Meet The Cook, The Apprentice, The Translator, The Critic, & The Pilgrim in a series of five intertwined vignettes of culinary inspired fiction…
by: John Maki
1981 – The Cook
Downtown Seattle was dark and chilly at 6:00 AM when Tyrone stepped over the newspaper-covered body in the delivery alcove and unlocked the restaurant’s back door. Trucks wouldn’t be arriving for another hour. Why interrupt someone’s rest? Tyrone was the The Astoria Seafood Grill’s lunch cook and responsible for opening up.
Inside Tyrone changed into cooking whites, went to the kitchen, and found his younger cousin, Deshaun, the daytime dishwasher, lying down on a work table. Tyrone set his boombox next to Deshaun’s head and cranked up “Super Freak.” Nothing. Deshaun was dead out. Tyrone shrugged and relocated “Super Freak” to the cooking line’s pass window and set to work, methodically refreshing containers, staging sizzle pans, and stacking plates. A few minutes later, Deshaun appeared.
“Hey, man, why didn’t you get me up?”
“I tried,” said Tyrone. “You were out.”
“By the back door when you came in. That was me.”
“Shit. You’re a mess,” said Tyrone. Deshaun mumbled and left to change clothes. When he returned, Tyrone was pressing hamburgers. Deshaun picked up a large meatball and pressed it into a shape resembling the state of Texas. Tyrone picked up Texas and repacked it into a perfectly round one-inch high puck.
“Hey, why’d you do that?” complained Deshaun.
“Cuz it ain’t good. That’s why. This ain’t no Dennys. It’s a real city restaurant.”
“Do better,” said Tyrone.
Deshaun picked up another meatball, dropped it, ran to the sink, and vomited. He vomited again, louder this time, and staggered out of the kitchen. Tyrone sighed and cleaned up Deshaun’s mess. He had hoped a steady paycheck would lift his cousin’s spirits and remedy his drinking problem, but it hadn’t. He finished pressing burgers and continued to prep, rendering bacon, changing fryer fat, and chopping vegetables. Deshaun reappeared and apologized. Tyrone cooked him an omelet and poured two coffees.
While Deshaun ate, Tyrone took a break and surveyed the kitchen. He enjoyed the morning, being alone, imagining the kitchen was his. It was past its prime with low ceilings and scabbed floors and a kind of worn-in beauty. When he had first started ten years ago, fresh out of culinary school, Tyrone had hoped to be an chef someday, but it hadn’t panned out. Nevertheless, he liked his job. It paid better than most of his friends’ jobs and had predictable hours, which gave him time to sell weed, swap cars, and play poker — extra income for his wife and son. He also received bonuses for training new chefs, itinerants on their way to trendier restaurants. Tyrone checked his watch. There were five hours left in his shift. After work he and his son Darius would go swimming. The cool water would feel good on his hot face.
Deshaun finished eating and helped Tyrone clean and clear the prep tables so they could cut fish. Tyrone ran a kitchen scimitar across a steel, enjoying the zing-zing sound. Deshaun returned from the cooler with a sixty-pound halibut and flopped it down on a cutting board and Tyrone went to work, trimming the halibut’s fin rays, bisecting its sides into wedge-shaped loins, and portioning the wedges into perfect, six-ounce cuts.
“Feeling better?” asked Tyrone.
“Yeah. Thanks, man,” said Deshaun, running plastic wrap around the portions to make four packs. “Hey, why ain’t you the head chef?”
“You know,” said Tyrone.
“Yeah, I know,” said Deshaun.
At 10:45 AM, Tyrone and Deshaun had finished prepping when the head chef arrived. Tyrone reviewed the fresh sheet, as more workers trickled in, white-jacketed male waiters, tight-skirted hostesses, an aproned oyster shucker, all hungry for crew chew, freshly made BLT sandwiches which were waiting in the pass window.
