I ordered a ground beef sandwich with mozzarella cheese, pickles, onions and psychedelic mushrooms. The waiter was a thin, olive-skinned man with a platinum handlebar moustache. After scribbling down my order, he bowed and goose-stepped away, his long rubbery legs flying out in front of him like liquid slingshots.
While I waited for my meal, I smoked a cigarette and eavesdropped on the silence being publicized by a couple that had nothing to say to one another. They sat bolt upright in their chairs, the woman staring at the man’s chin, the man staring at the woman’s cleavage.
The waiter returned. “Voila, monsieur,” he said and placed a large round plate in front of me. “Be careful s’il vous plait. That is hot!”
The plate was artfully garnished with parsley, fruit slices, and precise droppings of colorful, unknown sauces. A nice thing to look at, this decor. What wasn’t so nice to look at was the object positioned in the middle of the plate.
It was a human tongue.
The thing looked like it had just been yanked out of somebody’s mouth a few moment’s ago; blood was still oozing out of its truncated backside. It had also clearly been nibbled on in places, possibly by one of the cooks that prepared it.
Concerned, I began to chew on my lower lip. “This piece of food has been nibbled on by somebody,” I explained, eyeing the waiter. “It’s still bleeding, too.” I leaned over and sniffed the tongue. It smelled like dirty earthworm. I eyed the waiter again. “On top of all these things, I didn’t even order this piece of food. Take it away.”
The waiter stared at me. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. Then he casually lifted his hand over his head and slapped me across the face with all of his might, and I had an idea what he was thinking. “How dare you antagonize me with such impudence,” he remarked in a perfectly cool, perfectly smartassed voice. “You have no right to speak to me in that fashion, mon ennemi. Whether or not this piece of food is inadequate is totally irrelevant. What is relevant here is your reaction to that which is irrelevant!”
Wide-eyed with determinacy, the waiter placed his fists akimbo on his hips and waited for my response. His powerful slap has caused my face immense pain. I could feel the bright red imprint of his hand on my throbbing cheek, and my eyes were watering uncontrollably. I wasn’t crying; the slap had simply turned my tear ducts on like a faucet and I was having difficulty turning them off.
“Take your time, vous âne,” the waiter said, sensing my struggle. “I will wait here patiently until you feel decent enough to equip me with the apology that is my due.”
His audacity gave me the strength I needed to dry up. I threw my chair out from under me and stood erect in one explosive motion. The couple I had been eavesdropping on took their eyes off of one another momentarily, albeit, unlike most of the other diners in the restaurant, they didn’t look in my direction.
Without a word I lifted my hand over head, held it there for a second or two, and returned what the waiter had given to me. I slapped him so hard his handlebar moustache flew off his face and struck a diner sitting on the far end of the restaurant in the eye. The diner cursed loudly as he toppled backwards out of his chair.
I said, “There’s your apology you smug sack of bullshit. There’s your apology.” Nodding in triumph, I picked the tongue up off of my plate, delicately, using my thumb and index finger, as if the tongue might be a dead tarantula I was going to throw in the garbage. Then I dropped the tongue on the floor and stomped on it, as if it might be a live tarantula I wanted to kill. “That’s what I think of you,” I added.
The waiter showed little sign of being in pain. His facial expression was calm and sedate, and his posture was casual. His cheek, however, was grotesquely stained by a bright red hand mark, and his overlip looked naked and ill-at-ease without its moustache to cover and comfort it: I knew he was stewing inside.
“I get the impression that the monsieur is dissatisfied in some way,” said the waiter.
“Stop calling me monsieur,” I replied. “Stop using French words altogether. You don’t even have a French accent. You have a crummy Midwestern accent and you sound like a moron. Knock it off.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then you don’t. The point is, you’re a douche bag.”
People started to whisper amongst themselves now, placing gentlemen’s bets on who would win the battle that was about to unfold. It happened all the time in the restaurant and that’s why nobody bet for money; if they did, nobody would be able to afford to eat here. So they picked their man, grasped hands and exchanged sportsmanlike nods.
“Do you challenge me?” said the waiter.
“I challenge you,” I said.
“Are you prepared to taste my wrath?”
“I’m prepared to beat the living Christ out of you.”
“Whatever will be will be.”
That said, the waiter took two paces backwards. He flung his arms out so that they were parallel with the floor. He tilted back his head, opened his mouth and made a loud bird-call noise. Immediately a furious herd of waiters and bus boys flowed out of the kitchen and lined up at his side. There were about twenty them in all. Most were hunch-backed, fierce-looking, plated in armor constructed out of the hides of giant Egor beetles, and drooling and growling like mad dogs.
