing, the pre-occupied manager will realize something is up, and train fare will take another day or two. So he constantly clangs the dishes that reverberate in the room where Maria is.

    For four hours today, two old men reminisced to a younger man. They all drank too much, especially, by the end, the young man. They left next to no tip.

    Maria looks down at what she has written grinning. She should mail it to all of them with a pig’s heart and broken crucifix drawn on the envelope. That would be the right thing to do. She would be justified.

    The manager is stomping around upstairs. She hears the dishwasher bang on the thin wall and mutter ‘self-righteous son of a *****.’

    Mental note, avoid conversations with dishwasher from Madrid, too self absorbed.

    Looking at the page, she knows something is missing.

    And he’s cross eyed.

    The men sat at the table, on the right of the café, inside, next to the window. The fat man, who complains about the bread, was there smoking a cigarette. Next to him was the skinny guy who gets too drunk at least once a month and needs a cab to get home. They sat there, dressed not superbly, but in a way to suggest that they wanted to be respected but were not impressed. They sat there talking about the scandal with Guido and the goat. As I walked to work today I heard someone in an upper-story window, sing a song about it. The fat man had brandy. The skinny one had rum.

    I was cleaning a counter, trying to imagine Guido’s wife’s face when she found out, when a city man walked up to the door, wearing a blue silk shirt and carrying a black satchel. He smiled, took his sunglasses off, opened the door, and tripped on the threshold.

    Maria heard the manager drop the money into the safe, a loud boom, and then the dishwasher gasp. She thought do I really want to be here? If this is bad between them do I really want to see it? If nothing happens then I’m off and might as well leave. Maria stays.

    The old men rambled for half an hour about the weather. The young man tried to appear interested. Then they began to talk about a festival that happened years ago. The young man perked up. Then they stopped and decided that they must eat. I brought soup, bread, and salad. They left me alone. I tried to talk the cook into making me some chicken.

    The men talked about the festival. The young man wrote many things down. The old men kept talking. The fat one smiled twice. Then the old men said, that they must drink. I dreaded this. I poured shots and stood by waiting for more. The young man said it wasn’t professional, and that he just wanted to hear them talk. I probably poured them four rounds before they took a break. The young man knocked over his water glass. The skinny man became jittery. The fat man started talking about matadors. I ate some chicken that was mysteriously ordered and cancelled.

    The young man said he was proud to have met and recorded the stories of men as fine as those that sat red eyed before him. They chuckled this. A pair of teenage girls walking by, looked in the window and giggled. They drank till they had next to no money left for a tip then they left.

    Maria heard the mangers footsteps on top of the stairs, and the dishwasher’s clanging quickening. The dishwasher could be heard muttering under his breath oaths of disgust. The manager whistled a muted tone. He started down the stairs. She could imagine the dishwasher in a cloud of water spray trying to finish every last dish, nearing the end as the manager descended to him. The manager was on the lower steps. Then boom, he jumped from the second to last and stood on the ground floor. The dishwasher must be going haywire.

    She couldn’t stop the giggles at this point, but kept them soft so she could hear it all. The manager didn’t move forward anymore, but groaned and started back up the stairs, slowly, complaining about his knee. How many dishes were left, she thought. The dishwasher kept it up, so there was more, but he hadn’t sped up, so there couldn’t be enough to get him too worried. Did he know the manager was going back up the stairs, maybe she could softly walk to the base of the stairs, and stomp into the kitchen like the manager, scaring the daylights out of the dishwasher.

    The manager’s footsteps fell at the top of the stairs. As he started down, one step after another, humming off key, the water ends, and Maria wonders how she could hear anything with the dishwasher making so much noise. Organizing the room, and taking off the apron, he made noise that complimented that of the managers footsteps. She heard him putting on his coat, and leaning against the doorframe. She walked to her rooms portal, notebook in hand, watching as the manager stepped off the last stair, and turned to the dishwasher.

    He walked to the dishwasher, holding the a handful of bills. “Here’s your money home.” Handing over and patting the others arm, “have a good trip back.” He walks past into the main room, whispering under his breath as he passed her, “glad he finally finished.”

    The dishwasher walks to the front room also and takes one final look around. The manager says he’s leaving and locking the doors in about five minutes. Maria goes there also and stands next the door, wondering why she bought a pen with blue ink. The dishwasher goes up to her, and says, “I have my ticket and I am leaving this back country, back home to the real world. Good-bye, perhaps see you again.” He walks forward, turns and smiles, opens the door wide, and trips on the threshold.

    The fat man tapped his fingers on the café table, looking forward at the young man across, but with his head slanted so to address his thinner friend. “It was in July, agreed.”

    “No. Early August.”

    “It was in July.”

    “Fine, fine.”

    “The thermometer was bursting.”