While the staff ate lunch, Tyrone stepped outside, sat down on a milk crate, and lit a joint. The delivery alcove smelled of rotten produce and stale beer, its usual aroma. He inhaled and watched a couple of suits enter the front door of the restaurant up the street. Up until a year ago, only men could be waiters at The Astoria Seafood Grill. Now, women could too. So far, none had been hired.
Tyrone liked to keep track of Astoria’s employees as they came and went. He and Deshaun were the only African Americans. The evening pantry cook was Indonesian Muslim, one waiter was Japanese, and a cocktail hostess was Hispanic. Out of sixty people, that was it for minorities. In a way, Tyrone liked it. He was respected and had cornered the restaurant’s weed market. But he knew he would go no further. Stalled at age thirty.
Tyrone finished his joint, walked up the sidewalk, and pushed open The Astoria’s front door, startling one of the pretty, young hostesses. He walked to the bathroom, admiring the honeycomb tile floor and high-backed mahogany booths. The restaurant was clubby and sophisticated, timeless, but not trendy. He imagined seating his mother or wife for dinner. He had invited them before, but they always refused. The Astoria was too fancy and the seafood was too stinky. He blamed himself. No matter how hard he scrubbed after work, he could not strip the fish and fryer fat smell from his hands. Even Darius ran away.
Back in the kitchen, Tyrone drained a wine bottle in the dish washing area and headed to the cooking line. Tickets began to arrive and soon the rush was on: waiters yelling, the chef expediting, plates flying. Tyrone worked the grill area, searing salmon and halibut with perfect hatch marks, flipping burgers, and cooking steaks. Deep-fry orders arrived and he dropped battered cod, shrimp, and scallops into sizzling fat, each bobbing morsel a word in a story. Someone yelled and he pulled a bubbling Oysters Rockefeller plate from the oven. The chef called, “Toast,” and he rescued garlic bread from under the overhead broiler. His favorite waiter leaned through the pass window and handed him a five-dollar bill and said, “Love ya, baby.”
“Love you back,” said Tyrone. He was drenched in sweat.
After lunch, Tyrone wiped down the line and reviewed inventory, before calling suppliers to place orders, taking a few to task for mistakes. Deshaun had gone home early, too sick to work, so Tyrone finished up the dishes and sprayed down the area.
In the locker room, Tyrone changed clothes and chatted with the afternoon crew. He was looking forward to swimming in some cool water. Before leaving, he rubbed lotion into his hands and arranged his braided gold chains. If he couldn’t smell good, he could at least feel and look good. He was almost out the door, when the manager intercepted him. They walked to the dining room and slid into a booth.
“What’s up?” asked Tyrone. The manager ordered beers. Tyrone knew what was coming.
“We gotta let Deshaun go,” said the manager. “Got any other cousins? Dishwashers are hard to find.”
Tyrone remembered Deshaun’s first day and how he had cooked him prawns for breakfast and the joy in the boy’s eyes at being treated to something special. He imagined Deshaun depressed and alone in his dim bedroom, an old mattress on the floor, chip bags everywhere, posters of Rick James and Michael Jackson on the wall.
“How about I work with him?” asked Tyrone.
The manager frowned. “I should say no. But okay, two more weeks. I’m only doing this for you. Get him here sober.”
“I will,” said Tyrone.
“Hey, you got anything for me?” asked the manager, glancing around the restaurant and handing Tyrone some bills. Tyrone retrieved some bud from his backpack and handed it over.
“This is fucking awesome sinsemilla,” said the manager. Beers arrived and they continued to talk. The head chef was moving on next month. Would Tyrone train the new guy?
“Hey, why don’t you ever make me the head chef?” asked Tyrone.
The manager paused and sipped his beer. “You know. I know you’re great and all, but the other guys, I don’t know how they would take it. You know I love you Ty. Tell you what, I’ll double the bonus.”
“Thanks,” said Tyrone. He knew he could quit and work elsewhere, but would it ever be different? he wondered. At least he knew what to expect at The Astoria and had the best shift in the house. Someday soon he would tell Darius about his job and work and the world. Soon, but not today. Today he and his son were going swimming.