The waiter allowed his arms to fall to his side. He cracked his neck, pursed his lips, held his breath, puffed out his cheeks . . . and the same moustache I had slapped off of his face popped back onto his face. “You see the piece of trouble you’ve gotten yourself into, oui?” he sneered, twirling one of the new moustache’s handlebars around a fingertip. “Let me tell you something: it’s about to get worse.”
I was hardly daunted. Little did this prima donna know that, being a man of society, a man of the crowd as it were, I had my resources too. Rather than fling my arms out, I cupped my hands to my mouth and sounded off a hogcall so shrill and raging it splintered one of the restaurant’s windows and shattered more than a few of the restaurant’s thin-stemmed martini and wine glasses. Diners and would-be aggressors alike grabbed their ears as the insanity roared out of my lungs.
Afterwards there was a silence.
“Impressive,” said the waiter, blinking. He glanced around the restaurant vigilantly, expectantly . . . then made a face and shrugged. “But ultimately ineffective, I’m afraid. And now I shall beat and torment you until you are completely deranged. Mes frères—attack!”
The waiter and his entourage fell on me.
But I was not beneath them when they landed. I had backflipped onto a tabletop, the one that belonged to the couple that had nothing to say to one another. I promptly called each of them an obscene word, then kicked in their faces with my steel-toed boots and knocked them onto the floor (once a battle in the restaurant starts, anything goes and you can let anybody know what you really think of them, whether they threaten you with their mouths and fists or, in the case of these two degenerates, with their ennui-ridden existences).
A few seconds later the boy bands responded to my hogcall. As always, they responded late. But not too late. Never too late.
I don’t particularly care for the music produced and promulgated by boy bands. But I make a point of having the members of the bands at my beck and hogcall at all hours of the day and night. You never know when you might need a helping hand, after all, and who better to lend you that helping hand than a spunky bunch of full-grown short men impersonating horny young boys.
The waiter and his cronies were still on the floor. They thought I was beneath them and their arms and legs were moving up and down like the pistons of an engine in an attempt to smash and deliver me into oblivion. They quickly realized their mistake, however, and got to their feet just in time to watch the boys bands, dressed in uniforms that were a cross between glittery disco outfits and army fatigues, repel into the restaurant from the ceiling: ropes fell to the floor and legions of men-boys slid down them, hollering like Indians and singing bits of loudmouthed, cheesy song lyrics. I didn’t have to do a thing after that. All I did was point at the waiter and say, “I’ll show you ineffective.” Then the boy bands attacked.
Having no sense of discretion, they attacked waiters and bus boys as well as diners and even the bar tenders and cooks in the back—everybody in the place except me. Some of them used throwing stars and nunchucks to do their dirty work, some used tommy guns and Indiana Jones whips, some just used their impeccably manicured bare hands, and as they proceeded to beat and maim everyone in sight, they paused now and again to hit high notes and do breakdance moves.
It was over very quickly. In less than two minutes the boy bands had cleaned house. Saluting me each in their own special way, they moonwalked one after the other out the front door and were gone. I had calmly observed the entire battle from the tabletop onto which I had backflipped. The restaurant was demolished; body parts of chairs and tables were scattered everywhere. Body parts of people were scattered everywhere, too.
The waiter that had accosted me lay on the floor. He was not dead but he had been beaten badly. Curled up in a fetal position, he sucked on his thumb and moaned like a sick cow.
I crossed my arms over my chest and told the waiter that he shouldn’t pick fights with monsters. Then I told him to get up and fetch me my ground beef sandwich, but he was too dazed and defeated to hear me, let alone stand up.
Sighing, I hopped off the table and picked the human tongue I had stomped on off the floor. It wasn’t the prettiest piece of food I had ever seen, and it wasn’t a piece of food I would consciously seek out for consumption. But it was edible, it was perfectly edible, so I dusted the tongue off and began to nibble on it as I made my way out of the restaurant into the city night.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
D. Harlan Wilson
’s fiction has appeared in a number of magazines, most recently in Doorknobs & BodyPaint
, The Café Irreal
, Driver’s Side Airbag
, The Dream Zone
, Samsara Quarterly
. A chapbook of his stories was published in 2000, and his first full-length book, a collection of forty-four stories called The Kafka Effekt
, was published in 2001. Wilson holds two M.A. degrees, one in English Literature (University of Massachusetts-Boston), the other in Science Fiction Studies (University of Liverpool). Currently he is working on his Ph.D. in Twentieth Century American Literature and Theory at Michigan State University. Check out D. Harlan Wilson’s official website