    “It wasn’t that hot. I was eating figs that day, and I don’t eat figs when it’s hot.”

    “I was sweating. It was hot.”
    Ruben put his hand over his forehead, smiled and tapped his pen on the notebook.

    “You always sweat in the summer.”

    “I sweat in the summer because it is hot in the summer. It was the summer and I was sweating. It was hot.”

    “It was the summer. I don’t particularly remember if you were sweating, but it wasn’t hot.”

    Ruben struck his palm on the glass café table. “It was a long day, maybe it was cool in the morning and hot in the afternoon.” He waited for a reply from the two men across from him.

    “He wasn’t there.”

    “What’s this kid talking about.”

    “It was hot. I was sweating.”

    “I don’t know why you keep saying that.”

    “Because it was hot.”

    “It wasn’t hot.”

    I sipped my coffee, and smiled at the old men across the table from me. Advice from years before echoed in my mind: ‘smile, be personable, approachable. Get them to like you. Disarm them so they’ll speak to you. Don’t be so damn condescending!’

    One of the men lit a cigarette. Laid back in his chair, one hand on his large belly, he placed the cigarette between his lips and with the now free hand dabbed his forehead with a red lined handkerchief. The handkerchief replaced in his pocked, the cigarette was taken out his mouth. Holding the glass with the hand that was on the belly he sipped brandy. Raising my glass, I smiled at him in almost a cheers gesture. The skinny man raised his glass and smiled at me. The large man stared. Oh god, why am I here.

    I take the tape recorder out of my black satchel, peeking at my watch in the same moment, 2:30. Putting it on the café table, next to my notebook…

    “Why do you need that?” The large man kept gesturing for a few seconds after saying it. I was going to ask them if I could use it, but the decision seemed made for me. Now what should I have done. Should I have persisted? At very least he needed a explanation. I begin explaining.

    “It’s difficult to be sure that what I write is correct. I like to keep a recording to be sure that you don’t get misquoted.”

    “I’ll know what I said. I’ll tell you if you get it wrong.”

    I put away the tape recorder. The skinny man signaled the waitress for a another glass of rum. I checked if my pen worked, got another pen. The two men started talking about a local scandal between a man and a goat. They agreed that he was insane before, that they were proven right finally. In end they said the consequences are between him and his wife, that will decide it. If she rejects him, it is justifiable. If she take him back, they’re both crazy and belong together. I didn’t want them to become too diverted to forget about me, so I mentioned St Peter’s Feast in 1924.

    “Why do you ask about that.”

    “Well that was what I had asked to talk to you about.”

    “I didn’t know about that.” He turned to the skinny man. “Did you know about this.”

    “I knew about this” He turned up the lapels slightly on his thin brownish-red shirt. “He was talking to my daughter’s husband for information about the festival. Word got to me, and I suggested that he meet us here today.”

    “You told me the very last part, that’s why I’m here. I thought though, that he just wanted to know about how the town was.”

    “No, that festival specifically.”


    The two of them looked at each other briefly. The skinny man nodded slightly. The other frowned a little and started staring into his drink. The skinny man leaned back and sniffed his drink while looking up at the clouds. I realized, not very gradually, but probably at the exact moment when the fat man said he didn’t know what was going on, that I did not have control of the situation. If I did not bring the situation in rein, I could be sitting listening to an irrelevant discussion. I weighed my words and started building up my courage to focus them on the festival.

    “It was in the summer. I think July.” The large man began for me. I listened hoping they would stay on track.

    “It was definitely in the summer.”

    “It was in July, agreed.”

    “No. Early August.”

    “It was in July.”

    “Fine, fine.”

    The fat man nodded at this point in satisfaction, took another sip and started onwards.

    “The thermometer was bursting.”

    “It wasn’t that hot.”

    “I remember it was hot.”

    “I was eating figs that day, and I don’t eat figs when it’s hot.”

    “I was sweating. It was hot.”

    I felt a little bit hot myself. I wiped my hand across my forehead. Does it matter if it was hot. I started thinking of my motel room, the train ride along the coast, the rhythmic clap over the rails, my pen mimicking the sound of the train, the fact that these two men are in the middle of explaining something to me, that my mind is wandering. A car suddenly backfired.

    “You always sweat in the summer.”

    “I sweat in the summer because it is hot in the summer. It was the summer and I was sweating. It was hot.”

    “It was the summer. I don’t particularly remember if you were sweating, but it wasn’t hot.”

    I had written three words on my notepad-hot, July and sweat-and all three of those were in question. I am here for a reason. I can focus this conversation. The question is much simpler than it appears, and then we can move on. I struck my palm against the glass table top and said, “It was a long day, maybe it was cool in the morning and hot in the afternoon.” I listened waiting for a reply of whether or not I had solved the problem.

    “He wasn’t there.”

    “What’s this kid talking about.”