1985 – The Apprentice
A cold light wind was blowing off Lake Michigan, across Lincoln Park, and up the Chicago River, as the young man, Jason, walked along The Magnificent Mile. It was the wind he had heard about before leaving Seattle, but not the wind of the Windy City, so named for its political hot air. He liked to know such things. It made him feel smart.
It was before lunch on a Tuesday in September and Jason was looking for a job as a cook. He was twenty-three, two years out of college, and the economy was bad. His English degree meant shit and somehow seemed worse than no degree at all. Cooking was crap money, but something he could do, and feel good about, while he worked to become a writer. He tugged at his uncomfortable sport coat, the one his father had told him to wear because Chicago was more formal than Seattle. Earlier in the day he had dropped into some Rush Street restaurants, hoping to catch managers between deliveries, and was discovering that Chicago kitchens were rougher and more ethnic than Seattle’s, and that steak and sauerkraut cooks were in high demand, making his salmon grilling, oyster shucking, and chowder ladling skills essentially useless. Equally useless was his mastery of beurre blanc, a classic French butter sauce, and an ability acquired from Tyrone Williams, one of his Seattle cooking buddies.
As he searched for a job, he was all too aware that beurre blanc may have been the most solid thing in his life.
Jason’s last stop of the day was the Drake Hotel, a historic beacon of European-style hospitality with a world-renowned seafood restaurant, The Cape Cod Room. He took the elevator to the job office, smiled, and held out his resume like a communion offering. The interviewer glanced it over, made a phone call, and directed him to a narrow staircase. The kitchen was five flights below in the basement.
Jason trudged down the wooden stairs and listened to his hollow footsteps and felt stupid. How many Chicago cooks wore sports coats and had resumes? He missed Seattle, his old cooking job, and Tyrone. He was hungry and sure he should have majored in business. He cursed himself for not knowing how to tell Chateaubriand from tenderloin.
At the bottom of the stairs, he opened a door and stepped into a stainless-steel city of a kitchen. A man called his name, a man in a white coat more regal than any king’s armor. On the coat’s pocket, ‘Chef de Cuisine’ was embroidered in gold thread. The man’s square face, intense eyes, and firm posture conveyed absolute authority.
The chef introduced himself in a polite European accent and suggested they walk, which they did, surveying the vast empire — the bakery, The Cape Cod Room, the butcher shop, the hydroponic herb garden, and the catering kitchen. At the patisserie, the chef tossed him a chocolate macaron and he ate it, savoring its chewy softness. In the prep kitchen, a woman minced carrot into tiny orange cubes and winked at him. When they arrived at the chef’s office, an immaculately decorated, red-checker-clothed cafe, Jason’s head was spinning with the grandeur of it all. He might have been transported to Dusseldorf or Prague.
For the next forty minutes, they talked. The chef reviewed his resume, mentioned a writer named M. F. K. Fisher, and described the European apprentice system of long hours and hard work, each escalating step a confirmation of ability. As Jason listened, he began to understand, for the first time, that college had not prepared him for life. He would need to learn more about people and places, about the good and bad, and about the grand and confusing.
After the interview, they went to the seafood cooler, a blue and white tiled chamber, to pick out something for lunch. The chef pawed through iced fish totes, while Jason inspected shellfish — seaweed-strewn Belon oysters, straw-coddled soft shell crabs, and a hand-sized scallop shell. The chef picked out whole North Sea Dover sole and demonstrated how to skin it. Jason tried next, scoring the sole’s flesh and pinching and tugging until the gray skin released like duct tape. The chef yelled, “Bravo,” and Jason felt triumphant.
Back in the chef’s office kitchen, Jason sautéed the sole to a golden brown and the chef garnished it with lemon and watercress. Herbed pasta and a chilled Sancerre appeared and they ate and drank with gusto. Jason carried on about his Oregon upbringing and his parent’s divorce and how he wanted to be a writer. The chef listened patiently. Couldn’t he be a chef and a writer? Jason thought not. One must choose.
