“One of these days a guy is going to come along and pop your cherry,” Carmine says as he dumps an industrial canister of crushed tomatoes into a large pot, “and then you’ll know what it’s all about.”
Fucking pig says it every time I walk into the kitchen to place an order. I pretend I don’t even know what he’s talking about. I leave that to Terri, the permanent waitress, who usually says something back like, “What would you know about popping cherries, Carmine? That little dick of yours couldn’t pop a balloon with a pin.”
Terri’s the shit, I swear to god. I love that woman.
Unfortunately, the feeling’s not mutual. She thinks I’m a suburban mallrat and resents that I’m only here for the summer. Sometimes I want to tell her what it’s like in my house now so she’ll like me more. But she won’t want to hear it. She’ll still think I’m a lucky little fuckwad because I’ve got my own computer and TV and all that shit in my room.
Carmine started in with the virgin crap from my first day here. I thought about setting him straight right away, but then I figured, what the hell. He thinks I’m a good girl and Terri’s an old whore. Fucking fine with me.
Carmine turns and pulls something bubbling from the oven.
"That better be my veal parm, old man,” I say.
“You got a fresh mouth, princess. I should give you a spanking.” He smiles and winks. His teeth are practically black.
Terri pushes backwards into the kitchen with her tray just then, and I wonder if she heard what he said. Would be cool if she zinged him.
“Can you take seven?” she says.
She has a big party in the middle of the room, four tables pushed together, and could use a hand, I guess. Or maybe she’s looking out for me, making sure I make some decent tip money today. Sometimes I think she doesn’t want me to know she even cares because she thinks I’ll get a swelled head or something.
Carmine gives me the two other dishes I need and winks again like the stinking lech he is. I push into the dining room to serve them, glancing up at seven to tell them I’ll be right with them. When I see who it is I want to spit.
“What are you doing here?” I ask my parents when I reach table seven.
They’re dressed in business suits, like people on their way home from work. But they’re not. I hand them menus.
“We wanted to see you in action,” my father says.
“You going to jail or what?” I ask.
My father is a white collar criminal. He steals money from people for a living. My parents are on their way back from court.
“Can you keep your voice down?” my mother asks.
“There’s no news,” my father says. “We got an adjournment.”
My parents think the prosecutor is dead set on sending my father to jail instead of just imposing a fine because he wants to make an example of him. Sometimes I think that’s not such a bad idea. Other times I want to sneak into the prosecutor’s house in the middle of the night and cut his balls off.
“What’s good here?” my mother asks, scanning the menu.
“Anything with red sauce.”
My father adjusts his tie as he scans the menu, and I picture him in an orange prison uniform, staring down a plateful of slop, as if he could will it to change.
“How’s the Chicken Francese?” he asks.
“I just said red sauce. Does that have red sauce?”
He looks up at me and I expect him to say something like, a civil question deserves a civil answer or you’ve got a fresh mouth, princess, but he just studies my face, like he expects something from me, and it makes me want to scream.
I turn and walk back into the kitchen, where Terri tells me it looks like I got a couple of classy tippers at seven.
“My parents,” I mutter.
“No shit? Give ‘em a glass of wine on the house.”
They serve cheap red wine here and keep it in the refrigerator, like soda. My father wouldn’t drink it if you paid him.
“Let them order it like everyone else,” I say, but it’s too late. Terri’s already pulled the giant bottle from the refrigerator and is pouring two glasses.
“I’ll give it to them,” she says, and backs out of the kitchen.
I push the door open a crack and watch as she puts the glasses on the table, bending over like she always does so the customers can see her cleavage. Terri is smiling, thinking they’re going to be all appreciative, but I see my father touch the cold wineglass and get that look on his face, like it’s too vile to even sniff. I want the ground to open up and swallow me whole.
He starts to talk. Terri straightens and nods. He gesticulates. She makes a few short comments, but he keeps talking. Finally, she picks up his glass and I think for a second she’s going to throw it in his face, but she puts it back on the tray and heads back into the kitchen.
"What a prick!” she says. She pulls the big bottle of Red Table Wine out of the refrigerator and carefully pours the glass back in.
“I know,” I mutter, but I wonder if I should be sticking up for him. I think about telling Terri to cut him a break, that he might be going to jail and is acting like more of an asshole than usual because he’s scared. Then I think about what it would be like if I had someone like Carmine for a dad, and Terri for a mom. I picture coming home to a really crappy house with cheap furniture and one bathroom, but a kitchen with a bright new stove. We’d have terrible fights, screaming fights. It wouldn’t matter, though, because the house would always smell like garlic and tomatoes and my dad wouldn’t steal for a living and pretend it’s okay. And I wouldn’t have to worry every stupid day that some prosecutor with a bug up his ass wants to put him in jail.
“What’s the matter with you?” Terri says, annoyed that I’m sniffling. I see in her face that she thinks she and Carmine are right about me—that I’m just a spoiled brat and a virgin, at least in the sense that I’ve never been fucked by life the way they have. And she hates me for it.
“My dad’s going to jail,” I say, but not for sympathy. It’s my gift to her.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ellen Meister is a writer from Long Island, New York. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals, including Edifice Wrecked, Salome, Hobart, Flashquake, Quintessence, Fiction Warehouse, Amarillo Bay, Word Riot, Nassau Review, Pindeldyboz and SmokeLong Quarterly, where she is now an editor.