    “Trying to tell us what the weather was like.”

    “Wanting us to tell a story, then interrupting before we could go on.”
    They paused for a moment. This was getting me agitated. I tried to signal the waitress for a glass of water, but she didn’t see me. The two men were starting to give mean looks to each other. The heat was getting to me, and I wondered why the skinny man had a coat on.

    Mario stared at the young man across the table. He stared and thought: What a buffoon. He couldn’t even walk into the café without tripping over his feet. Now he intrudes on our discussion.

    “It was a long day, maybe it was cool in the morning and hot in the afternoon.” What does he think we are, morons. Of course it’s cooler in the morning than in the afternoon. Screw him.

    Mario squinted one eye at the younger man who smiled at him. Mario turns to look at Lou, who gave a quizzical look back.

    The young man had asked them to talk about the festival. The first thing Mario had remembered was that he was sweating that day. Why sweating was memorable, when, as Lou persisted, he always sweated in the summer. He didn’t know. However it was hot. Lou, though, especially when drinking rum, has a bad memory, and thought it was a cool day.

    Mario looked at the younger man, who staring back, smiling expectantly. What a buffoon. Turning to Lou he shook his head, and said “He wasn’t there.”

    Lou looked up at the clouds for a moment, thinking of the sun, the breeze, the dancing, the music, the masqued and robed carriers of the cross, the incense mingling with flowers. “This kid doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

    “Trying to tell us how it was.”

    Mario remembered telling about the festival to his children when they were young. He and Lou would sometimes tell the story together. Mario hadn’t thought about the festival for twenty years. The last time he told it, was when his eldest grandchild was six.

    Lou stared at the sky next to him. Lou got them in this situation. Now he’s drinking rum and staring off. Mario signals the waitress for some more brandy. She was a pretty girl, though she gave him irritated looks occasionally. He dragged on his cigarette and watched the smoke drift out of his mouth, covering the image of the man sitting across from him.

    “Do you remember at what time the festival started.”

    “Yes. I’ll just start telling what I remember. Don’t interrupt me, if you have any questions ask them when I’m done and I’ll think about them. At dawn, there was a mass in the church. Then everyone went home for breakfast. The priest had spoken about sharing and modesty. On the way out, men joked that if they were modest as the priest meant, they wouldn’t have anything to share. An hour and a half later, we went back to the church. When it seemed enough people were there, some one opened the door to church and out drifted a small low bank of incense, followed by eight men in black robes and heavy hoods, with red fringes and ropes. Each carried a large cross that leaned on their right shoulder. The men chosen were large themselves, but the crosses made them seem miniscule. They walked out of the church, followed by the priest and alter boys with incense holders. The train walked down two blocks to the main street, with everyone following. More people were there, who began to walk with the procession. Out of the upper story windows, some people rested on their elbows and hung their heads outside to see everything. As we neared the sea, the crowd became larger. The atmosphere was solemn, but there was a low murmuring of people greeting, relatives catching up on each other, children losing their parents, occasionally someone in a house would loudly whisper down to some one below, and throw down bread or cheese.

    “Finally we reached the pier. The cross bearers, priest, and alter boys walked onto the pier, while the crowd stayed on the shore. Some children tried to run onto the pier, but we stopped by their parents who said, ‘no, they must go on by themselves from here.’ Of course we really did that because about 70 years before the pier broke because everyone was on it. At that time, in fact up to the year before festival I’m telling you of, the holy train would mount into two rowboats, and be rowed by four volunteers to a small island a few miles offshore where there was a small church and a few trees, nothing else. They would go to the church and pray, deposit their crosses on the alter, pray again. In all they were on the island for an hour, and in transit for two hours. In that time people would become antsy, for the return that would signal the beginning of the festivities. The year before, when the priest returned from the island he found next to no-one on the shore. They had all left and didn’t return until an hour later, when the band was to start. So this year, he asked someone who owned a large motorboat, to take the procession to the island, and back, so maybe if the time was shortened the crowd would stay. That year when he returned from the island, he did find people waiting for him, and he congratulated himself for cleverness, not realizing that people did start to leave, but the band showed up early and kept people around for when the procession got back and everyone became solemn again.”
    Last edited by nilacqua; 08-04-2010 at 01:06 PM.

  2. #2
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    This is my second post. I haven't received any comments, so I'm very curious as to people's reactions.

  3. #3
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    I loved the descriptions! "... And tripped on the threshold" left a very clear picture in my mind. There were however times when the grammar confused me a little bit, like "I was cleaning a counter, trying to imagine Guido’s wife’s face when she found out, when a city man walked up to the door..." it took me a minute to realize the city man had actually walked up to the door. I think this confusion could be eliminated by using a word other than "when." Personally I thought the dishwasher's story was gonna be really interesting and was disappointed when he left!

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