In the end the chef offered him an entry level position at a lower wage than he could afford to take. He thanked the gracious man and they walked to the hotel lobby. Before he left, the chef handed him an envelope of Cape Cod Room recipes and said, “Please, think about it.”
Jason walked to the elevated train leaning into Chicago’s wind. He still didn’t have a job. It would be a lonely ride home. He wondered why the chef had shown such confidence in him? When during the conversation had he conveyed that he might a good apprentice?
He surmised that it was the beurre blanc.
Simmer minced shallot, vinegar, and white wine at a low temperature until reduced to two tablespoons of liquid. Cut cold butter into small pieces. Add the butter to the reduction at a low temperature and melt it slowly, piece by piece. That was it. Melt it slowly, piece by piece.
1997 – The Translator
On a warm Washington D.C. Saturday morning in May, Margot sat at her kitchen table and examined recipes, regretting her suggestion that she and her boyfriend Dane dine in tomorrow evening. She was running out of time to find something to cook. She hoped not to offend him, let alone impress him with her cooking skill. As a child, her mother had cooked everything. She had helped but never enjoyed the endeavor. She never tittered over cooking like a silly television hostess. She never tittered, ever. Eating out was so much easier.
A pale shimmering sauce caught Margot’s eye, beurre blanc, the perfect complement to fish. She loved fish. She read the recipe. It was too complicated. She paged through more. Everything was too precious. She picked up another book and opened its stiff pages. The recipes were casually written, a pinch of this, a glug of that, and a handful of something so colloquial it shouldn’t have even been a word. Smoodge it all together. Really? Smoodge?The word was an abomination.
Margot and Dane were colleagues at a Washington, D.C. consulting firm. They worked together translating Spanish, French, and Portuguese, hard earned specialized jobs. It was a high-low arrangement. Monday through Thursday, he worked corporate offices and embassies and she worked police stations and courts. On Fridays they met, wrote reports, and helped each other. They were both from the East Coast and lived in Georgetown. He had eaten pigeon once and loved it. She liked soup, especially cold soup.
Margot closed the cookbook in disgust and turned on the television. Iron Chef was on, the original Japanese version. She knew the language well enough to know that the dubbing was loose, if not entirely wrong. She watched for a while, hoping for a new idea. The woman judge’s high-pitched voice annoyed her. Sakai was the Iron Chef and the challenger was a chef from Dusseldorf, Germany. The chairman revealed the secret ingredient and kitchen stadium gasped. It was a heap of matsutake mushrooms.
“It’s a fungus for crying out loud,” shouted Margot. “Get a grip.”
Margot went to the kitchen and opened a can of Progresso lentil soup and poured it into a pan. It was her standard Saturday lunch. She liked that it was basic, easy to understand. On warm days, she and Dane ate lunch in the park on Fridays. A month ago, he had confessed his feelings to her and asked her the same. She had closed her eyes to think.
“Why so serious?” he had asked.
“Because it’s serious, liking someone,” she said. He was older and they were getting on toward the age when it was time to make decisions.
“Forget it,” he said, looking away, which was when she took his hand and said, “yes, yes I do.”
Margo watched Sakai stuff a pheasant with mushrooms. Pale brown goo oozed from the bird’s cavity and the judges murmured with approval, any real feeling lost in translation. Margot ate her soup with a piece of toast and made tea and sighed and pulled out some cooking pamphlets passed down from her mother. She opened one and scanned its table of contents. Baked Alaskan Penguin. Lug Nut Casserole. The recipes were satirical. She yelled out loud and tossed the pamphlet aside and picked up another. The television voices were getting more intense. The competition was heating up. She lifted the teabag from her mug and took a sip. It was bitter, over-steeped. She felt like crying. Why had she agreed to cook? They should go out. A glass of wine and then go out. Why was she so perplexed? Was cooking still a woman’s responsibility? Such an old-fashioned notion.
