Who’s Going to Wash the Dishes Now?

Harris Lahti

The chef explains the dinner specials from a sagging desk chair because she had a varicose vein removed from her leg that morning. “Rosemary pork shank with mint aioli,” she says, picks up a large cut from one of the plates on the dull-reflecting metal table, and slaps it onto her pink tongue.

The entire staff waits for her to chew—front and back of the house, the manager among them radiating cologne and the toxic fear of a weak general about to be overthrown. How many times did he have to tell the dishwasher to remove that earbud?

“With a side of crisped potato fingerlings,” the chef says through a fizz of pork. And as the grease cascades down her double chins, the dishwasher issues a short laugh then covers his mouth. “You’re fired, get out!” the manager says, and points toward the red emergency door by the fryer station. At first, the dishwasher doesn’t seem to hear him. “Out!”

There is a trading of glances as the dishwasher finally exits—twenty-some-odd people looking around and shrugging. They’re glad to see him go. He was always muttering to himself. Always squirrelling away the uneaten remains of chef’s special cheese plates in cabinets. Forgotten melting molars of Champagne Gouda, Stinking Bishop, and Limburger cheese had been discovered in to-go containers more than once.

“Raw oyster with pomegranate-vinegar mignonette,” the chef says as if not noticing the dishwasher’s exit. She picks up an oyster, and slurps it, the taste of which sending one wet eyeball flickering up into her brain.

The yellowish white of this eyeball triggers something in the fry cook, and he yearns to pluck it. To swish the briny eye inside his mouth forever, and ever. Amen. If only my arms were nine-feet longer, he thinks.

Then the chef concludes the dinner specials by palming a honeyed yam into her mouth, and rolls off toward her tiny office, clacking across the greasy tile floor while the manager claps his hands, saying, “Hep, hep, hep,” to the staff. The surgical incision begins bleeding down her swollen calve as she squeezes into her office. She doesn’t notice, however. There’s a new dessert special—a flourless chocolate cake with undisclosed ingredients—cellophaned on the desk. After closing the door, she quickly unwraps it, stuffs an entire slice into her mouth. Then she stuffs in another, the taste of which sending the one wet eyeball back into her brain again.

In the alleyway, the dishwasher mutters, kicks an empty Mountain Dew bottle and sends it skittering off on the axis of its head. I wasn’t laughing at the chef at all, he tells himself. I was only practicing a laugh I laughed earlier and felt bad about.

During prep, the fry cook had told him a story about breaking a little girl’s skull on the school bus. Back in grade school. “I pushed her so lightly. It was an accident,” he said. But then the fry cook laughed about it, and the laugh startled the dishwasher, causing him to laugh too.

“I didn’t mean it,” the dishwasher says, now crossing a small park featuring an oxidized statue of Moses parting the sea with his special powers. Not to mention, his special friend is going to be righteously pissed about his losing another job. And the no cheese plate. So, he begins excavating possible excuses from his mind to tell her.

However, after a while, these scenarios begin branching off into others and a far-off look creeps into the dishwasher’s eyes. “Special! Special! Special!” he repeats.

A dog-walker overhears this, where she is crouched behind a bush, poking through her French Bulldog’s still-warm shit to see if he passed a used-condom he ate that morning out of the trash. She can’t make out exactly what he’s shouting but feels threatened. She has watched enough episodes of Law and Order SVU to know. She picks up her cell phone, calls the cops. “There’s a lunatic in the park. Hurry.”

The policeman who drives along the edge of the park, looking for the dishwasher, is fresh out of the academy and hasn’t gotten many calls. Already adrenaline revs in his veins. After a few laps, the policeman finally spots the perp—a skinny man in an apron gesturing wildly at a statue of Moses—and aims the spotlight at him. “Hey! Stop that!”

But the dishwasher just yells: “Special! Special!” he repeats. Even after the policeman wrenches up his arm, “Special!”

“I’m trying to help you, sir,” the policeman yells. But the dishwasher isn’t listening. No one, really, is listening. Not the chef, not the manager, not the fry cook, not dog-walker, or the policeman, either.

Yet somehow it still unfolds.

Harris Lahti’s work is forthcoming or appeared in New York Tyrant, Hobart, Epiphany, Ninth Letter, Post Road, and elsewhere. His story “Who’s Going to Wash the Dishes Now?” first appeared in Elm Leaves Journal. Read more: harrislahti.com