Margo decided to try the computer. The Internet was new and she was starting to use it at work for research. She typed “fabulous fish recipes” into the Ask Jeeves search engine and watched hundreds of links appear. Suddenly she felt stronger, bigger. Take that Lug Nut Casserole. She clicked a link, Classic Cod, and recipe card appeared, its tattered edges a testament to its value. It was from The Cape Cod Room at the Drake Hotel in Chicago. The word YUMMY! was scrawled on it. The ingredients were easy to understand, fresh New England codfish, bread crumbs, butter, white wine, and, the secret ingredient, fresh dill, all to be served with tiny steamed new potatoes. The steps were straightforward and unambiguous. She was elated. She printed the recipe, rolled it up, and held it to her chest like an ancient papyrus, before affixing it to the refrigerator.
She began to write the shopping list and was halfway through, when a slight panic set in, a sensitivity to rules reinforced by her work. The recipe was a photo of a real card. Was its Internet publication a copyright violation? It was nothing but she began to feel vulnerable in a new way and wondered if she would ever live with someone, cook every night for someone, maybe for a child too. She was attractive enough. That wasn’t the problem. She was steady but discombobulated. She couldn’t even make tea the same way twice.
The next morning Margot purchased ingredients and in the afternoon she prepped. She made the bread crumbs and chopped the dill and scrubbed potatoes but struggled with the fish fillet’s thin tail. She considered her options and tucked it under the thick side to make a plumper serving. It felt good to solve a problem.
That evening, to her joy, the meal came out perfectly. Dane loved everything and they agreed that Classic Cod would be their special recipe.
After dinner Margot and Dane sipped wine and talked about New England fishermen and Moby Dick. He had relatives in Narragansett. Perhaps they would visit someday? They discussed the recipe’s provenance, Cape Cod by way of Chicago by way of the Internet by way of Washington D.C. by way of her quaint brick apartment, a threaded story. She had enjoyed cooking, being in the kitchen, interpreting the recipe, solving problems, and experiencing a new kind of creativity.
When he left that evening, Dane kissed Margot and, as their lips touched, she imagined a pigeon fluttering away. It was a good feeling. Perhaps she and Dane were going somewhere. Perhaps she would cook again soon.
2009 – The Critic
The Barcelona coast was bustling. Distant yachts and sailboats floated pointillist-like on the Mediterranean as families and groups of teenagers jockeyed for position on the beach. Gareth Hinds stopped typing, sat back from his computer, and stared out his hotel room window at the surfers paddling out to sea. The scene reminded him of his home in San Diego and of Mission Beach and of his father who had been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. When Gareth had found out, he had pleaded with his European Travel Magazine publishers to cancel his trip, but they refused. What could they do? His restaurant reviews had a huge following, it was a special issue, and deadlines were deadlines. His only solace was Margot, his capable assistant and translator, who had planned the entire trip and would be joining him later that day after having been delayed in Paris.
Gareth returned to his review of Kristobal, one of Barcelona’s most famous seafood restaurants, and wrote, “From the moment I walked through Kristobal’s gold flecked doors and past its hydroponic herb garden, I was treated to…”
Treated to what, wondered Gareth?
To fine ingredients — smoked octopus, braised cockles, and tiny grilled fish, rouget — paired with broths, sauces, and drizzles of such flavorful intensity that the word sublime was inadequate? What was better? Otherworldly? Astonishing?
Or, treated to such earnest hospitality, grace, and politeness that even the harshest school marm would have blushed and teared up in appreciation?
He considered the question again. He had been treated to all and none of that. He had eaten alone in a packed dining room surrounded by hovering wait staff and anxious cooks. Owls, Margot would have called them. Owls in aprons. The food was good. How good he couldn’t remember. Luckily he always took notes. One last Barcelona dinner and then off to Lisbon, the end of the tour.
Gareth closed his computer, showered, and changed into shorts. He called his wife in San Diego. His father was fine, even cheerful, but his mother was complaining about undone chores at home. He told his wife to tell his mother not to fret. He would be there soon.
Gareth exited the hotel and walked to a nearby open-air coffee shop. When his americano arrived, he added sugar, a guilty childhood pleasure. As he sipped his coffee, he heard distant flamenco strains and leaned back and lifted his face to the sun and smelled woodsmoke and fat, sizzling meat at a nearby market, and his hunger stirred, deep real hunger, the first in a long while. Sometimes he was surprised by how hungry he wasn’t.
Gareth left the coffee shop and walked down the sidewalk, past the buskers and tourists, seeking the smoke’s origin. Years ago he had worked in a Seattle seafood restaurant cooking fish and had loved watching the grill’s red-hot jets transform drippings into dreams. Soon the market’s umbrellas and awnings appeared and he followed his nose to a crowded kebab stall. The cook, a swarthy man, his head enveloped in smoke, worked frantically as his wife shouted orders and his son delivered plates. Gareth got in line and recognized someone from Kristobal’s last night. He waved and the person looked away.
Gareth ordered kebabs and sat down at a table. When the boy arrived, he over tipped. He picked up a thickly knobbed skewer, lamb and pork from a nearby farm, small miracles of texture and spice. The first bite reminded him of a day years ago with his father. He was a child and it was early evening and they were staring into a flaming barbeque.
“Fire ensured man’s survival,” his father had said.
“Why?” asked Gareth. “Because people could cook?”
“No,” his father said. “Because it showed us what was in us.”
Gareth finished eating and checked his watch. Margot would be arriving soon. They had research to do before tonight’s paella dinner at a famous restaurant. He licked his lips. He could taste the smoke and fat. He would taste it all day. Last night’s dinner had been work; today’s lunch had been life everlasting. He ordered a beer and sipped it and took in the market — barking dogs, a flowing red skirt, the spire of a distant Gaudi, an old man curled up on a bench — fire everywhere.
Gareth finished his beer and strolled back to the hotel and through its iron gate. There were two messages at the front desk. Margot’s flight was cancelled. She would meet him in Lisbon tomorrow. The other was from his wife. Could he please call? It was an emergency.
Gareth took the elevator to his room, went in, turned on his computer, and waited for his work world to boot up. When he had first broken into restaurant writing, it was a dream come true. Pity him not. Fabulous food, drink, and culture, as much and as often as he could stand it. Then the reckoning came, the weight of travel, the obsequious restaurant owners, the troubling opulence. Sometimes all he wanted was goulash, his wife’s recipe.
Gareth picked up the phone and placed an international call to his wife and thought about how to attack the Kristobal review. He was desperate to hear a voice, anyone’s voice. A person picked up on the other end and he began to speak.
2015 – The Pilgrim
The man hungered in Provence. It was late morning and he hungered for lunch at a restaurant with an unbearably promising review in European Travel Magazine. “A gem.” “A regional delight.” “Astonishing.” The words had inspired his trip and, as he had done every day of the week, he sipped coffee on his domain’s portico and gazed east at Les Pourquiers, the restaurant’s home, a small village in the near distance surrounded by yellow and lavender hills that softened and merged with the Provencal horizon. Today’s lunch would be his final adventure before gathering up memories and leaving France, memories of sumptuous markets and fruits and vegetables and nougat and socca; of eerie caverns and ruins; of impertinent color-coordinated cyclists; of lavender honey; of Roussillon’s massive red cliffs; and of mineral-laden red Rhone wines, sipped nightly under a country moon.
He checked his watch. The restaurant opened at midday, served a prix fixe seafood menu, and did not take reservations. He alerted his wife, who was packing, and messaged another couple, their best friends from Eugene, Oregon. Ten minutes later the group rendezvoused in a cobblestone courtyard, reviewed details, and exited through a metal gate onto a country service road that led to Les Pourquiers.
They paused to take in the view and began to walk east. The day was warming and languid air drifted over the fields, reminding them that they were mere visitors. They took note and walked mindfully.
They walked for the painterly vista, for the earth’s warmth, for the chatter of cicadas, and for the future rain that would collect and flow back into the fields. They walked for the harvested and unharvested wheat and spelt that waved in the breeze and beguiled them with its sweet, nutty fragrance. They walked for the soft billowing clouds, immobile in a blue sky that tugged at their hearts. They walked for the world beyond the clouds, the eternal, the unknowable. And they walked for the dream of lunch, sustenance, Languedoc oysters, garlicky pate, sweet roasted carrots, grilled swordfish, blue-veined cheese from a neighbor’s cow, and laughter, always laughter.
They continued to walk and, as they neared Les Pourquiers, their pace quickened and their minds focused. The collection of old and new stone dwellings, some behind gates, some open to strangers, lacked a discernible entrance. Someone pointed at a blurry figure, a woman in black pacing along a cypress hedge, her cell phone in one hand, a twist of hair in the other. They closed and the woman greeted them in French. They waved and passed by.
They arrived at the perimeter of Les Pourquiers and entered the village. They were surprised. It felt abandoned, no voices, smells, or sounds, only blank facades. They searched for a map but found none, no signage, no wayfinding, nothing. They silently walked down one, two, three streets. Nothing. Someone complained about poor directions and he checked his phone’s tear-shaped dot. They appeared to be on top of the restaurant. Someone yelled and pointed at a placard outside a small hotel. The restaurant was open on weekends by reservation, dinner only, no breakfast or lunch. A hand-lettered sign described this week’s menu: steak au poivre, a salad of country greens, and chocolate mousse. He scowled. The food did not match the magazine review. It did not astonish. It did not serve seafood. It was mundane.
Silence overfell him and his companions and disappointment settled in. A small yellow car rattled into a parking lot and a thin man exited clenching a paper-wrapped baguette, its top gnawed off. The destroyer of baguettes passed without a word, his mangled, deformed loaf an affront. Someone wryly noted that even the help goes out to lunch.
He was not amused and nor was his hunger. The lovely country road had led nowhere. He would not eat at the restaurant and complete his journey. He cursed loudly and his companions admonished him for being too American. He stalked out of Les Pourquiers, surprised and confused. He passed a house with open windows and heard laughter and smelled chicken stock, nourishment for someone but not him. He saw the woman next to the cypress hedge again. She was sitting on the ground still on her cell phone. As he approached, he wanted to ask what had happened to the restaurant? Had it ever existed? Was it wonderful? She was too absorbed in her conversation to notice him, so he passed without comment.
Soon his companions caught up and everyone headed back down the flat service road toward their domain, their backs to Les Pourquiers. Cicadas chattered with blind intensity and the town of Gordes glared down from on high, its face an implacable mountain vault. The road was desultory and hot. They spoke little. A small white delivery van drove toward them, forcing them into the ditches. As they crawled out, someone mentioned Van Gogh and he saw the famous artist standing in the fluttering spelt, painting, frantic to capture what seemed to be there but was not there. As they neared the domain, he glanced back at Les Pourquiers. The woman was a mere speck now, almost gone. His frustration began to subside. He felt like an idiot for expecting so much of a single outing and letting his friends down. There would be other restaurants in other countries, but this one would remain unknown.
They entered the domain’s courtyard and the metal gate snapped shut behind them. They sat down on the edge of a tile basin and splashed water on their faces. He poked a lily pad. The cool felt good. Two frogs leapt from the water and hopped across the cobblestones, leaving dark blots behind. He took out his cell phone and checked the restaurant review’s fine print. It was by Gareth Hinds, copyright 2009, six years ago. The blots begin to steam. His companions complained. It was lunchtime and they were still hungry.
John Maki is a Seattle-based short story writer who studies at Hugo House. He has various publishing credits in both print and online literary magazines. For more information please visit: www.makihome.us.